Monday, February 16, 2015
(photo of me and Medea Benjamin by Shahid Buttar) I had a powerful experience in my travel to Cuba this past week, as part of the CODEPINK delegation, “to Cuba, With Love.” The theme of this whole visit was to show Cuba more love than its been getting from our country. The delegation made clear that they hope this trip would accomplish three goals: one to take Cuba off of the list of nations that the U.S. has defined as “terrorist” nations. Two, to lift the fifty plus year old trade embargo that former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed since 1959 because of their sovereign socialist revolution, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, that ended the dictatorship of U.S. puppet Fulgencio Batista. Three, to close Guantanamo Bay prison which the U.S. military has used for over one hundred years to torture extradited individuals from mainly Arab countries that have been held there without charge. Guantanamo Bay prison is one of the last remaining bastions and symbols of the increasing police state that the United States is becoming. On our first night we met with Kenya Serrano of the Cuban Institute of Friendship With the People. She said that the closing of Guantanamo will be a historic justice. She also talked about the character of the Cuban parliament since their revolution: 45% of those in the Cuban Parliament are women. Medea Benjamin said that in the U.S. not even 20% of the U.S. Congress are women, and that we have a lot of work to do to get Cuba off of the terrorist list. Medea asked the President of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, what challenges between U.S.-Cuba relations exist from the Cuban perspective. Alarcon said that the U.S. government still has the same goals despite their announcement of wanting to establish diplomatic relations, but that they have other means of accomplishing their goals. This statement was an allusion to the efforts of think tanks like the National Endowment For Democracy that are currently spending millions of dollars to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Obama’s federal budget that he drafted this month has more money than ever for the U.S. military while no more money was allocated to public schools. Alarcon said that we have to take on the challenge implicit in the decision to establish diplomatic relations. That we have to work at those decisions as civilized as possible. He said that Obama made an important decision to recognize the failure of the embargo. He said he decided to use his executive authority, like Eisenhower used his, to make the embargo more flexible. He said that more can be done, not just to reopen an embassy, and send an ambassador, which requires consent and advice of the Senate. It is also important to eliminate the economic embargo and the travel ban. Alarcon noted that “it is clear that a majority of Americans do not want a confrontation with Cuba.” Then he defined what Cuban values in the twenty first century are. He said that Cubans believe in the majority to have healthcare and education. Why should any state determine healthcare and education in any other country? He asks. He says that in the Cuban constitution, healthcare is a human right, and that the U.S. continues to support countries that do not recognize the right of women. Without naming such countries, Alarcon is referring here to Saudi Arabia which as a theocracy boasts some of the most oppressive sexist laws, such as those laws that forbid women from driving and from serving in the government. When the question and answer time came up, Kenya Serrano answered my question about whether the Cuban government recognizes same sex marriages. She said that the country does not yet recognize same sex marriages. In Cuba she said that such an idea is respected at an individual level, but not tolerated. In the United States, however, same sex marriage is welcomed in an increasing number of states. I spoke with several Cuban citizens about how public display of affection is not tolerated. I also spoke with several U.S. citizens about how LGBT rights is about much more than same sex marriage. It also includes a right to education and employment which in most cases makes the right to marriage moot. I think that the right to marriage for many of us have to take a back seat to the rights to employment and healthcare that the nation routinely denies to not only people of color but also LGBTQ individuals of color. I was very impressed with the fact that Cuba, unlike the United States, has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world (4.43 deaths per 1000 births). Alarcon said powerfully at the end of this talk that Cuban is not for sale, and that the notion of a country being for sale is a neoliberal policy. Cuba will welcome foreign investors, but on Cuba’s terms and not on the terms of the foreign investor. This reminds me of how democratic socialism operated in Jamaica, compared to the revolution that was pursued in Cuba. Kenya said that the internet is mainly for social use and that it is expensive for the Cuban government to get internet from Canada. This makes the internet on some level cost prohibitive to the majority of Cubans. However it has paid a lot from the Canadian government to secure internet use for its citizens. Serrano said that the Cuban government is committed to the protection of political prisoners like Assata Shakur. Alarcon added that Assata Shakur is a victim of racist U.S. policy and under a very serious threat by the U.S. government. I am grateful that leaders in the West recognize the sheer racism of the U.S. government towards Assata Shakur. After teaching the autobiography of Assata Shakur called Assata to two of my English classes, I completely opposed the idea of Eric Holder and Barack Obama sanctioning her being on the U.S. Most Wanted Terrorist List as of May 2, 2013, forty years after she was shot in the arm by a New Jersey State Trooper and wrongfully accused of shooting a state trooper. I am disappointed in my country for persecuting a woman, not for a crime she actually committed, but for her political beliefs. This goes against everything the United States claims to stand for. Alarcon said that the United States effort to improve diplomatic relations with Cuba may put Assata in a more dangerous situation. This is especially true after watching the leaders of South American nations in Oliver Stone’s film South of the Border who suggest a very real threat of assassination in the wake of “more diplomatic” relations. Alarcon vowed to help defend Assata Shakur from any increased threat to her life that this “improved” diplomacy might bring. I was able to give letters of support to Assata Shakur to U.S. citizens who strongly disagree with her being placed on the terrorist list. (Above is a photo of myself and Kenya Serrano of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People) Later that evening on Monday, February 9th, I visited the home of an LGBTQ rights activist in Havana and learned a perspective of Cuban life from an LGBTQ perspective that was more critical of the Cuban government. I was told about how the Cuban police use the charge of prostitution to silence, intimidate and jail Black Cubans. But I was also later told about how prostitution is in fact a serious issue that the Cuban government is seriously trying to curb. I was with a friend who said she observed the Cuban police arrest a young Black man for no apparent reason. The activists during this visit educated me immensely. One told me about an article in the Granma newspaper that featured an interview with Fidel Castro being asked about LGBTQ rights since the revolution. The activist said that when Castro was challenged about the persecution that LGBTQ activists face after the Cuban revolution, he admitted that the abuse of the LGBTQ community was not acceptable. But he also gave what these activists thought was a sorry excuse for an apology. The activists at this meeting agreed that while the Columbian police actually protect protestors, Cuban police do not. The police was seen as a tool of repression against the working poor, like its seen in the United States. They described CENESEX as a paradise that in reality does not exist. Activists explained to me that Cuba is still a homophobic country because of patriarchy and because of the machismo that was inherited since the Cuban revolution, seen in the images of Che, Fidel Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. While I read in Leslie Feinberg’s book “Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba” that individuals who want transgender operations can have then paid for by the Cuban government, I learned from these activists that there are actually very few who can have these operations at CENESEX. Those seeking these operations have to go through a lot of red tape that ultimately denies access people who are not very close in some way to people in CENESEX. In order to get through this red tape, applicants for this transgender operation in Cuba have to be in line with the Cuban Communist Party, and be part of the system and Afro Cubans are generally excluded from that process. Meanwhile later this evening, a second, different group met at the home of an older psychologist who works for CENESEX. I learned from this psychologist that the country has come a long way in approving transgender operations. On the day we visited the activist group, we learned that the police passed a law saying that LGBTQ individuals passed a law saying that LGBTQ individuals cannot assemble in certain places like Malecon, which was within feet of the Hotel that I was staying at. In the home of a CENESEX employee, I read and learned about their human sexuality primer, called in English “puberty” that described the possibility of a same sex relationship between two men and two women. There were some questions in this second group about whether this book in fact discussed the possibility of same sex relationships and before our second meeting was over, we in fact discovered that yes, this Puberty text which is available to all public schools in Cuba does in fact teach the possibility of same sex relationships. That alone puts it light years ahead of the Jamaican government which in its brazen ignorance is obviously hostile to the idea of teaching its youth about the possibility of same sex relationships. (This photo is a page of the Puberty text issued by CENESEX in Cuban primary schools) On Tuesday I visited two schools: first, the San Alejandro School of the Arts and the second was an Elementary school. The day we visited the Arts School, the students were taking an entrance exam however we were able to visit some of the art galleries featuring the memorable work of some students. One of the pieces featured was by Marian Rodriguez who showed me the stone on which she sketched. My limited knowledge of visual art prevents me from sharing the type of art that this is. I also appreciated visiting the Elementary School and to hear a poem about Jose Marti by an eight year old young man. I was struck by the fact that each school has an administrator that is a member of the Cuban Communist Party and makes some effort to enforce some standard of learning throughout the country. This made me think of the U.S. public schools and how a quality education depends on the income of the parents and not the level of commitment of the child. It seemed that a majority of the Cuban citizens had a deep awareness of their history and the importance of their revolution. The day we visited these schools we went to one of the many cooperatively owned businesses in Havana, El Jardin De Los Milagros. The government provides a tax cut from 29 to 13% to cooperatively owned businesses like these in order to encourage them. The food was remarkable. I have absolutely no complaints about the food in Cuba. If anything for me, it could have been a bit more spicy. The owner of this restaurant was a part of an Agricultural cooperative with thirteen other co-owners. What if small businessowners in the U.S. would form a cooperative and receive tax incentives? I think I had an important conversation at this restaurant about the way that the Cuban government’s role for the Cuban people is a like a father protecting a child from the potentially dangerous (as it was called on this trip) “tsunami” of imperialism. There were some serious critiques of the Cuban government that I heard, however in most cases, I either agreed or sympathized with the decisions the government took to defend itself. I think free market capitalism in theory might work, but in the United States, its coupling with mass incarceration and crippling austerity policies makes it extremely harmful and I think ultimately dangerous for countries like Cuba. In most cases what others call the repression of the Cuban government I would call a protective measure against the danger of Yankee imperialism. Later this afternoon we visited the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica. We learned that this school has graduated 24,000 students from 88 countries including the United States. The students go through a six year program. The first three years are at a central location and the rest at other schools across the country. The first two years they are trained in Cuba and during the third year, they leave to work in a hospital in Cuba. At the end of their fourth year, they have to perform an exam. PANORAMA is the journal of the school. These doctors are trained to treat transmittable diseases like Measles. They have MRI machines, nuclear medicine, CTC scanners. We were given a tour of the school from its secretary. I had an important conversation with two medical school students about their time here. This routine reminds me of the role that American universities played for African intellectuals in improving the plight of their home countries. I am thinking specifically of Robert A. Hill’s article in the book Marcus Garvey And the Vision of Africa edited by Amy Jacques Garvey and John Henrik Clarke. He talks about the role that colonial education for intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, (and Hubert Harrison, Kwame Nkrumah for that matter) can play in advancing the anticolonial struggle. These two men took the colonial education they learned and applied it to improving the plight of their home countries. Unfortunately because of the West’s military superpower, anticolonial struggle has so far resulted in neocolonial leadership that still serves the interest of the West. It is clear that the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica was interested in training doctors to serve their country, not to serve neocolonial, private capital interests. I had very interesting discussions with two medical school students about the helpful roles that Cuban doctors played in the Caribbean, South America, and Africa. (this is a photo with a medical student at Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica) There was some discussion in our casual conversations about two drugs made in Cuba that could help U.S. citizens if they were imported. One was a cancer vaccine and another was a diabetes medication. CODEPINK members on this trip were able to talk with a representative from the U.S. State Department in Cuba about whether these helpful drugs provided by Cuban medicine could be imported to the United States. The representative said no: only privately owned goods could be imported into the United States. When asked for his rationale for this restriction, the Representative, of what is called the U.S. intersection (an intermediate stage of a developing U.S. embassy) replied that the United States’ whole goal is to have the Cuban people wake up in the morning and not need anything from their government. Their policy which is to promote the private sector can be seen here. Jodie Evans of CODEPINK said that this kind of policy by the U.S. essentially creates INEQUALITY, which is exactly why Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led the socialist revolution that toppled the U.S.-appointed leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 in the first place. This policy of not wanting the Cuban people to wake up in the morning and not need anything from their government is the red flag that Ricardo Alarcon warned us about in his Monday, February 9th talk to our delegation. My goal as part of CODEPINK is to call attention to, and to end the inequality and the brutal imperialism that the socialist revolution fought against. Haber Biotech is a Cuban state-run pharmaceutical company that will not be allowed to import drugs treating diabetes or cancer in the United States. The U.S. government enables and encourages this profiteering behavior by U.S. pharmaceutical companies that care more about profits than about people. It will take work to prevent the inequality that U.S. government “diplomacy” will create. I had conversations with other delegates about the different ways that the Cuban government can tax goods that they sell at a high rate and redistribute that revenue in order to continue the founding principles of the socialist revolution, which are detailed clearly in the book A Cuban Revolution Reader edited by Julio Garcia Luis. On the fourth day of the trip, I took a tour of Casablanca where I saw a monument of Jesus Christ done by Gilma Madera. This was the most powerful day of the trip, because I attended a talk about the work of filmmaker Gloria Rolando, who directed and produced the film Eyes of the Rainbow about Assata Shakur. (this is a photo with Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando) At this talk, we saw two at least two other films she produced, that she later discussed. One was Las Raíces De Mi Corazon (The Roots of My Heart) about Sara Gomez, a fearless Afro-Cuban journalist who fought the demands of Western industry to study and present stories about Afro-Cubans. The other was Los Hijos de Baragua about the migration of a family from Jamaica to Cuba. We saw another film on the 1912 massacre of Cuba’s Partido Independiente de Color (PIDC). I asked her before we saw this film if she interviewed Aline Helg about her book Our Rightful Share, and Gloria told me that she did. I was absolutely mesmerized and inspired by the art of Gloria Rolando. Her film on Gomez reminded me of my dissertation, which focused on radical journalists like Pauline Hopkins who sought to study and uncover for her readers the radical histories of Toussaint L’Ouverture and John Brown. We also discussed her very new film called My Grandmother which is dealing with her grandmother’s relationship with the Catholic order of nuns in Maryland. Very interesting. Rolando said that the Cuban revolution tried their best in many ways to abolish colonial oppression but the past of slavery is real. Another film by Rolando focused on the appeal of U.S. jazz and its icons like Cab Calloway to Afro-Cubans. On the next day, we heard the director of CENESEX, which is Cuba’s Center For Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual) who is Mariela Castro Espín. She said that a society of socialism is a society that lifts everyone, and that even though the Cuban revolution bought many important changes, “there is still generalized homophobia in society.” She acknowledged that sometimes the police mistreat citizens. I remember specifically meeting a young Afro-Cuban gay man who said that he knows he will be less harassed by the police compared to others because he has a Swedish passport. Like Serrano, she said that same sex weddings are not legal in Cuba, but that their process of socialist transformation in Cuba is not yet completed. I was personally impressed with the way that sexual education in Cuba teaches the imperialistic history to its citizens in a way to avoid it. It also teaches the history of gender roles. I am fondly reminded by Sarah Schulman’s book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, that discusses the phenomenon of homonationalism (a term Schulman borrows from Jasbir Puar), which is using gay or queer identity to advance colonialism. Homonationalism is barely checked or critiqued in the United States much less challenged. I think Cuba guards itself from this mindless homonationalism by teaching the very important imperialistic nature of homophobia. In a formerly Spanish Catholic society I think homophobia will be very hard to eradicate, but even though the nation does not recognize same sex marriages, they have much more to teach the United States about how to meet the basic healthcare and educational needs of its citizens. Castro Espín said that our sexual parts should be instruments not of power but of emancipation. This reminded me of the film Goodbye Uncle Tom produced by two Italian filmmakers, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, who in a deranged way were able to force their audience to, contrary what Castro Espín says here, enjoy seeing men use their organs to rape or to use their sexual parts for instruments of power. It is a very disturbing experience but a very necessary one to understand the psychology of a rapist who thrives on imperialism. She said that women knew about their G-spot long before the German psychologist Ernst Grafenburg started writing about it. She said that all humans come from Africa, and the stereotypes used to essentially justify rape of oppressed women like Sarah Baartmen are wrong. Lymphomania and Homosexuality were wrongfully classified as pathologies. What matters more than a man’s penis is his mind and his spirituality. Teaching about contraception only is insufficient sex education, Castro Castro Espín. If we want to create a new society, she said we cannot use the historic ways of understanding sex. Castro Espín said that there a lot of individuals in the Cuban parliament that are sabotaging same sex marriage, even though the political will is there. She said that CENESEX so far has been able to complete 26 (twenty six) transgender operations. On Thursday, I visited the University of Havana, and got the contact information of some very important professors. I saw the spot where journalist Gil Noble was able to interview Assata Shakur and I took a photo of it. I was also looking for their library. I learned from filmmaker and very inspirational tour guide Catherine Murphy that the journal Afro-Hispanic Review published by Vanderbilt University is an important scholarly journal that reports historic trends in the Afro-Hispanic world. A final powerful message of this trip was a sit-down with a powerful political refugee from the United States, Ms. Nehanda Abiodun. She sat down with us and explained how she became a political prisoner. Her mother was a Baptist integrationist and her father a revolutionary nationalist. She met Malcolm X when she was eight years old. She attended Columbia University and started working at a methodone clinic. She said she later learned that methodone was more addictive than heroin. She worked at the Lincoln-Detox Acupuncture Center that Mutulu Shakur founded. She said that she had to leave the methodone clinic she was working at when one of her clients was struggling with illicit drug addiction. She was told by her superiors that if she did not raise her client methodone dosage, she would be fired. She refused, and was fired. She later said that former New York mayor Ed Koch closed the addiction clinic because he said it was “a breeding ground” for terrorists. She worked for a network of anti-drug defense centers set up in part by H. Rap Brown that was dedicated to weaning individuals off of drugs, and to providing political education. Eventually, because of her political beliefs and affiliations, she, like Mutulu Shakur, became targets of the COINTELPRO operation. By 1980, she was #3 on the Most Wanted Terrorist List. The government claimed she had stolen $4.8 million over several years. When I asked her what she had in common with Assata Shakur, she said that they are both committed to the freedom of their people, that they are extremely comfortable in Cuba, and that they will do what they can to help their people. When I asked her what the U.S. can learn from Cuba, she said that the U.S. can learn from Cuba how to be more humane. They know how to divide one egg among one million people instead of dividing over half of it to less than 0.1% of the people, like the U.S. has done with wealth. She said the Cubans have maintained a certain dignity and have not reneged on their principles of humanity. She said that we should all write Mutulu Shakur and thank him for trying to curb the deliberate effects of the U.S. government in making heroin addicts out of Black people, as Gary Webb wrote about in his book Dark Alliance. She said when Sekou Odinga was murdered tortured by U.S. authorities, he refused to speak and still could not be broken because he believed in his principles. Principles, Nehanda said, will maintain a relationship even in hard times. She said that the Cuban government saved her. They have also promised not to return any political prisoners. They forced her to sit down and to recuperate after the persecution by the U.S. government. This reminded me of Assata Shakur drawing similarities between herself and runaway slaves, on whom local sheriffs and patrollers put a bounty, like the outstanding $2 million the federal government promises to anyone who is able to capture her. Nehanda said that the reason Mumia is off of death row is because of the power of the people. She made very clear that her and Assata’s work with the Black Liberation Army did not start in the 1960s, or even the twentieth century for that matter. She said that the work of the Black Liberation Army started with the first Africans on the African continent who resisted. Nehanda’s words reminded me of the reality of Assata Shakur’s statement that Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. They are created by their social conditions. The United States ruling class and government that they operate through helped create political refugee revolutionary because they create a social conditions that creates drug addicts for the purpose of creating individual private wealth. That closes public schools and creates private prisons for the purpose of enriching individual private wealth. Her message was clear. This was an absolutely amazing trip. Special thanks to several individuals who made my trip to Cuba possible: my grandmother Maudlin, my father Anserd, my sister Marilyn Greene and her husband Dr. Quincy Greene, Dr. Elaine Terry, Dr. Heather Thompson, Dr. Lena Ampadu, Larry Robin, Amy Kietzman, Mr. & Mrs. Carlton & Arlene Brown, Andre Brown, Patrick Reid, Revan Sheriffe, Dana Shepherd, Evan Todd Green, and especially Ahmier Gibson. -RF.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
(Image of book cover "Ready For Revolution,"; Center image of myself (right) and J.e. Franklin; image of "Black Power" by Ture & Hamilton) This piece discusses two works: a popular film directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma, and a recently performed stage play Freedom Rider written by Ms. J.E. Franklin. It compares the different messages that each piece sends about the period. This piece looks at Selma mainly through the lens of one of the most influential organizers Kwame Ture (1941-1998), then known as Stokely Carmichael, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). While the Selma film looks at the Black freedom struggle through the Black bourgeoisie, Franklin’s play Freedom Rider looks at the freedom struggle through the lens of the Black working class. Carmichael’s presence was completely absent in the film DuVernay’s film even though without Ture’s organization as a member of SNCC, the Selma-to-Montgomery march would have never happened. This is no reason however to ignore the film. Selma must be seen. However, watching Selma should not be a substitute for reading and understanding the history of this Selma-to-Montgomery march: it should be a supplement. Clayborne Carson’s book In Struggle should be required reading before, during or after seeing Selma. Kwame Ture’s autobiography called Ready For Revolution edited by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell provides a necessary in-depth, first hand account of Selma from a SNCC member. Ture’s book that he co-authored with political scientist Charles V. Hamilton called Black Power, that was edited by Toni Morrison, provides a philosophical understanding of the work of SNCC in that time and must also be read. SNCC member Charles Cobb also has written two important books about the movement called On the Road to Freedom and This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. Judy Richardson edited a collection of women’s experiences in SNCC called Hands On The Freedom Plow that should be read as well to get a deeper understanding. The nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Ture’s autobiography, called “Selma: Crisis, Chaos, Opportunity,” and “Lowndes County: The Roar of the Panther” mention the lessons learned from the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that the popular film Selma cannot provide. Ture begins his nineteenth chapter talking about Jack Minnis, the director of SNCC research and how he briefed Ture on the Alabama power structure, telling him “which capitalists owned what, their historical relationship to the terrorist network, and so on.” Ture wrote: “it was Jack…who would find the old Alabama law that would be the key to how we organized in Lowndes County” (442). Clayborne Carson in his book In Struggle wrote that this law that Ture was referring to “allowed for the formation of a political party at the county level. Residents of a county could nominate independent candidates simply by holding nominating convention” (164). Knowing this is what began the work in Selma which eventually, without King’s involvement, became the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Ture’s autobiography details the effort the SNCC members put into registering Black voters and encouraging them to vote for third-party candidates, members of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization who were outside the two-party mainstream. From its inception, SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote their interests and to reject the two party-mainstream, which we still have to deal with today. The genius of SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote for candidates outside the oppressive two party mainstream. Ture said of Selma that “the one thing SNCC did not have to do in Selma was identy and develop grassroots community leadership. As I said, this was a self contained community , and its Dallas County Voters League had a might impressive group of leaders” (444). The film Selma tells the story through the perspective of the Black bourgeoisie, specifically through Dr. King performed by David Oyelowo. King was leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was a hierarchical organization composed largely of church leaders that depended on support from the white power structure. The oppressive white power structure preferred dealing with SCLC rather than a more consensus-based organization like SNCC. Paul Webb’s screenplay with DuVernay’s direction of Selma shows a very serious philosophical disagreement between SNCC and SCLC. Ture said: “the problem was in the SCLC approach of massive, temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle” (445). The film Selma privileges temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to the long, drawn out process of creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle. Ture said the catalyst of the Selma to Montgomery march was the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson (1938-1965) who died the night that “an SCLC preacher came to speak…at a Perry County church, when the people left the church after the speech, the state troopers ran amok, just chasing and whipping people everywhere” (447). The film shows Jimmie, his grandfather and mother marching in an alley before Jackson was murdered by an Alabama state trooper but in reality they were running from “a Perry County Church,” into a café before the murder. Ture, like the film, tells the story of three marches. The first march in the Selma film was without Dr. King and ended in the Alabama state troopers attacking marchers in a bloody melee that was televised and covered. The film’s most important indictment of the federal government came in the way it showed federal agents support of abuse of Black citizens by the Klan and by Alabama state troopers. During the bloody march, federal agents were reporting to their authorities the organized masses’ agreement with King’s critiques of American society instead of trying to stop the troopers’ naked attack of the Selma marchers. This film shows them as individuals who ultimately upheld the system of social control and the system of white supremacy that sanctioned the unfettered abuse by state troopers. The first march was the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march that took place on March 7, 1965. Ture said that he did not support this march because it was not planned properly. There were no plans made for the security of the marchers. The bloody attacks by troopers on the nonviolent marchers raise the importance of violent protest. Following the bloody melee, Ture said that “the scene in Brown chapel was like a wake in a MASH unit” and the film depicts this. When one of the protestors decide to retaliate against the troopers, seeks a gun, and asks who will join him. A young Andrew Young played by Andre Holland quickly dissuades this violent protestor from retaliating violently by telling him about the superior military power that the state troopers had and the futility of violent retaliation. This speaks to the kind of response and reaction to white racism that the SCLC, the producers, and the U.S. film industry endorses: a nonviolent passive response that continues to reinforce white supremacy. In her 1959 keynote address at the American Society for African Culture (AMSAC, which turned out to be a CIA front group according to Mary Helen Washington), Lorraine Hansberry said that one of the illusions that the mainstream media perpetuates is that “radicals are infantile, adolescent, or senile” (“The Other Blacklist” by Mary Helen Washington, p.262). The film Selma shows the radical thinker who wanted to retaliate with a gun as infantile after Andrew Young talked him out of it. This popular film does not show the development of the radical thinker in a realistic light. Radical thinkers were those who allowed King a base with which to march from Selma to Montgomery. The film improperly suggests that the masses came together simply as a result of King’s charismatic leadership. This is not true. The masses were built by SNCC with the perspectives of people like Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, and Kwame Ture. During the second march on Tuesday March 9th, Dr. King marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, this time with a larger number of white clergy. The Alabama state troopers hear orders from Jim Clark to let the marchers pass. However, before the march completely crosses the bridge, King stops the march, kneels, prays and decides to turn all the marchers back. Thelwell, the editor of Ture’s autobiography includes a first hand account of this second march from director of the SNCC Alabama project, Silas Norman: “The march proceeded to turn around. Well, Jim Forman was close to me. We were all sort of baffled. Jim kept saying, ‘what’s going one? What’s happening? We had no idea. We discovered later that there had been some agreement with Robert Kennedy, with the government, that the march was not to proceed. Personally I did not participate in that march again. I felt we’d been betrayed and I no longer wanted to participate.” (451). The film shows LBJ and his staff disapproving of King’s ambition to march, but according to Norman’s account, King had by the time of the second march already acquiesced to the demands of LBJ’s administration and called off the strike in the disguise of a prayer. The film showed an incensed reaction by SNCC to King calling off this second march mainly through the lines of James Forman played very convincingly in the film by Trai Byers. The film showed two very sympathetic whites watching the first “Bloody Sunday” march: Catholic laywoman Viola Liuzzo and Methodist Reverend James Reeb. After the second march in the film, a federal agent starts a conversation with Reverend Reeb about his reasons for leaving the North to visit Selma. As two hostile white men start attacking him for being a “ni—er lover,” the federal agent starts to run away and, like their sanction of the troopers’ bloody beating of the marchers, the film shows this agent sanctioning the murder of Reverend James Reeb. The third march on Wednesday, March 17th was charged with the memory of Jimmie Lee Jackson and with Reverend James Reeb. Ture wrote that LBJ was “moved to send a message of condolence to Mrs. Reeb, with a government plane to transport the widow and corpse home…the march had been called, remember, in response to a local Africa man’s murder. Where was LBJ’s and the nation’s response then?” The film gives credit to King for this critique of LBJ, but it originally came from Ture. The third march successfully went all the way to Montgomery after a legal challenge to SCLC from the state of Alabama who sought an injunction against the march. A federal judge federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20th, three days after the march in order to protect the marchers and allow them to reach Montgomery safely. The film ends with LBJ vowing to sign the Voting Rights Act, however it misleads viewers into thinking that the right to vote was achieved by three factors: one, top down hierarchical leadership; two, court decisions, and three, presidential executive action. The film misleads viewers into thinking that these factors caused the signing of the Voting Rights Act. In reality, it was much more. King’s influential hierarchical leadership could not have had any influence had SNCC not been there years earlier. LBJ’s decision to sign the Voting Rights Act also was reluctant and was recently reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in their Shelby v. Holder case. The film betrays the reality that voting rights are not in fact bolstered by the courts or executive action. The work of SNCC after the completion of the Selma to Montgomery march point most directly to the futility of depending the federal government or its electoral system for voting rights or responsible political leadership. The work of SNCC in helping to establish the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) that built strength off of the momentum of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. In Black Power, Ture & Hamilton (T&H) write that “the two major political parties in this country have become non-viable entities for the legitimate representation of the real needs of the masses, especially Blacks—in this country” (42). The film ends by suggesting false hope in the two major political parties, especially in the narrative of success it presents in its summaries of each of the actual individuals that the film was based on, namely the narrative of Andrew Young who it says became mayor of Atlanta “twice.” The film betrays the very hard work that organizing requires by focusing on King. In her biography of Ella Baker, Dr. Barbara Ransby writes that Ella Baker believed that King did not identify closely enough with the people he sought to lead. The film shows him in a slightly more pedestrian manner, showing him taking out the garbage and voicing concern about how his physical appearance makes him look too high and mighty. Ultimately the film shows his actions confirming this belief by Baker (Ransby, 180-192). T&H write that “civil rights leaders” like King who rely on passage of civil rights legislation “reveal the fact that they are operating from a powerless base” (78). T&H write that dependence on civil rights leaders, promoted by Selma, create essentially a fantasy where “all problems would be solved by forming coalitions with labor, churches, reform clubs, and especially liberal Democrats.” T&H write that “the building of an independent force is necessary; that Black Power is necessary” (78). They define Black Power as a system that “means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases of strength from which Black people can press to change local or nationwide patterns of oppression” (42). The film provides a very incomplete picture of Black Power. The book Black Power essentially shows the futility of depending on the electoral system that the film Selma celebrates through two organizations: the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and especially the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) fought, as Ture said, to replace the original all white male delegates of the Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. They were offered two symbolic seats from the Johnson administration which they rejected. Ture described this rejection of liberalism at the convention as a triumph: “they saw through the blandishments of the snake-oil salesmen…I was also especially proud that among the strongest and clearest were my ladies from the Second Congressional District—the Delta” (410). King and Rustin were “civil rights leaders” that encouraged the MFDP to accept the two seat compromise, which the MFDP voted to reject. They were celebrated in the Selma film as civil rights leaders. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, organized by SNCC was able to run candidates in the May 3, 1966 election for sheriff, coroner, tax assessor, tax collector, and three seats on the Board of Education. Black citizens were punished by the white power structure for voting. By the end of 1965, T&H write that “some twenty families were evicted and spent the rest of the winter living in tents, with temperatures often blow freezing…despite the ever-present threat of loss of home and job and even possibly life, the Black people of Lowndes County continued to build. Mass meetings were held weekly, each time in a different part of the county. Unity and strength, already developing over the winter [of 1965-6] grew” (107). However on the day of the election, T&H write that “white plantation owners were bringing in ‘their ni—ers’ by the truckload.” The LCFO basically lost each seat they ran candidates in, and T&H attributed this to the voters brought in by white plantation owners who voted in the interests of these owners. They (T&H) write: “there will always be those Black people who will vote for whites against Blacks because they fear economic and physical reprisal, because of an embedded belief that politics and voting are indeed ‘white folks business.’” (119). In the historic look at the MFDP and the LCFO, T&H show what the film Selma could not show, that reliance on voting rights and electoral system is a dilemma for the Black working class because they will either be plagued by token compromises like the Johnson administration supported by token Blacks who support the endemic racism within the electoral system or they will be plagued by an overwhelming number of Black voters who will vote to keep the status quo against their own interests. In his 1992 afterword of this book, Ture writes that “Africans are more integrated into the Democratic Party today than ever before; they have more elected officials than any other ethnic group, yet they have no power at all in the Democratic Party! They represent powerless visibility” (190). Obama and Holder’s inability to prosecute the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner prove Ture’s point. Ture makes crystal clear his point in Black Power: “one must not assume that because the MFDP did not succeed in displacing racism, exploitation and corruption from the body politic of U.S. capitalism that the struggle diminished. One must not assume that because LCFO-BPP did not achieve independent party status, the struggle was diminished. On the contrary, Revolutionary history shows that the People do not nurse their wounds. After defeat, they begin immediately planning the next step in the forward ever march…it is crystal clear to the African masses worldwide that capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be destroyed.” (198). Freedom Rider is an incredible drama for the stage written by the J.e. Franklin (writer of the 1970 play Black Girl) that shows the arc of one ambitious Black female college student named Clarissa who comes to Harmony, Mississippi, in 1964 in order to “destroy everything segregated” that she can find. This production ran from October 17th to November 2nd, 2014, at the Dwyer Cultural Center and was directed by Eric Coleman. The arc that Clarissa travels during this play shows the harsh reality of a Northern Black activist trying to achieve social change in the Jim Crow South. This is an arc that the Selma film showed a much milder version of. Clarissa, played by Kayla Ross, is portrayed as a young, naïve organizer from the North who, like Carmichael in 1965, faces the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. The family that Clarissa is sent to, by Northern organizers, is the home of Hank and Agnes played, respectively, by Sean Turner and Malika Nzinga. The entire play takes place on the porch of the home of Hank & Agnes. Hank is in charge of assigning Northern field workers to homes in Harmony. Hank’s Aunt Flora, performed unforgettably by Vinie Burrows, plays a key role as a healer, adviser and inquisitive aunt. The play opens with Clarissa trying to convince Hank, a settled Black southerner, on the virtues of integration, but Hank is not sold. Like SNCC organizers, Franklin’s Hank character also calls King “De Lawd,”although the context in which he describes King is much less derisive. Hank says that rather than integration, “we just want the same respect that gived to the white man, that’s all.” By the second scene, Aunt Flora chastises Hank for assigning her to host white women Freedom Riders when she preferred to host Clarissa. At this moment, the entire four person cast hears on the radio that the bodies of three missing civil rights workers (Andrew Schwerner, James Chaney, and Michael Goodman) were found in an earthen dam. Clarissa says she met them “at a non-violent training camp in Oxford, Ohio.” She reiterates to Aunt Flora her conviction that she came down to Harmony to “destroy everything segregated” and that she won’t rest until she does that. Aunt Flora is upset with Hank for assigning her white field workers instead of a Black field worker like Clarissa. In the third scene, Agnes and Clarissa have a very intense conversation about Clarissa’s motives for coming to Harmony. Clarissa tells Agnes that “most of the field workers agree with Nancy and Susan” that “while the FBI is down here, we should strike while the iron is hot!” Clarissa is unaware of the ways that FBI agents cooperated with the Klan to dissuade, terrorize and murder local Blacks who choose to defy the Jim Crow order. Agnes responds: “so, you done fell under the white-girl spell, too, huh? Is it ‘cause they went to a high-falutin’ school up north, or ‘cause they white…” Franklin deals with the white supremacist education that teaches social Darwinist notions, like the idea that Blacks are unable to want to vote or know how to vote without the assistance of whites educated in the traditional Western education. Hank & Agnes completely shatter this stereotype. Clarissa responds to Agnes’ charge saying about her fellow white female organizers Nancy and Susan: “they’re the only ones of us who’ve done political work for their senators, their councilmen, their congressmen.” “Only”? Did Clarissa ask if Hank and Agnes did political work for their senators or, if they didn’t, did she try to find out why they were unable to? Clarissa completely assumes that Hank and Agnes have done no work for their senators and, typical of Western education, privileges the experiences of white organizers over those of Black organizers. She is one who uncritically accepts the social Darwinist-based education that privileges meaning making experiences of her white counterparts simply because theyre white. T&H challenge this way of thinking in their book Black Power when he describes running Black candidates for office in the LCFO: “it was the old game of putting Black people on the defensive, making the Black man question his ability, his talents, himself. No one seriously questioned Wallace’s qualifications to be governor, of Jim Clark’s to be sheriff of Dallas County… For that matter, in the 1770s, the American colonists did not spend sleepless nights worrying whether they could rule themselves. This point bears emphasis, for white Western “civilization” is always projecting itself as ready whereas the Black man must prepare himself” (107). Clarissa speaks of her fellow organizers Nancy and Susan in these terms. She does not question their qualifications to be serious organizers in the South simply because they have done work with white politicians within the power structure that supports white supremacy. Agnes completely challenges Clarissa’s assumptions of traditional Western education in a way that the characters of John Lewis and James Forman as SNCC members are unable to do before King in Paul Webb’s screenplay of Selma. When Clarissa, Nancy and Susan joined Hank and Agnes in their traditional circling with their local Shaman, we learn that Nancy and Susan walk out of the circle because they felt uncomfortable. Clarissa defends them, saying “those girls came all the way from St. Louis to help us get our freedom…” Agnes rejects the idea that white organizers from the North along with Black organizers who support them, could help them get freedom: “All I see ‘em doing is questioning everybody…just fishing, fishing! What they gonna do, write a book about us, give it to the White Sheets!” Hank gets furious after he learns that Clarissa’s group of organizers have a list of addresses of local residents without clearance from the Jackson office. He says: “You think we don’t wanna vote? It ain’t just ‘cause its dangerous. People need a break! You know what we get put through when we try to register? Test after test!” Then Agnes asks Clarissa, in a tone that mocks the kind of white registrar we saw in the Selma film that denied Annie Lee Cooper the vote: “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” Hank plays along and adds: “I know you can’t answer that ‘cause ya’ll don’t bathe, do you gal?” When Clarissa tells Hank that her group’s ultimate plan is to register thousands of Black voters for the MFDP, he doubts the plan out of fear that voters may be killed like Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Although he is helping to place Northern activists in sympathetic homes, the recent murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney brings doubt into Hank’s mind about the Clarissa’s purpose of registering voters and his overall role in it. Agnes supports Hank. Aunt Flora altogether disapproves of any more voter registration work. When Hank and Agnes describe and perform the ugly reality of Klan thought and behavior, Clarissa listens to them, however, with some doubt. Until it visits her. Two days later after this exchange, Aunt Flora visits Hank and Agnes demanding they read to her pages in an apparent diary of Nancy or Susan that she took while they left her house that morning. Hank reads something in this diary he does not reveal to Aunt Flora, Agnes, or the audience and quickly leaves. We learn from Agnes that Clarissa joined Nancy and Susan on a ride into town where they went into a white restaurant to be served. Agnes tells Aunt Flora and the audience that Clarissa, Nancy and Susan were beaten and stomped on. Nancy and Susan were jailed while Clarissa is brought back to Hank and Agnes home to be treated for injuries. Clarissa was not only beaten, but tarred and feathered. The healer side of Aunt Flora emerges as she orders Agnes to get some kerosene and some spiderwebs to place on Clarissa’s wounds and tells Clarissa: “got me round here bragging ‘bout you! Only time Colored can go in them places is if they taking care-a white chil’luns…take your food in a paper-sack, you can set right there and eat til the chil’lun finish…ain’t nothing but educated fools, all of you!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa “they done kicked something loose inside you, child!” And hints that Clarissa’s beating may have, like Fannie Lou Hamer’s visit to a Mississippi doctor to remove “a bit on her stomach,” made her infertile. When Hank asks Clarissa if she remembers anything they said to her, she replied: “Ni—er…ni—er…ni—er! It’s a question of mind over matter! We don’t mind, and you don’t matter!” Aunt Flora instructs Hank to bring Nancy and Susan to her house. Agnes tells Clarissa what Aunt Flora’s little Cyrus found in the diary of Nancy and Susan; that one of them wrote: “’I now realize Negroes are just people.’ Just people?! What the hell did she think we was before she got here?” Clarissa yet again justifies the racist beliefs of Nancy and Susan, to which Agnes responds: “I know how it is when you have a dream and don’t wanna lose it…but we already tried loving these people.” This is exactly the sentiment of Kwame Ture who was one of the few SNCC organizers who developed in his revolutionary thought enough to know that the Clarissa’s methods of ending Jim Crow and institutionalized racism will not happen nonviolently. Agnes reassures that Aunt Flora in her broad history and knowledge as a former domestic to the powerful whites in Harmony who knows all their secrets, will not let them keep Nancy and Susan in jail. Act two begins two months later after the attack against Clarissa, during which time Clarissa is recovering from her injuries, and during which time the MFDP rejected the insulting Johnson compromise. Agnes and Clarissa discuss this rejection and celebrate it. The film Selma instead encourages acceptance of liberalism by selling the myth that lobbying executive leadership is the key to achieving social change. Aunt Flora tells Hank in private that she received a two thousand dollar check from the parents of Nancy and Susan for getting them out of jail. She wants to use the money to build a Freedom school and tells Hank to keep her plans a secret. When Aunt Flora leaves, Hank celebrates her in front of Agnes and Clarissa and the tricks she employed to get young Hank out of trouble: “after Mother ‘Dear died and daddy was killed my auntie was the only one in the family that wanted me. I ain’t never told her how much I ‘preciate what she did for me.” Hank leaves the scene towards Aunt Flora, and Clarissa and Agnes converse about the nature of Jim Crow. Agnes tells Clarissa: “white folks hate us ‘cause we the cause of them gonna have to be human-people!” Clarissa tells Agnes that she was hurt when she learned that Susan and Nancy wrote to William and he wrote back, revealing her hopes for a relationship with William. Agnes tells her that Nancy and Susan were trying to get poor whites to join Ms. Hamer but got run out because they were having sex “with some woman’s husband.” Clarissa also tells Agnes what Aunt Flora suspected: that she would not be able to have children because of the beating. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was also deprived of the opportunity to have children without her consent, Clarissa sacrificed her life in order to make meaningful steps to end Jim Crow segregation. Agnes shares with Clarissa that she had a nine year old son who died of a fever the day that Aunt Flora was midwifing elsewhere. Both women share the loss of children. Agnes tells Clarissa that Hank got the local children in the Harmony community to do a dance called “The Mind Over the Matter,” as a way to invert the racist meaning of Clarissa’s attackers, however Clarissa is unimpressed: “A dance? I don’t wanna see that! I don’t even wanna hear those words ever again in this life! That ain’t nothing to be dancing to! How could they…?! I don’t want it, Miss Agnes…I don’t!” The film Selma also shows a reverse appropriation. LBJ in announcing that he plans to (he took five months to follow through on his promise) sign the Voting Rights Act, said "and we shall overcome.” He appropriates the language that white and Black SNCC organizers in the South use in nonviolent marches and sit-ins while they are being beaten by white attackers. LBJ gives the false impression that executive and legislative leaders of the U.S. government, that represent the interests of staunch segregationists, actually want to end the laws that have maintained their power. They use the language of nonviolent struggle to essentially sanction and continue violent struggle against protesters. Clarissa in Freedom Rider thought her lone visit would end centuries of white supremacy. Franklin’s stage directions tell us that she “is too choked with tears to respond” to Aunt Flora’s question of whether she decided to stay in Harmony or leave. Agnes tells Aunt Flora: “she’s upset ‘cause she couldn’t fix these white people,” to which Aunt Flora says: “Fix white people? That’s what you come here for, girl? We ain’t need you here for that! Didn’t I tell you to leave these white folks to God and just keep praying for ‘em!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa that although she may not be able to have children, “h’its plenty chil’lun in Harmony. If you got a mind to stay…you’ll find mercy here.” Aunt Flora leaves, but Clarissa tries to make one last point: “I wasn’t trying to fix them…I just wanted all of us to love one another like Jesus and Dr. King told us to…to love them and them love us so the hate would stop…so we could get our liberation…!” Franklin’s stage directions tell us that “AUNT FLORA whips around and lets off a blast of anger which shocks both women: “THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE TO US, GIRL! NOW, WE EITHER GONNA KEEP ON LOVING THEM, OR WE CAN JUST STOP! BUT THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE US! THEY AIN’T ABLE! They just ain’t! They can’t!” The capital letters in these lines indicate emphasis which Vinie Burrows’ performance delivers. She notices Clarissa’s reaction and responds more in kind: “Do you understand that, child?” Clarissa replies: “Yes-mam Aunt Flora…I understand.” When first Hank and then Agnes invite Clarissa to see the local children do their dance at the play’s end, the stage directions tell us “Clarissa just shrugs and remains non-committal.” The play shows how Clarissa’s ambition to “destroy segregation” has been tempered by her experience at the hands of an angry white mob in Harmony, Mississippi. The second to last sentence of the play’s final stage directions say: “she collects herself, dries her eyes and hurries out to join the others.” Ultimately Clarissa decides to join Hank and Agnes to see how the local children, the younger generation re-appropriate the words of a white racist mob in order to assert their own power to live boldly and continually break down the barriers of Jim Crow. The film Selma ends with a false hope in the federal government while the play Freedom Rider ends with the promise of the younger generation vowing to challenge the Jim Crow that did not end in 1965. Michelle Alexander’s popular book The New Jim Crow has closed the argument that Jim Crow essentially died. Kwame Ture in Black Power and in his autobiography Ready For Revolution has shown how Jim Crow has expanded in new forms in terms of the growth of the military-prison-industrial complex that kills unarmed Black men at will, like the white troopers did to the Selma marchers, and like the white attackers did to Clarissa. As Ture said, meaningful change will only come about by revolution of the capitalist order. Both Franklin’s play and Webb’s screenplay do not seriously engage a revolutionary response to the Jim Crow order. This is a call to action to fulfill more of what Lorraine Hansberry said in that 1959 speech. She said the Negro writer must discuss issues of war and peace, and wage a war against the romance of the Black bourgeoisie. Franklin’s play does a better job at dispelling this romance than Paul Webb’s script which is intended for a mainstream audience. Franklin’s play shows Clarissa as an individual who believes that liberation will come by cooperating with a culture that is based on the denigration of African people and their labor. Aunt Flora in her decades of wit and wisdom states clearly that they have no more love to give. She and Ture suggest that the real work for revolution must not be led by sympathetic whites, but by devoted Blacks. Malcolm said that revolution should not be in the vocabulary of any individual not prepared to die for it. Franklin’s Agnes and Clarissa have the conversation that Selma is unable to have. The romance of the Black bourgeoisie is a big barrier not only for Hansberry but also for Kwame Ture, whose enduring message in his autobiography is: “Question everything. Challenge every authority. Always seek information and organize, organize, organize. And never, ever despair. Trust yourself. Trust the people. Never settle for less. Never give up, organize, organize, organize. History is full of surprises. Especially for exploiters. Organize, organize, organize. Stand ready for revolution” (773). All quotes of Freedom Rider by J.E. Franklin come from the book "To Break Every Yoke" which is a collection of Ms. Franklin’s plays: Freedom Rider; Mother, Dear Mother; I Reckon That’s Why They Calls Us Colored…Bless They Hearts; and Black Girl. (New York: Xlibris, 2013).
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Sony Pictures has gotten a lot of negative press regarding its attitudes about the film industry. Most striking is the email to CEO Michael Lynton asserting that films with Black leads should not be distributed internationally because they would not be profitable. People only believe propaganda like this because Hollywood since "Birth of A Nation" has spent a lot of energy promoting a white supremacist capitalist agenda without calling it that. Well Sony Pictures and other liberal film companies within the Hollywood film industry have a phenomenal opportunity to prove once and for all that they in fact do not want to pander to a market that would be offended by a Black lead. The opportunity is to distribute a film about the legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee (1922-2014). Her life is powerfully captured in a new documentary about her called "Life's Essentials With Ruby Dee" produced by her grandson Muta' Ali Muhammad. Ms. Dee's life and career embodies the success of Blacks and whites working together in the film and theater industry. Her life shows the incredible potential that one life can have in eliminating institutional racism. She brought Black writer Alex Haley together with white producer David Wolper to produce the highest rated television miniseries "Roots." She starred in the first Off-Broadway production co-produced by a Black woman and a white man, Alice Childress and Joseph Papp in a powerful production called "Wedding Band" at the Public Theater. The play is about an interracial couple trying to survive in early twentieth century South Carolina and starred Ruby Dee alongside James Broderick at the Public Theater. The new documentary about her life was recently screened in Philadelphia on Thursday, December 18th. Before the screening was a reception that featured performances in tribute to Ms. Dee by Lois Moses, Bruce Robinson, Indiya N. Glenn, Kira Brown-Gray, and Professor Sonia Sanchez. In the remarks that I shared at the beginning of this reception, I shared that Ms. Dee supported the work of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) who like Ms. Dee was a pioneering actor. In a 1976 interview with Nicolas Guillen, Robeson said that "I am convinced that the great American and English companies are controlled by big capital, especially by the steel trust, and they will never let me do a picture as I want...The big producers insist on presenting a caricature image of the Black, a ridiculous image, that amuses the white bourgeoisie, and I am not interested in playing their game." The email to Lynton is evidence of the industry's catering to this white bourgeoisie. The emails prove that big capital still insists in 2014 on presenting "a caricature image of the Black" by creating a market for only white leads. By supporting a film about Ruby Dee, they can completely shatter this stereotype. Last week, President Obama promised to return the remaining three of the Cuban Five. Ms. Dee had a developed and sophisticated opinion about the Cuban revolution in her 2000 interview with Harold Dow for the American Archive of Television where she said "we need Cuba on the other side" in order to keep our democracy healthy: "in order to walk, one foot has to go forward and the other backward." She believed that the Cuban revolution keeps American democracy healthy. She disagreed soundly with the purpose of U.S. embargo of Cuba as a tool to punish the Cubans because of their socialist revolution. She understood and explained to Dow exactly why Fidel Castro would be disgusted with the social conditions in his country up to 1959 in order to change them to benefit the masses in a more direct way. Ms. Dee supported Paul & Eslanda Robeson when their passports were seized by the U.S. State Department in 1950 after Robeson refused to perform before racially segregated audiences and when he said in 1949 in Paris that it is unthinkable for Negroes in the U.S. to fight the Soviet Union who has raised its citizens to the full dignity of humankind. 1950 is the same year that the U.S. invaded the Korean peninsula under the Truman Doctrine to stem the spread of communism. But they could not dominate the entire peninsula: only the southern half which they have occupied to this day. While Sony Pictures wants to promote a comedy that belittles the current leadership of North Korea, it and another film companies should think more about messages of reconciliation and diplomacy rather than messages of ridicule that originate from an imperialist and racist doctrine that caters to a white bourgeoisie. This country has a lot to learn, based on the murders of Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Mike Brown, and countless others from other countries about how to relate to its own citizens. Ms. Dee was a world citizen and this film about her by her grandson exposes her heart not only for working together, but it exposes her heart to her own family, namely her grandson. Distributing "Life's Essentials With Ruby Dee" will make a strong statement to the world that Hollywood no longer promotes racist stereotypes. By distributing this film, Hollywood has a phenomenal opportunity to show the world, that reconciliation is possible. -RF.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Review of Global NATO And the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013). Within twenty one chapters, Horace Campbell makes a convincing case that the North Atlantc Treaty Organization (NATO) is “a rogue military entity outside the bounds of the prejudices of a democratic society” (187). This military entity essentially serves the financial and military interests of Washington and Wall Street by advancing U.S. imperialism in North Africa. NATO is the scapegoat the Obama administration used as of March 19, 2011, to militarily occupy North Africa, assassinate Moamar Gadafi all under Obama’s historic claim that there are “no boots on the ground.” In his preface, Campbell stated that his book is written as one effort “to link the global anti-imperialist movement in finding new ways to cooperate” (13). His book is a necessary tool for anti-imperialists within the West who seek to understand arguments by African intellectuals that are ignored by the Western media and academia who “presented the Libyan intervention as a major success” (30). His book argues the opposite and its title comes from a quote by Seumas Milne that the Libyan intervention was in fact “a catastrophic failure.” He writes that African intellectuals wrote that: “the governments of the United States, Britain, and France had no interest in a peaceful and inclusive resolution of the Libyan conflict. Rather their objective was to replace Colonel Gadafi’s regime with a Western client state , regardless of the cost and consequences for the people of Libya” (33). Consisting of twenty one chapters, each point to the unique role that Gadafi’s resource nationalism played in the multifaceted U.S. colonial presence in Libya. The first three chapters describe how NATO formed on April 4, 1949 as an alliance of only five countries—Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the United States—to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union (38). However since then it expanded seven times to twenty eight nations in 2009. It now exists, especially during the imminent deployment of troops to the Ukraine, in Campbell’s words, to “protect ‘globalized’ capital” (40). After Libya’s 1970s nationalization of oil that was a precursor to Iranian nationalization in 1979 and Saudi Arabia’s full takeover of Aramco in the mid 1980s, Campbell ultimately shows how NATO acted to essentially counter this growing trend of resource nationalism in oil rich producing countries. The next three chapters describe the tactical errors that Gadafi made, from Campbell’s Pan-African perspective in not utilizing the wisdom of the African intellectuals he quoted in his Preface. Libya’s loss of resource nationalism was steady and ended precipitously with the 2011 NATO invasion. Campbell essentially argues that the intellectual apparatus of the Libyan leadership was hollow and how consequently, the Gadafi family “went all out to ingratiate itself with Washington and the associated networks of U.S. capitalism” (54). In 2003, the Libyan government entered into agreements with the IMF and privatized offshore land and resources that were formerly owned by the state: “Gadafi had enabled the imperial intelligence services by sharing information, financing their governments, purchasing junk equipment as weaponry, and cooperating with their intelligence agencies” (65). Wikileaks cables reveals that Gadafi intended to enact resource nationalism on Western oil companies by “forcing them to renegotiate their contracts,” and that this “created a dangerous international precedent” (60). This prompted Western leaders of Britain, France and the United States to lobby the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 1973 that invokes a “responsibility to protect” the citizens of Libya which essentially criminalized Gadafi’s leadership. Campbell shows how these Western leaders use the U.N. to serve the interests of private Western capital that worked within the Gulf Cooperation Council against Gadafi (75). The military invasion was enabled by imperial intelligence which Gadafi himself initiated while having a hollow intellectual apparatus. This book becomes a cautionary tale for any Pan African leader about the danger of excessive ingratiation to the West without a sufficient intellectual apparatus. The next three chapters describes the Western intellectual and media apparatus that justified the NATO invasion and bombing of Libya. Campbell describes current Samantha Power “as a journalist without serious historical training” who was “elevated to a professorship at Harvard” based on her media exposure (69). With Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, she promoted the NATO bombing of Libya. Western companies like the American Bechtel, Germany’s KWE, and France’s Veolia, which is now in a significant struggle with Boston Local 8751 over wages, have been calling for “privatization of water resources” and the end to resource nationalism (91). Campbell writes that the Libyan leadership, devoid of a structured intelligentsia, spent millions of dollars to finance the election of Sarkozy who since this book’s printing was jailed by France in 2014 over campaign finance violations. From March 19 to October 2011, Campbell writes that NATO carried out 9,700 bombing mission which made an average of 150 air strikes per day, “killing hundreds—if not thousands—of people” (119). Meanwhile in the United States, the “corporate media worked to marginalize any opposition in U.S. society to relentless bombing of Libya” (127). While Amy Goodman did interview Campbell, she strategically ignored the anti-imperialist perspective of Cynthia McKinney who visited Libya personally. Goodman in Demoracy Now! ignored McKinney’s and others reporting on Libya that countered her own reporting sympathetic to the NATO bombing. In the next six chapters Campbell details several important developments: the disagreements within NATO the various methods the West used to occupy Libya including propaganda. Campbell writes that of the twenty eight member states “the majority refused to participate in this military operation” (121). However the NATO occupation of Libya did not only include a military. It “depended on drones, special forces, intelligence assets, and private military contracts working with regional militias” (148). Citing the 82-page report by Human Rights Watch, Campbell argues that while the entire propaganda was based on the idea of protecting civilians, “it was clear that the NATO operation was not for a no-fly zone, but for regime change” (157). Campbell deconstructs the myth that dark skinned Libyans during this conflict were “Gadafi’s African mercenaries” quoting the chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping who said “Blacks are being accused of being mercenaries...Sometimes when they are white, they call them technical advisors” (166). In the sixteenth chapter, “The Execution of Gadafi,” Campbell calls the assassination a violation of the Geneva Convention and describes how NATO’s press release distanced itself from the assassination. NATO’s overall purpose was “to allow the Western powers “to regain ground lost in Tunisia and Egypt” after the 2010 Arab Spring: “Western countries dictated that the new Libyan leadership follow the path of the IMF” (182,191). Campbell’s arguments here are vindicated by the Smith College students who protested Christine Lagarde speaking at their commencement. In the next four chapters, Campbell details exactly how the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Libya was a catastrophic failure, from the death of U.S. Ambassador James Stevens, to the resignation of U.S. General David Petraeus. He attributes the death of Stevens to “inter-militia warfare” not “demonstrations” that the Western media claimed (213). He describes the U.S. military culture as one of “deception” that emanates from “a sense of excessive pride and arrogance” that believes that “the United States could unilaterally lead preemptive wars and that the world would…be safer with U.S. leadership” (222). Campbell makes a slightly revisionist claim when he writes that the U.S. has “escaped” the worst aspect of fascist ideas (251). This book argues otherwise. So does Christopher Simpson in his book Blowback that details a kind of American recruitment of Nazis after the Second World War similar to the collusion of Libyan Khalifa Hifter that Campbell describes. Paul Robeson in a 1960 interview with the New Zealand People’s Voice described NATO as a “fascist” organization in content. Campbell’s exhaustive research supports this and exposes the serious limitations of U.S. foreign policy. In his conclusion, Campbell writes that resource nationalism continues to be a threat to European domination of Africa and that “there can be no guarantee that the well laid plans of Western military planners along with Israel, will end up favorably for Western Europe and North America” (256,265). This supports a central claim he makes in his Introduction, that “from the work of Kwame Nkrumah to the stewardship of Nelson Mandela, there has been one overriding principle: Africans must dictate the pace and rate of the unification and freedom of Africa” (33).
Sunday, August 31, 2014
A photo of myself, Ted Lange, and singer Juno Brown. Photo by Dorian Hall. I had an amazing time directing the series of seven plays every Tuesday from Tuesday, July 7th to Tuesday, August 28th. It was a cathartic experience for me that taught me about my sincere ambition to direct, produce, or support historical plays. Not enough of them are produced. All too often, stories on stage about the Black experience written by Black writers become musicals. I am not sure that Lorraine Hansberry would have approved of the drama based on her own life experiences being turned into a musical. Her work, like each of these plays, like the art that Malcolm X encouraged, was about raising the race and class consciousness of its audience. For this reason, I learned especially after directing my plays, the importance of brevity, and the power of nonverbal physical performance that can convey a meaningful message better than any words. The first play I directed this summer was the first of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “George Washington’s Boy,” about George Washington’s slave Billy who is convincing his owner George Washington to free him. Two important dynamics are raised in this play: the dependence of Billy on George to essentially approve his marriage to Margaret, and Martha’s enslaved Oney Judge’s escape that Billy is unable to emulate Oney and escape and descends into alcoholism after suffering a leg injury. Washington on his death bed tells Billy never to look back. We got to read this play in its entirety, which featured Gerson Alexander as George Washington, Aaron Bell as Billy, James Stankunas as Alexander Hamilton, and Baset as Margaret and Oney Judge. This was the only night of the eight weeks that we did not get to read the play in its entirety because a torrential storm descended on the gazebo we read in. So, we finished up to the middle of the second act, when Washington is preparing for his battle at Trenton. The second play we read, called “Unity Valley” and written by myself, picks up where we left off historically, on George Washington’s deathbed in December 1799, except this time the setting is exclusively in the meetinghouse of Richard Allen’s then newly formed Bethel A.M.E. Church. This play “Unity Valley” was a fictional account based on David Barclay’s actual 1803 pamphlet “An Account of Slaves At Unity Valley Pen in Jamaica,” and was an opportunity for me to hear the play for a second time get read. Because of the rain in the forecast, we read this piece in the same place where we rehearsed, which is in my home. Tiffany Barrett read the role of Amelia; Carlene Taylor read Mintas; Shayne Powell read Prince; Eric Holte read Simon; Julian Brelsford read Lemaitre; Susan Chast read Granger; and Arnold Kendall read David Barclay. This reading taught me that I had one structural adjustment to make in terms of changing a georgraphical location in the last few pages of the piece. But a dramatic breakthrough with the performance of this play came through for me in the aggressiveness of Prince at the very end of this play. Directing Prince’s final bold act at the end was important for me to see in terms of the direction that the work had to go in. I believe this is one of those plays that would take off dramatically with the right director and the right production to convey the message, and that message is concerned with the reality that, for some free Blacks in Philadelphia at the death of George Washington, the Haitian Revolution was in fact a magnet and an ideal place to be, and in order to get there, one had to take great risks. The third play of this series, read on Tuesday, July 22nd was the second of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “The Journals of Osborne Anderson.” This play presents in dramatic stage form the experience of revolutionary John Brown from the perspective and from the journals of Osborne Anderson. I have been teaching African American History for five semesters now at Delaware County Community College and one of the narratives I teach the class is an excerpt of Osborne Anderson, so when I discovered that Ted Lange had written a play dedicated to him, around last summer, I was excited to have the opportunity to direct this. I think that there are key dramatic moments in this play that cannot be missed. One is the suspenseful setup that Lange writes at the very beginning of this play. This setup between Doyle, a border ruffian, and Stevens, an antislavery soldier is set up first to get the audience to sympathize with John Brown’s army. The audience essentially roots for the success of John Brown’s army, and wants to see Brown’s army succeed and abolition completed. However obstacles get in the way. The main obstacle the audience is set up to hate is the Virginia militia who surround the firehouse that Brown and his collaborators are trapped in. Lange also presents Frederick Douglass as a prominent character in this play may not directly participate in Brown’s attack on the Confederate arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, but who ultimately provides material support for it, in terms of a space and in terms of soldiers. The first act deals with very serious questions about social change that are incredibly relevant today: whether social change can come about by the means of moral suasion that Douglass practiced or whether it can come about by the means of armed revolution that John Brown practiced. However the beauty of Lange’s play as a director for me is dealing with Black men who believed that armed revolution was the best way to bring about social change. Lange’s John Brown not only believed this. Osborne Anderson, Shields Green, John Copeland, and Dangerfield Newby believed this as well, and Lange exposes the difference of opinion between each of them. As a former Oberlin college student, John Copeland makes it his duty to correct his grammar. The most powerful drama for me in this play which came out in the reading is the exchanges between the former Oberlin student John Copeland the the nephew of George Washington, Lewis Washington, also read by Gerson Alexander. Lewis is mortified that he becomes a prisoner to Brown and his army and treads thin ice with the gun-toting Copeland who is ready to shoot him if he dares call Copeland the n-word again. The power of this play is the noble way that Ted Lange writes John Brown’s resignation to his death. His last powerful line is one that recalls the beautiful intellect of George Jackson: “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” Ted Lange writes John Brown very nobly. Lange raises the issue that I raised in my dissertation, that social change in America can only happen when individuals, psychologically divorced from racism, have a strong enough race consciousness and class consciousness to work ACROSS race, as John Brown and Osborne Anderson did, to end class oppression. Slavery was class oppression in the South. This has an interesting comparison with how Dominic Taylor wrote the life of Osborne Anderson. Osborne Anderson was read memorably by Brian Anthony Wilson. The reading by Norman Marshall as John Brown was incredible. Elizabeth Michaels as his second wife Mary Brown was absolutely incredible and exposed the very tender moments of John Brown. The second act of this play dealt with the trial of John Brown and his subsequent hanging. The drama is raised to a higher pitch when the mother of John Copeland, Delilah Copeland, read by Meryl Lynn Brown, discovers that the state of Virginia confiscated her son’s body for medical purposes. At the end of the play I believe we are led to see Osborne Anderson and John Brown as noble men who worked across racial lines to foment class revolution. The fourth play read in this series was a play that I saw first in 2011 at the Audubon Ballroom and I fell in love with. It is called “Voices From Harper’s Ferry” and it is written by Dominic Taylor and it is a beautiful homage to Osborne Anderson. The play opens with in the 1870s with two DC policemen kicking an unidentified body, that we later discover to be Osborne Anderson. The middle of the play and the meat of the play is learning more about how Osborne Anderson came to be. I decided to stage this reading in a way where Osborne takes center stage. The first act is concerned with the raid on Harper’s Ferry and features a serious dramatic conflict between Dangerfield Newby whom Taylor writes with more agency than Lange. Taylor also fleshes out Shields Green and gives him a distinct Senegalese identity as well as a very vivid memory of being raped that can only in my opinion be played very seriously. The first act ends with the raid, and the second act picks up in a very creative way, with those who are deceased speaking to Osborne Anderson in his head, as he was the lone survivor of that raid. I had Newby, Green, and Copeland walk around Anderson who is sitting in a chair, and I think this brought home better the message Taylor was sending behind the kind of meaning that these men had in Anderson’s life, that has not been emphasized before. This play is also infused with song and Taylor shows in it how songs are used as codes to undermine the institution of slavery. Walter Deshields read Osborne Anderson; Mitchell Little read Shields Green; Denzel Owens Pryor read Lewis Leary; Eric Holte read John Copeland; and Langston Darby gave a very memorable read as Dangerfield Newby. The fifth play we read was Ted Lange’s last of his trilogy called “Lady Patriot.” This was the play that brought Ted Lange to my attention as a playwright. It was critically acclaimed at the 2013 National Black Theater Festival and I wanted to read it. Where Lange’s play “The Journals of Osborne Anderson” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between MEN that brought about social change in America, Ted Lange’s “Lady Patriot” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between WOMEN that brought about social change in America, specifically between Mary Bowser the former servant to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Elizabeth Van Lew, the neighbor of President Davis, who collaborated with Bowser to give secrets about the plans of the Confederate Army to Union soldiers. The drama of this story unfolds when Davis’s trusted servant Old Robert follows order to tie Mary Bowser up after Varina Davis discovers her reading maps in Davis’s office. As he is tying her up, Mary Bowser, read by the powerful Uta Hagen/Ossie Davis-trained actress Zuhairah McGill tells Old Robert to be a man. Ted Lange directed me to make sure the drama is pulled out of this interaction. I shared that direction to Zuhairah in her being tied up by Old Robert, read perfectly by Eric Holte, and she did exactly that. It made for a powerful dramatic performance along with Lawrence Geller’s reading of Jefferson Davis; Melissa Amilani’s reading of Varina Davis, and Eric Dann reads the abolitionst reporter Slydell. The sixth play that was read was my play “Negro Principles” that was read in two parts on two separate Tuesdays: Act one on August 12th and Acts two and three on August 19th. This play is based on my research of the personal and political life of A. Philip Randolph and Lucille Green Randolph. I learned from both of these readings, since my initial reading of it on February 5, 2011, that I have some editing to do. Gratefully, I have been in conversation this month with an historical dramatist whom I respect very deeply, whose work is produced across the country and across the world about getting a respectful complete production of my work. The first act is concerned with the asset that the character of Lee provides to Lucille’s Beauty and Barber shop. I discovered from this read that I wanted a lot of what is said to be directly relate to this asset. I think I found my Lee. I wrote Lee three years ago, wondering if an actor is out there capable of playing him, and I think I found him in Jaivon Lewis. He brought so much life to my character of Lee in his August 19th read, more so than his August 12th read. The first act of the play was concerned with exposing the asset of Lee and showing the economic and emotional asset he provided to THE main characters: Lucille Green Randolph and A. Philip Randolph. Lucille was read on August 12th in my home because it was raining in Malcolm X Park on that day, by the indomitable Caroline Stefanie Clay. She brought so much power to this role. Starletta DuPois, whom I first saw in the 1989 American Playhouse production of A Raisin in the Sun also starring Esther Rolle and Danny Glover performed my character of Audrey & Elizabeth Randolph in this play very very memorably. Alexander Elisa delivers an Asa that for me is the only Asa. His fluidity in capturing nuance of my words and emotions in a way that I know A. Philip Randolph would capture is like no other actor. The readings on these two nights of August 12th and August 19th taught me specifically where I need to edit, but more important, three years later, it taught me that I needed to have space between myself and this work in order to understand the value of editing it. In these readings, Lynnette R. Freeman read Delia Marshall; Walter Deshields read Howard; Meryl Lynn Brown read Mattie Powell; Mercedes Simmons read Sarah; Eric Holte read Clyde; Tanisha Saintvil read Florence and Ella on August 19th; Lena Lewis read Lucille on August 19th. The final reading of this play series was Momma Sandi’s powerful play “Stories From The Sister Circle.” I appreciated the opportunity to direct this play because it is the only play that deals so intimately about relationship issues between Black women in the Black family and it deals sensitively with the longer holocaust of African peoples that I believe this country fights very diligently to ignore and invalidate. This play centers on the relationship of a young woman, Saundra Yvette, with her mother and her efforts, alongside the efforts of her three aunts, to get her mother to stop drinking. I chose to stage this reading with Saundra Yvette’s mother Mary Alice, in the front and center of actors, in front of a table on which a bottle of alcohol sits. She occasionally drinks to the dismay of her sisters and daughter and who recall her and the memory of her funeral, Mary Alice’s funeral, in front of her. Probably one of the most meaningful responses I got to this reading was the response from my cousin Jason, who did not see Mary Alice’s alcoholism as a hindrance to her daughter but as a vehicle to invoke the storytelling ambitions of her sisters which was the traditional use of alcohol or rum in many of the Caribbean and West African religions. One of the stories in Momma Sandi’s that her sisters tell the audience and Saundra Yvette is the fertility of Anansi and how the women discovered “joy” down at the river. The stories in the end of this play become a healing ritual. Zuhairah unforgettably read the role of Mary Alice and has her own reckoning conversation with her daughter and her God about her drinking. This reckoning allows for Aunt Yaya, according to the words of sister Mama Clee, to feed her the waters of life, which allows for Mary Alice to find eternal healing from the pain resulting from the holocaust of African peoples, and also to show her daughter the importance of sharing painful experiences in bonds of sisterhood in order to survive. Mama Clee was read by Rebekah Hughston; Tamara Woods read Ethel Mae; Meryl Lynn Brown read Aunt Odessa; Eric Holte read the role of Crooner, Minister, and Lee Grant; Young Saundra was read by Mercedes Simmons and Older Saundra was read by Lena Lewis. Thank you to all the actors for making this possible. Thank you to Ted Lange whose play “Lady Patriot” inspired this reading series. Thank you to my co-director Rebekah Hughston. Thank you to the Friends of Malcolm X memorial Park. Thank you to Sharon Chestnut for conceiving the idea of the name "Readings At The X." Thank you so much ESPECIALLY to Mr. Gregory Cojolun of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park for his help in making this reading series a reality. And to the funders of this reading series: Amy Kietzman, Scott Williams, Abigail Raymond, Adam Butler, and my dad Anserd Fraser. –RF.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Photo of Javed Jaghai by Randy Risling of the Toronto Star “In Defense of Javed Jaghai” I am most ashamed of my Jamaican heritage as, on my sister’s birthday, August 30th, I read that Javed Jaghai has withdrew his legal challenge to overturn the anti-buggery or anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica. This is an absolute disgrace. Javed’s decision to do so is only a result of the colonial legacy which is a climate of fear and ignorance promulgated by Christian fundamentalism which flooded Jamaica in the 1980s. Where were these church leaders, who are able to rally hundreds, when Robert Pickersgill, the Minister of Government responsible for Water, Land, and Climate Change decided to sell thousands of Jamaican acres to China, instead of to local Jamaican business on August 6th? The date of so-called Jamaican independence? What were these church leaders doing when Jamaicans For Justice issued a report teaching about sexuality and the contraction of AIDS that was branded by Youth Minister and the Jamaica Gleaner as “controversial”? Why is teaching our youth basic facts about our sexuality considered “controversial”? Why do church and government leaders of Jamaica depend so heavily on an ignorant population? Compared to Cuba and Grenada, Jamaica apparently has light years to go in being truly independent from European rule. To be truly independent means rejecting the homophobic colonial laws that forbid sodomy and by understanding that Jamaica’s moral crisis is NOT the danger of homosexuality but the complete independence from English colonial laws. Jamaicans who castigate Javed Jaghai because of his sexuality suffer from what Frantz Fanon calls a “colonized mentality.” These are opponents to the true political, economic, and psychological liberation of the Jamaican people. They are colonized by Western society that teaches the most important priority of every individual man is to live only in a heterosexual partnership because that is the only kind of partnership that will procreate. According to the King James Bible, Jesus Christ himself did not procreate. Because of religious fundamentalism, the Jamaican mass has been deceived into thinking, like American conservative Christians, that our biggest moral crisis is stemming the spread of homosexuality. This is a farce that has been promulgated since the Cuban revolution as another Trojan horse the West uses to discourage nations from adopting Communism. Since the Cuban Revolution, American evangelicalism is America’s worst and most destructive psychological export. It is destructive because it teaches citizens of color to see themselves as souls to be saved for a Christ that serves ultimately Western capital. As James Baldwin said, “the people who call themselves ‘born again’ today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope—or wish—to enter.” Evidence in many of these churches of a so-called “blessing from God,” is conceived as a job or a house with some tie to Western capital that is systemically tied to denying ownership of resources to countries with majorities of color. I critique the Jamaican church movement in support of buggery laws as a Christian myself. I am critiquing the apparent vacuum in political education that these church leaders have about the legacy of English colonialism that encourages a young man to fight for a repeal of a colonial law meant to do two things: one, subjugate Black people, and two, procreate purely for the interest of wealth creation. Conservative Christians in Jamaica should understand that these laws were created in order to control and contain Black bodies more than they were to “save souls.” I have not seen a better form of protest against this colonial relationship than the Smith College students’ protest against IMF chair Christine Lagarde. I am hoping I will live long enough to see masses of Jamaicans protest for the same reason these Smith College students protested Christine Lagarde. But decades of Jamaican colonial leadership by the likes of Norman Manley who demanded that Black Power activist Walter Rodney be deported, and by Edward Seaga who encourages IMF dependence, has for over four decades now created a climate of thousands of people who believe, tragically, that their peaceful future is tied up in the hands of benevolent white men with money who will give that money based on how many “souls they save” or on how “well” they adopt a heteronormative religion rooted in white supremacy. This self-hating behavior needs to stop. I am so sorry for my friend, Javed, that he has to live in a society drowned in ignorance and fear that has grown because of the power of a “colonized bourgeoisie” that bases their own personal beliefs on a set of people who not only don’t practice what they preach, but who do so with the primary purpose of colonial subjugation. I consider Javed a visionary like Marcus Garvey who conceived of a new world. Garvey conceived a world where conscious Black men and women would own and control their own land and resources for the benefit of Black people. Sadly, he was ridiculed by his own ignorant Jamaican people. Their folly was exposed to the world when were blessed with the philosophy of Malcolm X as a result of the Garveyism practiced by his father. His philosophy effectively inspired independence movements all over Africa and the Caribbean. The King James Bible in Mark chapter 4 verse 6 says that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” Garvey was absolutely a prophet without honor in Jamaica. Garvey helped inspire the twentieth century revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean, because of his vision of a society that is not entirely economically controlled by white supremacist capitalists. And today in 2014, Javed Jaghai is a prophet without honor in Jamaica, for daring to conceive of a nation that does not conceive of homosexuals as criminals; a nation trying to shake off all its colonial laws. Jamaica has a long way to go once its people make a concerted effort to celebrate and not castigate the visions of their prophets that will only propel the nation forward.