Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Toni Morrison Biennial & Attacks Against Nate Parker

 One month after being invited as a Principal Discussant to the Toni Morrison Biennial organized by the Toni Morrison Society, I still cherish that experience.  

My experience at the biennial reminded me of the importance of maintaining the balance between male and female energies.  I was honored to meet the editor of Toni Morrison, Errol McDonald.  

I thought I remembered reading that McDonald edited Beloved and Jazz.  When I was able to ask him about this, he replied that he did not edit Beloved, but he edited Paradise and Love. I wanted to ask him more questions about what it was like to edit the fiction of Toni Morrison, but I was very conscious of my time and the time of the brilliant people and brilliant energies that I was around.  Angela Davis was at this conference and shared that the book Morrison edited, Angela Davis: An Autobiography, was written in the hills of Santiago de Cuba.  “She convinced me that the book she was going to publish was the book I wanted to write.  I spent six weeks in the mountains of Santiago de Cuba…in virtual solitude with about 700 typewritten pages.”  

I learned a lot in the breakout roundtable discussions on the second, third, and fourth days of the biennial.  On the roundtable discussion on the first day, I learned a lot from Faraha Norton who, like Professor Morrison, worked at Random House and saw first hand the reality of “institutionalized racism,” which was a term coined by Morrison’s editing that gained credence in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation written by Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton.  Norton said that while Morrison was very influential as an editor in selecting books for Random House to edit and publish, she was still less powerful than Jason Epstein who was editorial director at Random House.  Morrison was still less powerful than Bob Bernstein who was president and CEO of Random House.  In her book The Burglary, Betty Medsger writes about how J. Edgar Hoover up until his death made sure that authors who were even remotely sympathetic to communism were not published.  

Both Epstein and Bernstein as publishers had supported the McCarthyist-J. Edgar Hoover-imposed dragnet against artists.  They also supported the very destructive U.S. foreign policy in the 1970s that was carried out by Kissinger against Cambodia and Chile.  By the time Morrison joined Random House, the purge against those who challenged the mainstream status quo had already taken place, so that any serious change brought about by ordinary citizens as a result of book reading would be minimal.  More needs to be written on this.  

I glanced at an important book by the Toni Morrison Society President Dr. Evelyn Schreiber called Race, Trauma, and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison, where she included a very powerful quote by Morrison who was interviewed by Angels Carabi: “there are certain things that are repressed because they are unthinkable, and the only way to come free of that is to go back and deal with them…And that makes it possible to live completely” (51).  This quote really spoke to me and reminded me of what novelist Paule Marshall said in her 1979 interview Alexis DeVeaux: “you have to psychologically go through chaos to overcome it” (Hall & Hathaway, eds., p.49).

I appreciated learning from a book talk by Dr. Dana Williams about Morrison’s time at Random House. Dr. Williams shared her research from her upcoming book Toni at Random, and talked about Professor Morrison's efforts to promote, most memorably to me, They Came Before Columbus by Ivan Van Sertima.  Williams talked about the difficulty that Morrison had in finding Black historians and writers who would read and provide a favorable review of this book by Van Sertima that forcefully argued the presence of African people in the West centuries before Columbus.  I was surprised but not so surprised to learn that Dr. John Hope Franklin was one of those scholars who declined to review Sertima’s book.  This kind of decline reminds me of how historians can sometimes behave territorial when it comes to engaging the work of artists and authors.
I appreciated listening to the panel on the morning of Saturday July 23rd that featured novelists Edwidge Danticat and Tayari Jones, both of whom I talked to briefly in the hotel lobby about an hour before their panel.  I appreciated Tayari’s point that efforts to retaliate against the Dallas police recalls groups in Morrison’s fiction, namely her third novel Song of Solomon, and the group she described as the Seven Days. There are a lot of similarities between Micah Xavier Johnson and Morrison’s Guitar in Song of Solomon.  Danticat mentioned that Gavin Long’s life is very Morrisonian in the way that he wanted to publish a particular kind of book the way that Morrison was clear about publishing certain kinds of books while at Random House. 

On the roundtable discussion on the second day, I learned a lot from readers of Morrison talking about how her fictional characters use violence as language.  We mentioned specifically Pauline and Cholly Breedlove in The Bluest Eye.  Lavinia Jennings who is author of the best review written on A Mercy, and author of Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa, said that in all of Morrison’s work, she shows that the three most destructive ideas in the human mind are: romantic beauty, romantic love, and possessive love.  Marie Umeh said she asked Morrison her message in one of her novels and Morrison’s reply was “love nothing.”  Here Morrison is challenging the notion of “love” as presented by the white mainstream.  This kind of love is a verb that is based primarily on the amount of capital exchanged, and is ultimately shallow and materialistic. 

I saw in person for the first time scholars of Morrison that I had not met before, especially Susan Neal Mayberry who wrote Can’t I Love What I Criticize: The Masculine in Morrison, which I appreciated.  I especially appreciated what Mayberry said about Sula, and how she was punished by the Bottom community for daring to act “like a man.”  This reminds me of how I think Amy Ashwood Garvey was treated by Marcus Garvey for taking sexual liberties that her time period restricted her from taking.  Besides meeting Dr. Schreiber, Professor Mayberry, Tayari Jones, Edwidge Danticat, and Dr. Jennings, I had a brief yet interesting conversation with Juda Bennett about his book Toni Morrison and the Queer Pleasure of Ghosts.  I also had an interesting conversation with Jaleel Akhtar, and was able to read select parts of his book Dismemberment in the Fiction of Toni Morrison.  He gets the term “dismemberment” from the Frantz Fanon whom he quotes: “Morrison’s fiction is replete with moments of Fanonian dismemberment.”  But I was most interested in the point Akhtar made about what Morrison was saying with her Peter Downes character in A Mercy: “Peter Downes sells the argument of Africans-selling-Africans under the garb of a disguised apology in order to convince Vaark: “Africans are interested in selling slaves…as an English planter is in buying them.”  In my research, I found that this is something that Amy Ashwood Garvey discovers first hand in her 1947 trip to the Gold Coast when researching the descendants of her great grandmother, Grannie Dabas. 

Part of this biennial included an authors and editors luncheon which included a very very inspiring talk by Chris Jackson, who is vice president and executive editor of One World/Random House.  Jackson edited Between the World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and is editing his next book.  He seems to replace the editorial role that Morrison played at Random House.  When I read this, I immediately remembered the One World logo that was on a lot of books, especially The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley and the important function of imprints.  This also made me think of Elizabeth Nunez’s fictional exploration into the dynamics of imprints in her very important 2011 novel Boundaries, that I am now writing an article about.  In Chris Jackson’s luncheon talk, he said that “Toni Morrison is the reason I do the work that I do.”  He said that he grew up in New York raised by a single mother and deeply steeped in the religious tradition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He also spent some time writing the publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What I found interesting about his time writing their publications was how the funders ignored editorial staff and vice versa.  This provides an amazing potential for the editorial staff to promote ideas that contradict and subvert the worldview of the funders.  J. Edgar Hoover spent decades policing the editorial staff of all mainstream publishers so that the funders’ worldviews never contradicted the worldviews of the editorial staff.  Jackson’s observation of how the editorial staff at the Jehovah’s Witness publications ignored the funders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reinforced his contempt for capitalism.  He also said that book publishing is a business and part of the job is to be aware of the market.  Even though one is aware of the market, the most important lesson I got from his lecture is that “one should never compromise one’s values for the values of the funders.”  He said that the status quo is often a paper tiger, and that mission oriented book publishing is at the end of the day, despite the paper tiger, still sustainable. 

I appreciated how Chris Jackson recognized Ishmael Reed as an institution builder.  Jackson noted how Reed started the Before Columbus Foundation which gives the American Book Award.  I was grateful to witness novelist Marlon James earn the 2015 American Book Award for his novel about the forgotten Jamaican youth called A Brief History of Seven Killings.  I met Karen from the Cleveland Foundation’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Award who told me that they awarded Marlon James with an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.  This novel is a must read.  Jackson finished his talk underscoring the reality that mission based publishing requires faith in the work and an understanding of the audience. 

My entire experience I believe was embodied by what Morrison herself said in her essay “Rootedness: the Ancestor as Foundation” about the importance of maintaining the balance between male and female energies.  At one point in this essay, she described the diminishing of one of her character’s, Reba’s abilities, because of “the absence of men in a nourishing way” in this character’s life.  Morrison later says that her character Pilate represents “the best of that which is female and the best of that which is male” (1071). She was later asked about developing a specific Black feminist model of critical inquiry, to which she replied that she thinks “there is more danger in it than fruit, because any model of criticism or evaluation that excludes males from it is as hampered as any model of criticism of Black literature that excludes women from it.”  

Attacks Against Nate Parker

The way I see the world after attending this biennial reminds me of the ways that white mainstream society continues to try to promote “a Black feminist model of inquiry” uniquely dedicated to silencing the artistic work of Black men.  “A Black feminist model of inquiry” in and of itself does not normally silence the artistic work by Black men, however the shallow, flighty way it is being used by hack writers like Roxane Gay, Ibram Rogers, and most recently by Michael Arcenaux, to silence the work of Nate Parker is dangerous, destructive, only aids “the absence of men in a nourishing way” which ultimately empowers the white mainstream.  

If these hack writers cared anything about the rape culture that they claim Parker promotes by his public response to his 1999 case, they would apply the same moral expectation and standard they expect from Nate Parker to Roger Ailes.  To Jeffrey Epstein.  To Bill Clinton.  To Hillary Clinton. 

The white mainstream will not enumerate the crimes against women and children that these wealthy men have committed, however these hack writers want Nate Parker to publicly address the verdict and settlement and within one day become a one man poster child for the immediate destruction of Western rape culture.  The attacks against the character of Nate Parker is similar to the destruction of the work of Bill Cosby.  Although Cosby is facing trial for allegations of rape, his work which promotes the opposite has literally been erased from network television and internet.  Bill Cosby’s work did not promote a rape culture against women, however in the white mainstream’s court of public opinion, he was a certified rapist and entire younger generations should be denied the very important moral lessons of his work.  They should suffer “the absence of men in a nourishing way.”  Morrison edited George Jackson's book Blood In My Eye.  In his other book Soledad Brother, Jackson called Cosby "a running dog with the fascist" for choosing to play an intelligence agent in "I Spy."  Morrison's editing allowed us different perspectives of Jackson and Cosby "in a nourishing way."

At this biennial conference, attendees received a complimentary updated copy of The Black Book, which Morrison originally edited in 1974 and of which Morrison was inspired to write her memorable novel Beloved.  Thank you to Lynne Simpson for making this complimentary copy possible.  In this complimentary copy of The Black Book that the publisher Knopf provided however, the epigraph that was in a previous edition by Bill Cosby was removed from this complimentary updated copy. Toni Morrison herself spoke to the attendees and asked a simple question: “what happened?”  The removal of Cosby’s epigraph speaks to the ways that the mainstream promotes an “absence of men in a nourishing way,” especially the absence of Black men whose work challenges the racist status quo. 

This “absence of men in a nourishing way” is also being promoted by hack writers who choose to attack Nate Parker’s character. 

These hack writers hold Parker to a moral standard that they would never hold to industrialists like the Clintons who promote and practice a rape culture that continues today in the form of U.S. imperialism. 

The shallow application of this inquiry continues to, as Christopher Columbus did and as Bartolomeo de las Casas wrote about in Destruction of the Indies, divide the indigenous and their leaders like Hatuey in order to conquer us mentally to believe that the mainstream cares anything about changing its endemic rape culture. 

Notice that all of these hack writers (Gay, Rogers, and Arcenaux) telling their readers not to support Parker’s upcoming film Birth of A Nation are all writers paid by capitalists, usually liberal capitalists, dividing-and-conquering in typical Columbus fashion.  Each of these hack writers are paid by companies profiting from the same kind of imperialism that the work of Nat Turner was designed to destroy.
Gay wrote her piece for the New York Times which has made a daily practice out of promoting U.S. imperialism across the globe by feigning concern for women’s rights while refusing to cover the rape culture within the U.S. military (see “Colombian Report on U.S. Military Child Rapes Not Newsworthy to U.S. News Outlets: http://fair.org/home/colombian-report-on-us-militarys-child-rapes-not-newsworthy-to-us-news-outlets-2/). 

Rogers wrote his hack piece against Parker just after publishing his latest book by NationBooks which, like the New York Times, promotes imperialist profit by silencing messages like Turner’s.  

Arcenaux wrote his hack piece against Parker from complex.com, founded by the apolitical fashion designer Marc Ecko and styled by Business Insider as “Most Valuable Startups in New York.”  Startups become startups by supporting the imperialist economy based on the chattel slavery Nat Turner’s work intended to demolish.  Complex.com would only benefit from bashing the revolutionary message of a Nat Turner that was trying to destroy an economy based in chattel slavery.  Arcenaux can dress his critique of Parker in fancy attire, however his critique is still a hack job that is trying to discourage the revolutionary message of Turner’s revolt the same way the state of Virginia was trying to do with Nat Turner.  He mentioned Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, but does not tell his readers to stop supporting their work.  He tells his readers not to support Parker’s.  There is obvious bias in Arcenaux’s writing towards wealthy white males, like those who run complex.com.  And like those who wanted Nat Turner and his memory destroyed.      

In their faux concern for the U.S. rape culture that is mum on the rape culture of the U.S. military, Gay, Rogers, and Arcenaux in their attacks against Parker promote a shallow application of “a Black feminist model of inquiry” that promotes “the absence of men in a nourishing way.” 

These hack writers who apply Black feminist inquiry in a shallow way and say they’re not supporting Parker’s film in the name of “ending rape culture,” are absolutely hypocritical.  They are the same hack writers who tell you to support Hillary because “she is the lesser of two evils,” and promotes a rape culture in the U.S. military like Hillary and her supporter Arcenaux did when she turned a blind eye to the U.S. Sargeant Michael Coen’s rape of Colombian women.  Arcenaux recently tweeted that shutting down the Clinton Foundation is “a stupid idea.”  This is the same foundation that like Christopher Columbus has raped the Haitian people, stole money intended for earthquake relief, profited from promoting Henry Kissinger’s world order and desperately tries to convince the world that spreading “democracy” is not the same as spreading a lethal white supremacist capitalism that is killing the earth.  These are the same hack writers who tell us that Julian Assange is a rapist, based on unsubstantiated evidence that was doctored by government agencies desperately seeking to discredit him.  By attacking the character of Parker, these writers are encouraging specifically the absence of Black men “in a nourishing way,” and continue the divide and conquer strategy used by Columbus against our people.  This is an attack that Morrison’s work is dedicated to exposing and ending.  

This is an attack that is tired and should completely be ignored. –RF.     

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Supporting Dr. Julius Garvey's Request For A Presidential Pardon of Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Today I attended a press conference hosted by Dr. Julius Garvey who is the younger son of journalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) to request a presidential pardon for Marcus Garvey.  This press conference included several provocative points.  The first was by Howard University History Professor Quito Swan who said that Garvey's genius was building a mass movement.

Law Professor Justin Hansford, whose 2009 article was the inspiration for the initial petition to Obama regarding this case said that the unjust trial was attempt to silence Garvey's movement for racial justice.  He said "we come here 90 years later...to show our resistance still endures.  We continue to fight to restore the legacy of Marcus Garvey, because he was the leaders of the largest racial justice movement that we've ever seen."  Professor Hansford said that he researched Marcus Garvey after learning that he was someone whom Malcolm X's father worked with.  Justin Hansford said that what Garvey did was make the point that Black people do not have to be at the bottom of social ladder.  Professor Hansford made a very key point about how the narrative about Garvey's legacy has been tarnished by the American narrative..  Hansford specifically cites David Cronon's book "Black Moses" that he said refers to Garvey as a "buffoon."  I have also read this tarnishing of Garvey in Peniel Joseph's biography "Stokely: A Life," where  on page 210 Joseph wrote that Garvey's goal "expressed more of a personal desire than a collective sentiment."  Garvey's goal of Black liberation was in fact a collective sentiment and not a personal desire.  If it was only "a personal desire," then there would not have been a successive number of independence movements in Caribbean, Africa and across the globe.  This tarnishing of Garvey's image is accomplished by not only white "historians" but Black "historians" as well.

Ambassador Attalah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X spoke and said that truth is not necessarily antagonistic, it is just so.  She also read a letter of support for a presidential pardon from Judge Greg Mathis, arguing that a presidential pardon would help the troubled youth of our present generation.  Ambassador Shabazz talked about her paternal grandmother, Louisa Norton from Grenada, was influenced along with her paternal grandfather Earl Little, by Marcus Garvey and how her household was rooted in those values.

The president of the Caribbean-American Political Action Committee, Dr. Goulda Downer said that Marcus Garvey played a key role in her Jamaican upbringing.  She remembers her math teacher telling her Marcus Garvey's famous words, "Up! Up! You Mighty Race! You can accomplish what you will!" These words confirmed that "regardless of our stations in life, if we took pride in our work, and added the discipline of studying, we would be successful.  And we were."

Dr. Garvey's words about the importance of the presidential pardon his father were paramount.  He said he had to grow up most of his life with the fact that his father was a convicted criminal: "It was very difficult for me as a young man to reconcile what I knew about my father personally, and what I knew about my father from my mother...[and what I knew about] the criminal conviction."  He said it was clear he "sacrificed his family for African people worldwide."  Dr. Garvey said that "what has kept us back has been European invasion and exploitation."  This exploitation continues despite the guise of equality, despite the guise of integration, or the guise of the first Black president.  He said "I think we can draw a straight line between when my father first came to this country in 1916 and to now, 2016, and young Black men are still being shot in the streets."  I was hoping here that Dr. Garvey would add specifically his father's visit to East Saint Louis in 1917 in the aftermath of the very violent race riot that his future newspaper editor Hubert Harrison said was instigated by the American Federation of Labor led by Samuel Gompers.  Michael Brown was shot within 20 miles of that city in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 7th, 2014.  Dr. Cornel West said at the 2015 Left Forum that President Obama spoke publicly about the death of Robin Williams, but not the cold blooded murder of Michael Brown.  Dr. Garvey said what the #BlackLivesMatter movement shows us is that our children are tired of living in a society that marginalizes them.

Dr. Garvey said that the president stands on the foundation of the civil rights movement, leaders of whom like Malcolm X and Dr. King, stand on the shoulders of Marcus Garvey.  Dr. Garvey talked about Jomo Kenyatta telling him how his father's paper Negro World arrived in Kenya, where the Kikuyu would stand and listen, memorize the articles, and repeat the stories to their villages.  This, he said, fueled their nationalism which gave rise to the resistance against British colonialism.  If there was no Kenyan nationalism inspired by Jomo Kenyatta, then there could have been no Kenyan national who came to the United States to study."  The Kenyan national Dr. Garvey is referring to is Barack Obama, Senior, the father of current President Obama.  

In the question and answer period, a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) asked Kweisi Mfume whether the NAACP would be interested in supporting this pardon, and Mfume said that he sees no reason why the current NAACP would not support such a posthumous pardon.

Special thanks to Nkechi Taifa for moderating this important panel on the presidential pardon for Marcus Garvey.

Ways to support this presidential pardon include using the hashtag #Justice4Garvey on Twitter, and following the @drclairenelson, @icsdcorg, and @caribmonth Twitter sites.  Stay tuned for the website on the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. -RF.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Michelle Cliff (1946-2016) Taught Me To Imagine Myself in The Most RADICAL History Possible

I learned yesterday from the blogspot of poet Opal Palmer Adisa that novelist Michelle Cliff passed away.  Michelle Cliff is a huge inspiration as a novelist to me because she taught me that it was okay to imagine myself in the most RADICAL history possible.  I taught Michelle Cliff’s novel No Telephone to Heaven during the History of Caribbean Culture course during the Spring 2010 semester at Temple.  Cliff did this in her second novel No Telephone To Heaven (1987) when she imagined a scenario in Jamaica where her protagonist Clare is joining a band of revolutionaries to mount a guerrilla attack on a film crew in Jamaica for telling a falsified version of Jamaican history.  

The story that Cliff wrote here affected me deeply because it opened my mind to the ways that the film industry is a business that explicitly supports white supremacy.  Her second novel opens with her white Jamaican protagonist Clare in the back of a truck that is driving to the scene of the film.  Throughout the novel Clare experiences flashbacks of the closest people in her life, her parents Boy and Kitty; her best friend Harry/Harriet; and her lover Bobby.  When Clare thinks about her father, Boy, named by the Jim Crow South that he goes to with Kitty, the reader reads the thoughts of what Boy should say to a white segregationist motelkeeper:

“What shall I say to this man?  Boy wondered.  A lesson from the third form on the history of Jamaica sprang to mind: mulatto, offspring of African and white; sambo, offspring of African and mulatto; quadroon, offspring of mulatto and white; mestee, offspring of quadroon and white; mestefeena, offspring of mestee and white.  Am I remembering it right?  He asked himself (56).

Cliff is obviously questioning and trying to deconstruct the hierarchy of class and color that still governs Caribbean society up to today.  Clare’s mother Kitty as interesting.  She finds a job in New York at White’s Sanitary Laundry where she puts notes in her white customers clothes of positive sentiments, messages that support the Cleaver family status quo, until she learns the racism of Jim Crow America of the 1950s and chooses to write more personal and heartfelt messages in her clothes, like:

“We can clean your clothes but not your heart.  America is cruel.  Consider kindness for a change.  White people can be Black-hearted.  The life you live will be visited on your children.  Marcus Garvey was right” (81).

Michelle Cliff through Boy and Kitty imagine a much more militant response to Jim Crow America than any novelist I have ever read.  In this novel, she tells the story of Christopher and his slaughter of an upper class Jamaican family for not allowing his grandmother “a proper burial.”  Christopher’s murder of this family is essentially why this novel is called “No Telephone to Heaven.”  Cliff is highlighting the ways that the “21 families” of Jamaica still rule, yet how the people of Jamaica can still take their future into their own hands and mitigate or end this rule by oligarchy.  Clare’s friendship with Harry/Harriet is very significant.  Harry/Harriet is the first transgender character I have ever felt so close to in a work of fiction.  Harry/Harriet writes Clare and tells her that while reading C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins, he is in love with the Haitian revolutionary Jean Jacques Dessalines.  

Harry/Harriet forces Clare to come to terms with her lesbianity, and interprets his being raped by a white officer as “a symbol for what they [colonizers] did to all of us, always bearing in mind that some of us, many of us, also do it to ech other” (129).  This is true even to today when my cousin Jason tells me about how so many Jamaicans were celebrating the Orlando shootings, which happened to be the day that Michelle Cliff made her transition.   How Cliff writes Clare’s relationship with Bobby is very interesting.  Bobby is a former Vietnam veteran and tells her quite honestly:

“unless you want a little Black baby with no eyes, no mouth, no nose, half a brain, harelip, missing privates, or a double set like some fucking hyena, missing limbs, or limbs twisted beyond anything you might recognize, organs where they are not means to be, a dis-harmony of parts—any or all of the above, or the above in combination, better think again, sweetness.  (As he spoke, a confusion of emotion was in her—and she wondered at the coldness in his voice)” (156). 

Cliff is serious about showing the ways that U.S. imperialism harms the model U.S. nuclear family.  Because of his service in the Vietnam War being affected by Agent Orange, Bobby is unable to have fertile children with Clare.  Cliff’s postmaster character Miss Clare also lets Clare and the reader know about the stark reality of political Jamaica.  She said: “And the dollar falling fast.  People said the IMF might possess the country.  It was a time of more hideaways for rich—the expansion of the sandbox. ‘Make it your own,’ the tourist board told the visitors.  Tires burned again at roadblocks” (187).  Cliff is able in 1987 to publish a novel that still speaks to the situation of Jamaica in 2016.  Cliff also anticipates Jakob Johnston’s 2015 report called “Partners in Austerity” that states that Jamaica has suffered the most AUSTERE or ECONOMICALLY RESTRICTIVE budget because of its colonial relationship with the IMF.  Since Edward Seaga’s leadership, now fictionalized in Marlon James’s latest 2014 novel through the character of Peter Nasser, Jamaica has been what Cliff calls an expanded “sandbox.”  

Cliff extends this metaphor when at the end of this novel she quotes a 1984 New York Times article encouraging racist filmmakers to film in Jamaica: “It also has a racially mixed popularion of many hues and ethnic distinctions, which…includes a number of people willing to serve as extras.  The national language is English, and you can drink the water.”  Cliff’s “extra” character in No Telephone To Heaven is “De Watchman” who signals the guerilla band to open fire on the U.S. film crew that was originally telling a story that would whitewash and bastardize history.  The film director said: “we’re going to shoot the scene where the monster attacks Nanny, and Cudjoe rescues her” (207).  

Cliff shows how the film director bastardizes the actual history of Nanny who was never the one being rescued, but the one rescuing others in her triumphs as leader of a Maroon army against the British.  Cliff’s narrator tells us “Clare was lying flat in a bitterbush.”  She would be part of the guerilla attack on the film crew that depends on the colonial relationship between the IMF and Jamaica in order to tell misogynistic, sexist falsified histories.  What Cliff was saying in No Telephone To Heaven is that those interesting in making a telephone connection, or some connection with the Jamaican masses MUST think about undertaking the kinds of actions that her protagonist Clare undertook.

Special thanks to my graduate master’s thesis committee member Dr. Shirley Toland-Dix for introducing me to the work of Michelle Cliff.  Special thanks to Opal Palmer Adisa for telling the world about the transition of such an important fiction writer in Michelle Cliff.  How Cliff imagines Annie Christmas’s relationship with abolitionist Mary Ellen Pleasant in her third novel Free Enterprise is another very NECESSARY conversation to have. –RF.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Omar Mateen And His Employment By G4S Means Supporting the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions Movement

A lot of the coverage of the assassin Omar Mateen in the Sunday June 12th Orlando shooting is missing a key element that explained his willingness to murder over thirty people in one night: his working for the G4S, the private security company that maintains U.S. government supported military occupations across the world. G4S is an English and Dutch owned company whose stock fell Monday after the shooting and after stockholders sold their shares knowing that G4S employed Mateen. Omar Mateen essentially did on that night what the Israeli army does to Palestinians on a daily basis.

Palestinians can be arrested and imprisoned for practically any form of public activity regardless of whether they present a legitimate security threat to the State of Israel. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits any relocation of prisoners from occupied territory to the occupying country. Omar Mateen as a twenty first century tool of U.S. imperialism did what Andrew Jackson did in his murder of indigenous people in the Spanish Florida of the early nineteenth century where the Trail of Tears began. According to a report called “The Case of G4S” by the Coalition of Women For Peace, G4S “has provided equipment and maintenance services to Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank.” Omar Mateen was employed and supported by a company that protected armed Israeli soldiers and help them to essentially murder people of color who in some form protested the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza strip of Palestine.

 As a Black gay man, it is clear to me that LGBTQI citizens of color in the United States should see the culture of violence that killed 49 people in Orlando on Sunday a direct result of the increasing police state that the U.S. is becoming. This is a police state that is not interested in helping us as Black or Latinx LGBTQI individuals love ourselves in a safe space like Pulse nightclub. Mateen treated these victims the way that U.S. military occupations have treated the world, subject to and deserving of random violence.

 The Orlando shooting should challenge in our minds what mainstream U.S. culture wants to call “security.”

 In the name of “security” white settler colonialism is allowed to thrive not only in Israel, but in every major city across the United States where gentrification thrives. One of the Orlando survivors Patience Carter who flew to Orlando from Philadelphia said that Mateen told her and those who hid from him in the bathroom that “I don’t have a problem with Black people,” but that I want the U.S. “to stop bombing my country.” Homophobia is not the real culprit in this shooting, nor is Islamophobia. White settler colonialism is the real culprit in this Orlando shooting. According to this survivor’s testimony, the message of Mateen’s murder was not against Black people, but against the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine that his seven year employment by G4S represents. She said Mateen wanted to the U.S. “to stop bombing my country.”

The bombing by the U.S. military ultimately protects white settler colonialism in Afghanistan that is rooted in the government’s 1970s strategic use of Afghan civilians to attack the U.S.S.R. Although the U.S.S.R. is no more, the U.S. military occupation remains, protects white settler colonialism and will encourage more shootings like Mateen’s. According to the U.S. Campaign to end the Israeli Occupation’s press release that quoted the Financial Times, “the company is extracting itself from reputationally damaging work, including its entire Israeli business.” The withdrawal of the G4S from Israel is a victory for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement.

This movement not only got G4S to withdraw from Israel, it got Columbia University to divest from private prisons. Its work caused the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation to sell its $170 million stock in G4S. Its work caused also the United Methodist Church to completely divest from G4S. Its work caused the Durham, North Carolina, county council to end a $1 million private “security” contract with G4S. Though it withdrew from Israel, G4S still provides “security” to juvenile detention centers within 60 miles from Orlando in Pasco County, Florida, as noted by Angela Davis in her January 9th talk at the Black Radical Conference at Temple University. This means if there is a youth rebellion in these centers for any reason, G4S would obviously side with the kind of response of a mass shooting that Mateen executed.

 As we approach the forty-fifth anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion this September, we should remember that these prisoners rebelled simply for their right to better living conditions which included education and healthcare. They deserved to be talked to, not to be executed by the National Guard called by Governor David Rockefeller. Like the Orlando shooting victims, they deserved to be heard. We should also remember how New York governor and oil tycoon David Rockefeller bragged to former President Richard Nixon about quelling the rebellion. Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to uphold Rockefeller’s Zionist prison-profiteering-tradition by trying to quell the successful Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement. Because of this success, Zionist pressure has forced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign an executive order barring businesses that join this Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement from doing business with the state of New York. 

It is our duty as those who are against Zionist violence, against mass shootings, against what G4S is doing to the world, to show our support for Orlando victims, and against all victims of state violence by supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Although Mateen said he doesn’t have a problem with Black people, photos of him wearing and choosing to identify with the NYPD show that he identified with forces like the NYPD that have a long history of a problem with Black people, and Palestinian people, as the NYPD has a branch in Israel where it upholds white settler colonialism.

Stopping future massacres like those in Orlando means supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement that is intended to stop the of Palestinian citizens that is happening on a slower and more gradual scale since 1948. An assault weapons ban will not prevent more shootings like those in Orlando; these cosmetic bans are designed only to make liberal Democratic politicians look more concerned and relevant while they continue to economically support “security” firms like G4S. 

Orlando should force us to take a long hard look at the growing police state of the United States. The fact that the Orlando S.W.A.T. team took at least two hours to arrive at the Pulse nightclub recalls the state sanctioned Neo-Nazi march that took place in Orlando a decade ago in 2006, one year before Mateen began employment with G4S. According to the Orlando Sentinel, in February of 2006, the city of Orlando granted David Gletty a permit to march, along with 22 other Neo-Nazis, through the Black section of Orlando waving Neo-Nazi flags. These Neo-Nazi marchers were protected by 300 Orlando police officers who were armed against 500 protestors of this march.

A court hearing revealed that David Gletty was an FBI informant and, like the FBI’s role in protecting those who murdered Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, the FBI also protected the rights of Neo-Nazis to flaunt their racist presence in the Black community in Orlando. In this case a decade prior, it was clear that the Orlando police, like the federal government in its refusal to prosecute George Zimmerman, was protecting the interests of Neo-Nazis. Orlando police recently admitted to fatally killing at least one of those 49 murdered on Sunday. Also at question is exactly how Mateen was able to enter Pulse nightclub with an AK-47 automatic weapon. These questions underscore the consistent relationship between the federal government and Nazis. 

Christopher Simpson, John Potash, and Howard Zinn all wrote books documenting the federal government’s recruitment of Nazis since the Second World War to support Klan activity in the South. The murder of Mateen and at least one other of the 49 by the S.W.A.T. team in the Pulse nightclub suggests that federal government intervention will continue to side with Nazi forces as they did in 2006. However exactly how the federal government sided with these forces is not clear. What is clear is that that the effectiveness of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement has prompted the New York Governor, who refuses to uphold a New York State Supreme Court decision declaring Stop-And-Frisk unconstitutional, to try and intimidate businessowners into doing business with companies like G4S that profit from providing “security” to prisons.

 It is up to us as citizens to declare our support for a movement that has encouraged divestment from prison industry which has socialized a man like Omar Mateen. -RF.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Review of David Edgecombe's Play "Hubert Harrison"

Today is April 27th, 2016. On Tuesday, July 15th, 2015, I had the pleasure of directing a reading of a biographical play about autodidact Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) who is known as "the Father of Harlem Radicalism." The play is called "Hubert Harrison" and is written by David Edgecombe. With all of the popular attention that the Broadway musical "Hamilton" is getting set in the past, this play takes a serious look at the impact of this thinker on radical thought in the twentieth century. "Hamilton" is based on the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasurty Alexander Hamilton whose mother was from Saint Croix, where Hubert Harrison was born. David Edgecombe frames Harrison's life story within an exchange between two college students, Mya and Tafari. Mya the college student and hospitality major approaches Tafari the painter with a request for him to paint her. In the process of painting her, he tells her the story of Hubert Harrison and his encouragement of a Negro press, his promotion of socialism, and his struggle to make a living for himself and his family while lecturing about socialism. By the end of the play, Mya has a greater understanding of Hubert Harrison, as told to her by Tafari. The most important elements of this drama are the foils against Harrison. W.E.B. Du Bois and other forces like Edgecombe's post office manager Charles Anderson character make it their ambition to see that Harrison has no money. Second, the ways that handpicked "Negro leadership" according to Harrison fails Negro people and is specifically designed to fail Negro people. No other play exposes this issue more clearly than David Edgecombe's play. Edgecombe's play manages to make the audience feel sympathetic for Harrison; to want Harrison to defeat his foils. For those interested in producing this, this part of the play must be emphasized. I am grateful for the talented group of actors that truly engaged this 7/14/15 Philadelphia reading of David Edgecombe's script that I directed. They include Carlene Pochette who read the roles of Mary, Susan, Leah, and Ann. Tene Fletcher read the roles of Mya and Lin. Eric Holte read the roles of Tafari, Anderson, Father O'Keefe, and Du Bois. Charvez Grant read the roles of Wilford, Morgan, Spingarn, Garvey, and the narrator. I read the role of Hubert Harrison. I highly recommend producing this play. -RF.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Medea Benjamin at Howard University

Image design by Len Webb Yesterday I had the honor to host Medea Benjamin at Howard University to talk about U.S.-Saudi relations. I learned three important lessons from her talk. One, that the U.S. government have been supporting a monarchy in Saudi Arabia with weapons that is very repressive and, along with Israel, supports the destabilization of surrounding countries by arming and funding very repressive military dictatorships in these surrounding countries. Two, the dwindling support that U.S. oil oligarchs such as Rockefeller and Murchison (whom Hansberry named a fictional character after in her play "A Raisin in the Sun") will cause the Saudi monarchy to go to new lengths to try compete with other Arab nations for Western attention in the form of money and weapons. This was revealed in the WikiLeaks cables where the head of Saudi intelligence said that he hoped the US president can "straighten them out." Three, that international pressure WORKS when directed at the Saudi monarchy whose repressive government beheads dissidents. Medea mentions the case of one in this important video. Medea mentioned that the EU is voting on February 25th on whether to stop the sale of US weapons to EU countries. Her organization's Saudi Summit is March 5th and 6th at the David A. Clarke UDC School of Law. In my opening remarks, I mentioned Malcolm X's 1964 speech in Egypt that he did not get to deliver but thanks to the query of one Milton Henry, we have his important words at that speech in the book "The Diary of Malcolm X" published by Third World Press and edited by Herb Boyd and Ilyasah Al-Shabazz whom I was able to meet in person on February 11th (https://www.instagram.com/p/BBqk_LaKq_B/?taken-by=rhonefraser). I highly recommend that book. In part of that speech, Malcolm X warned Africa not to end European colonialism only to be enslaved by American dollarism. Earlier in the speech he mentions "Zionist dollarism." It is clear that Saudi Arabia is still influenced by "Zionist dollarism" and Medea Benjamin highlights that in this speech. In the comments section of my talk, I mention the importance of teaching about Zionism in higher education and the importance of academics like Steven Salaita and Tony Martin who fought against Zionist censorship in higher education. These issues underlie the uncritical support of the U.S. for Saudi Arabia. -RF.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving in Guantanamo

The purpose of my recent trip to Guantanamo, Cuba, was to make clear to the U.S. government that to celebrate the tradition of Thanksgiving best, it needs to close Guantanamo prison it has held within the island of Cuba for over fifty years. This was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from family and friends in another country, protesting the vision for the world that Wall Street has. Protesting Guantanamo. It is the symbol of U.S. neocolonial rule that defies the sovereignty of Cuba. Kwame Nkrumah defined neocolonialism as the stage in which a state has all the trappings of political independence, but it is still economically dependent. Guantanamo is not only the site of continued U.S. neocolonial rule over Cuba, it is also the physical site of torture of one hundred seven detainees. The first two days of this conference included attending some very informative lectures as part of the Fourth International Seminary on the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. At this seminary was Daniela Gonzalez who represented CODEP (Conseja de Defensa de los dererchos del pueblo or Defense Council of the Rights of the People) who pointed out the neocolonial relationship between the United States and Mexico. The current president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto has allowed privatization of natural resources, gas, electricity and public works. Gonzalez said that the neoliberals in the Mexican government has set it up in such a way where the indigenous cannot access their water. James Jordan also gave a very important talk on the theme of prison imperialism. He talked about plans by the U.S. government to make money of building prisons across the world. Columbian prisons are being used to train soldiers. Many historians have called Colombia a U.S. colony. The physical and psychological torture is widespread in jail. In his talk, Jordan said that the U.S. government cites “drug wars” as the reasons for a much larger investment in prisons, hower over 60% of those incarcerated are there for non drug-related offenses. U.S. funded prisons, Jordan summarized, are about social control, not fighting drug wars. Since 2000 he noted, the U.S. has been involved in prison construction in twenty five countries across the world. Another memorable speaker was the filmmaker and journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina who produced the important film The Blockade Against Cuba. He presented how sixteen thousand Colombian soldiers armed by the US government murdered peasants who wanted earth, health, and bread which helped the creation of FARC. Colombia is known as the Israel of Latin America and that there is a dirty war going on in Colombia that is funded by drug dealing and the hope that the drugs will eliminate the social movement. Ospina showed the Colombian government as the obvious aggressor in the war against FARC, and said Cuba was a site where they are supposed to have direct talks with FARC however, according to Ospina, they made no promises in Cuba to stop fighting FARC, and if they couldn’t promise the Cubans to stop fighting, they definitely unable to keep a peace truce with the people of Colombia. It was at this talk where I learned about the political prisoner Simon Trinidad from Colombia who is seen by the US government as a FARC sympathizer. On the third day of this trip as our bus went into the city of Guantanamo, I stopped at a tienda to buy for a few centavos a Granma newspaper. I noticed that one of the cover stories featured a mentor of mine, Nancy Kohn, saying that the United States is illegally occupying the naval base of Guantanamo. I was able to see an amazing dance troup directed by Xiomara Solis called “La Colmenita” perform Jose Marti’s poem “Guantanamera “ and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” We visited the town square of Caimanera, which has been called “the first anti-imperalist trench” because it was where on September 5, 1876, Antonio Maceo attacked the Spanish train between Guantanamo and Caimanera. We were given a police escort from a hill from which we were able to see the physical Guantanamo prison and the Guantanamo bay, then we were taken to the Caimanera town square where we had a public rally. At this rally I met some very special people : two English teachers and an elementary school natural science teacher. The next day we went to the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba which were seized by revolutionary forces on July 26, 1953. The attack was conceived by Fidel Castro Ruz who conceived the attack and who chose to begin the attack on the one hundredth birthday of journalist Jose Marti. The tour guide at these barracks was Odalis Jimenez and her tour was unforgettable. It gave a very comprehensive look as to exactly why the masses joined the Cuban revolution. I remembered a conversation with a Cuban history teacher Ilka who said that what took place at Moncada was remarkable because all the revolutionaries had were pistols compared to the technologically advanced weapons of Batista’s forces supplied by the U.S. When we left the museum and had lunch at a restaurant near Cespedes Plaza, a very beautiful Jamaican woman named Georgiana approached me, whose mother she told me worked at the Guantanamo naval base. She said her mother was from Jamaica and worked at the naval base in Cuba. When her mother died however, she was unable to collect the pension she was promised from the United States government, in part because of the embargo. I sensed a stronger connection in Cuba with the gods of the SanterĂ­a religion namely Oshun, because it was the sight of the river that drew me to walk towards it from Cespedes Square, and when I did, I had a very dynamic conversation with a Jamaican woman. During this conversation, heavy rain began which led Georgiana to invite me to her home, meet her husband, her daughter, her grandson, and talk with another Cuban citizen, Robert Lewis Cobaer, whose work at the Guantanamo naval base was denied pension. In my first trip I learned that Santeria goddess of Santa Barbara played a key role in helping many revolutionaries defeat the U.S. imperialist forces. I have also seen first hand the instrumental role that women play all across the administration of the Cuban revolution today. They are certainly more involved percentage wise than women in the United States government in all levels of leadership. This was certainly eye opening. On our third day, we were invited to join a fast with the group Witness Against Torture to protest the opening of Guantanamo for torture and holding detainees without charge. This trip opened my mind about how endless the spiritual possibilities are in fighting neocolonialism. –RF.