Table of Contents
Writing as Theory and Art Form 6
We Are Our Worst Enemy 51
What Is a “Man?” 57
Letter to Derrick Johnson 63
The Dismantling of a Local Dream 67
Affirmative Action and Slavery: What’s the Connection? 71
Letter to Cal Thomas 80
The Ayers Case: The True Evil of the New Admission Standards 81
Jackson, Mississippi’s Reaction to Minister Louis Farrakhan 86
Wait ‘til Next Year 92
The Ethics of Art versus Commerce 94
When Fear Becomes Rage 100
Brief Comments on Without Sanctuary 106
Funk’s Jes Grew Quality: The Struggle of Black Art to Find Its Way 109
The JSU Assassination: Thirty Years Later 120
JSU’s Alexander Hall and Black History 163
The Pros and Cons of Mainstream and Self-Publishing 169
What Is a Poem?-Part Two 182
The Importance of Diversity in World Literature Courses 209
Which King Is on the Postage Stamp? 223
The New African American Writers of Mississippi 238
Letter to My Wife 272
A Blessed Man 276
What Is a “Man?”
“Man” and “woman” are concepts that are assessed, named, and identified by the biological constructs of “male” and “female,” but in themselves the terms “man” and “woman” have no empirical or definite identification or being because they are named, assessed, and identified by sliding, if not, arbitrary notions of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman,” which changes from culture to culture and from time period to time period. There is no way of knowing or naming these concepts or “things” in any empirical manner of how we know that we know what we know. Using the model articulated by Kalamu ya Salaam in What Is Life and by Reginald Martin on the e-Drum listserv, a “man” is considered the active, dominate being of most societies, and a “woman” is the passive, subservient being of most societies. Accordingly, then, certain qualities, which are attributed to dominate and passive are thus attributed to “man” and “woman.” Quite naturally, men have assumed the dominate roles because they were, initially, physically stronger-becoming the hunter-gathers and protectors of the species. Yet even acceptance or belief in this notion depends upon whose perspective of history you take. This is certainly true of European history, where “man” and “woman” have traditionally existed as separate and unequal beings.
It is not until the Middle Ages of European history when females begin to really and regularly ascend to positions of power, which coincides with the rise of courtly love poetry, which gave woman a more divine, even if still subservient position. There are no Greek and Roman female rulers, and their female gods are subservient to the male gods. Whereas in African tradition, there was more emphasis placed on the balance brought to humanity based on the coupling of X and Y, as evidenced by the female rulers during the ancient Egyptian civilizations, the notion that Osiris, a male god, finds his salvation through Isis, a female god, and the fact that in many African tribes the lineage is dated through the female. It can be said that Africans have not assigned positions of power and dominance solely on the gender, though it would not be accurate to say that the African tradition does not have its legacy of sexism. Yet it has been the European system for naming and assigning positions for “men” and “women” solely or primarily by gender that his emerged as the dominate system for naming and assigning positions for “men” and “women.” This is merely because the Europeans have been able to ascend to world/global dominance, which happens when Alexander the Great pushes into Egypt on the heels of the fall of Egypt’s great empires. And during this time, females have a second-class citizenship role in European life, whereas African women had occupied a first-class citizenship role for the past 3,500 years. More than anything else, these two distinct perspectives tell us that “man” and “woman” are arbitrary concepts that were created based on what the dominate group in a society needed them to be or perceived to be the most constructive concepts to adopt. As time has progressed and Greek/Roman society became the model for global life, men have created and maintained a system that keeps them in the position as the dominate being. Though many, both “men” and “women,” have worked to change this definition, it still exists today.
Again, “man” and “woman” are arbitrary concepts based on positions of power. The only way that there will ever be any concrete definitive for “man” and “woman” is if there can be an objective, empirical study of the physical and metaphysical characteristics of “man” and “woman.” But for this to happen, enough men would have to be willing to release or relinquish their position of power over the study, if not over life. If not, the study will always be tainted to promote and define “man” as the more dominate being because it is a given that our physical (mortal) nature demands that we survive by any means necessary, which means working to keep in place those aspects or systems that perpetuate our survival, evolution, and dominance, therefore, attributing a certain set of qualities to “man” and “woman” as innate and/or organic. (Is this not proven to be true when we consider that literature and critical theory, the fields/battlegrounds for naming and interpretation of life, have been the battlegrounds for deciding cultural place, sovereignty, and superiority, with each group waging the continuous battle to prove their right to exist and be dominate?) So the obvious question is “Do the colors ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ represent some organic sign/signifier of ‘man-ness’ or ‘woman-ness,’ or are they merely arbitrary colors used to denote/connote, sign, or signify the state of ‘man-ness’ or ‘woman-ness?’” If a male wears a pink signifier, is he less “man?” If a male does the dishes or paints his nails, is he less “man?” If a female does not want to have a baby or does not feel compelled to hold every baby she sees, is she less “woman?” What this proves is that all of our concepts or aspects of “man” and “woman” or “man-ness” and “woman-ness” are arbitrary, and that any concepts that we have for “man” or “woman” are political in our attempts to order a world based on dominance and subservience, which is based on the war/battle to garner the power to control life.
This final point is proven in the fact that most “men” or “male” groups that gain power in a specific culture attempt to emasculate all males not like them, i.e., white males create a system to emasculate all non-white males, thus disenfranchising them from positions of power, keeping them from becoming a threat to the dominate males or “men.” “[Richard] Wright came to understand that the power to structure gender (male and female) in early twentieth-century America seemed to be an exclusive privilege of certain white males. The black boy is forever denied the achievement of manhood, so defined. The black male is to be made a permanent child and denigrated into the posture of the stereotyped female-victim, unempowered!” (Ward xvii). Thus, when one group of men can emasculate another group of men, it shows just how arbitrary this notion or concept of “man” and “woman” is. Furthermore, these very same men, who have been emasculated by the “men” of power, assert their sense of self by oppressing the women of their specific group in order to feel some sense of self and power. So “men” and “women,” as concepts, are in much the same boat as words defined as parts of speech, which are truly defined in their function and not merely by their prescription. That is, a word is not an adverb in its prescription but in its function. A word, such as “home,” which is prescribed as a “noun,” can be best identified in its function. For instance, in the sentence, “I went home,” “home” is functioning as an adverb because it is answering the question “where” and providing more information about the verb. It is functioning as an adverb when it fulfills these two roles. Thus, a “man” and a “woman” are defined by the functions they play in society. However, it must be understood that these functions or roles are closely guarded by those in power, and, therefore, the powers that be expand the roles for some and limit the roles for others, always creating a comfort zone for themselves and making everyone else uncomfortable. The fact that others are limited and uncomfortable (socially, economically, and politically) is the key example of their subservience, and the key signifier of the other group’s dominance. Yet, sense none of these positions are etched in stone and have not been proven to be innate or organic to any gender group, we are back where we started. The concepts of “man” and “woman” are, at best, vague, arbitrary, and built on a sliding scale controlled by one group, which allows them to remain in power. At best, “man” and “woman” are concepts, which attempt to get at our humanity. Being male and female satisfies the physical aspect of our humanity, but we need something that satisfies our metaphysical aspects-or at least leads us toward a more thorough study of our humanity based on the manner in which our metaphysical aspects manifest themselves in our physical lives. Unfortunately, the concepts or the naming and assigning of “man” and “woman” are more tied to political ploys for human survival, which usually leads to the play of...(Essay continues.)
JSU’s Alexander Hall and Black History
(Click link to read entire essay at Mississippi Political.com)
The Pros and Cons of Mainstream and Self-Publishing
(Click link to read partial essay at AALBC.com)
The Importance of Teaching Cultural Diversity
in College World Literature Courses
(Click link to read entire essay at In Motion Magazine.com.)
Which King Is on the Postage Stamp?:
Evaluating Martin Luther King’s Legacy
(Presented at the 2003 Middle-Tennessee State University King Day Celebration)
Which Martin Luther King is on the postal stamp? This is a very important question because it speaks to how we remember him, how we teach his legacy, and how we develop strategies to gain our sovereignty and first-class citizenship. So, I ask again, “Which King is on the postal stamp?” What we must understand is that what makes an oppressor great is his ability to co-opt the talents and skills of the oppressed. And what continues to happen to King’s legacy is that those who wish to continue to oppress his people have been able to manipulate King’s philosophy by removing the teeth of it, which he used to bite into the most complex of American problems. Or to put it another way, they want to celebrate King’s vision (dream) without doing the real and difficult work of making it a reality. For instance, everybody wants to celebrate the dream of black folks and white folks living together in harmony, but very few want to deal with the check marked “insufficient funds” that has been continually written to Africans dislocated in America. And when we allow this to happen, we allow King’s legacy to be defiled. So, again I ask, “Which King is on the postal stamp?” It depends on which King we choose to celebrate. We cannot allow King to be turned into a flat, one-dimensional caricature that makes the oppressor feel all warm and gooey inside. In fact, this is the antithesis of King’s work. King was the griot of his time, constantly reaching his hands into the bowels of America’s injustice, holding it up for us to moved by the filthy smell of it all. So, as we stand on the verge of another war in the Middle-East, we must ask which King is on the postal stamp because it is this King that will guide our actions. As we seek to address King’s legacy in relation to how we make decisions on our present and future, we must understand that King’s Legacy is one of unity, selflessness, critical thinking, courage, and righteousness
The Civil Rights Movement was a joint movement of various people with eclectic ideas. There is this misconception that downtrodden Black people were saved by the few Black leaders and the benevolent white liberals from the North. National media, including films such as Mississippi Burning, has perpetuated this false notion. However, if you read books, such as Local People by John Dittmer and Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody, or talk to the people who where there, you will find that the Civil Rights Movement was constructed on the backs of everyday common people, such as Fannie Lou Hamer. The reason why Hamer’s statement of being sick and tired of being sick and tired is so powerful is because it was the articulation of the collective mind-set of an entire people. Hamer was a sharecropper who, as so many others, had grown weary of being chattel for plantation owners. It is folk like Hamer who were joined by folk like Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry, Annie Devine, and Hollis Watkins who then joined others to construct what became the Civil Rights Movement. So in truth, neither King nor Malcolm X led the movement. They were merely manifestations of the work of others before them as well as manifestations of the will of the people to become the voices of the Movement, along with others.
This is an important issue because the “holy leadership” fallacy continues to hold Black people stagnant, waiting on a Messiah to be born of a virgin and deliver them. When in fact, Africans dislocated in America have the same tools and resources, in fact they have even more tools and even more resources, yet we still languish in the ocean of second-class citizenship. That is because instead of studying the work of King, we have decided to make a deity of him. What makes King a great man is that he was able to accomplish goals while dealing with varying concerns and issues. And one of those concerns was finding a way to form a coalition of the fragmented Black mass. This may be King’s greatest feat; for one of the highest compliments paid to King is that he was just as comfortable in a cafe’ as he was in the White House. So when you talk about King, you must talk about a man who was respected by almost every aspect of black society-the accommodationists, the integrationists, and the Black nationalists. Examples of this are his relationships with Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Asa Phillip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin. King spent his life reaching out to diverse individuals with diverse backgrounds and ideas because he understood that black strength is black unity, but black unity only has value when each group is allowed to participate. Thus, King’s ability to create coalitions was driven by his acute perception of the power of collective forces and his selflessness to lead by service.
It is a shame that we now live in a time when Negro leadership is getting rich doing nothing when Dr. King died broke for something. There was a nice check that came with winning the Noble Prize for Peace. But King invested the majority of his earnings back into the Movement and not into a house or a car. Yes, economically, King came from middle-class means, but ideologically King never had nor perpetuated the bourgeois, elitist attitude as many do today. Condoleezza Rice asserted that the sit-ins, protests, and marching in the streets were unnecessary overkill, and that if left alone segregation would have died out or ended on its own. Evidently, Ms. Rice was not watching the same movie that the rest of black America was watching. And while I disagree with Ms. Rice, I also understand that her perception was handed to her by her middle-class background. Class diversity or class fragmentation has been a major part of the African American struggle since the development of the first house slaves. Yet, for the most part, house slaves understood that even though they enjoyed better circumstances than the field slaves, they were still slaves. Thus, they understood that it would be in their best interest to work with the other slaves to end their oppression. Today, middle-class blacks must continue to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. King could have very easily used his background and education for self-reward. This is one of the primary issues addressed in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” when King chastises the other ministers for not using their positions of power to effect social and political change. Unlike most of them, King’s life was about substance over symbolism. King was not required to go to Alabama and participate in the bus boycott to make his way in life. His father had already pulled strings to jump start his career. King did not have to go to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers’ strike. He had already made his mark on Civil Rights. By this time in his life, he could have resigned his life to that of lecturing, book deals, and consultant work. However, King lived his life by the credo, “If I can help somebody along the way, then my living will not be in vein.” King understood that a man’s legacy should not be based on what he does for himself, but on what he does for others. As he asserted, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” To this he often added Jesus’ remarks to his disciples, “He who is great among you shall be your servant.” So, if you wonder why black people do not vote as they should, it is because their self-appointed leadership does not serve them. We must stop sending Negroes to office who vote their self-interest and not the interest of African people. If we are serious about living up to the legacy of King, we are forced today to ask, “What have we done to make this world a better place?” Only when we ask this question are we continuing the legacy of King. Asking this question gets us to the true purpose for being and helps us better to understand what it means to be educated. See, an educated man is not one who can regurgitate information or can be trained to perform a task. An educated person is one who can use resources and information to construct a better life for himself, his community, and the world. Innate and organic to the definition of education is improvement-self and...(Essay continues.)
The New African American Writers of Mississippi
(Click link to read most of this essay at In Motion Magazine.com.)
A Blessed Man
Of all the socio-political essays that I have ever written and published, of all of my harsh and unflinching critiques of racist whites and Negro leaders who have shirked their duties to gain white gold, this is the most difficult and scariest thing that I have ever had to write. But, I am, on this day, unable to hold my peace any longer. I must say that God is a good, just, and wonderful God who has blessed me more than I have ever deserved.
One Thursday, while giving a lecture on Carter G. Woodson’s Mis-education of the Negro to an advanced high school history class at Forest Hill High School, I told the students that I agree with Woodson that African people are second-class citizens because we have been taught to hate ourselves and have been historically given an education that teaches us to be inferior. However, I wanted to tell them desperately that if we or any people align themselves to the will of God, no man has the power to oppress them. A proper education in God is as important as an education in all things worldly, especially since He created all things. The only power that white people have over African people is that which we give them. In fact, if we spent as much time trying to please and ingratiate ourselves to God as we do to gain material things, then we would have our liberation.
Why is this so difficult to say? I do not belong to any church, and I am not a man who lives by the Christian code. So, for me, it has always been difficult to say to people that Jesus is blessing me because I always felt that it would be hypocritical. And for those of you who know that I am a big Prince fan, this has nothing to do with his becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. If you know me, you know that I ain’t getting up that early on a Saturday morning to do anything, especially knock on somebody’s door. And yet, it is difficult for me to continue to awake and look around me and not shout the praises of Jesus to the mountain tops or simply to the top of whatever the highest point of Jackson is. I think that it was Matthew who said that the word and joy of God is like a fire raging to be set free on the world. Try as I might to hold back my praises because of my fears and iniquities, the joy of the Lord must be set free from me. I am not blessed because of my house, my car, my job, or my mediocre writing achievements. I am blessed because the joy of Jesus lives in my heart, and I have a wonderful wife who reminds me on a daily basis what it means to love and be loved. I am blessed because I have finally realized that no matter what I do, or what others may say about me, or do to me, no man can shake the foundation of Jesus. Jesus provides a safe haven that ten thousand Katrinas cannot destroy.
One of my many conundrums is how can a man who once published a poem calling God a tyrant by comparing Him to Napoleon now do an about face to sing His praises. And yet, this is not my greatest crime. My greatest crime is having more desire to be an accomplished writer than an accomplished family man. I have spent too much time trying to craft literature that has a positive impact on society and not enough time helping my step-children grow into constructive and positive contributors to society. And yet, I thank God for the diligence of my wife that they have not turned out too badly.
Now, I don’t want anybody to get me twisted. I still believe that Black Nationalism is the best theory for Africans dislocated in America. And, I will still wage war against the racists and Uncle Toms who continue to build and lock gates that separate African people from their freedom. But, I also know that the greatest freedom is the liberation provided by the blood of the lamb. I also believe that Jesus wants all of His people free and unburdened so that they can live a life that shines a path back to Him. On this day, however, I only want to sing, and shout, and dance for Him. I want tears to flow like rivers from my heart as testimony to His goodness and greatness.
God has given us all that we need, but we squander so much. We have enough food, yet we do not feed the hungry. We have enough land, yet people have nowhere to live. And, I contribute as much to these problems as anyone else. Even with all of that, I can no longer be afraid to call His name in public. I cannot leave this Earth without giving praises to the Master. I cannot not die without using my breath to sound to the world that He is life, the only life that we will ever need. And no, I am not dying. I mean we are all dying, but I have no illness or confliction that is speeding my death. I just can’t bear the thought of leaving this Earth without acknowledging all that God has done for me.
For those of you who have joined this email listserve to receive cultural and political news, I apologize for having overstepped my bounds. Please send an email if you would like to be removed. Tomorrow, it will be business as usual. We will be posting cultural and political happenings. Tomorrow, we use our talents to make the world a more peaceful and beautiful place. And yet, I can only hope that tomorrow I feel as close to Jesus as I do right now, and that I am able to say to someone that Jesus is the greatest revolutionary of all time and the only valuable worth obtaining.