In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham…
We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth… The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
Teaching taught me to:
- Show up; being there and ‘there’ makes all the difference in the world,
- Continue to show up,
- Take care of myself,
- Genuinely think about the roles and responsibilities of adults in children’s lives and how to negotiate the spaces between protecting them and supporting them on their journeys to adulthood.
As a student, I’ve learned that:
- Knowing how to type is, in this environment, liberating,
- Intellectually – it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
In general, I’ve know to:
- Play to win and play to win (and figure out what ‘winning’ is),
- Play it as it lays – which is tricky, because I sometimes find that I have to get out of my own way to read the playing field accurately,
- And, as REDACTEDREDACTED said Nego Gato said, “Play your own game.”
- And, as my mother said, “As my Grandmother said, “It takes all kinds.””
Calling black people
Calling all black people, man woman child
Wherever you are, calling you, urgent, come in
Black People, come in, wherever you are, urgent, calling
You, calling all black people
Calling all black people, come in, black people, come
Sometimes, when I notice that – the world over – the middle class is reading and doing and buying (oh, god buying) the same things, I get the willies. Like, why should ‘everyone’ be thinking about Noam Chomsky or talking about Theaster Gates? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with thinking or talking about them. But, the names ‘we’ hear and the things that compel ‘our’ validation… It’s creepy, no? Like, I could make a list of the things ‘we’ all have in common:
- Single family homes in ‘nice’ neighborhoods (be they urban or suburban, gated or not…)
- European automobiles – or Subarus
- We’re all so well-read
- Up-to-date electronics (iPhones, HD TVs…)
- Kefir was a ‘thing’ that was everywhere in my corner of the world last year
- Meritocratic scholarships
- Steve McQueen (both)
- Social Justice
None of these things is inherently bad – in fact, they’re mostly good (at least to me, although not kefir or iPhones). But there’s something Orwellian (is the ‘right’ word [he’s been everywhere lately, too], but really ‘Huxleyan’ which [my computer is telling me] is not a word) about the near-perfect lock-step life phasing of, you know,
natural/water childbirth, Montessori pre-school, arts and music magnate elementary school, IB/Cambridge/performing arts middle and high schools, cute (but well-regarded) liberal arts colleges or honors programs in state schools, grad school/marriage, travel! foreign languages! ‘How do we not put mom and dad in a home?’ ‘Let’s take REALLY good care of ourselves (organic food, yoga, meditation, hiking, bicycling) so we age better than they did’ (and die peacefully in our sleep surrounded by loved ones at 120 on our everlasting retirement funds)…
It’s everywhere I’ve been, it’s everyone – I mean EVERYONE – I know. And maybe it’s just a thing, like we only know people like ourselves. Ok. But every once in a while, I look up from my critical theory (!) and freak out a bit because, you know, it’s a little insidious.
I am fascinated by how both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cord Jefferson leverage their respective platforms, Coates at The Atlantic and Jefferson at Gawker, to vigorously discuss the construction/experience of race in America. Both are heirs of James Baldwin, but their expressions of that lineage diverge. Here, Coates – ever the bookish striver – takes on the Duck Dynasty debacle:
That the enemy is us, is never easy to take. Yesterday, Confederates routinely accused Northerners of attempting to reduce them to slavery. Today, men who convene with Confederate flags at the White House, accuse the president of racism. Yesterday, the civilized man accused you of barbarism, while practicing sophisticated human sacrifice to the God Of Nations, while reducing his lordly estate to a house of the dead. Today, the homophobe accuses you of sexual immorality and damns you to hell, while preaching a gospel which would make wives of children.
Less lofty – I think he has a lot less to ‘prove’ – , but no less indignant, Jefferson looks back at the year in racism. The paradox that validates the following two paragraphs is, indeed, a marvel:
This is a specific kind of blinder worn by racists: If an abuse happens to white people also, it’s not racism, it’s just life. White people go to jail, too, so the justice system isn’t skewed against minorities. White people were indentured servants in early America, and black Africans participated in the slave trade, ergo slavery wasn’t as racist as some make it out to be. Unlike with white presidents, nobody’s even fired a gun at President Obama, and so Oprah must be speaking disingenuously when she says there is a special hatred for Obama in the nation’s air.
From 1980 to 2008, 84 percent of white homicide victims were killed by other whites, and 53 percent of gang-related killings involved white offenders. Last month a white 27-year-old was arrested for walking up to an elderly black man he didn’t know and punching him out. But “white leaders” are never asked to account for white criminality, because in America race isn’t a contributing factor when white people behave badly. A person’s skin color as it relates to crime only becomes pertinent when that person’s skin is dark, the implication being that a white criminal is an aberration, while a black criminal is indicative of a larger threat. A truth, that blacks and liberals of all colors will not face: A white guy runs up behind someone and sucker punches him, as has happened countless times in history? He’s an asshole. A black guy sucker punches someone? He attacked from behind; it was to be expected; and there are lots more where that came from, because the blacks are playing a dangerous game and it’s coming to a town near you.
I love this clip because of the subtext of Charlie Rose’s question; something about Toni Morrison’s response to Bill Moyers’ question in a previous interview must have seemed too… sharp or critical and put Moyers and other whites like him – including Rose – on the defensive lest they fall into the ‘bad guy’ category for being misunderstood when discussing or seeking to ‘move past’ the issue of race. Morrison’s response is fantastic! I especially like what she says from the 4:19 mark onward.
I once transcribed an interview with Noam Chomsky for Jason’s magazine. As I played-paused-played the interview, I was awed at how accessible Chomsky made his explanations of his academic field:
ASM – Your work is famously associated with the idea that there’s a universal deep grammar behind language. Would you explain the concept briefly?
Chomsky – First of all, the term ‘universal grammar’ has a traditional meaning. But in the Modern period, roughly the last half century, it’s been used in a technical sense which is similar to but different from the traditional meaning.
Universal grammar traditionally meant properties that are common to all languages. But universal grammar in the Modern sense means the genetic component of the language capacity. That is whatever it is about humans that enables an infant to quickly and reflexively identify the parts of the environment that are language-related and then to proceed in a very systematic and regular way to attain very quickly, in fact, the capacity we’re now using.
We have pretty good evidence that it developed recently in the human species, roughly within the last 100,000 years, long after the separation from any other species. So there are really no analogues in other species. And we have very good evidence that the capacity has not changed for at least 50,000 to 75,000 years. There’s very strong evidence that human origins are in Africa 50, maybe a little more, thousand years ago. And there’s very strong evidence that humans everywhere have virtually or maybe identically the same language capacity. It’s kind of like an organ to humans and it’s essential. And you try to find out its properties. Any such system is determined somehow by our genetic endowment. And universal grammar in the Modern sense is just the name for that genetic basis whatever it is.
At the time, Jason reminded me that Chomsky is a life-long educator, and that made me feel good about my goal of continuing to work in education even as I maintain my art practice. Few things irritate me more than art that doesn’t in some way seek to step the viewer through the experience of the work, and teaching is a good way to ensure that I exercise the muscles that facilitate for others the experience of my work.
When Steve and I were talking about making art accessible without compromising its complexity, he mentioned Michel Gondry’s new Chomsky film, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? That reminded me of my previous experience with Chomsky’s clarity, and I’m very curious to see the film especially after seeing this: