Sunday blogging against racism #13–The Souls of Black Folk

I am just sooooo tired today for some reason . . . obviously, since I would normally never wait until 10:30 at night to get my Sunday entry up . . . but this excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk is something I came across  a while back and wanted to blog . . . I can’t remember why now, but I suspect it had something to do with the upcoming presidential election somehow . . . but I am way too tired to share whatever witty insights I may once have had, so here it is without commentary.  (I originally came across this on a site that will e-mail you a portion of a book every day–but sadly, my life is so busy that I couldn’t even keep up with it . . . )

Among his own people, however, Mr. Washington has encountered the strongest and most lasting opposition, amounting at times to bitterness, and even today continuing strong and insistent even though largely silenced in outward expres- sion by the public opinion of the nation. Some of this opposition is, of course, mere envy; the disappointment of displaced demagogues and the spite of narrow minds. But aside from this, there is among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension at the wide currency and ascendancy which some of Mr. Washington’s theories have gained.

These same men admire his sincerity of purpose, and are willing to forgive much to honest endeavor which is doing something worth the doing. They cooperate with Mr. Washington as far as they conscientiously can; and, indeed, it is no ordinary tribute to this man’s tact and power that, steering as he must between so many diverse interests and opinions, he so largely retains the respect of all.

But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,–criticism of writers by readers, –this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society. If the best of the American Negroes receive by outer pressure a leader whom they had not recognized before, manifestly there is here a certain palpable gain. Yet there is also irreparable loss,–a loss of that peculiarly valuable education which a group receives when by search and criticism it finds and commissions its own leaders.

The way in which this is done is at once the most elementary and the nicest problem of social growth. History is but the record of such group- leadership; and yet how infinitely changeful is its type and character! And of all types and kinds, what can be more instructive than the leadership of a group within a group?– that curious double movement where real progress may be negative and actual advance be relative retrogression.

All this is the social student’s inspiration and despair. Now in the past the American Negro has had instructive experience in the choosing of group leaders, founding thus a peculiar dynasty which in the light of present conditions is worth while studying. When sticks and stones and beasts form the sole environment of a people, their attitude is largely one of determined opposition to and conquest of natural forces. But when to earth and brute is added an environment of men and ideas, then the attitude of the imprisoned group may take three main forms,–a feeling of revolt and revenge; an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater group; or, finally, a determined effort at self-realization and self-development despite environing opinion.

The influence of all of these attitudes at various times can be traced in the history of the American Negro, and in the evolution of his successive leaders. Before 1750, while the fire of African freedom still burned in the veins of the slaves, there was in all leadership or attempted leadership but the one motive of revolt and revenge, –typified in the terrible Maroons, the Danish blacks, and Cato of Stono, and veiling all the Americas in fear of insurrection. The liberalizing tendencies of the latter half of the eighteenth century brought, along with kindlier relations between black and white, thoughts of ultimate adjustment and assimilation. Such aspiration was especially voiced in the earnest songs of Phyllis, in the martyrdom of Attucks, the fighting of Salem and Poor, the intellectual accomplishments of Banneker and Derham, and the political demands of the Cuffes.

Stern financial and social stress after the war cooled much of the previous humanitarian ardor. The disappointment and impatience of the Negroes at the persistence of slavery and serfdom voiced itself in two movements. The slaves in the South, aroused undoubtedly by vague rumors of the Haytian revolt, made three fierce attempts at insurrection,–in 1800 under Gabriel in Virginia, in 1822 under Vesey in Carolina, and in 1831 again in Virginia under the terrible Nat Turner. In the Free States, on the other hand, a new and curious attempt at self-development was made. In Philadelphia and New York color-prescription led to a withdrawal of Negro communicants from white churches and the formation of a peculiar socio-religious institution among the Negroes known as the African Church,–an organization still living and con- trolling in its various branches over a million of men.

Sunday blogging against racism #12b–The Price of Sugar

I saw this documentary yesterday–Thank GOD for the $3.50 theater, which besides being affordable (as long as you don’t want to eat anything!), is also bringing a number of documentaries into this sorry old town.

The movie was only in Grand Rapids for a few days, but I’m guessing that it will be out on video fairly soon, if it isn’t already–so add it to your NetFlix list NOW. And read more about how you can take action against this modern-day slavery (at different points in the movie, it is referred to as “almost” slavery or “quasi-slavery”–BULLSHIT! There’s nothing “quasi” about it!)  that is taking place right in our own hemisphere, and with generous subsidies from the US Government.

 One of my friends expressed concern that this documentary would hold up the “white man” as the hero, and to some extent that is the case, but more than that, it seems to me that (at least in one pivotal scene near the end of the movie), it’s the CHURCH–God’s people standing together–that comes across as the TRUE hero.

But when you see it, you can let me know what you think . . .

Sunday blogging against racism #12a–the noose thing

At an anti-racism caucus a few weeks ago, we were talking about the Jena 6 and the subsequent flurry of noose sightings all over the country, and one participant wondered if there really has been an increase in noose hangings, or if the media is just putting more focus on the sightings these days.

I am pretty sure that there is some increase, given the whole copycat phenomenon, but noose hangings are nothing new. A friend sent me this thoroughly disturbing story that she had heard on NPR the previous weekend . . . you can read the short blurb, but to get the full effect, I would recommend that you listen to the entire podcast (it’s about 30 to 40 minutes long.) I wanted to vomit after listening–and you may feel that way too–but listen anyway.

Many of us have rallied around the battle cry of “Free the Jena Six!”, as well we should. But I didn’t hear anybody crying out to free Charles Hickman, and in the podcast he makes it painfully clear that, no matter how large a settlement he received, he really never will be free of this again. “It’s in my mind now”, he kept saying.

Oh, Mr. Hickman, I am so, so sorry. And it’s in my mind now, too, only I don’t want it out of my mind . . . I don’t want to forget the discomfort I felt as I heard your story, and I don’t want to ever stop wrestling with my own complicity in this.

Continue reading

Sunday blogging against racism #11–rethinking Boondocks

I ran across a mention of Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks (first a comic strip, now a syndicated television show) in a conversation about South Park (which, as its creators warn at the beginning of each show, “should not be watched by ANYONE”) and was taken aback by the assertion that McGruder’s work is racist. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote in response:

I have to admit that I am a bit shocked to hear the anti-Boondocks/anti-McGruder talk. Granted, I am a white woman, but (not sure how to say this without sounding hokey/ignorant, but here goes) I feel like I have really learned a lot/been made aware of stuff via the Boondocks cartoons. Do I think the TV show is far less funny and pushes things in the wrong direction? Absolutely, but sadly, I still watch it.

As long as Cosby has been  mentioned, I will say that I struggled with the same thing with the whole “Fat Albert” issue. When a professor told my class that Fat Albert was embraced by the black community when it first came out, I was shocked, because in my family, Fat Albert was used to mock black folks and to reinforce the stereotypes. It’s part of how we learned these horrible stereotypes. Even as an adult, I heard her say this and couldn’t get my mind around the fact that anybody would see Fat Albert as a positive thing.

I’ve never (before today) had these questions about Boondocks–okay, scratch that. I HAVE had these questions about the TV show, because as one person mentioned above, it’s going out to a wider audience and is going to be misinterpreted by the folks in Iowa (and yes, in Staten Island, where I grew up) in the same way. But the comic strip is, to me, a totally different animal, and I feel like I was repeatedly given a glimpse into the struggles that the black community faces by reading it. (I still read the comic daily–it’s in “reruns”/syndication–and it’s funny because right now it’s dealing with the 2000 (or maybe 2004?) elections, and it still speaks perfectly well to the current presidential race . . .)

Finally, I think I learn about myself as a “trying to be the cool white woman” person–I see way too much of myself in the eager, trying to be “hip-hop” (to quote Brenda Salter-McNeil’s use of the term) white girl who wants to be “down with the people”. I see myself and wince, and isn’t that what good satire should cause us to do?

At any rate, I read some more, and thought more about the TV show, and how I just never loved the TV show the way that I loved (and still love) the comic strip, and I guess I am ready to concede that the show has taken a wrong turn. Now, though, I find myself questioning my previous analysis of the comic strip . . . and I just don’t know where to go with that. I truly have seen Huey as a prophet, and have prescribed words like, “important” and “profound” to the comic strip, and now I’m not sure where to go with all of this.

any thoughts?

Staten Island . . . making us proud since, um, never

Super-de-duper. If my lovely home town (but remember, I was BORN in Manhattan!) has to make the news, it’s great that it can be for something like this.

I don’t know which is worse . . . the copycat ugliness that will come out of the woodwork as a result of this incident, or the self-righteous “Isn’t that awful?” type of attitude that I like to refer to as the “not me” definition of racism–“Wow, I can’t believe that someone would do that. Who knew that hate still existed in this day and age?” and its unspoken companion, “Well, it’s a darn good thing that I’M not a racist!”

The water is muddied somewhat by the fact that this was a North Shore Staten Island high school–and although the article doesn’t talk much about the racial make-up of the SI team, except to say that “the team includes players of every race and ethnicity”, I am struggling with the (perhaps false) assumption that even the white kids in this Staten Island school are likely to be solidly in the “Wegro” camp, which brings up all types of  questions about the use of “that word” in this setting. Not that I think it is ever appropriate for a white kid to use the word, but in this case, I honestly wonder if it was more a case of slang usage than an intentional racial slur. (If you have an opinion on this, or if you think I’m wrong to even pose the question, I would love to hear from you!)

But then again–this IS Staten Island we’re talking about, so it’s also quite possible that this really was an act of blatant racism. Either way, this was just a super way to begin my morning . . .