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November 03, 2005

Liberation isn't Black Liberation

"John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed."
-- Abraham Lincoln

I've been reading Lincoln in response to a charge that the Republican Party started off as a bunch of radicals. They were not as far as Lincoln was concerned. But this bit of business about John Brown, a hero of mine, struck me cold. So I'm going to say something for the sake of argument, that I really don't believe and see what happens, and combine it with something else I've been thinking of a way to say. First the other something.

I imagine myself walking into a room of black college students and telling them that I have found a black power amulet. This amulet, I say, is so powerful that it has the effect of instantly changing whitefolks' suspicion to trust and even admiration. If you wear this amulet, you will find that suddenly whitefolks from all over this country will see you in a different light and recognize you for the human being you are. If you wear it, cops will give you a second chance when they pull you over. Job interviews will go better, and all of this is guaranteed. I say this and people shake their heads in disbelief. I tell them that I know it works because it has worked for me.

Now I ask them if I tell them what it is would they wear it? The answer is a resounding yes. I say, are you sure? They say yes. I show them the magic amulet. It is an American Flag lapel pin. They throw me out the window.

There are several variations of that daydream, and the end result isn't always so violent, but it illustrates a point that cannot be overlooked, which is the point of this essay. There is a certain permanent anti-social component of blackness. In some ways it is inherently rebellious and anti-American.

The matter of John Brown brings us to the second point in this argument that I really don't believe. Having written some 'End of My Blackness' essay number 3 some years ago (before this one), the matter was more appropriately the end of my political blackness. Having elevated past the foibles of generic middle-classness, there was a full compliment of 'The Struggle' that I had transcended. And since I was full of black pride, I wondered what I could do to continue my loyal contribution and still write 'Aluta Continua' at the end of all my posts to the web. The answer was pure, unadulterated anti-racist politics.

There is pretty much universal agreement than even given all of the diversity within African America, there is one thing that no self-respecting black man would do, which is to pretend racism doesn't matter. Didn't Cornel West's book prove it? Well, I didn't need convincing, and so I created the Boohab. And since I was intentionally playing with identity as a cyberspace construct, I accepted a postmodern personna, although I would be loathe to call it postmodern drivel. (Mr. Geib never responded to my emails and has long since left cyberspace. You'd think Google would purge their caches.) Bottom line, I became a race man, and did that whole thing for a few years, thus the Boohabian Project, later semi-revived as the Boohabian Slamdance.

On to my bold assertion. The irony of the failure of John Brown's insurrection is one that should be lost on noone, especially given Lincoln's commentary. Brown reminds us that interpretations of black sucess is very narrow and tends to require black leadership - that blackfolks don't believe in objective measures of liberation. If it's not black owned, operated, controlled, and led it can't be right for black people. So if indeed blackness has digressed to the point at which it is no longer existential/cultural liberation and considered the font of all liberation (economic, spiritual and political) then we have a problem. This is the thing I don't want to believe, but perhaps I'm wrong.

If it is the case that young people today are expecting all manner of liberation from blackness, they're in for a rude awakening. They'll take it out on blackfolks too. If they are not capable or willing to accept gifts from the John Browns of the world, aid in their own struggles which are well-meant if dissonant (or foolish), then they will keep returning to the empty home of blackness and fall deeper into the domestic violence of self-hatred.

To accept with grace the benefits and limitations of blackness is to be prepared for all manner of growth. America has all that for its citizens. People offer a hand all the time, there's no good reason to leave them hanging.

Posted by mbowen at November 3, 2005 07:43 AM

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Is it your point or are you asserting that it is Lincoln's point that the reason black people didn't follow Brown is because he was white?

If it is your point, what support do you have for that point?

I know the names of three attempted leaders of slave revolts: Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner and John Brown.

I think the reason I do not know more names is that Slaveowners collectively created the most effective obstacles they could to prevent revolts and the obstacles they created were largely effective at preventing slave revolts from reaching the point where over 100 years later non-specialists would know the names of their leaders.

I would guess the reason I know John Brown's name is because he is white. His revolt did not reach the level of Nat Turner's or Denmark Vessey's. I expect that there were hundreds of John-Brown-level rebellions that were not even newsworthy at the time because they didn't make progress and didn't have the added sensation of a white leader.

Posted by: ParkerStevens [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 3, 2005 07:16 PM

I'd say the actual answer folks don't know more names is because they haven't ventured into the library to study this aspect of their history. It's in there.

As a point of information - all revolts were newsworthy because the community of planters was closely connected. Successful revolts would have rapidly multiplied if word spread across communication networks established by Africans - so whites had to ensure there was timely information about revolts. The Stono Rebellion in South Carolina is one such example. It struck fear throughout South Carolina and led to significant and immediate changes in "management and organization" by whites in the colony.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2005 03:41 AM

"There are several variations of that daydream, and the end result isn't always so violent, but it illustrates a point that cannot be overlooked, which is the point of this essay. There is a certain permanent anti-social component of blackness. In some ways it is inherently rebellious and anti-American."

Isn't the point that you SHOULD be thrown out of the window? Or is it that Europeans have yet to drop the vestiges of superstition requiring proof through oaths. You are probably right that something as simple as wearing the flag would do the trick - after all, these folks aren't half as smart as many presume them to be. But, that would be tantamount to treason - especially since citizenship was conferred on a manumitted people - rather than asserted by a free people...it's a huge difference.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2005 03:47 AM

I think the last few paragraphs make a lot of sense.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2005 03:52 AM

If the context of black success in America always has the qualifier 'but this is a racist country' then why bother? No you shouldn't be thrown out of the window. The point is that their is no great dignity in failure, and if blackness points African Americans inevitably towards failure, then they are victims of their own pride.

What I see is that there are black people invested in spreading the gospel of white hegemony who are prepared to discount every success that blacks have because there are whites involved. This is no different than white racism itself. "The black man can't do that, there are too many [racist] whites, he must be a sellout." or "She's not sticking with her own kind."

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 4, 2005 07:30 AM

You should, however, be thrown out the window if the proposition to actually wear the flag is based on the notion that blackness is tantamount to insurrection or rebellion - and therefore, requires some modification, augmentation or legitimization (like a flag). After all, are you suggesting that white conservatives or ALL americans/citizens/guests/foreigners/J-1 visa holders/terrorists should also wear flags to rid themselves of the scourge of unfair sight-based judgments?

Throwing you out the window, you see, is the manner in which the students relieve the contradiction. The contradiction is clear - if America is what it claims to be, then black folks don't have to wear flags to get a square deal. Since you've suggested that America is not a fair country, that Americans need proof of loyalty, it's easier to throw your ass out the window.

In fact, you might actually be suggesting that America is not "fair", but it's FAIR ENOUGH that the barriers to success are not as great as they are imagined - and that as a demonstration of those imagined barriers, you want students to wear flags to PROVE that there is far more EQUITY than they've imagined; to prove that this simple demonstration will generate the types of elusive "cross-racial" coalitions, corporate partnerships, development initiatives and broader improvements that transcend narrow definitions - minus the silly social programs.

If that's what you're saying, why don't you just say that and stop using all this other ahistorical nonsense that simply doesn't suit you. It would more compelling - but then, you be sounding like Barack obama - or a pre-"hymie town" Jesse Jackson. LOL.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 12:31 PM

America is as fair as it needs to be. It comes down to whether or not you give it props in the best case. That is to say when you are righteous do you snatch the flag away from the unrighteous and raise it higher, or do you spit on the flag knowing it's in the hands of evildoers. For me and the case has always been the former rather than the latter, and that is the expectation I hold of others. Trashing the country is retarded and cynical.

Talk about ahistorical, I have a fundamental problem with people who go back to Africa without going back to Tennessee. Understand as well that all reform of America has come from Americans, not others. So I find it very presumptious that 'black' harbors this bogus affinity to non-American values which requires these summary judgements of 'America's history.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 01:00 PM

By 'as fair as it needs to be', I would imagine you mean superficial legal statutes that have little or nothing to do with economic competition, education finance, residential tax bases, real estate, gerrymandering, disposition of toxic waste, and those other quality of life issues that are hotly contested. The issues that demonstrate 'as fair as it needs to be' would be the narrow legal decisions guaranteeing equitable access to bars, restaurants, piss pots and universities (often confused for one another in seedier community colleges). If you mean something else, let me know.

As far as the props things goes, you have to give it some props...I think one of your posts about families was right on. I don't remember it exactly - but it flowed with my belief that billionaires are essential to problem-solving...often as endemic as they are to problem-creation. Simply, black billionaires can fix many more problems than limited efforts to generate some broader sentiment/action toward a specific end. Enduring solutions are probably bought more often than they are built organically. To that end, America affords an opportunity for black folk to buy enduring solutions to problems. That is something worth talking about. However, Africa provides the same opportunity - and so does the Caribbean...it's a question of balls and brilliance.

I don't know what that "righteous" sentence means. Would you paraphrase for me? Thanks.

As for the history piece, I'm sure that's not directed to me because that is not my practice. I would agree that that approach would not yield favorable results. Similarly, it does not apply to nulan's ongoing critique of your quick-sand positions. Maybe, it's for someone else.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 01:52 PM

By fair as it needs to be I mean as a civilization capable of sustaining a stable middleclass meritocracy for scores of millions. The system works. Japan works as well, as does Western Europe and a dozen other places around the globe. The question of black liberation then, is whether or not it can be achieved in other places similarly to the way it has been achieved here. There's only so much going back in history worth recking with on that score. I believe it is true that Haiti was liberated first and certainly Africans in Mexico were freed from slavery before blacks here. England swore off the slave trade long before the Americas. So when we start talking about economic, political and spiritual liberation, I'd imagine that the proper historian would deliver you all the not-ahistorical factoids you seem to crave, but don't bother to publish yourself. I'm not trying to be a proper historian. I simply observing, correctly I hope, that this sense of black rebellion embedded in the left mentality is self-destructive, and that a simple choice of patriotism, or at least a lack of cynicism against 'America' is useful.

But I'm also saying that the creation of a black nation within a nation which is not in synch with the major aspirations of the country is likely to miss out on genuine opportunities for advancement. That now we are in an era of social power rather than civil rights, attitudes are more significant than ever before. I hear trumped up complaints of what is nothing more than class-three racism, name-calling, insults and disrepect (Bill Bennett for example) as a completely legitimated decision to completely abandon one political party. Understand that if the criteria is that sensitive (and it is), then dissing 'America' is fair game for hateration from the right, again which has nothing to do with any risible claim of anything more than hurt feelings and missed opportunities.

I know progressives must hate the idea that the difference between a 40k salary and an 80k salary might be nothing more or less than attitude, in the broad whitecollar middleclass of America, but sometimes social power works like that. That's too much finesse for people longing for romping and stomping in big black boots. Nobody shoots.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 03:12 PM

ok, we're done, you used the M word.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 07:12 PM

you're funny cobb...all i can say is we've never had a conversation (about this topic)...'cause your talking about stuff i never claim - these old school attacks on black nationalism and cultural nationalism are not aimed at my positions or any that i've read recently in this space. half of the stuff you're talking about hasn't been discussed seriously by anyone in almost one hundred years. a nation within a nation - you know of anyone with a real tactical, operational plan and resources to do that and give folks jobs and security? nope - never did. so, it only serves as a straw man to flag folks who are a good 25 years behind these conversations. it's not a 2005 conversation worthy of your time...step it up, baby...

i suppose the clearest evidence that we've never had a conversation is this whole bennett thing...i NEVER talk about feelings and sentiment with respect to any of this...you do, though...quite often...and it's a shoe-horn to your pleas based on a rejection of history and the current motive factors in economics and politics - nationally and internationally. bennett didn't hurt my feelings. you really focus on silly things sometimes. but, it's all good - 'cause the only thing left is to kick it about your fly ride, break bread and suck down some Sierra Nevada when you roll to the city.

one of these days, we'll actually kick it. until then, keep firing up the straw - it's all you've got - and watch your step around students and windows...you never know where the next putsch is coming from. LOL

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 08:21 PM

I'm not talking to you or about you. I'm talking with you. It may come as some surprise, but I'm really speaking colloquially in the abstract - I'm walking through theory, but it's not about you and it's not about me. That's why I get so frustrated at this whole personal angle and why identity politics annoys the hell out of me. This is all about socratic dialog that can be done on the web for better or worse - still, I am trying to personify a thought process and not be academic about it. This is another reason that Nulan's jargon pisses me off.

Anyway, you keep talking about history as if it were a settled thing. I don't see it that way.

I'm not here to argue facts, not that you're presenting any. I'm pitching this idea because I percieve a reluctance in black politics to give itself over to modernity - the kind of idea that immigrants come to America with. I am in disagreement that the blackness of African Americans is some unassailable, historically inevitable arrow. What I've lived with is the notion of an historical imperative born of Telented Tenth notions, and I've struggled with that. I have accepted that the Talented Tenth's inheritance was inspired yet bogus and impractical and I watch with both amusement and dismay as other groups of blackfolks both look to fulfill that role or seek those who claim it.

Beyond that, I am challenging the very notion of black politics. I already know that it makes no sense to 'be' a black Republican. It's not a label worth fighting for. Just Republican for me, thanks. I have already presumed that it makes no sense ot be a black Democrat, for the very same reasons that drive me to the GOP. What remains are progressives, and the good parts of black movements of the 60s and 70s. But I question whether or not those good parts can be recovered in the context of American electoral politics, and it seems to me that Progressives are painting themselves out of that picture when they still retain much of the braintrust.

As I'm about to write about Elizabeth Wright, I don't think apolitics is the answer. I could just claim to be a libertarian and go home. But I think there is an appropriate use for state power and that it matters very seriously - I don't see any moral high ground in libertarianism that couldn't be done better with religion.

But back to the point of liberation not being acceptable as black liberation. If black liberation is only acheivable through black owned, operated and controlled politics what exactly does that mean about the audience for black liberation? What makes that racial politics any different from any other?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 09:23 PM

Cobb is right insofar as too many of us are dreaming about some day when we kill all the whites and then we rule! i have heard so many people say that muslim terrorism as the beginning of some worldwide revolt against the white man. to what extent we believe this i don't know.

Posted by: Anita at November 10, 2005 09:43 AM

so, now it's an impersonal, objective mind walk...okay.

"I'm not here to argue facts, not that you're presenting any."

now why would you go and say sumthin stupid like that? what's your point? i've shared more than enough for you to know much better. no one could be that obtuse.

as it is, i get that your spittin' theory to see what sticks and only wanna deal with certain types of walls.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2005 01:09 PM

In fact, you might actually be suggesting that America is not "fair", but it's FAIR ENOUGH that the barriers to success are not as great as they are imagined - and that as a demonstration of those imagined barriers, you want students to wear flags to PROVE that there is far more EQUITY than they've imagined; to prove that this simple demonstration will generate the types of elusive "cross-racial" coalitions, corporate partnerships, development initiatives and broader improvements that transcend narrow definitions - minus the silly social programs.

I AM saying that; the object clause of that sentence, beginning with '"cross-racial" coaltions' sounds just like Republican business-speak to me. What I'm trying to suggest is that such opportunities have long existed for our generation and that there is no excuse for identity politics to hold that potential back any longer. I am implying that this thing that passes for 'black politics', that doesn't address such liberating strategies fails the people.

Posted by: Cobb at November 10, 2005 02:24 PM

As for the facts, you're the one who is claiming that I'm ahistorical. If I present historical facts it is to illustrate something that I interpret as conforming to an idea. I perceive that when you suggest that my ideas run counter to history that I have no use for history, but you do that without giving any series of events in history that supports a theory which counters mine.

The idea I'm suggesting is that identity politics runs against the grain of modernity and that it therefore limits the amount of liberation available to Africans in America. By blindly applying 'black' which essentially is identity politicking (as contrasted to a more scrupulous conservation of certain Black Nationalist, and 'old time religion' values; i.e. the Old School) to all forms of 'acceptable' liberation, some African Americans are generating something that is doomed to failure.

I began talking up the Old School is contrast to neo-progressive movements like Afrocentrism and the Hiphop Aesthetic which I believe to be seriously compromised. I also believe that Socialist appeals to African Americans (or anybody) is also fatally flawed. So I'm trying to understand why blackfolks are attracted to these ideas. To the extent that identity politics are in effect, I believe that they are pushed to them out of fear and default, and the fact that they insist that blackfolks who chose other philosophies are 'not black', they do not trust modernity and individualism. This is a great tragedy, especially considering the strength of the Old School.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2005 02:26 PM