Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Expressing chaos.

These days when I shake my head I hear a million thoughts shifting around and bumping into each other, they are all jumbled and confused as to what they are supposed to be doing, why they exist - you know the meaningful question of existence. I think my brain is on one of those Redbull and Hennesy binges where it is ratchets up production and then gets mesmerized at the production line and stalls.

There are exactly three things the are knocking me out right now. First, The protests in the middle east. Specifically the contrast (luck) in the government response in Egypt versus the violence and death of about 233 protesters in Libya. I recall holding my breath and crossing my fingers hoping that the Egyption people would come though this without much bloodshed and then when it happened I got complacent. When Tunisia and others began to show unrest I assumed, naively I admit, that the revolutions would continue with the same type of relatively violence free movement. However, it seems that the oppression that others in the region faced was much harsher than in Egypt and the powers that be ruled with a real iron fist, the results --  'bodies littering the street' as one CNN correspondent stated, as the camera panned the street following a volley of bullets from the army into a crowd of people.

I'm stunned at the courage of the middle eastern protesters. My dirty embarrassing hidden secret is that I always assumed that regimes were unstoppable and it would take long sustained revolutions over time to make social changes without pulling out the guns. But. I get the 'Malcolm X spidey sense' that that particular process might be the gentle of lull of complacency urging me to go to the mall instead of doing (insert revolutionary activity). hmmm.

Second, I'm reading - At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Denise L. McGuire.  All I can say is pause. Her book is so deep and revolutionary I can only read a couple of pages at a time before I end up staring out the subway window, stalled at the implications.  She discusses the way that abduction and brutal rape of black women was used as mental and physical racial terrorism in the same way as the more familiar terroristic lynching of black men. pause. I can't even comprehend that world. She talks about the way that law enforcement and the white community at large allowed the wholesale rape and abduction of black women in the south - the way that these men were known to law enforcement and nothing was done, a part of the method I'm sure. I believe she mentioned that the land mark case that marked a change in the relationship (ownership/use) of black women's bodies and their particular oppression was in 1944 (the year of my mothers birth).  1944...Prior to that, you could be abducted by a group of white men on the road, raped, and driven back to the road and nothing would have happen, no prosecution, nothing.  1944 Why have we never had this conversation before? How did families handle this violation? If kept a secret, what effect did this have on the women who held these secrets, carried these burdens alone? This is the world that my grandmother was raised in. Did you know my whole family migrated to the north and my grandmother refuses to even talk about going back there?Now I want to know more about why. Most importantly, how has that affected the black community today? What legacy has this atrocity left on relationships between black men and women, black women and white men and so on?

Then I heard that Tyler Perry is coming out with another Medea movie. pause.

Third, I'm also reading Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America by Ira Berlin. He notes that slavery didn't have a single thread of evolution, it had four. There were at least four different type of slavery that moved through North and South America and that their relationship to enslaved people was different. There were different levels of autonomy and different levels of brutality... that then infected the remainder of the culture in relative ways. i.e brutal slave culture...brutal relationship to wives...heavy. Additionally, he notes that there was a time where the slave culture and idea of the slave was not based on race. A subject I initially encountered in, the yet to be finished, Toni Morrison's Mercy. He talks about landholding groups and slave owning groups that allowed blacks entry. He talks about the the merciless black handler who did not identify with the 'slaves' as he moved toward the capitalist ideal of slave holding himself. This apparently took place sometime around the 1600's, very early slavery. Having now encountered this fact in more than two sources I am inclined to believe it - although I understand the reluctance to be able to absorb this seemingly new or hidden historical information about the complex nature of slavery, people who were enslaved and people who held slaves. 

Turning off Hot97 now- I know it seems odd but it provides prospective for me so I don't have a rosewood moment AND I simultaneously understand what is at stake for communities (mine) that have lost a sense of the history. (kanye sings 'I not paying tonight I'm just browsing' - mute)

So hasn't the theme, and isn't the energy, in the world right now about resistance and sacrifice for the justice? But...black people have been told that, with the exception of Marcus Garvey, we never resisted, we had no autonomy, we were simply passives slaves to be used and abused until Harriet Tubman came along with Fredrick Douglas and freed us - Thank you President Lincoln. amen everything is forgiven.

So obviously the conversation is about acquiescence to oppression and the inability or unwillingness of black people in American to resist and sacrifice in the same way that protesters are doing in the middle east.  We, black Americans, have fought and died in the past and how this land is our land as well, we were not, are not, visitors but cultivators and active agents. Would we die for this land knowing that our foremothers and fathers struggled to survive and died for out to exist here?

Here's a better question, I have been struggling with this over the past few days, -- what would justice look like for black Americans today?

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