Jim Crow, Minstrels, and Black Resistance

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My lecture in Cambridge titled, The Gospel of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Radical Savior of His People, extended the narrative of class and racial alienation by offering examples of continual forces that have morphed color line tension. If you look at the screen beside me, you will notice an image of JJ from Good Times, as well as an image of  Jim Crow, which was a fixture of the minstrel shows that toured the South; a white man, made up as a black man, sang and mimicked stereotypical behavior in the name of comedy. This behavioral norm continued into the 20th century. The mammy and sambo depictions were felt throughout the television run of Good Times, a popular 1970s sitcom. Though the intent was to showcase black folks in a positive and less stereotypical fashion, it quickly turned into a modern-day minstrel show. One of the main characters, JJ, often depicted the stereotypical buffoon often symbolized in a world driven by white supremacy. There were some good things about this show, as it depicted a hardworking black family working to maintain their unity, even in a world where there were struggles.

jimcrowI noted that W.E.B. Du  Bois addressed the centrality of evil, which was pervasive in an American society fueled with both class and racial divisions. He believed that capitalism was the culprit for such centrality. Du Bois articulated how little has changed in America. Being black and American is a measure in conflict with the ideals espoused by white America. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America 1860 -1880, pointed to three common themes presented to whites about blacks: All Negros were ignorant; all Negros were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant; All Negros created elements of bad governments. This attitude continued as society advanced into the 20th century; it was here that Du Bois pointed to “the problem of the 20th century is that of the color line.”

1343329785_dynomiteThus, the presentation of black folks to white society continued to illustrate such a problem. Good Times took off when JJ’s actions became reflective of the Jim Crow perceptions and writings found in Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction. White supremacy claimed, as Du Bois noted, that negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction. There are those who further that line of thought today, articulating black dependency on the welfare state. It is the fault of black people for their suffering and urban condition. Yet, the willingness to link modern problems to the ancien regime of Jim Crow is missing. The progressive notion of American liberalism is cloudy. Although assumptions have been made about racial matters of the past, those past matters continue to look us in the face today. They are present on TV shows that remind us of America’s dark history. They are a reflective reality. So when riots take off, I am not sure why folks are surprised. I have been impressed by those who have sat down to look at the extent of deep cyclical pattens and imbedded racism that has remained a constant predator to the color line. Du Bois shared his thoughts here on the just and need for riots.

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Putting Wealth & Hate Aside

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At a protest rally in Boston earlier, I told a large crowd of folks that I am not an invisible man. I live in my identity as a Black man born of a Mother who worked crazy hours to support her family. I am a product of my Mother — a Black woman who faced and faces everything from the Jim Crow South to male supremacy. Men determined her wages and standard of living. With age I have continued to develop and grow in the faith of my ideology in working to eradicate struggle.

However, as I noted in an essay I published, working class struggles will continue unless we can address the divide and bring about solidarity. I noted that:

The search for solidarity has escaped white, black, and brown working class people, in part, due to white people’s historical reluctance to embrace shared experiences that cross racial boundaries. Because of recent political news, mass rallies by Black Lives Matter, and the growing concerns about the economic gap, I aim to resurrect past and present conversations about the “working class.” As we know, it is not monolithic. In order to confront working class issues, society must mend the color line through class, which is complex, as the American race question is the real problem.

Paper for the ASA Annual Conference

I have joined a distinguish panel of scholars for the 2018 American Studies Association (ASA) Annual Conference, held in the great city of Atlanta. Our panel, Du Bois Lately: Emergent Critiques of W. E. B. Du Bois at 150, brings together a collection of thinkers who spend a great deal of time pondering Black thought from a global and domestic framework.

Some of my most recent scholarship has explored the nomenclature of Black identity, Black radicalism, and ideology. In particularly, the relationship between Blacks and the Communist Party USA. I published an essay here that explored W.E.B. Du Bois and MLK Jr., and their relationship to race, religion, and communism.

My ASA conference paper, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Evolution into the Communist Party USA, delves into the dawn of the 21st century, in the year many celebrate the 150 anniversary of the birth of W.E.B. Du Bois, much is still to be learned about him as a communist. Carnegie Hall, February 23 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a commemorative speech on the 100th anniversary of the birth of W.E.B. Du Bois. In his speech, King stated, “it is time to cease muting the fact that Dr. Du Bois was a genius and chose to be a Communist”.

This paper provides insightful analysis into Du Bois’s imagination of world revolution. Both his Black Reconstruction and Dark Princess paint the greatness of the Russian Revolution, and the Soviet Union during the Comintern. Du Bois’s imagination after the Revolution shaped a vision for a better world for Black liberation, as Du Bois juxtaposed the Russian workers’ plight to that of oppressed Black Americans and those of the colonized world. However, his contradictions and concerns about communism and that of Josef Stalin denote his sense of self-ideological struggles. Though Du Bois offered a sharp critique of the Committee for International Labor Defense and the Communist Party USA during the Scottsboro trial in the 1930s and during their organizing strategies in the Deep South, his views and trajectory evolved, as his grasp of communism, both domestically and internationally, shaped his evolution toward his eventual membership in the Communist Party-USA.

A twilight Du Bois was energized by the larger stage of the color line and the problems presented by imperialism, and later at the dawn of the Cold War. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America brought forth the forces that promulgated world revolution. However, he was guilty of miscalculations in making false parallels about the American race problem.

Domination and the White Gaze

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Black thought and Black Studies ponder the realities of modern colonial aims. In my readings of CLR, Du Bois, Hall, hooks, Collins, and so on — I too am forced to glance and consider my identity and the identities of others. In the end, this is what academics do as we contemplate 21st century realities. Often such are predicated by past actions. My reflection here is nothing new, nor is it revolutionary. But, it is a baseline for conversations. Can Black people be Black in a world seen through the lens of the white gaze? Must Black people code switch to allow white comfort? What about women and their day-to-day reality in this patriarchal world? Women of color face the greatest threat as they are faced with challenging multiple systems. Such systems (the aggressor) aim to frame women — but particularly women of color in a powerless state.

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The notion of domination has been in constant operation and on my mind. That sense of abject reality for me as a Black man who will always be dominated by whiteness. My intersectional privileges allows for some fortitude (I am male), but the other half of me — my Black self — has and will continue to be imprisoned by the power structure of race (I am Black). This white gaze that decides my fate is the constant narrative of a ubiquitous force that pits Black people against Black people. Hence — Black intra-racial alliance is a myth. Black folk suffocate because of fear. Often this is due to domination and insecurity. Black ally ship might not wholly exist. The intra-racial dissonance is drafted by white domination (jobs, promotion, health care, debt, retirement, where you live, wealth, relationships, etc). I have experienced this. Many of us have. You know that feeling when a Black person rips your heart apart due to their complicity with domination. This knot in my stomach reminds me of the need for interracial solidarity and working class unity. But it also serves as a reminder regarding who makes decisions. Who holds power? And often, how the power brokers do not always listen. A have no power. I lack the wealth to take care of my Black parents. They lacked the wealth to take care of me. King faced this. Du Bois faced this: A feeing of years of betrayal by Black complicity and silence.

Brooks Students of Color

 

While I am excited about my new job, what Brooks Black Student Union did in wishing me off was just great. Our annual cookout today was emotional. Brooks students of color have been very good to me and to each other, and I have enjoyed them during my 5 year tenure at Brooks. It is important that people of color support each other. Thank you BSU, Alianza Latina, and Shaunielle for a great day.

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Vincent Harding

 

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There are academics who are social justice folk, and social justice folk who are academics. I am being a bit ambiguous, but Vincent Harding fits this. I noted his passing years ago here, as he continues to move throughout my thoughts. Here is one of my heroes. Yes I desire to be like him in so many ways. It was a pleasure discussing him with my students. As I noted to my students, we remember Harding because he was radical. He was brilliant. His sense of morality was good — and true. He was a great teacher. I have learned so much from this mountain of a person.

What is Wrong With Kanye?

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This is worth a read — really. Ta-Nehisi Coates delivering a bit here. This essay addresses a crucial concern and condition about the normative realities of Black victimization in a dichotomized fashion of the American race problem. Am I a problem? Once exclaimed by Du Bois. Am I such a problem that whiteness has seduced one to claim Pecola’s desire for what Toni Morrison claimed as blue-eye obsession to feel part of society? This essay speaks to the heart of identity, but also the intentional actions of folk like West seeking favor by rejecting not only who they are—but also those who live in a perceptive identity.