Nelson Peery: Why Is African American History The Heart of American History?

Portrait of David

Illustration from The Future Is Up To Us, Portrait of David, painting  by Diana Berek

This is the beginning of Black History Month, February 1, 2016, and I think it’s appropriate to quote from Nelson Peery’s The Future Is Up To Us:

WHY IS AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY THE HEART OF AMERICAN HISTORY?

To suggest such an analysis is bound to make the majority of eyebrows arch upward. African Americans have always been looked upon and treated as if they were at best on the periphery of our coun- try’s history. Their being marginalized in the social and economic sense reinforces this outlook. Nevertheless any serious inquiry into history will show that the control, manipulation and exploitation of the African American was at the heart of every major and most of the minor decisions of state prior to the Civil War, and a good many of them afterwards.

Let’s start at the beginning. For a number of ideological and political reasons, the American colonies resisted African slavery, pre- ferring to populate the New World with European indentured ser- vants. In the Caribbean, the plantation and slave system was being fine-tuned. There, unheard-of fortunes were accumulated on the basis of the most reckless expenditure of human life known to history. A goodly portion of the colonies’ economic intercourse was servicing the slave system of the Caribbean. The colonies were never discon- nected from African slavery. It was not some inopportune landing of a Spanish ship carrying twenty African captives that inaugurated

African slavery in the colonies. As the capitalist system evolved from the slave trade and the Caribbean plantations, capitalism became firmly planted in the colonies and slavery was its inevitable result. Every colony had slavery, and none of the colonies, north or south, could have accumulated and economically moved forward without the brutal working to death of the slave.

Rudimentary capitalist agriculture—that is agriculture for the market, rather than consumption—never reckoned with ecology or preservation of the land. This is especially true of cotton culture. The solution was the constant westward motion for virgin land. I often laugh at these falsifiers of history who wave the flag and talk about the westward move of liberty. In fact, it was the westward move of slavery. Two examples that come to mind are the removal of the five

“civilized” (i.e., slave-holding) Indian tribes from their native lands to the Oklahoma Territory. The “Trail of Tears” is an indelible moral condemnation of U.S. state policy for the expansion of slavery. The Indians suffered terribly on that journey. Can you imagine the con- dition of their African slaves?

The other instance was the annexation of Texas and later the war against Mexico and the ripping-off of half her national territory. There was no other reason for this expansionism but the promulga- tion of slavery. The westward march of liberty is a joke.

Most people understand that the Civil War was fought over the African Americans’ condition as slaves. Few realize that Wilson probably would not have been elected if Blacks were able to vote. Certainly, Roosevelt would not have won his third term without a solid African American vote. This goes for Truman and a number of presidents who changed the political direction of the country.

Take a look at the body of law developed around the control of labor. Every single one of these oppressive laws had their foun- dation in the control of the African American. If we go beyond the written law it is easily seen that the control of a disjointed working class was achieved through uniting the white worker and capitalist to exclude the African American.

In the realm of culture, if it weren’t for the African Americans we would still be dancing the minuet. At the heart of American cul- ture beats the culture of the African American people. They would not have created this culture if not for the isolation, brutality and segregation that lies at the heart of the African Americans as a people. Eleanor Roosevelt put it quite well when she said that apart from the culture of the Indian, the culture of the African American is the only American culture. Clearly everything else was an ethnic culture brought over from the old world. The other aspect is, it is becom- ing a world culture. Every time I’ve gone abroad, I’ve been shocked by the breadth of the assimilation of this culture into French, British, Egyptian—what have you—popular culture.

So when we say that the African Americans are at the heart of American history, we don’t mean to imply that they were in control of that history. The sad fact is that up until the integration period, con- trolling and manipulating the Black ten percent was the way to con- trol the white majority. This is the only way we can make sense of a history that gives the world the most exalted visions along with the most brutal and callous exploitation and destruction of human life.

The Fabric of Memory

The Fabric of Memory  by Lew Rosenbaum

I’ll make a sweater for you, she said.
Can I design it? I replied. A broad smile spread across her dark features,

sc00006d56

Anna and Greta, mother and daughter, ca 1945

She nodded, told me to block it out on a grid.
Taking a sheet of graph paper, I applied pencil
To the squares, picturing king and queen,
Rook on either side, outlines of the features
In forest green and ruby red on a white background.
Below the figures a row of squares stand on point,
Diamonds with a splash of opposite color in their centers.

She said it was a difficult design; her fingers twirled
Needles and yarn so that each day, on my return home
From school, I’d measure the changes and
Guess how much longer I’d have to wait.
When I ran into the snow, took it for a ride
Down the hill across the street on my sled,
I gloried in the warmth that embraced me with its tight weave.

That was sixty years ago. I just unearthed this fabric
Of my memory out of the drawer from where I heard it calling,
Held it up to remember the snow-whiteness of the yarn
Now aged, much as my hand that holds it, now
More leathery, marked with brown spots.
The figures now set on yellowed woven strands
And I remember the long yellowed whitish hair that dangled
From her head, woven into braids on good days, in her last years.
The cold wind swirls around my head on that slide down the hill
And numbs my gloved fingers and the snow sprays on my tongue
As the runners turn sharply, and all that and more
The sweater in my hands calls up.

As I feel this I look at the sweater warming me now,
A loosely knit garment with a plain dark green back and
An abstract, almost Mondrian style front design and think
Of the nimble fingers that made this for me, a different pair
Of hands, my sister’s hands, born of the woman of the chess sweater.
Some of what warms me this year comes
From the smile I see as I slide into it, the twinkle in her eyes.
We talked as we sat in her dining room
Mining memories, straightening past misunderstandings,
Sharing music, writing, art, history
And all that I absorb from the language of the fabric.

Something like this grips me as,
When I turn in for the night, I warm my feet
With old socks, where my heels erupt from cavernous holes that
Long ago stripped the fibers of the yarn. I have no working
Knitted socks any more; yet I hang onto these because,
Well, they work well enough for my bed time purpose,
But also again I think of who made them for me,
And I alternate using them, so none will feel slighted.

In this new year I am surrounded by, I rejoice in gifts,
The physical gifts that offer their utility, new or old, more or less.
But there is more. They conjure out of separate realities
The community that we are together, past and present.
I worry though. When I am gone, who will remember
The sweaters and what they mean? When the sweaters
Disappear into dust, what happens
To the love from which they were made?

Grasp the New World In Birth by Lew Rosenbaum

Grasp The New World In Birth

Lew Rosenbaum

Just imagine! Seventy years, comrades,

Seventy years!

We need to celebrate anything we can

We Are All One People by Diana Berek

We Are All One People by Diana Berek

At any time.

Mao said that.

Don’t you agree?

When I was young,

I knew when birth happened.

Pain, blood and water.

A nodal line marks a leap

From one quality to another.

Nine months earlier,

The magic code of our species’ history

Caught in capsules of sperm and egg,

Re-combines.

Isn’t that a “Birth” day?

Later, through pain, blood and water,

A screaming, spitting mammal flays the air with all four limbs

Breathes air for the first time,

Struggles toward independence. Human?

Open that bottle, fill those glasses, drink up.

Tell me, what does human mean?

Watch the child grow,

Burst through boundaries,

Incorporate the parameters of its surroundings,

Every furry touch, strawberry taste, furtive look

Inscribes an indelible neural circuit

Recreates a virtual external world.

When do we jump from recording,

Begin to see the pictures related,

Begin to ask big questions,

Begin the quest that sex provokes

Strive to transfer our version of the code?

Rites of passage celebrate

Another, a double edged kind of birth,

The birth of a consciousness

Of a possibility to continue species.

Why don’t we start our count of when we are human

From the date of our own passage from tadpole to frog?

Browning had his bishop order a tomb.

His bishop ruminated on his inglorious past,

His clerical competition, pride of place after death.

For him all was debauchery, all was over.

But wait. We’re not done yet.

At 13 I’m not done learning. Formal schoolingsc00039808

Opened vistas to scholarly disciplines.

At 23 I crossed the Tehachapi Mountains,

Learned from farm workers about grapes

And exploitation and health for the poor.

At 27 a Cuban peasant taught me about cooperation.

At 30 a Black bricklayer

And a Chinese-Norwegian artist

Introduced me to Marx.

At 50 I married a Bolshevik painter.

Those are births too.

Another bottle? Fill those glasses,

Tell me now what you think.

Why do we focus on emergence from the womb

And ignore the stages on the journey,

The conscious quest to understand

And transform society?

With you and me,

Our child-ness is the caterpillar of our social being.

Together, humanity thrashes to break out

From its own cocoon

Cast off its own chrysalis of unconsciousness

Emerge at the end of capitalism fully human.

Marx said that.

Drink deep, with me, that dry, heady amontillado and dream of Poe.

Edgar Allen Poe, author of

Edgar Allen Poe, author of “A Cask of Amontillado.”

I would embed our own Fortunatos in a wall of their own making,

Thus end the rule of that perverted class that destroys our world.

I am seventy years old today.

I am not done yet.

We are only as old as the child’s imaginative

Grasp of the new world in birth.

(after a poem by Robert Browning,

“The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church”

http://www.bartleby.com/42/669.html )

Don’t Shoot: A Poem by Lew Rosenbaum

Don’t Shoot

by Lew Rosenbaum

1999

Amadou Diallo

amadou-nyc-post23 years old

Guinean immigrant in the Bronx,

New York.

His name rolls off the tongue

Like waves rising from the port of Conakry

To crash at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

Shot 41 times

By four white police officers.

.

2011

Kelly Thomas

Kelly Thomas

Kelly Thomas

Thirty-seven years old

Homeless, Anglo, schizophrenic man.

Citrus-scented hallucinations

Taunt his fevered

Fullerton, California, street dreams.

Beaten to death by the police.

.

2014

Michael Brown

19 years oldth-4

African American bound for college,

Hope gripped tight,

A future denied.

Shot 6 times

In Ferguson,Missouri.

.

Come: See the blood

Running in the streets of my country.

.

Does it matter

If it’s 41 shots

Or only 6 –

Or (merely) beaten to death?

.

Amadou Diallo’s killers

Were judged not guilty.

Kelly Thomas: verdict not guilty.

How will Michael Brown’s killers be judged?

.

Come see the blood,

Blood that torrents down the streets

Of my poor country.

.

Michael Brown, his student life opening before him;

Kelly Thomas, living in the trap of his delusions;

They achieved the equality of the bullet and night-stick,

Both shed blood to wash the streets of their cities.

.

Amadou’s mother cried out, sobbing:

She had “the talk” with her son.

Surely Michael’s mother had

“the talk.”

Even before Trayvon Martin

I had “the talk” with my grandson.

Today I shiver as his

Brown-skinned hands brandish his toy rifle.

.

Come see, how the blood

Floods the streets of my rich country.

.

These, our words, are

Our weapons.

Our weapons draw all the poor together

In what is a tapestry of common purpose,

That join us in a vision of a country

Where no one wants for a place to stay

For food to eat

For songs to sing

.

Where the conjoined blood

That today separately runs rivulets in the streets

Will bind us together

To return laughter to our throats

Peace to our hearts

Justice to our hands.

Exposed and Ode to a Shot Glass: Commemorating Billy Watkins

[On July 27, 2014, The Revolutionary Poets Brigade – Chicago held a “bonfire” reading as part of the World Poetry Movement’s readings for peace.  We built a bonfire at promontory point, jutting out into Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline dramatically draped against the northern horizon.  As the sun went down over the trees to the west, poets and activists read from their work and described the social struggles in which they were engaged.  We asked Billy Watkins to speak about his work with the newspaper The People’s Tribune, and to read some poetry. What follows is the complete transcript of his reading, his last public presentation. As he left promontory point, he was pleased to hear that his, his first public sharing of his own poetry, was an extraordinary success. Now, nearly a year later, we follow this transcript with a new poem about Billy Watkins.– Lew Rosenbaum]

Adam Gottlieb: Next up is going to be Billy Watkins talking about the People’s Tribune. Watkins is a writer for the People’s Tribune and an all around revolutionary. Everyone please give it up for Billy!

[applause]

20140727_190620Billy Watkins: Thank you, I want to be a part of the circle here, that’s good. I am yeah I am both happy and humbled to be here this afternoon. I’m not a poet. I wanted to get my little piece out of the way so we can get ready for some serious poetry. My day job is, I’m a professor at UIC I’ve been there for 20 years, I’m tired of them, they’re probably tired of me, probably I should re-tire. But at any rate, until that happens, I’m a part of the movement. And right today I’m representing the People’s Tribune. I’m going to pass around [here he hands a stack of People’s Tribune’s to be passed around the listeners], several of us here write for the People’s Tribune and distribute it. I’ve been working for the People’s Tribune for a long time. It’s a newspaper, a community newspaper that is addressing the issues of tyranny, oppression, capitalism, war, we’re trying to respond to every act of tyranny and oppression, and provide a newspaper where the people can inform one another and organize themselves. We’re beyond the time of, we’re at a time in history that you all already know is a very dangerous and menacing time of — the people, the powers that be are marshalling their forces. They’re putting their house in order to do whatever their master plan is. We on the other hand are not as organized, don’t have as many resources, perhaps don’t even understand how serious the threat is. But we’re beginning to understand it.

Last week, with the invasion of Gaza, we understood it even more.

So I want to, I was asked to, I was lured here, because — I’m not a poet — but I love words and I understand the power of words. Was it Shakespeare who said the pen is mightier than the sword? Somebody said it. Whoever said it had a lot of truth to it. And so words are the key to action. Words are inspiring. Words do things to us. We’re moved by words, whether it be in song, in poetry, in prose, whatever. So, I have never, this is the first time I’ve ever shared anything I’ve written in public like this.

[applause]

I mean I’ve written a couple books, but I’ve not shared – I don’t know if this is poetry or drunken reminiscences – and is there a difference [someone says same thing] – same thing, I’m glad to know that, because at the end of every day I have a little glass of gin and I do a little writing. So this represents the end of every day.

This is a piece that I wrote – I’m probably one of the oldest ones out here, and we’re called together today to talk about war, condemn war, well, I was brought up in the “Cold War.” And I wrote this poem actually last year, and I was thinking about some of the old cold warriors, who helped shape our world, or I should say misshaped our world. So these guys we got today in the Pentagon and launching these adventures, they are poop-butts compared to the people we had in the 1960s. I mean you had some real pros who were assembled by the Kennedy administration to in fact reconfigure the world. So let me just read some of my thoughts, and I call this

Exposed  by Bill Watkins

Divine one, king, emperor, sovereign, his highness, sire, your majesty, landlord, hereditarian bloodline, elected by no one, speak to God

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Democrat, reformer, liberal, progressive, humanitarian, neoliberal, Kennedyite, new dealer, new wheeler,

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Usurper, hater, exploiter, robber baron, expansionist, smooth criminal, imperialist, pig, evil doer, vermin, trickster, wicked one.

You are known by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Liar, cheater, misleader, fool, hurter, killer, wannabe thriller

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass.

Reagan, Clinton, Eisenhower, Truman, Wilson, Obama, and yes Jimmy Carter, the peanut man.

You are known by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Stockman, Plockman, Foreman, Hockman, Gates, Vrydolyak, Cheney, Kennedy Fukuyama , Rumsfeld, McGeorge

“What mother would name her child McGeorge” Bundy

Bundy — what mother would name her child McGeorge?

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Wallace, Bilbo, Maddox, Stennis, Connor,

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Mortgage man, rent man, landlord man, police man, collector man, bag man, dope man,repo man, hit man, alder man

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Faker, false prophet, apostate, revisionist, snake man, god man, obeah man, con man, trick man, lowdown man

You go by many names,

we know who you are.

Just a quickie now, I want to read something from one of my favorite people, V.I.Lenin, and its a passage from one of my th-2favorite books, entitled What Is To Be Done.

It’s just one paragraph. It’s a paragraph that I love because it speaks to me. Speaks to those of us in the movement, and we are trying to grow the movement, and we want to do the right thing. We are faced with all kinds of tricksters and hypocrites and we are surrounded by all kinds of buffoons and people who would have us misstep.

“We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!”

   * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ode to a Shot Glass by Lew Rosenbaum

The five inch high shot glass has a map of Arkansas

Printed on the side. Arkansas emblazoned in red letters

Along its northern border, while a yellow scroll at the southernshot glass (1)

Proclaims in red letters “The Natural State.” An hour ago

It was filled with vodka, smooth tasting Stolichnaya. I bought the Stoli

For ideological reasons: I thought it would best

Help me think of my comrade, Billy Watkins, writing what he called

His musings, his drunken reverie before going to bed,

Writing what he said he didn’t know if it was poetry or

Just drunken reminiscences, or is there any difference he said,

In that last public appearance, that night when we read poetry

Around the bonfire;

When we assured him there was no difference;

At promontory point, when he told us he had never read his poetry –

But is it poetry, he wondered, when he told us

He’d been writing for forty years, thrown most of it away,

I don’t know whether it’s any good, he said.

I’m a professor in my day job, I’m tired of them, some of them would be happy

If I RE-tired, his resonant voice breaking, his breathing labored,

He read his litany of scurrilous scourges of the working class,

And without being asked, we joined him in his chorus

“You go by many names, we know who you are,

We got your number, we’re on your ass.”

.

A week later, he would never write another line.

.

This is Billy’s glass. He collected it on one of his many journeys.

I chose this among the offerings at the service that

Celebrated his life, a generous selection his widow Mary

And his son Will prepared – I cringe at using the word “widow” –

I took this, not some exotic instrument from West Africa,

Some multicolored Asian textile, some Olmec sculpture:

No, this proletarian relic from the North American South,

Slavery’s home, and the key to American liberation,

And pouring a libation to fill this vessel, I think of Billy, late at night,

Chasing down his rage at the white architects of Black education,

Sharpening his view of Black protest thought,

Vilifying the corporate transformation of education.

If he were writing tonight, it would be a line straight from

Little Rock, the home of Orval Faubus and Bill Clinton,

To Charleston, where the first shots of the civil war were fired

And where nine were murdered in

Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

And, tossing off the last of the clear, fiery liquid in this glass,

He’d scribble another line to assure the enemies of his class,

We’re on your fascist ass.

.

Rest well, beloved comrade. We’re on their ass too

Pedagogy, The Digital Age and The Precariat — Jandric and Giroux in Counterpunch

Critical Pedagogy in and for the Age of the Digital Media
Pedagogy of the Precariat (published in the June 12-14 2015 Counterpunch)
by PETAR JANDRIC and HENRY A. GIROUX
Haunted digital borders and alternative public spheresth

Petar Jandrić: Thank you a lot for agreeing to this conversation, Henry! One of the central concepts in your work is border crossing, which “prompts teachers and students to raise new questions and develop models of analysis outside the officially sanctioned boundaries of knowledge and the established disciplines that control them” (Giroux and Searls Giroux, 2004: 102). This concept gains additional relevance with the advent of another border – the so-called electronic frontier (Rheingold, 1995). Could you please apply your concept of border crossing to learning in the age of information technologies?

Henry Giroux: When I first started thinking about the concept, one of the things that I was concerned with was the way in which various borders operate in various formations and ideological and political locations to basically shut people down from asking dangerous questions or pursuing questions outside of established paradigms. At the heart of that concern was the question of the political. How do you theorise the americas-ed-deficit-300x449political in a world where borders are rapidly increasing? How do you theorise the political in a world where borders are really pushing people back into all kinds of silos – from those organised around prejudice and racism, to those organised around the instrumentalization of knowledge itself? And how are those borders organised in the ways that so limit what intellectuals and academics can do? At the university, academics often end up speaking in languages that are utterly abstract, languages that speak to five or six people. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that they have no sense what it means to speak to broader publics. At the same time, I was not arguing that difficult language is not sometimes necessary or that theory does not matter. On the contrary, I was arguing that theory needed to become worldly, unfettered by jargon, and be both accessible while addressing broader publics. Border crossing was a critique of theoreticism, theory for its own sake, unfettered by any interest in the larger world.

So the notion of border really took on several registers. One of the registers was political. How do you want to understand the notion of crossing borders in ways that expand the possibilities of people to be able to narrate themselves and understand the context in which they find themselves in order to, in some ways, both resist and overcome those kinds of barriers that shut down their capacity to be individual and social agents? The second issue is around the notion of social responsibility. What kinds of borders are put in play in ways that separate, for instance, instrumental knowledge from questions of social cost and larger social problems?

And I think, with regards to your question about how this applies to technology, that technologies are haunted by a ghostly presence to public memories rooted in a . . . read the whole article here.

Seed of Revolution — Lew Rosenbaum

Seed of Revolution  — Lew Rosenbaum

Hello.
My name is Lew.
I’m an addict.June Mangoes
I’ve been searching,
Chasing the perfect mango
For twenty five years.
Obsessive.
Compulsive.
Mangomaniac.
From Mexico each spring come
Haden mangoes, scarlet and yellow;
Golden, bountiful ataulfos;
Kent and later Keitt, light green with
Orange flesh the texture of flan;
Then with winter brilliant ruby colored
Tommy Atkins, the flavor of dry wood
All the way from Brazil, Peru, Ecuador.
None of this lands in Chicago
Without a revolution
In the economy.

First, let’s agree:
An abundance of mangoes floods the markets
Year round
(Even if some are barely edible).
Year round on the
Tropical, rainforested, plantationed
Streets of
Chicago.

Second, selling a box of Kents —
Seven or eight of them —
Each one weighs almost 2 pounds —
For six bucks, give or take a buck,
In spite of transportation costs —
Did I mention it? That shipping from Mexico
And points south demands a level of
Sophistication unprecedented —
That cost demands the excruciating,
Exploitation of labor
Squeezed from the sweat
of the mango plantation workers
For the least possible price
Paid to those who suffer in peonage.
In Puerto Rico, and even Miami,
You can reach out, pull them
From heavy laden boughs
In your back yard.
Oil must flow freely to whisk mangoes to Chicago.

And more: now bursts the electronic
Transmission of information
(Creeping in with simple bookkeeping)
To automate maintenance,
To speed harvesting,
Pack the fruit,
Augment airplane technology,
Drive labor from the Mango Industry.
Where workers remain, they
Compete to earn less than
The cost of a silicon chip
Inside the robots everywhere

So here, my friends,
Within this 6 inch, juicy, sweet,
Sometimes with a hint of citrus flavor;
Hidden in the center of this nugget of nutrition
You will find the seed
Of a revolution brewing
Under our eager palates,
Posing profound challenges,
But incredible —
I do mean
Not to be believed —
Opportunities
Possibilities
To solve the satisfaction of humanity
To protect the planet from despoliation,
Where transport workers,
Packers and shippers,
Harvesters and retailers,
All workers on the road to replacement
By revolutionary silicon;
Where art and artists,
Poets and musicians,
Cultivators of new ideas;
Have an historic chance
To imagine and to build
A new America, a new world.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers