Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What if America Also Elevated Malcolm X, John Brown, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Nat Turner and Other Black Freedom Fighters to American Royalty Just Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

[My most recent series of essays on the March on Washington anniversary have brought quite a few new readers to We Are Respectable Negroes. As I do during such moments, I inaugurate an informal fundraising drive.

I do not advertise or monetize my work here on WARN. I also choose not to run advertisements or sponsorship because I want to remain independent. Instead, I have a twice a year fundraiser, and moments such as this one, where I extend the hand on high traffic posts.

Random monies thrown into the tip jar Paypal bucket are however always appreciated. My work here and elsewhere are labors of love. However, I never refuse encouragement.]
Private rituals provide comfort through routine. Public rituals deploy the same logic on a mass scale by creating a sense of community through a shared experience.

Today's celebration of the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington is a ritual that is designed to cement America's memory of itself as an exceptional nation above all others. Consider the trajectory and narrative arc: the United States held millions of people in bondage, fought a Civil War over the issue of chattel slavery, was led to a third revolution by Dr. King, and then elected a black man as President.

The story sells itself.

This same public ritual involves the dual creation and reinforcement of a mythology which creates a version of Dr. King that is robbed of all of his radicalism, and where he is made into an easily digestible figure for a public that yearns for consensus politics.

As I alluded to here, the anti-war, anti-poverty, radical, provocative, challenging, and explicitly pro-black Dr. King who loved black and brown people and would die for them in the fight against White Supremacy, is not an acceptable public figure for post racial, post civil rights America.

The United States is a "corporateocracy" where its citizens have been taught that democracy is synonymous with capitalism. The United States has circulated a myth of origin wherein she imagines herself as a nation of immigrants--as opposed to a nation of white settlers who showed up, displaced the people already living here, and then created a racially tiered "democracy".

And with Jim and Jane Crow being formally vanquished, the American (white) public could be self-congratulatory, pronounce white racism dead, and the work of the Civil Rights Movement done...and damn any black, brown, or white folks who continue to call out the existence of both day-to-day and institutional white supremacy, for they are now the "real racists" by daring to engage in such truth-telling enterprises.

The celebration of the truncated and abridged "I have a Dream Dr. King" is a result of a need by elites and many in the public to integrate those competing impulses and political projects.

The Dr. King who is feted and worshiped in the Age of Obama is a wax museum come to life. He is a post racial version of Santa Claus for all of those good boys and girls who want to imagine that white supremacy is a thing of the past. Consequently, because Dr. King is now a type of cultural and political Santa Claus, he can be re-purposed by the White Right and claimed as their cheerleader with little consequence for their willful lies in the service of white supremacist fantasies.

The particularly lazy and intellectually vacuous type of public memory that has been created around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in post civil rights America encourages such fictions and delusions.

Who is to be blamed?

However, the real Dr. King would be putting much coal in the stockings of the American people for their failure to continue his work. In the year 2013, the American people have not created an economic democracy, are in many ways surrendering to white supremacy, have not fixed broken public schools, unions and labor are weak and dying, and American militarism is shrugged at with little complaint.

The public ritual wants, and even perhaps needs, a great man or great woman, a singular figure on which to focus its attention. Among proper students of the Civil Rights Movement and American history--as opposed to the one created by the dream merchants of multicultural market/corporate democracy neoliberal America--it is understood the Brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was but one player among many other freedom fighters in the centuries-long Black Freedom Struggle.

Counterfactuals and thought experiments are very useful devices here.

What would happen, if on this 50th anniversary of The March on Washington, men and women such as Brother Malcolm X, Robert Williams, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Toussaint Louverture, The Deacons for Defense, The Black Panthers, Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, David Walker, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques Garvey, John Brown, and the many other black (and some white) Americans who fought for the  rights, human dignity, and liberty of African-Americans, by any means necessary, as well as in quotidian ways (and usually without acknowledgement) were also elevated to American sainthood?

Is American public memory capable of including such voices in an honest way?

And must the Civil Rights Movement's public narrative necessarily be about black "surrender" to white violence in order to fit into a politically correct version of American history that is approved by the white racial frame?


Shady Grady said...

"And must the Civil Rights Movement's public narrative necessarily be about black "surrender" to white violence in order to fit into the politically correct, and approved by the white racial frame, American story?"

Next question....

Shady Grady said...

There is NO way that whites en masse, conservative or not, would be comfortable celebrating or honoring people who did not make appeals to their moral nature or worse, defended themselves using violence. Compare and contrast with the numerous cemeteries, streets, cities, parks, forts, etc named after white people who killed tons of Indians, owned slaves, fought for the Confederacy, etc...

chauncey devega said...

great observation. CSA trash is honored; slave owners are honored; black and brown freedom fighters? relative silence.

Learning Is Eternal... said...

Correct me if I'm wrong or lack details but I recently read MLK had became more radical between 1964-68. That nonviolent ish had worn thin. His famous I had a dream speech was either preceded or followed by a much more scathing criticism of the united snakes shortcomings. The I had a dream... Didn't make WF uncomfortable so that's what they pontificate. They only acknowledge the ones they kill during BHM. Anyone who speaks on their genocidal ambitions are not allowed in history books written off as myth in time.

chauncey devega said...

Dr. King was much less hopeful about white America's capacity to deal w. white supremacy. He came to Chicago and faced vicious racism. He was also going to work to have the U.S. put on trial for crimes against humanity. Cone's essential Martin and Malcolm in America book does an amazing job of exploring the convergence of belief between those two men.

Heavy Armor said...

And it always comes to this.

Most people who comment on MLK tend to forget all of things that happened:

- No one comments on "Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever."

- Everyone glosses over "MLK is a communist" spoken by most of the national politicians (to smear both him and the Civil Rights Movement - as un-American).

- COINTELPRO is glossed over as the ravings of a "cross-dressing lunatic" (and not as an actual government apparatus).

- MLK's "Letters from a Birmingham Jail" is also sparsely discussed.

- People mentioning "I Have a Dream" don't talk about his call for Dignity, Justice, and Acceptance. His "content of character" is always misconstrued as "tolerance."

- The use of Police Departments to violently suppress protest against Blacks exercising their First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, and petition to redress grievance. This also includes White Vigilante groups who often terrorized Blacks (and those who supported them) with virtual impunity.

And on and on and on.

In other words, the talk is all about a speech that, unfortunately, gets reduced to corporate sloganism. There is no "One Size Fits All" when it comes to how one confronts repression, injustice, and tyranny. We'd do best to remember that.

Because confronting these evils in the hands of the State is always a violent act, whether one uses weapons or uses the body as weapon. It makes no difference in the end; the State's response will always be to protect its power at all costs.

Ceriatrain Forever said...

Finally the whole world or rather I should say the white world is seeing in the Myley Cyrus performance what the black world has to look at everday--- our black women being reduced to whores and sexualized demons for the whole world to see over and over and over again. So what is the outrage?? I white middle class southern girl got up on stage and acted like the performances she has seen most of her life those of Beyoncé and Rhinanna. Those are the performances that make money that is what she knows and sees. Oddly enough critic groups and society at large tend to deem Rhianna's performances as brilliant, and interesting art work but when Myley does the exact same gig its called a scandal. The only reason is because Myley is white. In a world of racism and self inflicted racism it is acceptable for the race deemed lower class to allow its women to be sexually exploited on any and every level. Let this be a wake up call to white and black America this kind of behavior is not "black " it is dehumanizing and humiliating to women it is the ultimate war against women. Rich girls get up on stage and do this for a living then get escorted around their lives by body guards poor girls try to live their daily lives and then get raped abducted and sold into sexual slavery . Wake up America Myley has give us an important lesson. the discussion must begin why is it okay for Rhianna to act like this and not Myley? Because racism says that black women are whores and naturally sexual. Well guess what white America when you let your little girls watch Rhianna all day long this is what you are going to get . Children don't see color they see action. Whatever you expose them to and allow as okay is what they will become. Finally white America has gotten a taste of its own overly sexualized violent medicine.

Miles_Ellison said...

The problem is that the narrative of those individuals can't be easily reduced to watercolor pictures and a slogan on a paper insert for a McDonald's tray during McRib (Black History) Month. It's taken over a half century of vigorous scrubbing, whitewashing, and obfuscation to make King's message palatable to white consumers of the fast-food version of history while at the same time turning state-sponsored racist violence into some vague abstraction.

EGfromIA said...

An excellent post, and a needed antidote to all the self-congratulatory treacle being spread around by the talking heads. Are you familiar with the work of The Rude Pundit? ( He wrote today in a similar vein and for several years on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, while George W. Bush was in the White House, he wrote a similar one with quotes from Dr. King. Here is part of what TRP said today, in regard to conservatives trying to hijack his legacy:

"You got it? Martin Luther King, Jr. was not conservative. And he is not your cuddly toy. He is not Marty, the Dream Bear. He was an openly socialistic, confrontational radical whose "I Have a Dream" speech asked for nothing less than a complete elimination of white privilege and the destruction of racial and economic hierarchies."

This is one of those days where news items were making me queasy, really actually to the point of feeling physically sick. For one, the Miley Cyrus story, mentioned above by another commenter. I had been trying as best I could not to know any details of it, but that seems to be impossible and I found out that not only was she embarrassing herself in the awards-show performance; she was doing a stereotypically racist appropriation of black women's bodies to do it. Then I was feeling sick about the idea that the President of the United States was going to make a speech about Dr. King, who earned a Nobel Peace Prize for actually promoting peace, on the eve of the very day we are told it is likely that we will bomb another country of brown people on the other side of the world who have not done anything to us. I know it is self-indulgent and narcissistic to feel sick and discouraged, so I will try to stop but hope I can be forgiven for a few hours of it. And I am still at work, so I had better get back to it.

Oh, and BTW, re Robert Williams: I will admit that I only heard about Negroes With Guns a couple of years ago and immediately got hold of a copy and read it. I would love to see it made into a really honest dramatic film adaptation, with its title intact, both to see the story told to a wider audience and also to see the head 'splodin' that would go on amongst the white racist gun nuts and the Cuban exile right-wingers!

GBT said...

I like this Black Icon this author is awesome !!

GBT said...

I did not attend the event today ..Black Radicals were not welcomed ....

Learning Is Eternal... said...

I would love to stay in The Garvey Subdivision on Vessey St. My spawn could attend Nat Turner Elementary & finish secondary @Learning Is Eternal... Toussaint L'ouverture/Breda High & obtain a masters or better @Ida B. Wells University.
CDV, you did say "What if..."

Learning Is Eternal said...

I would love to stay in The Garvey Subdivision on Vessey St. My spawn would attend Nat Turner Elementary, finish secondary @Toussaint L'ouverture High & obtain a masters or Ph.d @Ida B. Wells University... CDV, you did say "What If..."

The Sanity Inspector said...

Many of the black radicals listed here have actually been extensively commemorated, if not as roundly celebrated as Dr. King. Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, and Sojourner Truth, to name a few, all appear on postage stamps and in BHM school assignments. Malcolm X's memory in particular seems especially vibrant. I remember the Malcolm X revival of the early 90s, around what would have been his 65th birthday. I looked up one day, and every third young black man was wearing hornrims, goatee, white shirt & black tie. Spike Lee's movie about him seems to have done well among the general movie-going public, too.

If MLK is in danger of turning into a cement lawn saint, that's unfortunate. People forget that history wasn't always history--it used to be current events, as turbulent and clouded as current events are in our day, and it takes truly great vision to find the truth and tack towards it. But it remains the case that MLK was the activist who finally managed to push things over the tipping point. Everything that could have been accomplished to end Jim Crow by appeals to practicality and accommodation was done by Booker T. Washington--it wasn't sufficient. Everything that could have been done by agitation coupled with sheer force of intellect was done by W.E.B. Du Bois--it wasn't sufficient. But Dr. King, treading the ground prepared by his predecessors, appealed to "the angels of our better natures". And, America proving to have a living conscience after all, it was sufficient.

chauncey devega said...

What a wonderful world that would be!

chauncey devega said...

I will check out that site. What did you think of Robert Williams' book? Have you watched the documentary on him?

chauncey devega said...

The Boondocks killed it, no?

chauncey devega said...

The anti-war, anti-poverty, calling out white supremacy Dr. King was hated. Where is my Nat Turner of John Brown stamp? Where are their streets and courthouses and schools?

If Brother King lived today I would be money that we would be at the very least slurred by Fox News and the mainstream media and in the worst case disappeared to Gitmo or a Federal prison. No?

Black Sci-Fi said...

You had me right up to the point where you accused President Obama of "bombing brown people". I think that you may have confused the role of "a" king with the role of Dr. King.
First things first, in a very real sense black folks in America understand the reality of political/military power and the constraints of moral leadership within this "representative" democracy.
President Obama is president of the ENTIRE United States and is by job title and oath obligated to put the interests, as defined by the Constitution, of the state above his personal/tribal feelings. OTOH, Dr. King, by job title and oath, is obligated to put his MORAL interests, as defined by the bible, ahead of the interests of the state.
With that said, it doesn't take either man to put our tribal house in order. Obama, upon taking office, said: "We are the ones we've been waiting for" which I think sums up the need for our community to take responsibility for the moral and economic and political success of our people.
Racists and the Texas School Board will have their say, but that doesn't give them a larger microphone that you or I. They choose to "step up to the mic" while we choose to accept the status quo by not seizing the mic and laying out a clear vision for President Obama to adapt.
Maybe it's time for another "million man march" on Washington with a clear platform of economic justice, for all.....

DeistPaladin said...

It's hard for me to understand why there's a single confederate monument in America or a single confederate flag being proudly displayed. Not only was the confederate insurrection fighting to preserve slavery in America, they were traitors who took up arms against the duly elected president specifically because they didn't like the election result. What a dangerous thing to celebrate or honor.
In many respects, the current GOP represents the successor to this mentality. When democracy doesn't work for them, as with "Obamacare", they threaten to crash and burn the whole country. Their brainless followers should be mindlessly chanting "C-S-A! C-S-A!" If they were honest, they would admit that was the America they long for.

Concerned said...

Honestly though, the founding fathers were traitors to their country who took up arms.

DeistPaladin said...

Quote: "CSA trash..."
May I humbly suggest putting that in more specific terms?
CSA traitors!
That's what those people were by any definition of the term. They took up arms against America because they didn't like the election result. And they fired the first shots to boot.
And yet the slave insurrections aren't remembered or commemorated in monuments. I know they happened but I confess I can't remember any names. They also engaged in armed insurrection but quite arguably in a way consistent with the cherished American tradition enshrined in our Declaration of Independence

DeistPaladin said...

Only insurrectionists who lose are traitors. :p
OK, seriously, their insurrection was at least justified on democratic grounds, rebelling against a tyrant. I wouldn't call the slave insurrections "treason" for exactly the same reason. It's a slaves right to rebel. But a democratically elected government that properly respects the rights of its minorities negates that right to rebel. The CSA took up arms in violent insurrection against its democratically elected president. That's what makes it different.
Or so I would argue.

Stone Riley said...

By the way, there is one socially acceptable slave rebellion in U.S. history: the slave mutiny on the ship Amistad in 1839. Of course, that uprising was against Spanish (not American) slaveholders and was resolved righteously by a U.S. judge.

EGfromIA said...

Fair enough; I take your point about the difference in their responsibilities and constraints on their respective actions or opportunities for action. It's just that I think in this particular case that the action being contemplated against Syria is nowhere near justified, will kill people who haven't done anything to us and destroy the homes and property of others and probably make the situation worse.

Dolores V. Sisco said...

All of a sudden, right-wing asshats want to turn Dr. King into Unca Clarence and Herman Cain while they work so hard to bring back Jim Crow, kill us outright, and shovel us off to prison. Do they really think we can't see through this crap? And as much as they "love" Dr. King, not one Rethug leader showed up on the Anniversary.

EGfromIA said...

I have not seen it and am not even sure that I was aware of it, although I might have heard there was one. I just found it on IMdb and will try to see if I can find it anywhere (no luck on Amazon). The book was rather stunning. I am not much of a fan of guns, don't own any. My family had them; we had a small farm and my dad and brothers did some hunting but not much. I went out once with my dad and he did shoot a pheasant and I was kind of eh, not so fun and that was pretty much that. One of my brothers was something of a gun nut himself, a liberal one at that, and we did some target shooting. Anyway, it was interesting to get a somewhat different perspective from Robert Williams' book. There is one very powerful scene in there where a bunch of black men gather on the porch and in the yard of someone who is has been threatened and is in danger; they all very obviously are holding guns and they don't even have to use them; the would-be lynchers just drive by and leave them alone. Of course, there was actual violence in there too and he pretty much had to flee to Cuba eventually.

BTW, as far as an identity issue, I am a sorta-old white guy, not black. Not that I think it matters to you or anyone else here as far as my commenting and expressing an opinion, just don't want to give a wrong impression? I also posted here recently under the guest name "Tim," my Disqus screen name does not really reflect my actual identity much and I have thought about changing it, but will stick with it for now.

chauncey devega said...

The joke about the CSA and their Tea Party GOP descendants is that they have no complaints about the federal gov't or the constitution when it supports their political projects. When it does not there is all this tyranny and mess afoot.

Black Sci-Fi said...

I agree that war should be the last choice. My hope is that PBO respects his oath enough to give us clear proof of the need to go to war against Syria.
With all due respect, it's difficult for me to call all black, brown, asian or semetic people allies in the struggle to liberate African-Americans, in America. To be honest, the only ethnic group, to the best of my knowledge, that wasn''t complicit in American slavery were Asians.
I dare say the people in Rwanda or Congo who have been victims of genocide would not share your romantic notions of all "people of color" being allies.
Cruel intentions are human traits that have always crossed the color line.
The "Dream" and the "Struggle" have to be reconciled as the moral asperation for universal brotherhood vs. the real work of gaining global peace in our lifetime, by any means necessary.

Martin and Malcolm were the strategic "good cop / bad cop" employed to gain liberation here in America. One without the other may not have lead to a successful outcome. I choose to honor them both.
Lastly, i want to thank CDV for the topical discussions he creates that enrich our lives.

Cavoyo said...

If the Panthers were elevated to sainthood, we'd hear a lot more about how gun control is racist.

Miles_Ellison said...

That it did.