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Kids Who Die August 6, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Recalls Obama’s Fall From Grace September 19, 2011

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Published on Monday, September 19, 2011 by TruthDig.com by  Chris Hedges

Barack Obama’s politically expedient decision to betray and abandon his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, exposed his cowardice and moral bankruptcy. In that moment, playing the part of Judas, he surrendered the last shreds of his integrity. He became nothing more than a pawn of power, or as Cornel West says, “a black mascot for Wall Street.” Obama, once the glitter of power fades, will have to grapple with the fact that he was a traitor not only to his pastor, the man who married him and Michelle, who baptized his children and who kept him spiritually and morally grounded, but to himself. Wright retains what is most precious in life and what Obama has squandered—his soul.

The health of a nation is measured by how it treats its prophets. When these prophets are ignored and reviled, when they become figures of ridicule, when they are labeled by the chattering classes and power elite as fools, then there is no check left on moral decay and the degeneration of the state. Wright, who spent 36 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, since the 2008 presidential campaign has endured slander and calumny and weathered character assassination, misinterpretation and abuse, and yet he doggedly continues Sunday after Sunday to thunder the word of God from pulpits across the country.

I grew up as a Christian. My father was a pastor. I graduated from a seminary. I can distinguish a Christian pastor from the slick imposters and charlatans, from T.D. Jakes to Joel Osteen. Wright preaches the radical and unsettling message of the Christian Gospel. He calls us to live the moral life. He knows that the measure of our lives as individuals and as a nation is reflected in how we treat our most vulnerable. And he knows on whose side he stands. Obama, who like Judas took his 30 pieces of silver and betrayed someone who loved him, withers into moral insignificance in Wright’s presence.

Obama, although his subservience to the war machine and Wall Street mocks the fundamental values of Dr. Martin Luther King, will preside Oct. 16 over the dedication of the King memorial on the Mall in Washington. He will lend himself to the venal cabal of the corporate and political elites who have hijacked King’s image. These political and corporate figures—many of whom donated significant sums to build the $120 million memorial (General Motors, which gave $10 million, uses the memorial in a commercial for its vehicles)—seek to silence King’s demand for economic justice and an end to racism and militarism. King’s vision is grotesquely deformed in Obama’s hands. To hear the voice of King we will have to turn from the choreographed and corporate-sponsored dedication ceremony to heed the words of a handful of men and women who are as reviled by the power brokers as King was in his own life, and yet who battle to keep the flame of King’s message alive.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that the country would recognize someone as important as Dr. King,” Wright said when I reached him by phone in Chicago, “and recognize him in a way that raises his likeness in the Mall along with the presidents. He’s not a president like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. But to have him ranked among them in terms of this nation paying attention to the importance of his work, that’s a good thing.”

“I read Maya Angelou’s piece about the way the quote was put on the monument,” Wright said in referring to the editing of a quote by King on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue. The inscription quote reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” But these are not King’s words. They are paraphrased from a sermon he gave in which he said: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” Angelou said the mangled inscription made King sound “arrogant.”

“I read the explanation as to why we couldn’t include the whole quote,” said Wright, who helped raise $200,000 for the monument. “Kids a hundred years from now, like our pastor who was born three years after King was killed, they’re going to see that and will not get the context. They will not hear the whole speech, and that will be their take-away, which is not a good thing. My bigger problems, however, have to do with all the emphasis on ’63 and ‘I Have a Dream.’ They have swept under the rug the radical justice message that King ended his career repeating over and over and over again, starting with the media coverage of the April 4, 1967, ‘A Time to Break Silence’ message at the Riverside Church [in New York City]. King had a huge emphasis on capitalism, militarism and racism, the three-headed giant. There is no mention of that, no mention of that King, and absolutely no mention of the importance of his work with the poor. After all, he’s at the garbage collectors strike in Memphis, Tenn., when he is assassinated. The whole emphasis on the poor sent him to Memphis. But that gets swept away. It bothers me that we think more about a monument than a movement. He had a movement trying to address poverty. It was for jobs, not I Have a Dream, not Black and White Together, but that gets lost.”

“You look at old guys like me that were alive during that time,” Wright said. “I’m saying ‘wait a minute, you’re missing something, you’re missing something,’ and my grandson—well, my youngest one is 11, he’ll not know that King. I’ll tell him, but what’s going to happen in terms of the curriculum? What’s going to happen in terms of the schools? What’s going to happen in terms of the millions of visitors who go to Washington, D.C.? They will miss that King entirely. We have an idealistic portrait. I think that does violence to what the man stood for and what he was trying to do.”

More ominously, Wright warns, the sanitizing of King has been accompanied by the primacy of a selfish, hedonistic and violent culture which has turned away from values, including self-sacrifice, that make possible harmony and the common good. This selfishness and narcissism, Wright argues, is a form of blasphemy.

“We got so focused in on being No. 1, on being the superpower,” he said. “When the Cold War ends we reign supreme. Empire, corporate interest and business interests take over. We got so focused on that and the media hype, media of course being owned by the corporations, that the founding principles, the core principles that I feel should have been our guiding principles, in terms of becoming what King called ‘the beloved community,’ and becoming what Howard Thurman called ‘the search for common ground,’ got completely lost. We substituted the prayer of Jesus with the prayer of Jabez. Increase my territory. Enlarge my territory. If you notice, Jesus taught us to pray, and I speak as a Christian minister—I realize that the country is not all Christian—but just in terms of the principles that I believe cut across interfaith lines and boundaries is in the prayer. The model prayer the Lord taught us as the Lord’s disciples has no first person singular pronoun. It’s ‘our,’ ‘we,’ ‘us.’ That got lost.”

“We became a ‘me’-focused, kind of dog-eat-dog, Ayn Rand, social Darwinist, survival of the fittest, be strong, and with no care, no concern, no compassion for those that are not born above the scratch line,” Wright said. “And no concern to make the communities in which they live and the world in which we live a community which really cares about all of God’s children, regardless of their colors and regardless of their faith.”

Wright has become something of an expert on the commercial media since he was psychologically lynched by them. The media, selecting clips to tar him, have plastered him with derogatory labels and shut his voice out of the national discourse. He has, like all of our greatest intellectual and moral dissidents, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, been rendered a pariah.

“The media became interested in profits, in selling airtime, in selling newspapers, in selling magazines, in selling ‘if it bleeds it leads,’ whatever will get us a larger market share of the audience, of the viewing audience, of the listening audience,” Wright went on. “That became the focus, rather than sharing factual news with Americans, and the world, in terms of what’s really going on. That’s no longer important. What’s important is profit.”

“Once that media-spun narrative is out there, from that point on all you hear is critiques of the narrative, deconstruction of the narrative, debates concerning the narrative, affirmations of the narrative, attacks on the narrative, with nobody talking about substance, because we don’t even know what substance is,” Wright said.

Wright insists that the church, especially the liberal church that allied itself with the civil rights movement, is alive, although ignored and unheeded as a voice within the larger society.

“The average church in America has 200 members,” he said. “But they get no news coverage. The news covers the mega-churches, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes. We’re talking big churches, large memberships. But the men and women who are in the trenches, who have not ‘bowed to Baal,’ the 7,000 more that God told Elijah that God had, are ignored. They’re still there. They’re still doing it. They are not, perhaps—and this is spoken from a 70-year-old, and I would say 50 years of that as an adult looking back—as numerous as they were back in the ’60s. They are fewer and less vocal in number, but they remain. The problem is that the media is not going to put out what guys like your dad and my dad were doing and saying Sunday after Sunday, not just in worship but throughout the week as they tried to make ministry meaningful after the benediction. That doesn’t get covered. I see them still doing, still trying to do what they did back in the ’60s , but not getting the coverage. Let them marry a gay guy, or a gay couple, that’s going to make the news. Let them go up against Wal-Mart, especially Wal-Mart’s treatment of women or its workers, that doesn’t make the news. Because the Waltons, and the corporate giants who control the news, don’t see that kind of work by the church as important. What’s important is that the Supreme Court sided with the Walton family. So that those churches that are trying, that are dealing with poverty, that are dealing with honest conversations about educational reform, that are not jumping on the ‘Waiting for Superman’ bandwagon or Bill Gates, but who are really in the schools, are relegated to the shadows. And from what I see talking to local pastors they’re trying their best to make a difference in the lives of the poor, they’re doing feeding. I just left Fresno and a little small church out there adopted one of the missions [for the needy] in Fresno. They’ve got a place called Tent City in one of the richest counties in the country. Folks are living in tents as if it was Soweto or Calcutta. The guys from that small church in Fresno are going there, because it’s dangerous for the women to go over there, guys are going over there once a week, and they are taking the youth of this church. But that’s not making the news. I’ve seen the church doing all kinds of exciting things around the country, but it’s below the radar.”

“How many times has there been a debt-ceiling vote these past few years?” he asked. “Eighty-seven times. But what becomes news? Well, first of all, don’t mention the number of debt-ceiling votes to the public. The media needs a crisis whether it is the debt-ceiling vote or Obamacare. These are the things we keep in front of the people’s faces. What about the important issues? If it is about the defense budget or the fact that major corporations haven’t paid a penny in taxes, we get—no, no, no, no, no, no, no—don’t put that in front of them. It is ‘low information’ America. It’s ‘my mind is made up—don’t confuse me with any facts.’ I see what the church is really doing, the liberal church, the old-line church, the unpopular churches, the ones that don’t get the coverage. I see them in the trenches seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.”

“Do you know what successful ministry is?” he asked. “When you change and touch the lives of people, when you make a difference in their lives, when you give them hope, when you help them go back to school and get an education. That’s successful ministry. But even seminarians I teach are looking at ministry like it’s a “be like Mike” basketball role model they are pursuing. Instead of important and life-changing questions being addressed, the questions one hears are: How many members do we have? How many CDs and DVDs have we produced? How much money do we make? That’s not a successful ministry. Too many seminary students aren’t interested in making things better. They’re interested in becoming like T.D. Jakes, in building a megachurch. They’re not interested in being in the hood, with those who have lost hope.”

“We don’t want our children to have any kind of critical thinking, we just want them to be able to function in a low-paying dead-end job,” Wright said. “There is no emphasis on teaching the young African-American male to dream. And teaching him, and the young sisters also, him or her, that, OK, education is more than passing scores, how you perform on a test—it has to do with how you live in community with others. It has to do with nutrition. It has to do with poverty. It has to do with the whole person. We are slashing and burning programs at the preschool level. We start with Head Start and early childhood education, and all the way up through the foundational primary grades. Who is going to teach these kids Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Mother to Son’? Who is going to repeat Hughes’ words to them:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Wright, who perhaps knows Obama better than nearly any other person in the country, sees a man who sold his principles for the chimera and illusion of power. But once Obama achieved power he became its tool, its vassal, its public face, its brand.

“President Obama was selected before he was elected,” Wright said, “and he is accountable to those who selected him. Why do you think Wall Street got the break? Why do you think the big three [financial institutions] were bailed out? Those were the ones who selected him. We didn’t select him. We don’t have enough money to select anybody. You’re accountable to those who select you. All politicians are. Given those constraints, he is doing the best he can because he is accountable to the ones that put him where he is. Preachers, pastors, ministers, we are not accountable to these people. I’ll never forget one of the most powerful things he said to me in my home, second Saturday in April 2008. He said, ‘You know what your problem is?’ I said, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘You have to tell the truth.’ I said, ‘That’s a good problem. That’s a good problem.’ ”

“When he was elected to the United States Senate I was asked what advice I would have for Sen. Obama,” Wright said. “I said, ‘Please don’t change who you are, because of where you are.’ Who he was before he got to that position is a very different Barack. Which to me is unfortunate but it’s to be expected because that’s what you chose, you chose to run, to be in that place. I can give you a glimpse into the kind of person he was, which was mind-blowing to me to see somebody with that kind of integrity. He went to his first Congressional Black Caucus meeting the year before he announced that he was running for the Senate. He came back to Chicago and came into my office asking for an appointment. He was heartbroken. It showed to me that night his naiveté and his integrity. He was naive because he was down in Washington trying to get audiences with the Congressional Black Caucus in terms of testing the waters about his making a run for the United States Senate. And it was a meat market. That blew his mind. I’m saying Barack, come on, man—name one significant thing that has come out of any Congressional Black Caucus. Come on. [He] was naive. He told me, ‘My name should be out there right now, last week in September, but I can’t announce.’ I said, ‘Why can’t you announce?’ He said, ‘I don’t know whether or not Carol Moseley Braun is going to run again. I will not run against an African-American woman.’ And I’m saying to myself, what manner of man is this? I know guys who would run against their own mama. You will not run against an African-American female? To have that kind of integrity was awesome to me. He changed. That’s unfortunate.”

“In February 2007 on [a broadcast of] ‘Religion & Ethics’ I said there will come a time when Obama will have to distance himself from me,” Wright said. “Now that’s February 2007. So the fact that he had to distance himself from me does not come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was how he did it. I’ve heard you describe that your dad laid the foundation upon which you stand. He made you the kind of person you are. I know that when you interview someone and the tears start, you fold up your notepad and put your pen away because you’re not that kind of reporter. If there was somebody from your dad’s church running for an office, and the media comes up to them and puts a microphone in front of their face and says, did you hear what Pastor Hedges was saying about the war? If you disagree, your response is, ‘I disagree with that, next question.’ You don’t have to chastise Pastor Hedges. I just disagree with him. Next question. But [Obama] was listening to people who are politically minded, people who are counting votes. He was not listening to people with integrity. In November and December of 2008 during the ethnic cleansing of Gaza one of the news media persons put a microphone in front of Barack’s face and asked him what do you think about what’s going on in Gaza? He said, ‘We can’t have but one president at a time.’ I told my wife he needed to be on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ the way he danced around that question. That was like a preview of coming attractions in terms of the pragmatist, center-of-the-road, conciliatory, not-speaking-from-principle person the world sees today.”

“And for him to have been a community organizer in one of the poorest communities in the city, Altgeld Gardens housing project, and now to be painted into a corner where he can’t address health care for the poor,” Wright said. “He took the public option off the table. What happened? What happened is politics happened.”

“King would be saying to us the same thing today he was saying in 1967 and 1968,” Wright said. “He would be condemning our nation’s utter disregard for the poor. A strong nation cares about all of its citizens regardless of their color or their race or their religious beliefs. Malcolm, once he broke with the Nation of Islam, and found that God, or Allah, really does have children that don’t look like you, would be appalled by our buying into a military option as a way to peace, as a way to finding common ground. The military option is not an option. King and Malcolm would agree with that.”

“I was walking through the airport a few weeks ago,” Wright said. “I saw on the cover, I think, of Time Magazine, Osama bin Laden’s picture. The caption on the cover said ‘Justice.’ I said, ‘How about murder? It was an assassin’s hit.’ What really bothered me as I read more about it was that Barack and Hillary [Clinton] and the war folk were sitting in the war room watching the hit. There were cameras in the field. It was a hit, two right above the eyebrow. Why, why, why did you murder that man? We have international courts. We have trials like the Nuremberg trials. Why did you murder him? Why not put him on trial? And I sat up in the middle of the night, about 10 days later, with the answer. I said, because you didn’t want him to talk. If he starts talking on the stand everything comes unraveled. We will have to look at the Cheney war machine. A trial would rip to shreds the lies we have been telling ourselves and our American public. We can’t afford that, so we murder him. We murder him and call it justice. That one really hurt. I said to myself, this is the Barack you once knew who cared enough about humankind to work in Altgeld Gardens with the poor, to not run against an African-American female, who now calls for a professional Navy SEAL assassination, a hit, and watches it. It’s like that story you heard your dad preach and you know from seminary in Acts, where the demons said to the seven sons of Sceva, Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you? Who have you become?”

© 2011 TruthDig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Barack Obama and Langston Hughes on “Grumblers” and “Merry Christmas” December 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Asia, Barack Obama, Cuba, Economic Crisis, Haiti, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Race, War.
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Posted Wed, 12/23/2009 – 17:24 by Bruce A. Dixon

When US presidents offer us their holiday greeting messages, do we know what are they really saying?  How hard can it be to figure that out?  Langston Hughes died in 1967, but he knew what every US president, including Barack Obama is really saying, underneath and behind the mask.  

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In a recent interview with one of the few black reporters privileged to be part of the White House press corps, President Obama wasasked

April D. Ryan: Speaking of the African American community, this seems to be a shift in black leadership, as it relates to supporting you. You have the CBC that’s upset with you about targeting on the jobs front — African Americans, 15.6 percent unemployment rate, expected to go to 20 percent; mainstream America 10 percent. Then you have black actors who supported you — Danny Glover, who’s saying that you’ve not changed, your administration is the same as George W. Bush. What are your thoughts about the fact that black leadership is grumbling, and the fact that people are concerned with you being the first African American President, and they thought that there would be a little bit more compassion for black issues?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, April, I think you just engaged in a big generalization in terms of how you asked that question. If you want me to line up all the black actors, for example, who support me, and put them on one side of the room, and a couple who are grumbling on the other, I’m happy to have that.

I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do. And, so, is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling,

Obama was referring to the relatively mild and tentative criticisms of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with other expressions of disappointment on the part of such activists as actor Danny Glover. The president can ignore, dismiss or disparage the divide between his policies and the opinions of the African American community which supported him. But it’s deep, it’s real, and it’s growing. It’s even historic.

Presidents have been issuing holiday greeting messages from their homes or cozy offices for a long time now, and Obama’s will be on line any minute now. Those interested can probably find it at JackandJillPolitics.com, at whitehouse.gov, and any number of other places. But the ironic 1930 Christmas message of Langston Hughes, the poet laureate of Black America sounds, with the most minor edits, like it could have come from the lips any US president of the past hundred years, including Barack Obama.

Sixty-nine years ago Langston Hughes began his holiday poem Merry Christmas with these lines

Merry Christmas China

From the gun-boats in the river

Ten inch shells for Christmas gifts

And peace on earth forever

At the moment, the U.S. was hip-deep in the Chinese civil war, bankrolling and advising a string of opium-soaked warlord armies against communists and agitators, and conducting naval operations in Chinese rivers and off its coasts. Today our first black president’s Pentagon, headed by the same team that ran George Bush’s Pentagon, sits atop some 800 overseas military bases in a hundred countries with more than 2 million uniformed personnel. Our president will spend more on this military machine than the all the rest of the planet combined, fighting and preparing to fight what the National Security Doctrine calls “multiple overlapping wars” to control resources in distant lands in the interest “free trade and free markets.”

Langston’s Christmas poem draws our attention to a part of the world much in today’s headlines.

Merry Christmas, India

To Gandhi in his cell

From righteous Christian England

Ring out bright Christmas bell

Under our first black president, Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of a vast law-free zone in which daily shellings and air raids go unreported and unremarked except by the families of victims. Assassinations and kidnappings to fill America’s world-wide network of secret prisons have replaced the open incarceration of real and suspected political foes. At least we knew Gandhi’s name, what he was charged with, where he was locked up, what his sentence was, whether he got a day in court and whether his keepers mistreated him. We can’t say that about hundreds or thousands of Obama’s prisoners.

Merry Christmas Africa

From Cairo to he Cape

Sing hallelujah, praise the Lord

For murder and for rape

Some things have changed very little indeed. The four part series “The Ravaging of Africa” to which a link appears in our left column, is a comprehensive indictment of US policy in Africa, which has caused the death of some 26 million Africans since the 1960s, including nearly ten million in Congo alone. America’s role as conscienceless predator was reaffirmed last week in Copenhagen, when the US categorically rejected the notion that it owed the rest of the world a debt for being the single major contributor to climate change over the last century and a half. Africans can drown or starve due to US -initiated climate change, but there will be no technology sharing, no reparations, nothing in the way of human solidarity between Africa and the West if the son of Africa in the White House has anything to say about it.

Langston Hughes draws our attention to the Caribbean, where the US has enforced its will at gunpoint for much of two centuries.

Ring Merry Christmas Haiti

And drown the voodoo drums

We’ll rob you to the Christmas hymns

Until the next Christ comes

Ring Merry Christmas Cuba

(Where Yankee domination

Keeps a nice fat president’s

in a little half-starved nation.)

In Cuba at least, Yankee domination is over. President Obama seems to resent this fact just as much as the last nine presidents, and continues to enforce a warlike economic blockade on Cuba.

And in Haiti, after more than a dozen US invasions and occupations, the US engineered the kidnapping of that country’s elected president, whom Obama will not even allow back in the Western hemisphere. In the name of international cooperation, the US pays for a multinational occupation force from Brazil and other countries to hunt down and kill members of Haiti’s Lavalas party, freeing US Marines for duty elsewhere.

Under the rules, Haiti is to be kept starving and terrorized, prevented by law from feeding or funding itself, owning its own infrastructure or employing its own people. Some things don’t change much.

The Christmas message of Langston Hughes doesn’t forget about domestic affairs either.

And to you down and outers

(“Due to economic laws”)

Oh, eat, drink, be merry

With a breadline Santa Claus–

Jobless levels are the highest they’ve been anywhere since the Great Depression, when Hughes penned his Christmas greeting. But now, just as in 1930, we have a president with an unshakable belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” a saying popularized by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In this time of economic crisis, President Obama has transferred more wealth to Wall Street from the real economy than all his predecessors combined.

But hard-pressed homeowners and those with heavy debts due to unpayable medical bills remain underwater. Their bailout isn’t coming. The only ones, apart from Wall Street who’ll get anything under an Obama administration will be the military.

President Obama began this December with a belligerent address that used the cadets at West Point as human stage props. At mid-month he went to Copenhagen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and offer another bald-faced set of excuses for wars, kidnappings, secret prisons and the whole panoply of empire. He or his vice president may end it treating us to a Christmas or New Year’s message posing with the troops in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.

We don’t know exactly what Obama will say in his holiday message. But Langston Hughes knew seventy years ago what he will mean.

While all the world hails Christmas

While all the church bells sway

While better still the Christian guns

Proclaim this joyous day

While holy steel that makes us strong

Spits forth a mighty yuletide song

SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere

Let Merry Christmas GAS the air.

Presidents can always find sycophants, yes-men or yes-women eager to agree to whatever they say, often before they can even say it. All that comes with the job, along with Air Force One and that song they play every time he enters a crowded room. But the the truth is always true, no matter how hotly or how many the deniers, and most of Black America is not in denial on war, peace, mass incarceration or poverty.  The heroes, and the just plain honest will always be those who speak the truth to power.

Langston has been gone from us a long time now. We’ll never know what he might say to a son of Africa in the White House, married to a girl from the south side of Chicago. But nobody on either side of the grave speaks more directly to what our first black president has become than Langston Hughes did seven decades ago. Barack Obama is in power. He can ignore, disparage or dismiss the truth. But it’s still true.  And most of us know it.

We wish the president and first family, along with all our readers and friends around the world a joyous and fulfilling holiday.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport. Langston Hughes is the poet laureate of Black America and can be reached at public libraries, and at independent and other bookstores everywhere.

Zora Neale Hurston: No Shrill Revolutionary Voice August 26, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Literary Essays (Roger), Zora Neale Hurston.
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(Zora Neale Hurston is one of my two favorite Republicans.  The other is Dwight D. Eisenhower (“ I Like Ike!”), who may have spent most of his eight year presidency on the golf course, and he twice knocked off my first political hero, Adlai Stevenson; but … he did two things that really turn me on.  One, in his farewell address, he warned the nation about the growing “military industrial complex, and that turned out to be quite the prophecy for the late 1950s.  Secondly, when his hawkish Secretary of State, the notorious John Foster Dulles, was ready to nuke the Vietnamese when they had the French army surrounded at Dien Bien Phu, in what turned out the be the final defeat for French imperial rule in Vietnam, Ike put the kibosh on the idea.  I was just a kid during Ike’s reign, and he was grandfatherly, so that may have something to do with my feelings as well.

  But this is about Hurston, and I highly recommend her fiction.  Her work was almost entirely forgotten until she was “rediscovered” by Alice Walker, who searched for and found her burial site, and who launched a Hurston revival by publishing her “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in Ms. Magazine in 1975.)

 

 

The massive outpouring of mourning over the death of Civil Rights legend, Rosa Parks, has reminded America that the struggle for freedom has relevance beyond Black History Month.

 

 

African-American voices, however, have traditionally gone beyond calls for Black liberation.  From W.E.B. Dubois to Paul Robson to Martin Luther King to Malcolm X, they have been in the vanguard of criticism of America’s imperialist adventures.

 

 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was no shrill revolutionary voice.  Born into poverty in South Florida, she rose to become a prominent Black academic and writer in the era before, during, and just after World War II.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes her as “a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist whose fictional and factual accounts of black heritage are unparalleled.”  But she vigorously eschewed the role of Black liberationist.  Serving as a counterpoint to Black radicals of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, she railed against those who made a liberatory category out of Race, claiming that individual talent, ability and ambition were the paths to success.  Nonetheless, her groundbreaking novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) was the first to acknowledge and celebrate the role and struggle of Negro women, and it is considered a classic of Black feminist literature.

 

 

Yet, Zora Neale Hurston was no shrill revolutionary voice.  She was the recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships and several honorary degrees.  For popular publications such as the Saturday Evening Post, she wrote articles with titles like: “Crazy for This Democracy,” “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism,” and “A Negro Voter Sizes up Taft.”  She was above all, a patriot.  She was a small “c” conservative in her political outlook.  She was a Republican!

 

 

In 1942, J. B. Lippincott published her autobiography, “Dust Tracks on a Road.”  Most of the manuscript had been written prior to Pearl Harbor, and the editors at Lippincott saw fit to expunge an entire chapter on the grounds that her international opinions were “irrelevant” to her autobiography.  I will leave it to you to guess at their real motives.

 

 

Here is a chunk of that red penciled chapter.  Don’t forget, Zora Neale Hurston was no shrill revolutionary voice:

Already it has been agreed that the name of slavery is very bad.  No civilized nation will use such a term any more.  Neither will they keep the business around the home.  Life will be on a loftier level by operating at a distance and calling it acquiring sources of raw material, and keeping the market open.  It has been decided, also, that it is not cricket to enslave one’s own kind.  That is unspeakable tyranny. (Italics added)

 

 

But must a nation suffer from lack of prosperity and expansion by lofty concepts?  Not at all!  If a ruler can find a place way off where the people do not like him, kill enough of them to convince the rest that they ought to support him with their lives and labor, that ruler is hailed as a great conqueror, and people build monuments to him.  The very weapons he used are also honored.  They picture him in unforgetting stone with the sacred tool of conquest in his hand.  Democracy, like religion, never was designed to make our profits less.  (Italics added)

Now, for instance, if the English people were to quarter troops in France, and force the French to work for them for forty-eight cents a week while they took more than a billion dollars a year out of France, the English would be Occidentally execrated.  But actually, the British Government does just that in India, to the glory of the democratic way.  They are hailed as not only great Empire builders, the English are extolled as leaders of civilization.  And the very people who claim that is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy cry out in horror when they hear tell of a “revolt” in India.  They even wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals.  So this life as we know it is a great thing.  It would have to be, to justify certain things.

 

 

I do not mean to single England out as something strange and different in the world.  We, too, have our Marines in China.  We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own. If the patient dies from the treatment, it was not because the medicine was not good.  We are positive of that.  We have seen it work on other patients twice before it killed them and three times after.  Then, too, no matter what the outcome, you have to give the doctor credit for trying. (Italics added)

 

 

The United States being the giant of the Western World, we have our responsibilities.  The little Latin brother south of the border has been a trifle trying at times.  Nobody doubts that he means to be a good neighbor.  We know that his intentions are the best.  It is only that he is so gay and fiesta-minded that he is liable to make arrangements that benefit nobody but himself.  Not a selfish bone in his body, you know.  Just too full of rumba.  So it is our big brotherly duty to teach him right from wrong.  He must be taught to share with big brother before big brother comes down and kicks his teeth in.  A big good neighbor is a lovely thing to have.  We are far too moral a people to allow poor Latin judgment to hinder good works. (Italics in original)

 

 

But there is a geographical boundary to our principles.  They are not to leave the United States unless we take them ourselves.  Japan’s application of our principles to Asia is never to be sufficiently deplored …

 

 

Our indignation is more than justified.  We Westerners composed that piece about trading in China with gunboats and cannons long ago.  Japan is now plagiarizing in the most flagrant manner.  We also wrote that song about keeping a whole hemisphere under your wing.  Now the Nipponese are singing our song all over Asia.  They are full of stuff and need a good working out.  The only hold-back to the thing is that they have copied our medicine chest.  They are stocked up with the same steel pills and cannon plasters that Doctor Occident prescribes … (Italics added)

 

 

All around me, bitter tears are being shed over the fate of Holland, Belgium, France and England.  I must confess to being a little dry around the eyes.  I hear people shaking with shudders at the thought of Germany collecting taxes in Holland.  I have not heard a word against Holland collecting one-twelfth of poor people’s wages in Asia.  Hitler’s crime is that he is actually doing a thing like that to his own kind.  That is international cannibalism and should be stopped.  He is a bandit.  That is true, but that is not what is held against him.  He is muscling in on well-established mobs.  Give him credit.  He cased some joints way off in Africa and Asia, but the big mobs already had them paying protection money and warned him to stay away.  The only way he can climb out of the punk class is to high-jack the load and that is just what he is doing.  President Roosevelt could extend his four freedoms to some people right here in America before he takes it all aboard, and, no doubt, he would do it too, if it would bring in the same amount of glory.  I am not bitter, but I see what I see.  He can call names across the ocean, but he evidently has not the courage to speak even softly at home.  Take away the ocean and he simmers right down.  I wish that I could say differently, but I cannot.  I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.  Our country is so busy playing “fence” to the mobsters that the cost in human suffering cannot be considered yet.  We can take that up in the next depression. (Italics added)

 

 

As I see it, the doctrines of democracy deal with the aspirations of men’s soul, but the application deals with things [Karl Marx wrote that under capitalism persons are treated like things and things like persons.  Nora was no shrill revolutionary voice, but she could sure imitate it when she wanted to!].  One hand in somebody else’s pocket and one on your gun, and you are highly civilized.  Your heart is where it belongs – in your pocketbook.  Put it in your bosom and you are backward.  Desire enough for your own use only, and you are a heathen.  Civilized people have things to show their neighbors …

I think it would be a good thing for the Anglo-Saxon to get the idea out of his head that everybody else owes him something just for being blonde.  I am forced to the conclusion that two-thirds of them do hold that view.  The idea of human slavery is so deeply ground in that the pink-toes can’t get is out of their system.  It has just been decided to move the slave quarters farther away from the house …

To mention the hundred years of the Anglo-Saxon in China alone is proof enough of the evils of this view point.  The millions of Chinese who have died for our prestige and profit!  They are still dying for it.  Justify it with all the proud and pretty phrases you please, but if we think our policy is right, you just let the Chinese move a gunboat onto the Hudson to drum up trade with us.  The scream of outrage would wake up the saints in the backrooms of Heaven …

 

 

“Appendix: Seeing the World as It Is,” in “Dust Tracks on a Road,” Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Perennial edition, 1991, pages 248-252.

Remember, these words were penned in 1939 and 1940, just prior to the U.S. entry into the Second World War.  This was long before the United States’ post-war interventions in Latin America (Guatemala, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela, Grenada and Colombia), not to mention Vietnam and today’s imperial adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She was certainly prescient.  If anyone doubts that the present United States regime has globalized the Monroe Doctrine, I urge them to read President George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy, published in September of 2002 (it’s on the Internet).

 

 

Zora Neale Hurston was no shrill revolutionary voice.  She was considered timid, if not reactionary, when it came to the Black struggle in America.  But, when it came to an understanding of United States imperialism, she told it like it is.  And like Dwight D. Eisenhower, the last and only president to warn his country of the dangers of the military industrial complex, Zora Neale Hurston was a Republican.  And did I mention, no shrill revolutionary voice?

 

 

Playas, November 2005