Tag Archives: civilrights

“Up, you mighty race!”: from the African American Museum Inauguration to the Black Panther’s 50th Anniversary

Martin Luther King held fast to dreams, while Huey P. Newton gave all power to the people, & Jesse Jackson insisted we keep hope alive. Thru each of them, & many others, Barack Obama assured us we can—

Be young, gifted, & black.

Be unbought & unbossed.

Be revolutionary.

Be-long.

In light of the #icantbreathe #amInext #blacklivesmatter movement, the inauguration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, along w/the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, affirm the genius & spirituality of black people who were taken from Africa & dehumanized in a New World, yet insisted on being. Words can’t express how magical black people are. It’s like trying to describe God. Words become meaningless in such an endeavor, & therefore, as Amiri Baraka argues in “The Myth of a Negro Literature,” only jazz & blues make Truth. (& to the gospel singer, a moaning hum.)

I attended the inauguration of the national African American museum & am both relieved & honored that Black history & culture is archived & freely available to anyone so interested in engaging black genius. Albeit, I struggle w/the notion that we be a spectacle, I understand that the NMAAHC is important to civil rights leaders & black folk who insist on not just being human, but on being American. According to John Lewis, the museum was a long time coming. It symbolizes our place in the American story, said Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC director, who, by the way, referred to the museum as “home.”

Expanding four floors, the NMAAHC—whose architectural structure reflects Yoruban art, honors enslaved iron workers, & remembers the American South—carries visitors thru slavery & reconstruction, segregation & the civil rights movement, black culture & liberal arts, thus revealing to a nation that denies Black excellence the beautiful flamboyance & buoyancy of Black people. We are an esoteric folk—a people that can only be understood by our permission, said Nikki Giovanni in her 1972 “Ego Tripping” poem. & so it is.

I had time to visit only the museum’s top floor, which is a mecca for the Black artist, thinker, musician, comedian, actor, & (fill-in-the-blank). Yo! We in there! You name it, & the NMAAHC got it: Jet & Ebony magazines, Cosby Show re-runs, Moms Mabley recordings, The Funkadelics’ Mothership, a boombox & Ladies First album, pots & pans, hot irons, & dashikis, Aaron Douglas & Augusta Savage originals, Nikky Finney & Morrison speeches, Negro sermons, Alice Walker quotes, afro picks & civil rights buttons. Although I couldn’t see it all, I’m pretty sure the NMAAHC carries everything, thought, & practice specific to Black people—including hot sausages & pig’s feet in jars of red vinegar. We in there, & I am relieved & honored about it because our ancestors, grandparents, teachers, & heroes, are made more visible & permanent, & our African American ethos—as is expressed in our theories & practices—is acknowledged for its creative spirituality, which is how we reclaim/ed our humanity.

It’s all good.

However, Sonia Sanchez, Black Arts Movement poet, reminded inauguration attendees that a museum cannot make our history; we make history (& herstory), she said. When she took the podium on a platform called “The Fannie Lou Hamer Stage,” Sanchez professed, “Today is a baaaad day. It’s a bad day, a good day,” she said, “but it’s a baaaad day.” She proceeded to explain that a museum of Black history & culture is not a measurement of our freedom, for our freedom still relies on the act of grassroots organization. Her sentiments echo those of former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who, about two weeks after the NMAAHC inauguration, also insisted that we continue to organize ourselves toward freedom.

During the “Reflections on the Black Panther Party at 50: Elaine Brown with Beverly Guy-Sheftall” lecture that inaugurated the James Weldon Johnson Institute’s Public Dialogues in Race and Difference Series, the bodacious Elaine Brown vocalized her experiences as Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party Movement. With radically detailed stories about unlawful policing, COINTELPRO shenanigans, and Jim Crow laws, Brown explained how she & her Oakland, California comrades took ownership of the Black community by offering its members free breakfast, free clinics, & free legal aid. In the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, said Brown, the Black Panther Party—whose ten-point program began with “We Want Freedom” & ended with “We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice, & Peace”—aimed to liberate Black people from capitalism. According to Brown, the BPP were intellectually organized socialists whose quest for freedom ignited their movement. She, like Sonia Sanchez, insisted that we organize, & echoing Gil Scott Heron’s often quoted phrase, maintained, “The revolution won’t be televised.”

Translation: Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram &Tumblr posts (as well as museums) are not social movements that will fuel revolution.

*             *             *

During a class discussion last week about the probability of peace & freedom in an America that justifies war & boasts about its military strength, a white student referenced recent race matters to argue the impossibility of peace: “The Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t going to change anything,” she said. She went on to explain that Black people think BLM is making a difference, but police officers continue to murder Black people. In an effort to facilitate an objective classroom discussion, I kept my comments to myself; however, I wholeheartedly agree w/her (& Sanchez & Brown). Although that student’s comment was not a critique of the social media platform on which the Black Lives Matter Movement receives momentum, her attention to BLM absolutely responds to the failed tendency of activists to seemingly use social media as revolutionary movements.

Surely, social media (like newspapers, television, & radio) serves as a communications technology that disseminate propaganda to the masses. However, revolution requires real time action that transcends static museums & hashtags. We need to organize, said Elaine Brown & Sonia Sanchez.

In other words:

  1. We need invested leadership. Surely, each of us can independently stand in righteousness. However, collectively we need a leader who is solely committed to our freedom. How can we focus on, understand, believe & participate in a movement when so many of our “leaders” are more invested in guest appearing in reality/sitcom TV & Tyler Perry films than teaching, strategizing, and organizing?
  2. We need to boycott. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the most successful boycott in the nation when he encouraged Black Montgomery to avoid riding segregated busses. In 2015, Greek sororities boycotted VH-1’s Sorority Sisters, causing brands to pull their advertisements, thus resulting in the show’s cancellation. Why aren’t we collectively boycotting white America?
  3. We need to know our enemy. Elaine Brown said that the BPP read literature, understood the art of war, & was familiar w/systems of oppression—all of which allowed them to make informed decisions about the movement. How are we going to fight a system that we know very little about?
  4. We need to vote. From Fannie Lou Hamer to Medgar Evers, Shirley Chisolm, & Barack Obama, Black politicians have stressed the importance of voting in all elections, particularly at the local & State levels. What good is a Black president if elected state & local officials are white sheets?
  5. We need to practice self-love. Be it a result of integration or mass media, too many of us promote & mimic whiteness, support white businesses, & choose white thought over Black experience. We have lost sight of our True selves, & therefore, have become subdued in our fight for freedom. The struggle really does continue. How can we lead successful movements when we are ashamed of our Blackness?
  6. We need to make mainstream music that raises self-consciousness & self-love. Overusing vulgar language (w/no substance) is tired. According to Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes, Black music is the only form of art authentic to Black people; it is the only art form, says Baraka, that White folks have not whitewashed—until now. What feels good about encouraged drug use & materialism? Why would Black people ever consume a song that compares a woman’s sexualized body parts to Emmett Till’s disfigured face? Why do we continue to support mainstream music that doesn’t inspirit & uplift Black people?
  7. We need to support Black. Integration seemed like a good idea, but because of it, we have abandoned black businesses, black colleges & universities, & (fill-in-the-blank). In turn, black businesses & black schools often abandon those who do support them. When are we going to do away w/this white is right, crab-in-a-barrel mentality?
  8. We need to read more fluently & actively. Nothing is new under the sun. Our activists have given us their stories & insights; we need to seriously engage them as well as other texts that enlighten us to ourselves. We can learn much thru Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro; The Autobiography of Assata Shakur; The Autobiography of Malcolm X, w/Alex Haley; Washington’s, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King; Cornel West’s Race Matters; Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; DuBois’s Souls of Black Folks; Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; & so on & so on. Are we really going to be a group of ignorant people, especially in a 21st century that makes information more readily available?
  9. We need to bridge the gap between generations. During the Atlanta protests this past summer, 84 year-old former civil rights activist Rev. Andrew Young called Black Lives Matter protestors “unlovable little brats.” The disconnection between generations is wide. King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 36 when he led the Selma to Montgomery Marches, & 37 when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not only did King have a counsel of his elders guiding & encouraging him, but King turned to his elders for guidance. How can we ensure that the patience & wisdom of our experienced elders are seamlessly integrated w/the ready enthusiasm of our young leaders?
  10. We need to be present. Activism depends on an awareness of self & one’s relationship to others. It relies on a healthy mind, body, & soul. It requires a moment-to-moment existence that makes possible King’s agape love and the Panthers’ revolutionary love—both of which ensure beloved communities grounded in Truth & justice. How can we organize movements when we are not grounded in present awareness—an active state of being that allows us to acknowledge the first nine directives?

*             *             *

When I was a child, my father accused me of being a revolutionary with no cause. I was a Black nationalist before knowing what a Black nationalist is. From pen-palling incarcerated Black Panthers to writing poems about Black power, to stealing his dashiki to wear in high school & tattooing a gun w/the phrase: “Power to the People” underneath my underarm, I have always loved being Black. & so it goes w/out saying: I love & am proud of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Witnessing my Black experiences archived in it—as well as within social media hashtags—feels righteous. However, we must be careful not to stagnate our movements in such static compositions. We must organize so that we don’t become causeless revolutionaries.

June Jordan wrote, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” & so it is. Let’s get it, & “accomplish what we will.”


FAMU just tried it w/its Blue Lives Matter talk

Florida A&M University (who, by the way, Wendy Williams, graduated Wimbledon’s first Black woman’s single crown winner, Althea Gibson; acclaimeFullSizeRender(1)d cancer surgeon Dr. LaSalle Leffall; congresswoman Carrie Meek; singer/actress Anika Noni Rose; & screenwriter/director Dee Rees to name a few) is holding a university-wide conversation this afternoon that its organizers have titled: “Healing Voices: Black and Blue Lives Matter | A Conversation.”

What. thee. hell?

With the exception of a few poems I’ve written & paintings I’ve created, I have not publicly engaged conversations re: America’s current climate. While I have discussed, with a few friends, my concerns re: modern movements & offered my theories for proactivity–most of which are grounded in a Sankofa spirit–I have chosen to distance myself from what feels like disoriented ranting about racism, police brutality, & the human condition. However, as trivial as this may be, I could not keep quiet about FAMU’s contribution to minimizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement, its mantra, & its affirmation re: black people, black bodies, & black genius.

Why do “blue lives” have to be an integral part of this current discussion? Why do we–any of us, black, white, Latina/o folk–have to over explain the significance of affirming “black lives matter”? Why can’t “black lives matter” be an unapologetic proclamation that doesn’t require “all lives” “blue lives” or “white lives” in order to exist in the love & truth that grounds its definition? While I am the biggest advocate of King’s beloved community, enuf is enuf already! Got damnit! Love begins with the self. We need to unapologetically exist in the “‘Say it out loud! I’m black & I’m proud!’ ‘Black power!’ ‘Black is beautiful!’ ‘To be young, gifted, & black.’ ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.’ ‘The blacker the college, the sweeter the knowledge'” language that affirms our being, for no such affirmation denies the other her or his humanity–& it definitely does not affect the humanity of black people.

Black people are the most huemane creatures to walk this earth. Our black grandmothers nursed white babies. Our black teachers built HBCUs that never denied any person a right to education. Our black civil rights activists–including Malcolm X–advocated justice for all human beings. Our black poets, painters, & philosophers imagined humanity in inhumane situations. & our researchers, inventors, scientists, & doctors promoted safety & well being for all people by way of gas masks, blood banks, traffic signals, & open heart surgeries. Aaaaaand, moreover, from Mamie Till to Cameron Sterling, the mothers, fathers, & children of our murdered brothers & sisters maintain (& publicly promote) peace & non-violence despite the violent nature of their losses. Hell, African-American people civilize the world. No one has to tell us that “all lives” matter.

So, stop it, FAMU! You are one of the top HBCUs in the nation whose mission claims to serve the “underrepresented and underprivileged.” Shame on you, first, for not having a university-wide conversation re: our current climate long before five Dallas policemen were murdered. While their deaths are an unfortunate result of one man’s understandable rage, their deaths should not have been the slingshot that hurled your call-to-action. & secondly, shame on you for terming a university-wide conversation that decenters black people & the “black lives matter” movement, “healing.” (& it doesn’t help that your flier includes an illustration of a white police officer.) “Excellence with caring” begins at home, with the self. So stop it. Get off of that media inspirited bandwagon that maintains black servility & second-class citizenship.

I ain’t going.

 


Beyond an Abecedarian Knowledge of Martin Luther King (w/regards to dp)

No one could have prepared me for the lackluster attitude regarding Civil Rights and Black History that I have faced amongst students attending an HBCU.  Some (& way too many) of my students believe King is an overrated, trite icon whose non-violent Civil Rights Movement IMagephilosophy created a stagnant Movement.  Students have claimed (loudly & proudly) that they have neither read nor heard the “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety, that they did not know that King won the Nobel Peace Prize, helped to secure the Voting Rights Act, and led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Oh, but they did know, Dr. Bryant, that King led the Million Man March (or was it Malcolm X?).

I hated them for their ignorance, but I hated them more for not wanting to know.  “I’m so tired of hearing about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.  How do they relate to me?” one of my students asked.  Another one, while giving a presentation on the images regarding the Vietnam War, the American Civil Rights Movement, and African Apartheid (which one student admitted he thought meant “apartment”), said–at the start of her presentation to the entire class–“I’m so tired of talking about civil rights.”  & then another “student,” who wanted to talk to me about Martin Luther King for anKing image argumentative essay she was writing, claimed Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” approach to civil rights were more realistic than King’s non-violent approach.  But she hadn’t read anything about King or any of King’s work.  So, I gave her a book.  & most recently, I required each of my four writing classes to attend Ava Duvernay’s #SELMA movie–& without fail, in each class, at least 2-3 students moaned & groaned about it.  Even one student asked for an alternative assignment.

Why don’t Black students (& yes, I am overgeneralizing) want to know Martin Luther King? & why am I so adamant that they do?

But first, some background:

While I was teaching high school in 2004, I came across that one high school student who claimed to have never heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. before.  I was absolutely flabbergasted.  I felt embarrassed for this student, sad, & disappointed in the public school system, in mass media, and in her.  In that moment, while listening to her classmates laugh and poke fun at her, I knew I needed to do more with King in my English classrooms.  After all, most of those jokers who teased her didn’t know King beyond the King Holiday.  & so, for the 13 years that I’ve been teaching English, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been part of my curriculum.  He is as mandatory as Shakespeare & as necessary as the eight parts of speech.

Therefore, in between FCAT drills, I drilled students on King’s contributions to America.  Required bell ringers included journal entries on various King quotes.  & practice AP writing tasks required students to compare the rhetorical devices in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with Aaron McGruder’s “Return of the King Speech.”  While George Bush was concerned with leaving no child behind via uniformed assessments, I was concerned with ensuring that no student left my high school English class without having a tighter grip on King than they had before.  That was my small contribution to social activism, if you will–my nod to American patriotism and Black genius.

However, when I left the high school classroom and began a teaching career in post secondary education, I learned–surprisingly–that many of my university students didn’t give a shit about social activism, didn’t believe that Black people were genius, and didn’t view Martin Luther King an American patriot.  Some of my white university students appreciated insights I offered them on King, while others viewed me a Black nationalist and an ethnocentric teacher. I hadn’t realized that requiring my White students to analyze the rhetorical language in King’s “I Have a Dream” or “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would make me a “racist” teacher.

While I was aware that more often than not, White students will define their Black teacher racist should she teach anything from her Black perspective, I had not considered my teaching King a threat to anyone’s identity.  I didn’t realize that I was challenging my White students’ preconceived knowledge about King.  They understood him to be the Negro preacher who marched for human rights, particularly those of Black people.  Yet, here I was, barely 30 years old, situating King in an academic space that required students to acknowledge his intellectual capacity–to understand his writing prowess and know him as a genius.  Shoulder shrug.  Nevertheless, despite student discomfort and occasional complaints to my supervisor, I continued to teach King, & the more I taught him, the more personal I began to feel about students’ ignorance and resistance to my King curriculum.  But the resistance from my White students didn’t bother me as much as the push back I receive from the Black students I currently teach.

Every time I show King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in class, I well up with tears.  When I play Nina Simone’s “Why? The King of Love Is Dead,” a knot enters my throat.  & when I explicate King’s “The Power of Nonviolence,” “An Experiment in Love,” and “Where Do We Go from Here?”–speeches that define King’s agape love concept and non-violent approach–I feel, as I imagine the preacher does when he explicates the “Sermon on the Mount,” the Holy Ghost rising in me.  So, one can imagine how angry I am when a Black student sleeps through the “Dream,” is texting through Simone’s queries, & has failed to read any of the assigned speeches.  Why don’t Black students, especially these ones who are currently taking classes at a historically Black college & university, witnessing Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, & Eric Garner cases, & participating in #blacklivesmatter, #Icantbreathe, #dontshoot campaigns resisting academic discussions and tasks regarding Martin Luther King, & why do I care?  & I mean, I be bout to lose my mind care.

This morning, my mentor friend freed my mind.  She helped me to understand what I knew but had not known.

For about 13 years I thought I was frustrated with students’ lack of abecedarian knowledge regarding Martin Luther King, Jr.  With all of this free access to information via the Internet, how in the world can any (Black) student not be familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr.–at least with his “Dream” speech?  How does anyone in this 21st century America whose citizens actively engage in racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and the like, not be familiar with the Civil Rights Movement?  I thought that that negligent behavior annoyed me.  However, my mentor friend explained to me that those tidbits of information are all abecedarian; it’s a rudimentary understanding of things, which really, are not that important.

What is most important about King are not the marches, the speeches, and the awards, but it’s the spirit–the creative genius–that moved through him that you want your students to know so that they, too, can carry the King inside of them, she said.  & she is absolutely right.  My teaching King is primarily an effort at reminding students of their humanity & of their responsibility to ensuring peace & love.  She is right.  Many people will not know King, or Gandhi, or Leo Tolstoy, but if we each can be acquainted with their spirits, the Movement will keep moving; for, Spirit never dies.

& so, I will continue to use King as a primary source for instruction regarding rhetoric & composition practice, ’cause I believe King is a rhetorical genius.  However, I am okay with my students–Black or White–not being able to recall any of his contributions to America and the Civil Rights Movement.  No, King didn’t lead the Million Man March, but the spirit with which the Million Man March was organized is definitely a reflection of Martin Luther King.