(This is too long and lengthy, I know. But, I wish readers of it, would share excerpts of it on social media, encouraging not rebuttals, but add-ons, expansion and deepening, etc. It is now yours, be gentle as you respond. : – ) gil caldwell)
During the Civil Rights Movement we used to sing, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom”. This morning “I woke up this morning with my mind, heart, spirit, stayed on ‘Black Lives Matter'” And, I wondered, and am now wondering, should it also be “Blacks Matter” as a way of thinking of Blacks as a collective, rather than as individual black lives separated and isolated from the collective experience of blacks since arriving in the America’s?
Israel exists because of the collective and historical experience of Jews. Japan was rebuilt because of the destruction wrought by atomic bombs dropped by the USA. Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the USA because of our war with Japan, were given reparations. Native Americans were given casino rights and land because of their mistreatment, not as individuals, but as a Native American collective. Blacks however are viewed as individuals who will benefit from the “rising tide that lifts all boats”, when in fact history and the present, have kept blacks out of boats and/or allowed blacks to get in boats that were so defective that they would not rise. The “Black Lives Matter” Movement is seeking to help Senator Bernie Sanders and his staff as he contends for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, to understand that the unique negative particularities of Black history, experience and reality, require particular responses!
Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book, Between The World and Me, writes this about a question a news show host asked him; “…the host wished to know why I felt that white American progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe they are white, was built on looting and violence…The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates and his family we read, have gone, or are preparing to go to spend a year in France! When one is an 81 year old former Civil Rights Movement activist and proponent of the Black Theology writings of James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore, who made his first trip to Africa/Tanzania in 1971, to participate in an NCBC-sponsored African and African American gathering of church and government leaders, I have lived with what I call, “A healthy paranoia”. Coates’ writings have been described by Toni Morrison as being, “visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive”, and we who read him agree. Morrison writes that Coates has filled the intellectual void left by the death of James Baldwin. But my paranoia asks, “Have Coates and his family been encouraged to go to France, not because James Baldwin spent time there as an expatriate, but because of his ATLANTIC cover story article; “The Case for Reparations” and the eloquent and elegant ways he describes so powerfully, the historic and continuing damage being done to “black bodies”? May the message of Coates the messenger remain with us, even as he “The Messenger”, has gone to Paris.
I wish those who read the above, would ask and answer for themselves and other these questions. It is a kind of a “Jazz Riff” that needs the complementary responses of first, “The young, gifted and black” participants/leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and then secondly, the rest of us.
- Is this a moment in the history of the USA when the Black Justice struggle will and should be reformed, re-constructed and re-built in ways that subsequent generations of blacks and our allies, will not have to over and over again, engage in the “same old, same old”?
- When we look back and remember how candidate Barack Obama was demeaned, diminished and dehumanized because of his membership in Trinity Church in Chicago, and its unapologetic, Black-based biblical interpretation and theology, should we have seen this as an “individualizing” of a black would be President, who might govern in ways that were “reparational” for blacks in response to our nation’s anti-black history?
- Bonhoeffer wrote of “cheap grace”. Could Black nonviolence and capacity for “forgiveness of those who kill blacks”, be less-than-transforming because they have not radically transformed those who continue to do damage to “black bodies”? The public and media attention given to the nonviolence and forgiveness of Black people of faith, and Black leaders, that does not encourage transformation in word and deed of those who notice, makes of Black nonviolence and forgiveness, “cheap and without cost”.
- The death of Julian Bond brings to memory and these moments, the positive and less-than-positive interactions between SCLC and SNCC. What have we learned from that history that is applicable in these “Black Lives Matter” moments? Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture spoke to our United Methodist Black Caucus and in one of the Churches that I pastored. Should not Stokely be remembered as we are remembering Julian Bond and John Lewis, upon the death of Julian Bond? If the conflict between Bond and Lewis as they ran against each other for Congress is worth remembering, why not Stokely Carmichael and Black Power and his constant repeating of “organize, organize, organize”?
- The Congressional Black Caucus, once, maybe still does, had as their motto/ theme; “We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests”. Are not those interests shaped by the continuing gaps between blacks and whites; economically, educationally, in incarceration, healthcare, home ownership, jobs, and net worth, etc?
I write not as a Black Nationalist, Separatist, nor as one who believes in self segregation. The “Blacks Matter” theme/identification that I suggest will become a reality only asthose who are not black embrace it. We who are Black, in either our homes, our neighborhoods, churches, mosques, colleges, fraternities/sororities, love of Jazz, Blues, Gospels, Rap, Hip-Hop, sports, etc. have been taught/learned that “Blacks Matter”. But, we have allowed American individualism, and the individual successes of Blacks, keep us from focusing on the negatives that Blacks/African Americans continue to experience. Some had thought that the Civil Rights Movement, then Oprah and then an Obama, would enable the gaps to be bridged. But they have not been bridged.
The nominating process and then the election of a President in 2016 can be like all other nominating and presidential campaigns. But the interventions of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement in the campaigning and policy development process this year, ought offer new hope for African Americans and the nation. I can hear again the voice and words of Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention:
“I’M SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SICK AND TIRED!”.
So am I, aren’t you?
Asbury Park, New Jersey/USA