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.