There is a consistent, if not conscious, effort to make it appear as if the African American people have become a sea of dehumanized barrenness in the desolate ghettoes of inner cities.
This result can be understood, if not excused, given the context of oppression, exploitation, inequality and injustice. All that is left is the glamorized pimp culture of a Snoop Doggy Dog, the sterile cool swagger of a 50 Cent, and the empty buffoonery of the drug-enhanced athlete or entertainer who does not know what to do with money or life.
If anything can be said of the masses, within this line of argument, it is that their lives are in shambles, and they are caught up in desperation which revolves around despair. No expense is spared to make these ideas, or worse, part of the core belief system in the United States.
If one harvests this poisonous crop, one’s thought patterns will become enveloped in pathology.
The above conceptualization of the African American people is poisonous because it is false in its construction of a helpless and hopeless people.
It is poisonous because it fails to capture the full dynamics of a people in an oppressive and exploitative society.
It is poisonous because it implies impotence.
It is poisonous because it speaks of sorrow, pain, suffering and the absence of consciousness without recognition of the resolve to overcome, the will to hold on, the determination to keep hope alive, and the unbelievable achievement of hard-fought motion forward forged out of the hard won united collective struggle of a people themselves, albeit never alone.
Even though it is very difficult to find joy in the hollowness of capitalist America, the astonishing brilliance of oppressed people and classes is that they create joyous magnificence sometimes out of the mere simpleness of their ordinary lives, and in many instances in the shadows of nothingness.
Historically, from the depths of the desperate conditions of the African American people, manifestations of resistance have emerged in various forms.
It is consciousness of the specific expressions, which have evolved into a particular culture of struggle of the African American people, for relief from oppression and exploitation that forces one to be humbled by the magnificence of the fruit of the African American experience.
A book, a movie, a man
There are three contemporary manifestations that make this point extraordinarily well: a book, a movie, and a man. The book is “The Wake of the Wind,” the movie is “The Great Debaters,” and the man is Barack Obama.
Released in 1998, “The Wake of the Wind” is a historical novel written by J. California Cooper. Its magnificence is in telling a story of the down-to-earth origins of African Americans as a people and the daily life struggles just to be.
Cooper’s writings speak to the uncomplicated lessons of the day-to-day lives of ordinary folk. She glorifies working-class morality and values in its Black expression: Be willing to work for what you want, fight for only what you deserve, be honest and compassionate with the meek of the earth, and be whole enough to love truthfully.
Her works are fascinating, but especially this one.
“The Great Debaters” is a recently released Hollywood movie directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey. You, your family, church, community and union members need to rush to see this movie. Joyfully go to the theater and pay your hard-earned money to help encourage an even bigger investment in movies of this caliber.
You will not believe the backdrop of the story line. It is rooted in the efforts to organize Black and white sharecroppers in the South. Because of its content as well as its form, the highest accolades are merited. This movie is fabulously magnificent.
Lastly, there is the current phenomenon of Barack Obama. Even if his presidential campaign fizzles, the magnificence of it all is in the fact that he is trying to do something the heights of which have never been achieved within the electoral arena before. He is trying to create a movement within the national electoral arena which has at its core an embrace of the most democratic trend within the historical struggle of the African American people in a presentation designed to appeal to the masses, particularly the multitudes of working people. Obama may not be fully aware of all of what that means, but he is trying to do it nonetheless. He has gotten farther than all prior efforts, as great as they were, and it seems he has a real chance at it.
As shown by the example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one does not start off fully evolved. King became in life the personification of the fight for democracy in this country. His analysis developed to the point where he could stand with full honor, courage and conviction against the power of the state and for that which would advance the cause of real social progress.
Demystified, King became a conscious opponent of corporate greed and imperialist aggression, and he was shot down while trying to help to organize working masses in the struggle for a quality standard of living.
But, that is not where he began.
History has a way of molding a person, of helping a person to become fully actualized, if that is their pursuit, in response to its needs.
If you can place yourself in history’s path, you might be able to perform a duty beyond even your wildest dreams.
Language of hope
Psychologists will admit that the language of hope coming from the downtrodden is not simply empty rhetoric but a cognitive stepping stone out of the demobilizing mire of oppression.
It is King’s concept of hope that the Rev. Jesse Jackson embraces in his refrain “Keep Hope Alive.” It is King’s hope that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. spoke of in his sermon discussing the “audaciousness” of the very concept. It is that concept of hope which has enabled Black people to make a way out of no way.
Obama’s language picks up that baton of hope and uses it as the clarion call to carry him into the White House. Yet, he can only achieve that goal through the engagement and participation of the masses of the people. He is calling for the emergence of a movement to take back the executive branch. Therein resides the pivotal kernel. The realization of that massive movement will be a crucial factor.
Words come out of experience
Some argue Obama is just empty words with no substance. Fundamentally, those words come directly out of the culture of struggle for freedom and equality of the African American people. Those words have a meaning some will never make the effort to deeply understand because of their own voluntary or involuntary embrace of the barriers and prejudices of status and station, not to mention race.
Those words can be used demagogically, but that is not Obama’s crime, I don’t think. Obama is fully aware of the yearning eyes of the masses staring him in the face, reflecting their real needs. All of what he will do if he is victorious, I am not sure. But I have decided to walk this journey with him and help build the movement he’s issuing the call to come into being. It will be interesting to see what the end will bring. If you don’t have much else to do, you may as well join us.
Dee Myles is a contributing editor of Political Affairs magazine. This essay was first published at Political Affairs Online www.politicalaffairs.net.