Thursday, April 3, 2008

Deferring the " Dream" for the "Burning House"

A few years ago at a State of the Black Union event, I remember an interview with Harry Belafonte wherein he shared one of his last conversations with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said Dr. King told him, “I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house.” Concerned, he asked Dr. King, “What should we do?” Dr. King replied, “Become the firemen. Let’s not stand by and let the house burn.”

That tete-a-tete kept popping into my head all day, so much so that I've had trouble finishing this post. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for the entire conversation, then I wouldn't have to speculate about what Dr. King actually meant. But I wasn't. So, drawing on my own life experiences in the Jim Crow South, I believe he was equating the state of American politics, policies and business at the time, to the "Burning House" - a house in which Blacks had NO hand in building.

Racism, more overt than covert, was both institutionalized and personal; poverty was then, as it is now, overwhelming for the have-nots and ignored by the haves; the Vietnam War, like Iraq, was un-winnable and unconscionable but, we kept fighting. Then, largely through his efforts, Blacks were thrust, uninitiated, into the "games" those politicians knew all too well how to play in order to line their pockets, stroke their own egos, bamboozle the people and maintain the status quo.

I'm so tired of this cliche, but both parts still hold so much truth: Blacks have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The games, the political calculations and machinations, the "burning house" strategies - still exist. The only difference is the faces of the gamesmen have morphed into our own. We need only look to this very small, partial list to realize both halves of the truth in the cliche:

  • Former D.C. mayor, Marion Barry
  • Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick
  • Former Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson
  • Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Colin Powell
  • Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice
  • Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas
  • Former HUD Secretary, Alphonso Jackson
  • Talk-radio show hosts Armstrong Williams and Michael Baisden
  • Prior presidential candidates, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
  • Television talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey
  • Actor and comedian, Dr. Bill Cosby
  • NPR Senior Correspondent, Juan Williams
  • Presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama

The house WAS, and still is burning. And yes, the senator from Illinois has especially learned how to play those games very well (an interesting article from Todd Spivak of the Houston Press lays out some of his lessons). One has to admit that using the color of his skin and channelling MLK or Malcolm X to get the Black vote, then distancing himself from them after he's gotten what he wanted so as not to upset white folks, is perfect - for him! Having used Rev. Wright and his congregation to firmly plant his image in the Black community, then denouncing him when the shit hit the fan, to only later come back and tell white folks what they wanted to hear to assuage their guilt by excusing the reverend as some old, doddering, retiring, used-to-have-been is brilliant, learned, "burning house" strategy. Even Sun Tzu would have been proud!

Don't get me wrong, for minorities, learning those "games" was and remains essential to surviving and trying to thrive in the burning house. But Sen. Obama's pouring more fuel on the fire, through playing the same games that held us in bondage, is not where I expected we'd be after 40+ years. I, like Dr. King, thought we would be the firemen.

During the afore-mentioned State of the Black Union event, Dr. Cornel West said, “We must transform the House.” Much as I admire Dr. West, I don't see much transformation in the senator from Illinois.


the first domino said...

I believe he was equating the state of American politics, policies and business at the time, to the "Burning House" - a house in which Blacks had NO hand in building.

I agree. Yet, his statement seems more grim than that. It almost suggests a "separation doctrine."

I believe that Rev. King was keenly aware of the corruptive power of white America, that it had traded its soul in it's endeavor to surpass economically the rest of the world.

I believe that he felt that the souls of black people were also at risk in this country.

I believe that he felt that integration would put us in the middle of that corruption, and that the result would be catastrophic for us as well: we, too, pursuing the American dream as it was then fashioned, would lose our collective souls.

Better to stand apart than go down with a house built on slavery, harsh segregation, and a economic system more materialistic than compassionate.

And Rev. King's following statement is both intriguing and challenging.

“Become the firemen. Let’s not stand by and let the house burn.”

Surely he wasn't advocating the preservation of a failed house, or those who had set it on fire in the first place.

Firemen put fires out.

Maybe the firemen he had in mind were those among us willing to replace the house with a more fireproof one, or douse the fires already burning by giving the country a new fireproof direction.

What is needed, then, are political carpenters and masons, as well as able firemen.

The house, then, could be rebuilt within the structure of the old house using the old foundation, via life-affirming, political policies, economic compassion, and racial equality, or outside of the house--a violent takeover of the house.

The former is my preference, and it was probably Dr. King's preference, as well.

But one never knows.

Deb said...

the first domino...Hey, how are you?? You are saying exactly what I meant though I did not delineate each point you raise - I have to do better on that. I don't agree, however that he was suggesting a "separation doctrine" as that course would be counter to everything he spent his very short life trying to achieve.

I believe as you stated, "Maybe the firemen he had in mind were those among us willing to replace the house with a more fireproof one, or douse the fires already burning by giving the country a new fireproof direction."

My list was an illustration of those who many of us THOUGHT WOULD BE OR WERE THE FIREMEN TO DATE - but as it turns out, they HAVEN'T BEEN AND ARE NOT. Rather, they have, along with those who set the house afire in the first place, helped to "preserve the failed house" - Sen. Obama included.

We are saying the same things - you just said it more clearly. Hey! I'm working on being a better writer, able to clearly state my thoughts so they are easily understood. Comments help me tremendously in figuring out how to do that. Thanks! I'm posting your comment on the blog to clarify my point for the one or two people who've read it.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

Elder Nathanyel said...

JEREMIAH 23:25 "I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.
[26] How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;"
The blackman and woman of the slavertrade are the biblical children of Israel.

Anonymous said...

MLK was alluding to, besides the literal firebombing of African-majority churches by White Supremacists during that era, religious terminology known as the House of Esau, whose area is known as Edom. There are numerous sources that indict the West as such, but based on rudimentary textual analysis of "the prophets", the flame that consumes the West (NATO, Europe, America(s), what have EEUU) in a ball of fire is ultimately lit by a descendant of Rachel (Source: The Book of Obadiah).

NOTE: Esau is described as hairy and an admixture of red and white, basically.

Deb said...

Anon...Thanks for dropping in and sharing some knowledge. I have to admit, I never paid as much attention as my mother would have liked during Bible Study or BTU Training. And now, given my continued "crisis of Chistian faith," I don't particularly want to (other than as a point-of-reference for greater understanding of others' motives - as you've given me here). Now, I prefer to learn all I never knew - and as much as I can - about the African spirituality from whence I came.

Again, thanx for sharing - drop in anytime

Anonymous said...

Hey Deb,

Totally encourage you to research your Indigenous African roots. I am particularly interested in endangered languages and dialects. I find the movements to acquire antiquity through legal precedence encouraging (notable cases of parchment returned to Korea from Japan, as well as sacred bones returned to Africa from Germany, come to mind). Scholarly innovations in reviving written scripts and characters of Southeast Asian extraction (Maori and Malay, specifically) are also gaining significant traction.

I was just providing you and your readership a focal point of reference regarding Dr. King's statement, background which a majority of Westerners are not aware of. I hope it brings at least a tiny ounce of clarity toward a Greater New Afrika.

Good luck in excavating your ancestry. As Bob Marley croons:

"If you know your history/Then you would know where you're coming from/Then you wouldn't have to ask me/Who the heck do you think I am"
~ Bob Marley, Buffalo Soldier

Related: "Ultimately, to ask Science to tell you who you are is a shortcut: It's lazy. And we still have to ask those same questions ourselves."
~ David Henry Hwang, The DNA Trail

Deb said...

Anon..."was just providing you and your readership a focal point of reference regarding Dr. King's statement, background which a majority of Westerners are not aware of. I hope it brings at least a tiny ounce of clarity toward a Greater New Afrika."

Thanx! And that's exactly how I took it.

Funny though, thatyou should mention this. My internet digging a while back, led me to Joseph Opala, who gave me a spring-board into my SC Gullah, linguistic roots (of which I, and most American Blacks have been, taught to be ashamed - to this day!). His work, for which I am very grateful, led me - most importantly, to Lorenzo Dow Turner's, "Africanisms in the African Dialect."

And I don't believe in coincidences.

At the invitation of a friend - also "in search of himself," I have travelled to West Africa three times in the last two years and have found so much of "whence I came" as a result.

My only regret is, that it's taken me 55 years to even get to this point! But I plan to keep pluggin' away

Rose Hudson said...

Eventually we will all come into the knowledge we will know that the so-called negro are in fact descendants of the children of Israel...we are Hebrew Israelites, of the tribe of Judah....Deuteronomy 28: 16-68...tells us why we ended up here in the first place because of forward to now...we just have to be still and know..the fulfillment if the gentiles needs to be fullfilled....yes tbe house is burning...but not our house...for Esau signifies the end of the world..and is the one that followeth.

Rose Hudson said...

Jacob is the one that followeth

Deb said...

Rose...Thanx for dropping in. Though I shall not count myself among the "Hebrew Israelites" to whom you refer, I appreciate your input.

chantlaca said...
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chantlaca said...

Movimiento Macehualli: The Earth Labor of Love

When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said after Selma in 1967: "We have emerged from the era of Civil Rights to the Era of Human Rights," there was a pause and, contemplation. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved out of the pause, and in conversation with Harry Belafonte later said: "I'm afraid we are integrating into a burning house." he was not only referring to the Master's Narrative of the Big House, the colonizers' settler state of America, but presciently referenced in future tense the current global Climate Chaos scenario exacerbated by global warming amplified by greenhouse gas emissions from industrialization.

Anonymous said...

WHAT HE MEANT WAS HE HAD A VISION FROM GOD SHOWING HIM THAT HE ERRORED BY JOINING(INTEGRATING) HIS PEOPLE(BLACKS) TO A BURNING HOUSE(EVIL WHITE PEOPLE, AND A evil system) that he was terrified and feared that he integrated his people and joined them with Satan himself. It cost him his life! He should have never shared his revelation with anyone! He was crucified shortly after he shared the vision from the most high GOD!

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