ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Yes we have indeed "become so inured to pain and poverty" and indeed we have become

"caught up in our materialistic, dog-eat-dog society." That indeed has been true

among the lower-middle-class black women who long for the upper classes.



Books by Huey P. Newton

 Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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Political Movements, White Issues

We Must Say No to Electoral Politics

Or the Need for a Black Independent Political Party

Conversations with Rodney, Miriam, Brisbane, Jeannette, Ben


A Post-Katrina Political Discussion

Brisbane: Is it possible that we weren't able to sensitize them [our kids] to the plight of others and instill in them a sense of responsibility for their community members wherever they are? I took my kids to every march, demonstration etc. while they were young and yet, one is completely absent from even the discussion and the other seems to feel that america is a better country than its actions reveal it to be. And that is after we have exchanged info and articles about Iraq, Africa, the Caribbean and now N O.

Miriam: Is it that people, especially Black folk, are so body- and brain-weary or that they think that the action/vote/demonstration of one person won't make a difference?  I noted that there were relatively few Black participants in the anti-war march last Saturday, and we don't seem to involve ourselves in movements to save the environment or endangered species or in the plight of our brothers and sisters in Darfur, Liberia, Haiti, or Rwanda.  Have we become so inured to pain and poverty or have we become so caught up in our materialistic, dog-eat-dog society?  

It seems that only the warriors from the Movement--Acklyn with his multiple knee surgeries, Damu with his six-months-to-live cancer, and Floyd with his diabetes and do-or-die struggle at Hopkins--are still in there struggling.  Where are the young people?  My kids?  K.'s kids?  Maybe they're just turned off by all the corruption and the charges & indictments (DeLay, Frist, Rove, John Ford & 7 other Black politicians here in Tennessee).  This is an issue that we need to address, in-house, as a community. 

Rudy: Let me give this some thought. The short answer is that anti-war and environmental movements are basically white-led movements and there is a black distrust of all movements, and especially white-led ones. I do not think that the crushing of black male militancy in the 70s is of no consequence. Nor the ascendancy of black female criticism in the 80s and 90 of black male militancy was without some impact. We too often underrate the influence that women have on their men's behavior.

Yes we have indeed "become so inured to pain and poverty" and indeed we have become "caught up in our materialistic, dog-eat-dog society." That indeed has been true among the lower-middle-class black women who long for the upper classes. But the shock of the aftermath of Katrina (the superdome, the convention center) may have indeed been the cold shower necessary.

What happens at Farrakhan's MillionMore March should be an interesting marker of black sentiment on a number of issues. In any event, the problem is with the inactivity of our youth. That resulted I believe from the transmission only of attitudes toward sex and drugs, The transmission of consciousness was left to commercial film and PBS. Social consciousness cannot be sustained with such neglect.

Let me add one more matter. A friend of mine at the Saturday march you attended said that most of the Black Congressional Caucus were eating barbecue ribs, spicy, during the anti-war rally, really only one was in attendance. In that we have been locked into electoral politics for the last two decades, our hopes have been misplaced. These black elected officials are rogues. They are not about movement, only in as much as it is politick in getting reelected.

The additional social control added within the last two decades that one must vote for candidates  whether you want them or not has been poor politics. And even worse with the argument that not voting is a waste and a betrayal of those who struggled for the vote. Well, I think that is so much hogwash. I will not vote in any election in which the choices are scum, scummer, scummest. The best of all possible worse candidates is not a choice at all, but rather conformity and weakness in the face of such societal pressures.

What is needed first and foremost is a political education that will move us away from these kinds of societal controls, that is, if we want movement. We might begin by withholding our votes except for third-party black candidates. Some have posed a Belafonte-Glover ticket as a possibility. I’ll vote for them. I respect them both. But I would even here need some assurances that they will not sell out to the Democratic Party as Jackson did. We must think in longer than four-year-periods if we are to survive healthy as a people

Jeannette:   Perhaps I am an eternal optimist.  I feel a faint glimmer of hope with some of our young people.

Too many of them may be spending time reading mostly hip-hop fiction (instead of the literature we read), however some young people seem to be "awakening."   For example, dozens of black students at Virginia Commonwealth University (here in Richmond) recently held a protest against an "insensitive" PETA exhibit.

There was local television coverage and a story in Richmond Free Press. I believe there was also a story (and photos) in the Richmond Times Dispatch.  A photographer from Richmond Free Press told me that the young black woman who organized this protest (of at least 100 students) did so in one night!

Below is the article from Richmond Free Press.

September29-October 1,2005 


by Joey Matthews

The photographs and illustrations would be hard for even the most casual observer to stomach.     Above the exhibit heading titled, "Burned Alive," there's an image of roosters burning in a grisly fire, alongside a photograph of white men standing behind the dead, burned body of charred black man. 

Nearby, above the title, "Sold Off," there's a photograph of a cow being auctioned off for sale, side by side with an illustration of a mother hugging her daughter as they are sold at a slave auction. 

Above the word, "Hanging," a slaughtered animal is shown in a photograph hanging by its feet, alongside a photograph of two dead African-Americans hung by rope from trees, as a crowd of white people gather to look at them.

These and other images were from a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' outdoor exhibition title "Animal Liberation" at Virginia Commonwealth University this week.  They set off demonstrations from some African-American students and others who saw it as an affront, people drawing comparisons of animals suffering with blacks being lynched and burned.

Dozens of students demonstrated against and argued with PETA representatives over the exhibition, located near the VCU library.

"Our students were very disturbed by what they saw," said Dr. Christopher Brooks, interim department chairman of the Department of African-American Studies at VCU. "While several of them were sympathetic with PETA's feelings toward animal mistreatment, to juxtapose those images there with African Americans was crossing the line.

"Because there's been a history with continental Africans and African-American of comparing them to animals, that display was incredibly insensitive."

The pictures are part of a 28-campus tour.  A separate national campaign featuring the same pictures has caused controversy in several cities, with some critics calling it racist to compare slavery with animal abuse.

PETA officials said their intent was not to compare the two, but to illustrate the worldwide mistreatment of animals.

A message on the PETA website says the exhibit was inspired by the words of African-American civil rights leader Dick Gregory, who they quote as saying, "Animals and humans suffer and die alike...the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life."

The exhibit is scheduled to conclude on Friday, September 30.

I think Rudy is right. Things are heating up. Katrina was a cold shower for some. The emotional impact of those television images will linger with some and the only "recovery" (from anger, grief and sadness) will be in action. The fact that these college students moved to protest feels significant to me (in light of the fact that  black college students seem to have been asleep for a while). I pray this is a small sign of hope. Before I leave planet earth, I want/expect to see a change for the better.

Rodney: This is a rather quick response from me as well, but...While I am in agreement with what you say, as a member of the generation in question, I think I might have a unique perspective on the matter. I too was at the 9/24 anti-war rally, and the lack of black Americans present was minimal, despite the fact that one of the principle organizers of the rally is named Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER).

On the issue of black distrust of white-led movements: In reading Tim Wise's "White Like Me" he himself notes the difficulty he faced in maintaining a interracial movement on the Tulane University campus when he was involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement. While his group was initially split almost evenly among blacks and whites, white students began to ascend into leadership roles disregarding the black membership, and the group moved away from the blacks' concerns, and soon enough, the group was all white.

I was involved in getting a delegation from my school to go to the rally, and I was the only black student to actually have gone with the delegation. I had corresponded with the Black Student Union leadership, and they declined to get involved with getting word out to their membership, or being involved at all. I expected this of course. The BSU's main concern is getting black students aware of internship opportunities and scholarships, indeed noble causes, but not mutually exclusive of activism and political involvement. Too often we don't connect racism with economic exploitation, or war.

The inactivity of my peers is very frustrating, but let me provide some reasons, as I see it, as to why this is. Yes, social consciousness certainly isn't being transmitted from the parents, or for that matter, any other outlet; thankfully I had the parents and grandfather that I have. In any case, it seems the generational gap is too great. I recall speaking with an older gentleman, a community leader, who spoke of his own community's apathy to anything, but their own struggles. And this can be expected.

However, this gentleman went on to condemn my generation, without thinking of extending his hand to us, providing us with some mentorship perhaps. I spoke of another gentleman as well whose ideology was similar. There is a disconnect, no dialogue between the youngsters and our "elders." This leaves us susceptible to other messages, particularly "dog eat dog" and materialism.

Education too is at fault. Take the Baltimore City Public Schools as an example, of which I am a graduate. 73% of the student are receiving free or reduced lunch, that’s poverty, and not once were names such as Du Bois uttered, and Baldwin maybe once, with other black leaders getting their token treatment.

One doesn't learn of the achievements of younger leaders such as Fred Hampton. My generation is expected to take it upon ourselves for this sort of self-education, and this isn't an excuse, but things aren't up in our face as they were in the past...its so much more subtle with said education, and one must commit themselves to discovering these subtleties.

Black elected officials are also to blame; but so is our reliance on them. I remember Aaron Macgruder talking about the fact he isn't a political leader, so we needn't look towards him for leadership. Why should we look to our officials either, who have continued to fail us? We are far entrenched into electoral politics, without the political awareness or activism to back it up. 

Because of our system of plurality and the Electoral College, the black vote gets lost in the sea of the white masses anyway. We should keep in mind that 70% of ppl of color opposed Bush, but because Kerry could only get 43% of the white vote, he lost. Not that Kerry was worth our collective vote, but...and the fact that the CBC stepped up for him after the 2000 debacle in which no Senator would step up for the CBC is a disgrace in and of itself.

As well, we might note that the overall involvement of the youth, be they black or white, has declined. This was a topic of discussion amongst several whites at the rally, who noted that when they protested 'Nam, the average person was a college or high student; but that day, it was merely middle-aged whites. This younger generation is merely a reflection of the previous generation, and the present times.

Miriam: How wonderful, Rudy, to have Rodney enter into the discussion about why more young people do not actively participate in social movements!  It is so refreshing to have the opinions of a young, articulate, thinking person who is an activist.  He indicates that one of the primary causes is the age and ideological divide between his generation and ours.  Those of us who are/were parents and teachers have had a unique opportunity to communicate our history, struggles, and culture to young people. . . . K. Brisbane, an attorney and life-long activist, who laments the fact that her own children, whom she involved in the Movement, now have little interest in social/racial issues.  

Another friend, a college professor and parent, suggests that maybe we parents have been too protective of our children because they are not as active in the struggle as we were.  I have had the same experience.  I took my children to marches and demonstrations;  at ages 4 and 6, they were maced as we left a Civil Rights rally;  I sent my babies away when someone shot through our house;  our children were aware of my husband, a civil rights attorney, and my involvement in the movement;  they had to stay with their grandparents when I was jailed.  Now, they are involved in community work, but not to the extent that their parents were.  So, what's the problem?  

I believe that desegregation has had a devastating effect on consciousness-raising and community development.  As a result, most White  and some Black teachers/professors are not concerned about the political awareness of our youth.  Secondly, and I think that this is crucial, the societal emphasis on materialism and the accumulation of wealth has created a generation of young people who are more concerned about their own advancement and not about the advancement of all of us.  Rodney mentions that students in the BSU are more concerned about scholarships and job opportunities.  I must point out, though, that the Howard BSU sent a 10-member delegation to the Katrina protest given at Lafayette Park by Black Voices for Peace, and that demonstration was hastily put together at the last minute.  

Let me mention one other thing, Rudy, since you mentioned Acklyn, because I think that this is a model that some of us might want to emulate.  About three times a year , he calls together a group of young adults, 18 to 30 years old, along with a few cultural icons, as well as Blacks from Africa and the Islands, for a discussion of issues at his home, where he cooks food for them.  That kind of dynamic mentoring was apparent at his home recently, when he organized an event to promote the work of two young artists, and, in the process, showcased as well the work of children, teenagers, and young adults.  Maybe that's something concrete that each of us could do in our community--bring together people across generations, classes, conditions, to discuss some of these problems.

Rudy: Miriam, maybe the reason we do not have political movement participation is that we are too busy with our body parts. Doing, saying whatever. We have just now from a noted writer a consideration of his penis. Isn't this the kind of thing the cave canem people do? It might give us good poetry. Can we only think one thought at a time? My God, have we not had enough of this literature?

Miriam: Rudy, I support much of what you say.  Yes, we are suspicious of White-led movements, but we have to move beyond that because those issues--waste dumps, abortion rights, oil pipe lines, etc.—affect our community adversely.  The recent issue of Crisis, which, by the way, is a very substantial publication, unlike Ebony, Jet, Essence and their ilk, reported that a majority of the Black community is extremely conservative on social issues such as abortion rights, Gay rights, sex education in the schools, etc.—and of course we know why—the ultra-conservative Black church. 

I had some problems with the Million Man March because I believe that we have to deal with issues as a whole community, men and women together.  Plus, I had some problems with the Messenger, Farrakhan, whom I do not trust.  I probably will not participate in the MMM this month because I do not like the messenger, Rev. Wilson, the exec. dir., who said in a recent sermon that the number of Lesbians is increasing because Black women make more money than men; he also made several other stupid remarks along those lines.  I don't think that the materialism is based on gender; I believe that Blacks period (men and women) are caught up in the money/power/status game. 

I agree with you that we have a sorry bunch of politicians in the Congress; they do not represent our interests but their own.  Nevertheless, I think that we still have to vote and, so far, I haven't missed a single election since I turned 21, and I took my kids to the polls even as babies.  Now, one of those babies is teaching civics & government, and raising the consciousness of her students.  That's what it's going to take:  education of the electorate.  I didn't realize until I was campaigning for my son, who's a Memphis city judge, that so many Black men can't vote because they've served time. 

That is so unfair!  They're citizens and have done the time, so they deserve to have their voices heard.  There are just so many issues to deal with;  we can't just sit around and think "Well, that's a White issue" or "Whites are leading the movement, so I'll sit my little behind down."  Whites want to ghettoize anyway;  they want us to deal with so-called "Black issues" like affirmative action, welfare rights, and free lunch programs, so we don't mess around with "White issues."  It's no accident that Martin was killed soon after he protested the Viet Nam War.  He was messing around with one of their issues.  We better get involved in the anti-war movement, because it's our people—Blacks, Latinos, Natives—who are dying and getting maimed all out of proportion to our numbers.  Black people in this country have always been used as cannon fodder.

Rudy: I really do not care for polls. They are exceedingly misleading. I do not care for the NAACP or Crisis. I would not ban them, or dissuade anyone who has an interest. I would state however that I do not expect the NAACP and Crisis will have anymore impact on resolving the problems of poverty among a quarter to a third of the black population than the NOI and The Final Call. Actually, I would rate The Final Call higher than the Crisis in its breadth and depth of coverage.

For my taste, both organizations (NAACP and NOI) are too ideologically bound. And the NAACP is too caught up in corporatism for my comfort. Their corporate model is that which abuses us. Their hands are bound by corporate money. They themselves are not free so how can they free anybody else.

I did not go to the Million Man March. I probably will not go to MillionMore, either. I encourage those who like that kind of thing to go. It will indeed be a significant event. Farrakhan is one of the most enthralling American orators. For me he trumps anyone associated with the NAACP, on a personal or public basis. But I am not sure whether that says very much. Religious dogma, I'm afraid, whether Christianity or Islam, will not provide the necessary political education for black liberation. At present both are tied to government policies and programs that will not meet the needs of our poor nor those in other countries.

But let me return to an assessment of the character of black people with respect to certain political issues. With respect to sexuality (whatever the issue), black people are no more conservative than they have ever been. I suspect, however, they are much more liberal, at least privately, in matters of sexuality. The kinds of things said and done today openly related to sexuality would have made the most tolerant of my childhood blush if not retch. Polls are for politicians. They serve no useful purpose for black liberation. We need another kind of analysis that serves the people.

The primary issues that most blacks face are economic. They can't get sufficient resources to either get into the middle-classes or remain in the middle-class. The social and cultural issues are secondary and often tertiary, if not totally off the charts, altogether. I do not think that is accidental. That is the nature of oppression. It keeps you tied to the necessities—food, clothing, shelter. If there are too many issues for you, who have relative leisure, what you think life is for those who are pressed on all sides for basic necessities for themselves and their families.

So the emphases of the poor and the middle classes diverge. The middle-classes have been none too ready to deal with issues of poverty. War, the environment, animal rights, partial birth abortion, gay rights, and such, that's their thing. That's rather safe the way it is handled. King was not killed because he came out against the Vietnam War. He was killed because he was about to challenge the economic structure of the country. 

That is what the Poor People's March was all about. And that is what Memphis was all about. So they shot him down. And his weak-kneed lieutenants knew that, and if they didn't run, they kneeled and became agents of the very same corporations and corporate mentality that creates poverty, that King was gearing up his forces to confront. All these wise guys wanted was their cut, their opportunity to get personally ahead. The Vietnam War was only significant in the negative economic role it played.

Welfare rights, I have not heard that term used since the 70s. That social movement has been more or less been abandoned by the middle classes with its pubic disparagement of the poor. And Clinton and the Democratic Party drove the final nails into its coffin.

The middle classes should remember, they provided some leadership in the civil rights movement, but not all, and they provided some support, but not all. It was the poor and the leaders of the poor who won the battles. When that struggle was won, those middle classes abandoned the people. That is my interpretation of Tom Dent's Southern Journey.

So, yes, we do need to cut down on the issues. We should do it not because they are "white issues," not because they are "white" but because one cannot do everything at once. If whites are willing to place the problems of poverty (criminalizing) first and foremost they can enlist the bodies and the sentiments of the poor. From the last two decades, we know that the middle-classes can win nothing other than that which serves their own class when there is no active engagement of the poor. Their emphases on affirmative action were a betrayal of the most pressing issues of the poor.

In short, black liberation cannot be achieved without an activation of the poor.

The emphasis on "electoral politics" is part of this same betrayal. I am a registered Republican with Democratic Party sympathies. But I will not vote for either, because neither has a program to deal with the problems of the poor. For me, the emphasis on "electoral politics" has been an additional social control placed on the poor that keeps them impoverished, oppressed. We must begin to think outside of that sweat box, that soul breaker. I am definitely against that "electoral politics" that bandies race as a means to get blacks elected as officials of either Party.

If we want Black Liberation, there must be political education and political organization apart from the Democrats and Republicans. If we vote in these elections much more thought must go into them, from an independent perspective. Our loyalty must be first and foremost to what is in best for the interest of the least of us.

Statewide and national elections serve no useful purpose for the black poor. Nor are delegates and senators to state legislatures of much use, especially when one is voting on the basis of color. However, I do support the building of a national black political party, which would invite the black middle classes to participate. That won’t be an easy task because the black middle-class loves the Democratic Party, though it has not served them well in the last 70 years.

For our survival and prosperity we must think beyond the two and four year elections. All our energies should be placed into the building of a national independent black party that deals first and foremost with the problems of the poor, which includes the aged and the handicap. We need a long-term strategy, a political education that’s geared to bring about our total liberation from the ravages of corporate capitalism and their political agents. Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else will accomplish our liberation.

Jeannette: Rudy, I hope you will indulge my questions. I found a copy of the book at the Union Theological Seminary (Presbyterian School of Christian Education.)

On page 4, Newton writes "The common attitude has been long been: What's the use...Believing this, many Blacks have been driven to a DEATH OF THE SPIRIT RATHER THAN OF THE FLESH, lapsing into lives of quiet desperation."

Question: If the death  is of the spirit (rather than flesh), should not revolution be aimed at resurrection of the spirit? I would think that this in the long run would be much more powerful.

(I remember sitting on a park bench in D.C. in the early 70's and thinking that the next revolution would be of the spirit. )

When I was in graduate social work school, there was no proper place for discussion of "spirit." Now, "spirituality" (like poems on child molestation) is in, even in social work classrooms.

I see "Spirituality" practitioners everywhere (some making $150 an hour, because, as my girlfriend's late mother used to say, some folks just need to have a good 30-minute cry.)  For the most part, these practitioners are white, as are their clientele.

Where is the spiritual revolution among our people?

I don't know too many black folks that don't believe in spirit (s) or Holy Spirit.  I certainly don't see Holy Spirit in the churches I've known in the last few years.  All that singing and shouting (as in the new movie, Gospel) doesn't seem to me to have anything to do with Spirit.

I am a very slow reader, so I may have questions for a while. Also, I'm curious as to whether you've read Howard Thurman.

Rudy: I think that Huey may have a number of things in mind. 1) the high suicide rate 2) the lethargy of the oppressed. Today, he might also include the addiction to/with sex and drugs, but also the acquisitive spirit that undermines thrift and long-range planning for our families. All of these trump freedom and the spirit of freedom.

Our problems are political and economic rather than religious, which is suggested by the term "resurrection." Rather than "resurrection" I prefer "liberation" which has both religious, political, and economic connotations, as in "liberation theology." 

We shall always have mountebanks, scoundrels, and demagogues. But they are not our immediate problem. First, we need to think what it means to be liberated.

Ben: It seems that the poor period need a champion, not only black poor? And a third party of the poor would be much more effective than a Black party per se.

Rudy: Ben, please, don't be afraid of blackness. It's not a mad dog that's gonna bite you in the ass. Black is here only a name. It is not exclusive. It should be a practical party that guards against the least of these -- these are the Black Poor, because probably more than any other group, they face genocide in America. So it must be a party that guards first and foremost in the interest of these.

The white poor must be able to appreciate this notion, or it will come to nothing. Maybe a few will, it's free association. But as a class historically the white poor have reverted to the worst tactic of capital, namely, race baiting. That is, power and money find them as a class  easy to buy off. You know they say, we been sticking it to niggers for 200 years why should it now change. It ain't all that bad.

Of course, it would be a wonderful initiative if a party was organized for the white poor, a historical class in America. That's unlikely. We cannot even do that for the white working middle-class. They have been voting against their interests for fifty years to spite niggas.

No, I'd like to begin out more sure-footed. Keep in mind, we have examples to guide us in this judgment and decision. Their are numerous black institutions that whites as a class are reluctant to be participants. They have cultural and social critiques that I perfectly understand. So I choose not to operate from the stance you suggest.

It's like being in a race and only you have a weight on your shoulders. I suppose you just have to trust me on the race thing here. If you can't trust me it doesn't matter whether you in the party or not. If you don't probably not. 

Miriam: Rudy, I'm afraid in this case I agree with Ben.  MLK led a Poor People's Campaign that was open to all.  There're more Whites than Blacks in poverty, and Latinos are right behind.  We need to unite across racial lines. 

Rudy: Miriam, I have no objection to uniting across all lines. I'm afraid you misunderstood me. 

posted 4 October 2005

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DVDs -- A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 19 March 2012




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