Friday, July 6, 2012

From "Oh say can you see," to 'decolonial love'--a long, but necessary walk to freedom

Amid all the "Independence Day" talk and Star-Spangled-Banner singing this week, three eerily interrelated offerings on Salon in the past four days got me thinking about how taken together, they give the absolute lie to the reason for celebrating this so recently passed holiday.   To clearly explain the usual jumble of thoughts racing around in this head of mine--"The last shall be first, and the first, last."

-Article #3-

Though I disagree with some of his conclusions, Jefferson Morley's, July 4, "Francis Scott Key on trial," sets the stage for the widely ignored fact (by whites and Blacks alike), that the majority of whites in this"land of the free, home of the brave" never, ever, had the equal inclusion of Blacks as their intention.  We were here as property, merely tools to be used to achieve imperialist ends -- much like today:
The crowds had come to see Key’s case against the abolitionist movement. Just as the slaveholders’ representatives on Capitol Hill were noisily seeking a “gag rule” to prevent debate over slavery on the floor of Congress, so did Key, the famous author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” seek to silence those who would agitate for freedom on the streets of Washington City. In the trial of New York doctor Reuben Crandall, he hoped to defeat the antislavery men in the court of public opinion. The abolitionist, in turn, hoped to discredit Key, sneering about his hometown, “Land of the Free …. Home of the Oppressed.”

The debate between Key and Coxe crystallized how radical new ideas of rights introduced by the free people of color and their white allies in the early 1830s had galvanized popular thinking in America.  These ideas divided Americans into two broad political tendencies that would endure into the 21st century. Key and Coxe were exemplars of what we now know as red and blue politics.  (emphasis mine)

But rather than seeing Key's authoring of "The Star Spangled Banner" as a contradiction, I see it (along with the Declaration of Independence) as confirmation of the total invisibilising of the "Other" in their midst.  As I read the above, I thought about Dr. Clarke's counsel on forming "alliances" from the 1:05 - 5:38 click  here.  Yes, abolitionists were "partners" in ending the slave trade, but we cannot forget about how both  Freetown and Liberia (an idea endorsed by the "Great Emancipator," Abe Lincoln) figured into their equation.  And I have to ask myself, if popular thinking in America had been so galvanized--what the hell happened?  I don't know about you, but for me, more than any other abolitionist, John Brown was one of the very few white men on whose alliance we could always count back then--and to the very end no less.  But that's just me.

"Radical new ideas of rights introduced,"already speaks to the existing and continuing inhumanity of those, with whom we have always been dealing.  That there was a need to "introduce" in the first place, confirms the "white is right" mentality in which most of the populace was engaged, which renders the idea that there was ever a division quite moot. While Key and Coxe may have been "exemplars of what we now know as red and blue politics," ALL white folk then (as they do now), enjoyed the "privilege" of being "white" in these alleged, United States of America (I can't even count the number of times that white kids, similarly situated spewed, "At least I'm not a nigger!).

 So, along with the authors of the "Declaration of Independence," penning this "historic" document in 1776 (one of whom I'm almost certain, but am still trying to nail down, owned my father's side of the family), Francis Scott Key and his 1814, "Star Spangled Banner," along with the much-admired-in-journalism-schools in America, John Stuart Mill, with his 1859, "On Liberty,"  we find the nexus of the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy (WSCP)--writ large.  None of those so-called "leaders," up to which most Americans look, nor any of their "contributions" to American society, gave two shits about Blacks, either here or abroad -- yet we continually sing, "Oh say can you see..."

The blues of the 1830s were the liberals of the day, the opponents of slavery, concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast.  They were so-called abolitionists and they brought three radical ideas into the realm of American politics:

1) Property rights are not unlimited;

2) American citizenship is open to people of any race;

3) The freedom to advocate both is essential

These strong ideals still animate the American liberal tradition nearly two centuries later. Like the anti-slavery men and women of yore, 21st century liberals believe that property rights can be limited for the common good; that American citizenship should be as inclusive as possible; and that freedom of expression is a prerequisite of a free society. Reuben Crandall’s defense attorney Richard Coxe was no abolitionist and he did not argue in court for Negro equality in U.S. v Crandall. But he did lay out a “true blue” case for freedom of expression to protect those who wanted to advance such ideas.

Key’s response was a classic conservative rebuttal. From the start Key denounced Coxe for even defending the advocates of Negro citizenship and those who questioned the slave owners’ expansive definition of property rights. Compared to Coxe, Key had a much narrower conception of freedom of speech. He argued that the antislavery publications could be suppressed in the name of public safety since they might incite violent rebellion. He defended a narrower conception of American citizenship — that it was reserved for the native-born and whites only. And he had a much more expansive understanding of property rights. White men did have a constitutional right to own property in people, Key insisted. (emphasis mine)

{Baldwin whispers at the end of Pg. 64 of  Every Good-bye Ain't Gone:  " many ways, from the language of the lawgiver to the language of the liberal -- is that "your people" deserve, in effect, their fate.  Your fate--"your" people's fate--involves being, forever, a little lower than these particular angels, angels who, nevertheless, are always ready to give you a helping hand" (like Coxe}.  It's no wonder Morely tagged them "so-called abolitionists!"  Forget looking at all this through Morely's conservative vs. liberal, red vs. blue lens.  Let's just be clear here:

  1. None of this--was about any of us "Others," particularly Blacks (unless of course, there's a get-me-over-the-hump election in the offing). We're all still seen as property, unlimited or no.  We were and remain, mere tools to manipulate to further imperialist ends (many decisions citing Crandall today rarely, if ever, contain a human element);
  2. Native Americans in particular, still do not enjoy true "openness" of American citizenship though they were here, long before the neocolonialists came with their fancy court cases (Dartmouth anyone?  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the first person who can show me that today its enrollment -- for whom they said it was being built -- is predominantly Native American).  And despite the Changeling's, election year about-face (after deporting more of you than any administration--ever), brown folk just might want to keep Keys's argument about the whole idea of "scorning the idea of multiracial citizenship" in mind.  After all, it's been the WSCP's MO since they claimed this land for all of those Western monarchs).
  3. Let's face it Jefferson, while the freedom for advocating for both remains essential, it will still result in proverbial "asses warming the Prison Industrial Complex bench"in red and blue states alike.

As we all put our right hands over our hearts and sing Key's "Star Spangled Banner," thoughts of its author, his beliefs, and the beliefs upon which his country was founded, never really even cross our minds (present company used-to-be included) -- but it should.  Mr. Frederick Douglass explains this way better than I, here.

The rest of Morely's piece documents what happened during the case, historically.  But pardon me if I give no cookies to the jury that rendered the "Not guilty" verdict (just as hindsight is 20-20, so is foresight--nobody wanted their "property rights" infringed upon down the road!).  Besides, they were defending a white man's rights to freedom of speech -- not ours.

As Mr. Baldwin points out in his, "Notes on the House of Bondage":

The situation of the black American is a direct (and deliberate) result of the collusion between the North and South and the Federal Government. A black man in this country does not live under a two-party system but a four-party system. There is the Republican Party in the South, and there is the Republican Party in the North; there is the Democratic Party in the North and the Democratic Party in the South. These entities are Tweedledum and Tweedledee as concerns the ways they have been able, historically, to manipulate the black presence, the black need. At the same time, both parties were (are) protected from the deepest urgencies of black need by the stance of the Federal Government, which could (can) always justify both parties, and itself, by use of the doctrine of "States' rights."

I've absolutely no quarrel with his estimation.

-Article #2-

I include this Jul 4, Glenn Greenwald clip not only because I enjoy his constitutional conversations as he "rails against the machine," but because the title of the segment, "Without rule of law, are all men created equal,"along with Spitzer's intro, provide yet another example of our total invisibility.  Glenn's thesis aside (and yes, I know his being there was to talk about the so-called "elites" employing their infamous foot-on-neck brand of behavior on white folk now, but anyway),  America has always been two populations, one oblivious to the law (of humanity as it relates to us) and the other subject to it (that'd be us).

But as much as I enjoy Glenn (appreciate his nod to the Prison Industrial complex which houses more people who look like me than him), and because he's a member of a decidedly new, "protected class" of so-called allies, I found his response to Spitzer's, "I don't want to spend too much time on history but, has it always been thus?" -- very telling (particularly since I could hear Dr. Clarke's voice, over and over in my head saying, "But watch the alliance!").

Glenn recited a litany of advantages/privileges white folk had back in the 1820s (lest we forget, Key penned his little ditty in 1814), which are the same ones they enjoy today.  And even though Glenn felt the difference then, was "we always affirmed the principle that the rule of law required that everybody played by the same set of rules," his need to add the, "even though we violated it and breached it in all sorts of ways" basically said to me, "Yes, Black folk, it has always been thus for you but no need to talk about that historical fact -- cuz us white folk catchin' hell right now!"  Just sayin'...

-Article #1-

Paula M.L. Moya's, incredible, "The search for decolonial love" interview with Junot Díaz was the best of the three pieces by far (took my old head some time to get through it, having to look some shit up and all).  But I gotta tell ya, I just love it when the interviewer, is as emotionally connected and invested as the interviewee!  Makes for some riveting commentary.

Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist notwithstanding, I'd never heard of, nor read, any of his work. That will change.  One of the things I appreciated most was the honoring of the women whose literary works in their heyday, mightily informed the woman I have become.  Listening to each of them share their understandings, I realized I'd walked a very similar walk, every day, to be free -- even as I struggled against my colonized mind (and what a long and necessary walk it has, and continues to be!)

"I was so pleased when, during your lecture yesterday, you stated — clearly and unapologetically — that you write about race. I have always been struck by the fact that, in all the interviews you have given that I have read, no one ever asks you about race. If it does come up, it is because you bring it up. Yet it has long been apparent to me that race is one of your central concerns."

I was pleased to hear that statement too.  Instead of running away from race, here's a brother running toward it.  And like a runner in a 4-man relay race, he's reaching confidently back for the baton he needs and knows is there -- to keep him going forward toward victory.  That just makes so much more sense to me than the Changeling's "Look forward, not back" nonsense.  As I considered this young brother's recollections which mirrored my own slow, but sure, "coming of age" in many ways, I could certainly feel his "metanoia":

Junot: "Well, first of all, these sisters were pretty clear that redemption was not going to be found in the typical masculine nostrums of nationalism or armed revolution or even that great favorite of a certain class of writerly brother: transracial intimacy. Por favor!  If transracial intimacy was all we needed to be free, then a joint like the Dominican Republic would be the great cradle of freedom — which, I assure you, it is not. Why these sisters struck me as the most dangerous of artists was because in the work of, say, Morrison, or Octavia Butler, we are shown the awful radiant truth of how profoundly constituted we are of our oppressions.  Or, said differently: how indissolubly our identities are bound to the regimes that imprison us. These sisters not only describe the grim labyrinth of power that we are in as neocolonial subjects, but they also point out that we play both Theseus and the Minotaur in this nightmare drama. Most importantly these sisters offered strategies of hope, spinning the threads that will make escape from this labyrinth possible. It wasn’t an easy thread to seize — this movement towards liberation required the kind of internal bearing witness of our own role in the social hell of our world that most people would rather not engage in. It was a tough praxis but a potentially earthshaking one, too. Because rather than strike at this issue or that issue, this internal bearing of witness raised the possibility of denying our oppressive regimes the true source of their powers — which is, of course, our consent, our participation. This kind of praxis doesn’t attack the head of the beast, which will only grow back; it strikes directly at the beast’s heart, which we nurture and keep safe in our own. (Come on now, tell me I'm the only one who didn't know who Theseus and the Minotaur were? -- emphasis mine)

Akin to Baldwin's directive to continually "do your first works over," this internal bearing of witness to which Díaz refers, also requires us to reexamine -- everything.

Paula: This reminds me of a point you made in the question-and-answer session following your lecture yesterday. You said that people of color fuel white supremacy as much as white people do; that it is something we are all implicated in. You went on to suggest that only by first recognizing the social and material realities we live in — by naming and examining the effects of white supremacy — can we hope to transform our practices.

Junot: How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet...And yet here’s the rub: If a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: The devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.

Now if there was any damned truth at all to D'Souza's nonsense here,  I'd say THAT was the greatest trick--EVAH!  But since the Changeling is constantly complicit in some of the most colonial shit -- EVAH (Libya/Uganda/AFRICOM anyone?), no need to get my hopes up.   Rereading Badwin's, Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone, I found many of the same threads running through both his and Junot's observations (which somehow consoles me greatly).

Junot:  The kind of love that I was interested in, that my characters long for intuitively, is the only kind of love that could liberate them from that horrible legacy of colonial violence.  I am speaking about decolonial love....Is it possible to love one’s broken-by-the-coloniality-of-power self in another broken-by-the-coloniality-of-power person? (emphasis mine)

I wonder how many of us can honestly answer that question?   How many of us are willing to shed our, "Oh say can you see," colonized minds, for the "decolonial love" about which  Díaz speaks?  As I read around the internet, it seems not very many of us.

The interview goes so much deeper than I have room to do here.  Try to get through the entire thing and then -- think.  I'm certain you'll come to some critical conclusions of your own.

-Decolonizing Black Power Studies w Dr. Quito Swan

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