Flora and Fauna

May 19, 2016

Flora and Fauna

I wanted to bless my eyes this morning
with flora and fauna
so I came in from the cold
of a dream full of unrelenting rain
and opened my eyes to what is customarily
my second sighting of the day:

My ideological father
shot down in the Audubon ballroom
where the only bird observed in motion
was the misappropriated eagle

until the phoenix rose
from the ash of a murderous minstrel show
and transformed into a panther

which prowled
oakland to wounded knee
philadelphia to palestine
roaring revolution
until every generation
generated an evolution
of the message

thought to be dead forever
by those who are as white as the bones
of the myriad numbers of people
whose deaths they are accountable for.

© 2006 Tichaona M.Chinyelu

“We are now on the eve of great decisions, not easy decisions, like resistance when you’re attacked, but a long, patient, costly struggle which alone can assure triumph over the great enemies of man war, poverty, and tyranny and the assaults upon human dignity which are the most grievous consequences of each.”

Adlai Stevenson

 

No Woman, No Drive

October 26, 2013

Every artist, every scientist must decide now where he stands. He has no alternative. There is no standing above the conflict on Olympian heights. There are no impartial observers. Through the destruction, in  certain countries, of the greatest of man’s literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of racial and national superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. The struggle invades the formerly cloistered halls of our universities and other seats of learning. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear.

Paul Robeson

Here I Stand

Paul Robeson,American actor, athlete, bass-bar...

Elsewhere on the African continent, mission-educated men took power as Africa emerged from direct European colonial rule. The list is long. Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal, now a member of the Academie Francaise, is a former seminarian and a leading Catholic intellectual. The late Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the Ivorian president who constructed the world’s largest Catholic basilica in the country’s interior, was obviously another devout Catholic. Others have similar backgrounds: Julius Nyerere was Catholic, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was Presbyterian and General Ignatius Acheampong of Ghana had been born into a Catholic family. With the possible exception of the king of Swaziland, the head of one of the few African states that predate colonialism, to my knowledge there is no African leader who openly professes traditional religions.

Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique
Makau W. Mutua

(To Che, not in memoriam)

Your skin linked to the bone was lost in the earth.
The tear, the poem and the memory
are carving on the fire the song of death
with golden machine-guns from wherever you are.
And here, each night your books are searched
for the just motive of all action
and your memory opens up to all who are born again
but there is always someone who raises you upon a shrine
and creates a legend of your formative image
and makes impossible the dream of reaching you
and learns some of your phrases by heart
to say “I shall be like him” without knowing you
and proclaims them without love, without the dream
without love, without faith
and your words lose a sense of respect
to the man who is born covered by your splendour.
Some poet said, and this will be fairest:
From this day our duty is to defend you from being god.

Callejas, 1968 (the line in italics is Vicente Huidobro’s, from the poem Elegy to Lenin)

excerpted from Che in Verse

Che in Verse contains 134 poems and songs from 53 countries dedicated to, about, or referring to this martyr of the utopian left. The contributors range from Che’s fellow revolutionaries and anti-colonial freedom-fighters to a gay rights activist, a Cistercian monk, and a Cuban prisoner of conscience languishing in a US federal penitentiary.

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture by Angela Davis.

Back blurb:

In a series of intereviews given in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Angela Y. David explores how historical systems of oppression like slavery and lynching continue to influence and undermine democracy today. Davis builds on W.E.B DuBois’ view that when people were released from slavery in this country, they were denied the full privileges of other citizens. This denial of full rights and the creation of a U.S. prison system emerged as a way of maintaining dominance and control over entire populations. Davis explores the notion of Abolition Democracy as the democracy to come, as et of social relations free of oppression and injustice.

 

Excerpts:

The prison in the United States has become a kind of ghetto. And if I hear you correctly, you’re suggesting that in the United States there cannot be a non-racial prison system-that a nonracist prison system would be an oxymoron.

Yes, I suppose you may put it that way. As a matter of fact, there is an assumption that an institution of repression, if it does its work equitably–if it treats, say, white people in the same way it does black people–it is an indication of progress under the sign of equality and justice. I am very suspicious of such an abstract approach. James Byrd was lynched in Jasper, Texas a few years ago by a group of white supremacists… Do you remember that incident?

Yes, and he was dragged around as well.

Two of the white men who helped to carry out the lynching were sentenced to death. That moment was celebrated as a victory, as if the cause of racial justice is served by meting out same horrendous and barbaric treatment to white people that black people have historically suffered. That kind of equality does not make a great deal of sense to me.

Can you expand on that? In other words, there’s a continuum between the antebellum period, the reconstruction, the ghettos and the death penalty, which are equally racialized. Indeed, all of these institutions and spaces seem to have their roots in slavery. Are these links and continuities what you are alluding to?

What is interesting is that slavery as an institution, during the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, for example, managed to become a receptacle for all those forms of punishment that were considered to be barbaric by the developing democracy. So rather than abolish the death penalty outright, it was offered refuge within slave law. This meant that white people eventually were released from the threat of death for most offenses, with murder remaining as the usual offense leading to a white execution. Black slaves, on the other hand, were subject to the death penalty in some states for as many as seventy different offenses. One might say that the institution of slavery served as a receptacle  for those forms of punishment considered to be too uncivilized to be inflicted on white citizens within a democratic society. With the abolition of slavery this clearly racialized form of punishment became de-racialized  and persists today under the guise of a color-blind justice. Capital punishment continues to be inflicted disproportionately on black people, but when the black person is sentenced to death, he/she comes under the authority of law as the abstract judicial subject, as a rights-bearing individual, not as a member of a racialized community that has been subjected to conditions that make him/her a prime candidate for legal repression. In this respect, he/she is “equal” to his/her white counterpart, who therefore is not entirely immune to the hidden racism of the law.

The other day doing some Googling on anti-colonial poetics, I came across this fantastic article by Aimé Césaire. It is very long so I’m only going to quote the beginning. Click the link below to read the whole thing.

Discourse on Colonialism

A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization.

A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization.

A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.

The fact is that the so-called European civilization – "Western" civilization – as it has been shaped by two centuries of bourgeois rule, is incapable of solving the two major problems to which its existence has given rise: the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem; that Europe is unable to justify itself either before the bar of "reason" or before the bar of "conscience"; and that, increasingly, it takes refuge in a hypocrisy which is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive.

Europe is indefensible.

Apparently that is what the American strategists are whispering to each other.

That in itself is not serious.

What is serious is that "Europe" is morally, spiritually indefensible.

And today the indictment is brought against it not by the European masses alone, but on a world scale, by tens and tens of millions of men who, from the depths of slavery, set themselves up as judges.

The colonialists may kill in Indochina, torture in Madagascar, imprison in Black Africa, crackdown in the West Indies. Henceforth, the colonized know that they have an advantage over them. They know that their temporary, "masters" are lying.

Therefore, that their masters are weak.

And since I have been asked to speak about colonization and civilization, let us go straight to the principal lie which is the source of all the others.

Colonization and civilization?

In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimize the hateful solutions provided for them.

In other words, the essential thing here is to see clearly, to think clearly – that is, dangerously – and to answer clearly the innocent first question: what, fundamentally, is colonization? To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. To admit once for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors here are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.

Pursuing my analysis, I find that hypocrisy is of recent date; that neither Cortez discovering Mexico from the top of the great teocalli, nor Pizzaro before Cuzco (much less Marco Polo before Cambaluc), claims that he is the harbinger of a superior order; that they kill; that they plunder; that they have helmets, lances, cupidities; that the slavering apologists came later; that the chief culprit in this domain is Christian pedantry, which laid down the dishonest equations Christianity=civilization, paganism=savagery, from which there could not but ensue abominable colonialist and racist consequences, whose victims were to be the Indians, the yellow peoples, and the Negroes.

That being settled, I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the redistribution of energy.

But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?

I answer no.

And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.

First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and "interrogated, all these patriots who have been – 2 – tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.

And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the racks invent, refine, discuss.

People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: "How strange! But never mind-it’s Nazism, it will. pass!" And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.

Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.

And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been – and still is – narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist.

I have talked a good deal about Hitler. Because he deserves it: he makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one likes it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe, I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman, Bidault, and a few others, there is Hitler. At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.

Our women must not pull back in the face of the many different aspects of their struggle, which leads them to courageously and proudly take full charge of their own lives and discover the happiness of being themselves, not the domesticated female of the male. Today, many women still seek the protective cover of a man as the safest way out from all al that oppresses them. They marry without love or joy, just to serve some boor, some dreary male who is far removed from real life and cut off from the struggles of the people.

Often, women will simultaneously demand some haughty independence and at the same time protection, or even worse, to be put under the colonial  protectorate of a male. They do not believe that they can live otherwise. No. We must say again to our sisters that marriage, if it brings society nothing positive and does not bring them happiness, is not indispensable and should be even avoided.

Let us show them our many examples of hardy and fearless pioneers, single women with our without children, who are radiant and blossoming, overflowing with richness and availability for others-even envied by unhappily married women, because of the warmth they generate and the happiness they draw from their freedom, dignity and willingness to help others.

Women have shown sufficient proof of their ability to manage the home and raise children – in short, to be responsible members of society – without the oppressive tutelage of a man. Our society is surely sufficiently advanced to put an end to this banishment of the single woman. Comrade revolutionaries, we should see to it that marriage is a choice that adds something positive, and not some kind of lottery where we know what the ticket costs us, but have no idea what we will end up winning. Human feelings are too noble to be subject to such games.

Excerpted from Thomas Sankara Speaks

 

Roaming the blogosphere as I am wont to do, I came across a challenge on calyx press’ blog. Of course, at 43, I do not qualify as a “young feminist” (if I ever did) but still it set me to thinking about my intentions to write a review of Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology.

To a young woman unanchored, on the verge of being culturally divorced from self, the anthology was one of a series of buoys clung to and devoured like I was a member of the Donner party – not the daughter of Salma. Comprising both poetry and prose, the book represents discussions black women were having with other black women – and society in general – about what it means to be a black woman. The scope of the conversation is wide-ranging. It includes the Combahee River Collective Statement which includes articulations such as

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

I’m not entirely clear on the concept of identity politics. However, it does strike me as the essence of self-determination to push your own cause. In the case of black women, the cause should be black women. Home Girls is one of the spots along my literary reading history where I realized it was acceptable, revolutionary even, to come out from the background, open my mouth and express my full self.

Home Girls is also where I first encountered the work of poet Kate Rushin. Her poem, the Black Back-ups,

is dedicated to Merry Clayton, Cissy Houston, Vonetta Washington, Dawn, Carrietta McClellen, Rosie Farmer, Marsha Jenkins and Carolyn Williams. This is for all of the Black women who sang back-up for Elvis Presley, John Denver, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Etc, Etc, Etc.

This is for Hattie McDaniels, Butterfly McQueen, Ethel Waters
Saphire
Saphronia
Ruby Begonia
Aunt Jemima
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box?
AuntJemimaonthepancakebox?
auntjemimaonthepancakebox?
Ainchamamaonthepancakebox?
Aint chure Mama on the pancake box?

Mama Mama
Get offa that damn box
And come home to me

And my Mama leaps offa that box
She swoops down in her nurse’s cape
Which she wears on Sunday
And on Wednesday night prayer meeting
And she wipes my forehead
And she fans my face for me
And she makes me a cup o’ tea
And it don’t do a thing for my real pain
Except she is my Mama
Mama Mommy Mommy Mammy Mammy
Mam-mee Mam-mee
I’d Walk a mill-yon miles
For one o’ your smiles

This is for the Black Back-ups
This is for my mama and your mama
My grandma and your grandma
This is for the thousand thousand Black Back-ups

And the colored girls say*

After reading this poem, I couldn’t hear Lou Reed’s Walk on the Side as just a song. Instead, it now expressed a relationship where the talent and artistic skill of black women is used to enrich other artists – musically as well as economically. It’s Big Mama Thornton and Elvis played out all over the cultural landscape. Or would be – except that Big Mama’s daughter wants her mother and wrote a poem about it; a poem which changes the dynamic landscape of understanding.

 

 

* © 1983 Donna Kate Rushin