How Kanye’s “Jesus is King” Sidelines the Liberation of the Oppressed

The latest creation from Kanye West doesn’t advocate for the liberation of oppressed people, if selections from the album, “Jesus is King,” and the pop artist’s promotion of it are used as evidence. Additionally, it is his backtracking on his 2005 criticism of George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina as well as his recent alliance with millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen which highlight Kanye’s alienation from the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina killed 1800 people, the majority of whom were Black, in New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf areas of Louisiana. The tragedy of this catastrophic event resulted in Kanye’s statement on live tv that then President George W. Bush “didn’t care about Black people.” But by 2013 Kanye was backtracking his political statement by editing his outburst and then claiming that he had been affected by a “victimized, welfare mentality” and he had got “caught up in the idea of racism.” If in eight years Kanye was able to free himself from the shackles of American racism, that has not been the case for Blacks and people of color living within U.S. racialized capitalism, nor has it been the circumstances for the exploited non-whites in the Southern hemisphere whose labor and resources are appropriated by U.S. corporations operating overseas.

On his recent album, “Jesus is King,” Kanye’s lyrics become the great equalizer when, on the track “God Is,” he sings, “From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door.” This portrayal is not that of Jesus as champion of the poor as described by Black theologian of liberation, James Cone, who emphasizes that “God’s identity is defined by God’s solidarity with the poor…(and) with the oppressed.” In typical liberal fashion, Kanye attempts to have it both ways, to create a semblance of equilibrium in a world that is hugely out of balance economically and ecologically and that in reality favors the rich elites. On the same track, Kanye sings, “This ain’t about dead religion, Jesus brought a revolution,” but the revolution will not only fail to be working class, it will also not be Afrocentric because Kanye subtracted Black oppression and race from the question in 2013. Why Afrocentricity? Because as theologian Adam Clark states, “Afrocentricity is one of the ‘forces of liberation’ in the Black community. Liberation for Afrocentrists means revolutionizing Black consciousness and reconstructing Black culture.” Ignoring Black Theology of Liberation, Kanye offers his listeners and fans an alliance with tv evangelicalism and Joel Osteen. If as Adam Clark states, the “Christian faith has been a double-edged sword within the Black experience, (both) a weapon against Black people and a resource for resistance,” Kanye offers no resistance and instead presents us with Christianity as earthly subservience to the powers that be and a hope for salvation in the afterlife.

Kanye West’s recognition of the shallowness and commercialization of pop music, specifically his genre of rap, is made clear by his statement in the LA Times that “the devil stole all the good artists.” Commercial rap artists, who currently have a larger following amongst non-Blacks than Blacks, routinely present an image of Blacks as street thugs and perennial hustlers. The male-dominated genre continues to portray women as hypersexualized “hoes” with one of the differences being that now, in late capitalism, they are much more disposable. The lyrics encourage us to buy foreign, especially if the purchase involves European high fashion and expensive cars. In its shop-till-you-drop overtures, contemporary rap music situates itself in the center of corporate capitalism.

Yet Kanye’s rebirth in Christianity does not free him from the economic and political values of capitalism. Black theologian of liberation James Cone, in his reflections on Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire, defines three types of church – the conservative, the liberal and the prophetic. The prophetic church arose from Liberation Theology in Latin America and here in the States, from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. Cone argues that the U.S. would not have had the Civil Rights Movement without the prophetic Black Church. Regardless, “Jesus Is King,” lyrically and in concert performances, delivers to the listener the liberalism of individual salvation and a conservative alliance with televangelist Joel Osteen who, with an estimated worth of $40-60 million, believes that God rewards with material gain.

No surprise then that the track “Closed on Sunday” has the eerie and empty feel of New York’s Wall Street on the day marked by Christians for rest. In late capitalism, especially in the U.S., if an individual wants to escape the isolation and alienation inherent in American society, a popular option is to purchase a sense of momentary community at an eatery or at least roam around in a shopping mall. If the desire is to be amongst people, one can go to a place of commerce any day of the week; yet, the conservative Christian company Kanye sings about, Chick-Fil-A, is an exception with its Sunday closure. On this track, Kanye upholds family values and prayer while condemning Instagram, selfies, and Jezebels, with the latter being, in the Old Testament, a deceitful whore who disregarded Jewish custom. In the New Testament Jezebel symbolizes a departure from religion, and in the secular U.S., the term was often used in the past to denigrate what was perceived as sexually promiscuous Black women.

The revolutionary aspects of Paulo Freire’s conscientization, Liberation Theology, and Black Theology of Liberation involve interacting and becoming allies with the poor and oppressed to learn from the poor and come into a new consciousness not only about who we are but about society and how the world operates. We acquire the authentic class consciousness of Karl Marx that allows us to not only analyze society but to change it to allow all people to express their humanity instead of a select few. “Jesus is King” offers us the false consciousness of material wealth and individual salvation in its acceptance of the political and economic status quo and the pop artist’s overt alliance with wealthy elites.

WORKS CONSULTED

Boboltz, Sarah. “Kanye West Talks Back ‘Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People’ 13 Years Later,” Huffington Post, Nov. 11, 2018.

Carras, Christi. “Kanye West Praises the Lord – and Himself – at Joel Osteen’s Megachurch,” LA Times, Nov. 18, 2019.

Clark, Adam. “Honoring the Ancestors: Toward an Afrocentric Theology of Liberation,” Journal of Black Studies 44 (2013): 376-394

Kirylo, James and James H. Cone, “Chapter Eight: Paulo Freire, Black Theology of Liberation, and Liberation Theology: A Conversation with James Cone,” Counterpoints (2011): 195-212

Nipsey, Kobe, and PTSD in Los Angeles

The city had fatigued the soul, and we didn’t even know it. The mileage from here to there. The distance from car to car. The traffic from heart to heart is immeasurable.

There was no screeching stop. Just a gradual slow down on four, five, six lanes of the 405. And every time we tried to reach each other, we were delayed, stopped by the car glass with windows rolled up. The city grew, became more populated. The crowds stumbled onto the boulevards, onto the freeways, into the fast lanes, and carpools. The tires burned rubber. We tried to reach out, but we were blocked by car glass, steel, and aluminum.

The city was brutal beyond a doubt. Beyond reason. The school secretary, mom of four boys killed while driving her small Volkswagen to work. The identical twin struck by a car while riding his bike to school with his brother. The Awaida family, trick-or-treating in Long Beach, mom, dad, 3-year-old son, killed when the car jumped the curb. We tried lighting a candle downtown at Our Lady of The Angels but couldn’t seem to drive ourselves there. The City that we came to inhabit expanded into a County of 4,751 square miles that we had to traverse. It was infinite. So was our love.

We came to L.A. to work. Everyone came to work.

Except the Natives.

And that’s all we got. Work. We tried to find happiness in fleeting moments.

Black Folk stay diverse from the time of their arrival on American shores. Whether they studied in Italy or they have roots in Eritrea. Whether they came from Louisiana, Kentucky, or Tennessee bringing the South to Central Avenue. These things will be eternal. You will see. Because of the memories and the children. Protect the children. At all costs.

The city was deadly beyond reason. And Hollywood didn’t help us understand. We could see it in the faces of the homeless. Their tiredness from lugging their homes around, pushing their homes around. Why were they discarded?

Hollywood did not help us comprehend.

The elementary school teacher, Ms. Crawford, was shot and killed while sitting in her car in the evening. Yetunde Price, the sister of Venus and Serena Williams was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The school employee, Donte Williams, killed while sitting in his car with his girlfriend. The shooting death of 15-year-old, LaMmarrion Upchurch, a dancer with Tommy the Clown, on Manchester Avenue. Shot point blank. Life ends. Shot point blank multiple times. Breathing stops.

The ambulance is late. The security guard is distraught. The family is depressed. We’re finished here. Los Angeles took so much out of us and gave us so little in return. In the end, Kobe tired of the injuries. And Nipsey grew weary of the snitches.

Some men just want to be a dad to their sons and daughters. Las hijas. La Mambacita. To coach them the correct way and offer shelter. We see you in the offices, factories, kitchens. At the shops. On the basketball court. Off the court. In the music studio. That evening at Staples winning the Championship. That night at Staples at the BET’s. The Championship Parade that shut the City down. The funeral procession that shut the City down.

We will remember. Memory is eternal.

-Poetic non-fiction by Audrey Shipp

Nipsey, Kobe, and PTSD in Los Angeles

The city had fatigued the soul, and we didn’t even know it. The mileage from here to there. The distance from car to car. The traffic from heart to heart is immeasurable.

There was no screeching stop. Just a gradual slow down on four, five, six lanes of the 405. And every time we tried to reach each other, we were delayed, stopped by the car glass with windows rolled up. The city grew, became more populated. The crowds stumbled onto the boulevards, onto the freeways, into the fast lanes, and carpools. The tires burned rubber. We tried to reach out, but we were blocked by car glass, steel, and aluminum.

The city was brutal beyond a doubt. Beyond reason. The school secretary, mom of four boys killed while driving her small Volkswagen to work. The identical twin struck by a car while riding his bike to school with his brother. The Awaida family, trick-or-treating in Long Beach, mom, dad, 3-year-old son, killed when the car jumped the curb. We tried lighting a candle downtown at Our Lady of The Angels but couldn’t seem to drive ourselves there. The City that we came to inhabit expanded into a County of 4,751 square miles that we had to traverse. It was infinite. So was our love.

We came to L.A. to work. Everyone came to work.

Except the Natives.

And that’s all we got. Work. We tried to find happiness in fleeting moments.

Black Folk stay diverse from the time of their arrival on American shores. Whether they studied in Italy or they have roots in Eritrea. Whether they came from Louisiana, Kentucky, or Tennessee bringing the South to Central Avenue. These things will be eternal. You will see. Because of the memories and the children. Protect the children. At all costs.

The city was deadly beyond reason. And Hollywood didn’t help us understand. We could see it in the faces of the homeless. Their tiredness from lugging their homes around, pushing their homes around. Why were they discarded?

Hollywood did not help us comprehend.

The elementary school teacher, Ms. Crawford, was shot and killed while sitting in her car in the evening. Yetunde Price, the sister of Venus and Serena Williams was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The school employee, Donte Williams, killed while sitting in his car with his girlfriend. The shooting death of 15-year-old, LaMmarrion Upchurch, a dancer with Tommy the Clown, on Manchester Avenue. Shot point blank. Life ends. Shot point blank multiple times. Breathing stops.

The ambulance is late. The security guard is distraught. The family is depressed. We’re finished here. Los Angeles took so much out of us and gave us so little in return. In the end, Kobe tired of the injuries. And Nipsey grew weary of the snitches.

Some men just want to be a dad to their sons and daughters. Las hijas. La Mambacita. To coach them the correct way and offer shelter. We see you in the offices, factories, kitchens. At the shops. On the basketball court. Off the court. In the music studio. That evening at Staples winning the Championship. That night at Staples at the BET’s. The Championship Parade that shut the City down. The funeral procession that shut the City down.

We will remember. Memory is eternal.

-Poetic non-fiction by Audrey Shipp

How Kanye’s “Jesus is King” Sidelines the Liberation of the Oppressed

The latest creation from Kanye West doesn’t advocate for the liberation of oppressed people, if selections from the album, “Jesus is King,” and the pop artist’s promotion of it are used as evidence. Additionally, it is his backtracking on his 2005 criticism of George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina as well as his recent alliance with millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen which highlight Kanye’s alienation from the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina killed 1800 people, the majority of whom were Black, in New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf areas of Louisiana. The tragedy of this catastrophic event resulted in Kanye’s statement on live tv that then President George W. Bush “didn’t care about Black people.” But by 2013 Kanye was backtracking his political statement by editing his outburst and then claiming that he had been affected by a “victimized, welfare mentality” and he had got “caught up in the idea of racism.” If in eight years Kanye was able to free himself from the shackles of American racism, that has not been the case for Blacks and people of color living within U.S. racialized capitalism, nor has it been the circumstances for the exploited non-whites in the Southern hemisphere whose labor and resources are appropriated by U.S. corporations operating overseas.

On his recent album, “Jesus is King,” Kanye’s lyrics become the great equalizer when, on the track “God Is,” he sings, “From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door.” This portrayal is not that of Jesus as champion of the poor as described by Black theologian of liberation, James Cone, who emphasizes that “God’s identity is defined by God’s solidarity with the poor…(and) with the oppressed.” In typical liberal fashion, Kanye attempts to have it both ways, to create a semblance of equilibrium in a world that is hugely out of balance economically and ecologically and that in reality favors the rich elites. On the same track, Kanye sings, “This ain’t about dead religion, Jesus brought a revolution,” but the revolution will not only fail to be working class, it will also not be Afrocentric because Kanye subtracted Black oppression and race from the question in 2013. Why Afrocentricity? Because as theologian Adam Clark states, “Afrocentricity is one of the ‘forces of liberation’ in the Black community. Liberation for Afrocentrists means revolutionizing Black consciousness and reconstructing Black culture.” Ignoring Black Theology of Liberation, Kanye offers his listeners and fans an alliance with tv evangelicalism and Joel Osteen. If as Adam Clark states, the “Christian faith has been a double-edged sword within the Black experience, (both) a weapon against Black people and a resource for resistance,” Kanye offers no resistance and instead presents us with Christianity as earthly subservience to the powers that be and a hope for salvation in the afterlife.

Kanye West’s recognition of the shallowness and commercialization of pop music, specifically his genre of rap, is made clear by his statement in the LA Times that “the devil stole all the good artists.” Commercial rap artists, who currently have a larger following amongst non-Blacks than Blacks, routinely present an image of Blacks as street thugs and perennial hustlers. The male-dominated genre continues to portray women as hypersexualized “hoes” with one of the differences being that now, in late capitalism, they are much more disposable. The lyrics encourage us to buy foreign, especially if the purchase involves European high fashion and expensive cars. In its shop-till-you-drop overtures, contemporary rap music situates itself in the center of corporate capitalism.

Yet Kanye’s rebirth in Christianity does not free him from the economic and political values of capitalism. Black theologian of liberation James Cone, in his reflections on Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire, defines three types of church – the conservative, the liberal and the prophetic. The prophetic church arose from Liberation Theology in Latin America and here in the States, from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. Cone argues that the U.S. would not have had the Civil Rights Movement without the prophetic Black Church. Regardless, “Jesus Is King,” lyrically and in concert performances, delivers to the listener the liberalism of individual salvation and a conservative alliance with televangelist Joel Osteen who, with an estimated worth of $40-60 million, believes that God rewards with material gain.

No surprise then that the track “Closed on Sunday” has the eerie and empty feel of New York’s Wall Street on the day marked by Christians for rest. In late capitalism, especially in the U.S., if an individual wants to escape the isolation and alienation inherent in American society, a popular option is to purchase a sense of momentary community at an eatery or at least roam around in a shopping mall. If the desire is to be amongst people, one can go to a place of commerce any day of the week; yet, the conservative Christian company Kanye sings about, Chick-Fil-A, is an exception with its Sunday closure. On this track, Kanye upholds family values and prayer while condemning Instagram, selfies, and Jezebels, with the latter being, in the Old Testament, a deceitful whore who disregarded Jewish custom. In the New Testament Jezebel symbolizes a departure from religion, and in the secular U.S., the term was often used in the past to denigrate what was perceived as sexually promiscuous Black women.

The revolutionary aspects of Paulo Freire’s conscientization, Liberation Theology, and Black Theology of Liberation involve interacting and becoming allies with the poor and oppressed to learn from the poor and come into a new consciousness not only about who we are but about society and how the world operates. We acquire the authentic class consciousness of Karl Marx that allows us to not only analyze society but to change it to allow all people to express their humanity instead of a select few. “Jesus is King” offers us the false consciousness of material wealth and individual salvation in its acceptance of the political and economic status quo and the pop artist’s overt alliance with wealthy elites.

WORKS CONSULTED

Boboltz, Sarah. “Kanye West Talks Back ‘Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People’ 13 Years Later,” Huffington Post, Nov. 11, 2018.

Carras, Christi. “Kanye West Praises the Lord – and Himself – at Joel Osteen’s Megachurch,” LA Times, Nov. 18, 2019.

Clark, Adam. “Honoring the Ancestors: Toward an Afrocentric Theology of Liberation,” Journal of Black Studies 44 (2013): 376-394

Kirylo, James and James H. Cone, “Chapter Eight: Paulo Freire, Black Theology of Liberation, and Liberation Theology: A Conversation with James Cone,” Counterpoints (2011): 195-212

African Americans’ Move to Nicaragua

Given persistent economic inequality and disproportionate mass incarceration, in the twenty-first century African Americans require territory for a national homeland.  Malcolm X is the most prominent of recent embodiments of this desire conceived of by Black Americans.  He is a tireless spokesperson and advocate for a national territory, as is Martin Delany who promotes this idea developed by the Black generations of his era.  Living from 1812-1885, Delany was physician, abolitionist, writer, husband, father, and a Civil War soldier who like Malcolm X was preoccupied with Black liberation and what it would look like in his time period as one of 600,000 freedmen amongst 3.5 million enslaved African-Americans.  He expresses the popular point of view of that time that “we (Black Americans) are a nation within a nation.” [i]  His preoccupation led him to conclude that real liberation and access to progress, for the freedmen at least, would require leaving the United States where whites owned everything as a result of their dependence on black labor.  Although whites would historically make it appear that Blacks were sequestered and forced to engage in hard labor because of their inferiority, the opposite was actually true; they were seized due to their superior abilities in activities like mining and agriculture.

Another idea circulating during Delany’s lifetime was the notion of repatriation of the African-American enslaved to Africa.  Delany was critical of this project which he regarded as conceived of by white slaveholders.  Namely, the American Colonization Society proposed to send Blacks to Liberia, an African nation created by the United States.  Depending on the political climate in the U.S., Delany considered this notion to be plausible, and at other times not.  He set sail for Africa, became familiar with the terrain and environs of Liberia, and finally concluded that he had an “unqualified objection to Liberia.”[ii]  But that conclusion would not stop him from later contemplating East Africa as a potential homeland for Black Americans as well as Lagos in present-day Nigeria.

Ultimately, Delany reasoned that the optimum location for an African-American homeland would be Central America.  Given its location and terrain, Delany saw Nicaragua specifically as an excellent location for agriculture and commerce.  His perception was that there was no racism in Nicaraguan society and that colored people wielded power.  He stated, “Central and South America are evidently the ultimate destination and future home of the colored race of this continent.”[iii]  His focus on Nicaragua was in no way unusual during his time period given that there was an obsession with Nicaragua amongst the white American ruling class.  During the 1850’s, members of the U.S. government had considered annexation of Nicaragua in an attempt to distribute land and eventually enslaved Black persons to white non-slave holders.  In other words, then, as today, the notion of Jeffersonian, white-male equality depended on both the exploitation of non-whites and the acquisition of territory outside the United States.  But was this land free of racism as Delany had perceived it to be?  Not quite so.  Nicaragua was a site of “ethnic cleansing”[iv] as practiced by the Spanish on the indigenous populations.

A closer look at race in Nicaragua reveals it not to be the idyllic environment as envisioned by African-American freedom fighter and liberationist Delany.  As contemporary researcher Lancaster points out, “Nicaragua does indeed have a race problem, or perhaps more to the point, a color problem, that manifests itself in insidious ways.”[v]  The minority populations of African and Miskito (Amerindian) origin are both concentrated and isolated on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast which was colonized by the British and which shares no direct highway link to the rest of the country.  Historically, the majority mestizos (persons of mixed blood), who themselves comprise 90% of the population, have considered Afro-Nicaraguans and Miskitos as backward and inferior.  Perhaps Delany perceived of Nicaragua as being free from racism due to the more subtle manifestations of racism in Latin America where this social malady is a series of practices as distinct from racism in the U.S which is structural.[vi]  Despite racism’s subtleties in Nicaragua, the leadership positions of the country have historically been held by the white elite who are noted as being the only demographic in the country not engaged in the internal and psychological warfare resulting from performing Spanish culture in indigenous or African skin.  This colonial warfare is noted by researcher Lancaster as being reversed only once per year, during carnival, when indigenous and African cultures are celebrated.  At other times, through both language and practice, the majority of the population exhibits a pervasive desire to be white.

Nicaragua as a nation continues to be a point of contention as current President Ortega struggles to retain power.  Ortega, who participated during the 1980’s in the leftist Sandinista revolution to overthrow U.S.-friendly dictator Somoza, has shifted his beliefs from Marxist-Leninism to democratic socialism.  Ortega’s terms as President include 1985-1990 and subsequent terms following elections in 2006, 2011, and 2016.  While some U.S. democratic socialists support Ortega and many U.S. Marxists and anarchists criticize him, the disparate groups tend to agree that the U.S. government, through its financing of NGO’s and human rights organizations, is trying to destabilize the present government viewed by the U.S. as being too friendly with both China and Russia.

Which way freedom?  Like African-Americans, the peoples of Nicaragua have had to struggle, engage in warfare, and face death and the death of loved ones in the quest for freedom during the eras of exploration and exploitation of the American continent, an exploitation that continues today.  Regarding economic issues in the formation of a nation, Delany often emphasizes business; yet, history shows that as businesses grow, they conglomerate and monopolize which results in a constraining of freedoms as their leaders cease to operate in the interests of working people.  Decisions about how businesses operate must be democratically shared with working people.  Regarding the freedoms of women, Delany correctly states that “no people are ever elevated above the condition of their females.”[vii]  Nicaragua today ranks twelve (after Germany) in gender equality.  Homosexuality is legal, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is illegal, but same-sex marriage is not recognized.  Unlike many other countries in the Southern hemisphere which focus on the growing of a few crops for international distribution, the country produces 80-90% of its own food.[viii]

Martin Delany, who, like Malcolm X, expresses a deep love for Black people, consistently has our freedom on his mind.  The physician Delany was one of the first three Blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1850, but they did not attend because protesting white students blocked their attendance.  Martin Delany states that if we Black Folk cannot leave the U.S. and found our own nation, we should at the least establish our own schools and colleges.  Delany proposes that African Americans leave a homeland for our children.  This same Martin Delany who was so preoccupied about a homeland died in 1885 with no tombstone marking the land holding his humble grave in Ohio until the year 2006.  Martin Delany resonates through time and beyond his grave.  His advocacy is persistent and pertinent.

[i] Howard Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 1850-1920 (New York: Routledge Press, 2017), 97

[ii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 77

[iii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 82

[iv] Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “Native Land and African Bodies, the Source of U.S. Capitalism,” Monthly Review 1 February 2015

[v] Roger N. Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua,” Ethnology Vol. 30, No. 4 (October 1991): 339-353

[vi] Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua”

[vii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 92

[viii] Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune, “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” Monthly Review 23 July 2018

Absent African American History and a History of Frederick Douglass

On my most recent travels to Washington, D.C. I didn’t cross the Anacostia River to visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site which was the home of the former slave and iconic abolitionist, orator, and writer.  My time in the city was then little and winding down, and my frustration ran deep as the locale which loomed large on tourist maps beckoned me.  Yet the sun was setting, and I and my travelling entourage were tired, hungry, and thirsty.  Of course, I knew of Frederick Douglass, and I had read some of his texts but not in the context of other African American thinkers and African American social philosophers.  I knew of Frederick Douglass in the American context of the grand scheme of U.S History that is Founding Fathers, War of Independence, Abolition, Civil War, Civil Rights unto the present.  In that context he is undeniably a hero.  The hero.

In my current reading of the text Creative Conflict in African American Thought–a text published in 2004 and written by history professor Wilson Jeremiah Moses–I have had the opportunity to place Frederick Douglass in a historical context with other African American thinkers including Alexander Crummel, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey.  Mine is an opportunity rarely afforded African American youth given that our K-12 education system teaches of historical giants such as Douglass (when at all) within the grand scheme of U.S. history and as colonial appendages to the broader culture. During my own education before attending college, I don’t recall in depth studies of African American thinkers other than Martin Luther King.  It took my own efforts as a teen to scour then extant L.A. bookstores and find the writings of Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Malcolm X, etc. In the U.S. it isn’t until one attends college that one has access to a wide range of African American thought.  Indeed, American universities are the vanguard of research on African-American history and culture with their researchers and professors distinguished by an enthusiasm, passionate curiosity and analysis that rarely reaches secondary education.

Euro-American popular culture disparages history, and as a people living in a colonial situation in the United States, our living experiences in many cases mimic White Americans while simultaneously being antithetical to White reality.  Euro-American culture erases the blundering of Natives, forgets its own indentured servitude, and disregards the manner in which European and “white” non-European immigrants to America changed ethnic-sounding monikers to Anglo last names while, at the same time, this dominant culture professes a belief in never-ending progress based on bourgeois ideals. Given White Amnesia regarding history, it is not surprising that as Black Folk we don’t readily refer to our history in the United States within an African-American context.  Not only do we not refer to the specificities of our U.S. history, we fail to put ourselves within the larger African diaspora that includes not just primogenial Africa but Blacks living in Europe and our distant cousins through enslavement throughout the Americas.

Frederick Douglass is full of history and fuller still within an African-American context wherein one sees him not only as an abolitionist, but as an assimilationist as well.  A man of recognized mixed ancestry (born of the enslaved Harriet Bailey and a White father who would not recognize him), his predisposition was to view Whites as superior.   He was not an advocate for Black racial pride nor ethnic solidarity and saw little use for Black institutions.  He was indeed a follower of bourgeois conventions.

As African-Americans we act out our foremothers and forefathers frequently and regularly.  The dominant culture would have us be only Frederick Douglass.  Yet without acknowledgment we have our rebellious Angela Davis cerebrations, our unrelenting Malcolm or high-road Martin agitation, our Booker T. desires to start a Black Business, and our Du Bois integration frustrations that lead to yearnings of donning Ankara African fabric and returning for good to the African continent.  Yet rarely are we put into that cultural context.  As high school students we aren’t consistently afforded this mirror to look at ourselves.  As writers we often fail to put Black Americans within the context of Black thought and its developments.  And we most certainly cannot expect White America to do this for us.  The result is a lack of recognition and awareness about how African American thought develops, how it turns on itself, and how it regresses.  History is alive.  It is under the surface of everything we do.  It urges to manifest itself.  As writers and educators, it is our duty to hear its call and reclaim African American history from under the mantle of alienation.

 

Descarado Brasil

Estimado Brasil:

(Policía, Ejército, Falange)

 

Entre maneras menos flagrantes para matar a Marielle Franco existía la posibilidad del suicidio de sus antepasados Africanos.  Durante su esclavizada travesía marítima, ellos podrían lanzarse a las profundidades del Átlantico en forma de cadaveres de alga marina y la semilla de Marielle nunca se hubiera establecida en tierra brasileña.

O sus progenitores podrían ser los primeros en rebelarse a la manera de Haití y el capital mundial unido con el imperio la condenarían lentamente, dejandola con hambre y acusandola por su propia escasez.

En nuestros tiempos podrían sofocar a su papá por traspasar en cualquier calle pública dejandola a ella en un remolino de agitación para protestar su asesinato sólo para morirse ella misma sofocada y asfixiada.

Podrían regalarse a su hijo una pistola plástica para divertirse solito en el parque y después apurarse Usted mismo a la escena del crimen aniquilando a ella y a su descendencia.

Finalmente, podrían detener a su carro por una violación de tráfico arrastrandola a la cárcel para acusar a la acusada de ahorcarse y matarse.

En cambio, a Marielle Franco la mataron cuando iba manejando Negra, asesinada junto con su conductor Anderson Pedro Gomes.

Su única defensa los votos que la eligieron Concejal Municipal.  Su voz que denunciaba el racismo, lo opresión, y la injusticia.  Su entendimiento que analizaba y relacionaba.

 

Desvergonzado Brasil:

(Policía, Ejército, Falange)

Nosotros perdimos.

Usted Extingue.

 

-Translated from the English by Audrey Shipp.

-Traducida del Íngles por Audrey Shipp

 

 

Blatant Brazil

“Blatant Brazil”

Esteemed Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

There were less blatant ways to kill Marielle Franco.

 

Foremost being before her African ancestors made their captured voyage to shore,

they could have simply jumped ship into the depths of the Atlantic as seaweed carcasses,

and her seed would have never settled in your soil.

 

Or her forebears could have been the first to rebel like Haiti and world capital and

empire could have slowly sanctioned her off, starved her and blamed her for her own

hunger.

 

In our times you might have choked her father for trespassing on any public street and

left her whirling to organize protest against his murder only to die breathless with no

beating heart.

 

You might have given her child a plastic gun to play with in a park and rushed in

annihilating both her and her offspring.

 

Finally, you could have stopped her car for a traffic violation, hauled her to jail to accuse

the accused of hanging herself.

 

Instead Marielle Franco was shot while driving Black, assassinated along with her driver

Anderson Pedro Gomes.

 

Her only defense the votes that made her a Council Member.  Her voice that rallied

against racism, oppression, and injustice. Her mind that analyzed and made

connections.

 

Brazen Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

Our Loss.

Your kill.

 

 

Black Women Won’t Save the World

“Black Women Won’t Save the World”

For: Erica Garner

 

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, Black Women won’t save the world.  Notwithstanding the circumference of the Cradle of Civilization in South Africa nestled in a locale from which all human beings originate; regardless of the excavations in Ethiopia of both Lucy and Ardi marking the evolution of homo erectus and what that signifies to the world in the evolutionary flowering of life, the act of waiting 27 years in a Mandela-like manner is far beyond the dexterity of even the most steadfast amongst us.  So, please do not expect it, since what a girl really wants is to be a first in Africa as President of the former American Colonization Society (aka, Liberia) to show the world how it’s really done following the commendable lead of Brooklyn-and the-Caribbean’s Chisholm who made her bid as leader of the entire Empire after the sea having been parted by that group of women who were so good at either whispering or shouting:

“Come along with me.”

(You know the ones.)

Those who say: “Come on now.”

“Don’t give up.”

Those that question: “Why can’t you do that, too?”

Harriet Tubman.

Sojourner Truth.

Rosa Parks.

But they can’t do it all.  They can’t continue to clean up the mess of Western Civilization epitomized in the world’s largest economy that works overtime like an oversized fan both amassing resources and throwing out products.  They can’t continue to wipe the mouths of temperamental children.  Black women will not save the world with a sweeping lift of the train of their gowns as they walk on stage and, with a Hattie McDaniel smile, accept their award.  Even though the world expects that they listen Oprah-style to its dilemmas and then offer pats on the back; even though society would have them sweeten reality like Aunt Jemima; even though segments of American politics cross their fingers waiting for Black Women to show up at the polls to circumvent the country’s tendency to worship totalitarian totems, it goes against the grain.  When all a girl wants is fresh food that can’t be bought at a liquor mart, healthcare that can’t be provided at a storefront, dignified employment that can’t be applied for amidst corporate outsourcing, ownership that can’t be acquired in economic inequality, safety that can’t be granted by the 2nd Amendment, and for her sons and daughters to live a freedom that can’t exist in a society of colored-only mass incarceration.  So, no, Black Women (who have been my sustenance) will not save a world that reduced Lucy to an objectified Sara Baartman, Hottentot Venus to be paraded around European freak shows to exhibit her large buttocks.  Regardless of their self-imposed exile to Paris and refashioning themselves to seduce á la Josephine Baker or using the both life-saving and self-effacing tools of Madame C. J. Walker to accommodate white middle-class patriarchy, they may still face a court case named the “The United States of America vs. Billie Holiday” in which their Blues cannot even be contained in a volume by Toni Morrison.  If indeed “la vida es un carnaval,” I want Black Women to formulate it, but we can’t save a world that is not of our making, a world in which mothers were historically assigned double duty and fathers were denied last names.  Fathers were depleted of even air to breathe.  Fathers had to plead, “I can’t breathe.”

Meek Mill Didn’t Get Killt (Nonfiction in 3 Voices)

”Meek Mill Didn’t Get Killt (Nonfiction in 3 Voices)”

Voice 1: In the land of curt consolations, one that is most apparent is that Meek Mill didn’t get killt although surely that could have happened in the City of New York which garnered a recent reputation for snuffing the life out of the big man selling loosies on Long Island or the youngin confined to Rikers Island based on allegations of stealing a backpack the soul of whom was stolen from him so much so that he committed suicide.  Meek Mill’s case could have been otherwise.  He escaped that fate, if escape it can be called, given the rapper has been dragging the ball and chain of probation since 2009 for an incident that occurred as a teen; yet, given that the U.S. legal system, which markets in black and brown bodies, has acknowledged no change in him, no redemption; thus, the law, its judicial representatives, and police boots on the ground watch his every move coveting a new conviction and they find it when the rapper pops motorcycle wheelies on the set of a video filming.  Illegal.  Against the law.  2-4 years jail time.  Meek didn’t get killt.  He didn’t run from the cops who then took it upon themselves to feel fear and shoot him in the back.  He didn’t attempt to be the “trillest” and say, “Officer, I want to let you know I have a weapon,” and then get shot.  Point.  Blank.  He didn’t get into an argument at the liquor store and walk down the street only to get shot in the back.  None of that.  Meek Mill didn’t get killt.

Voice 2: On that one track Meek say, “They wanna see you in the hood back when you ain’t got shit.”  That be real tho.  That’s how the United States be operating on “Young Black America.”

Voice 1: Why do Blacks total forty percent of those incarcerated yet make up just thirteen percent of the U.S. population?  And why are one-third of those on parole in the U.S. Black people?  Black people and Brown people are disproportionately locked up.  Last name from that now-gone Spanish empire that surrendered to the force of both Anglo expansion and the consequent U.S. empire?  You know the one.  Persona de Mexico?  El Salvador?  Chances of being incarcerated abundant as well.  Practice a suspect religion.  Accent a bit odd.  Low income.  Scant education.  Behind bars.

Voice 2: On that one track when Meek and Thug say, “Lost so many niggas, I went crazy, I couldn’t balance it,” that be real too.  Like, you lose your peeps, and you be fucked up from the pain, like dizzy and shit, everything is out of wack, the city gets bigger and it’s just you standin there and all the traffic is goin in all different directions, and the empty house cuz that person ain’t there no more, just things, things to be cleaned up and horded so you can keep them or toss others in those large plastic trash bags to be dumped into oblivion, but you never forget cuz those people be in your heart always and on your mind at the oddest moments and when you look in the mirror, you be seein that person, them people, and when you speak, you hear they voices, too.

Voice 1: The challenge is to resist a culture of violent obliviousness in a broader society that would have us forget because the forgetting is dehumanization not only of the forgotten but of ourselves.  After September 11, 2001 when U.S. news networks faced the hardship of paying tribute to the souls lost in the Twin Towers, I remember looking at the scrolling photos of the deceased on the tv screen and realizing how beautiful everyday Americans were.  The photos, names, occupations of the victims were portrayed uninterruptedly.  Sixteen years later, in our society that increasingly shutters the finality of death as well as institutions like jails and prisons that impose forms of death on the living, we are increasingly not offered those commemorations, words from family members, the photos.  Just this year with the tragic human losses in the Las Vegas Concert shooting, the Texas church shooting, the hundreds of dead in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, we see meager mention of the victims.  The corporate news media, which has few reasons to seek revolt, moves on to the next story.  But as the poet says:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

…any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

-John Donne

 

Voice 2: That be trill, tho.  John Donne was ride or die way back in the day.  Those some good lines.  It may be someone else today, your homie tomorrow, but eventually, it’s us.  One of my favorites from Meek’s album is, “Relax your mind and kick your feet way up/Selling dog food tryna feed my pups.”  We’re not forgetting Meek nor the many, many locked up.

Voice 1: “We Ball”?

Voice 2: Ballin.