MLK and Fanon #ReclaimMLK

If one were to say that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Frantz Fanon were two of the greatest intellectuals ever to walk among the  populace of the African diaspora, that would be an understatement. These two Black men were such a threat to White Supremacy, it was no wonder that the government conspired to have both killed. The white racist establishment desires for blacks and others among the oppressed to see the goals and aspirations of MLK Jr. and Fanon as diametrically opposed, and seeks to divide us between the “good, peaceable” (read: acceptable) Negroes and the angry, violent Black bucks prone to criminality (read: disposable).  Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, inspired the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s as well as Black Liberation theologies, and his labor in the Algerian revolution gave life to anti-colonial struggles world wide.  In the minds of mainstream academia and media, Fanon is portrayed as a dangerous revolutionary much like a Che Guevara.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is adored by people around the world (supposedly), with statues made after his likeness and streets and buildings named after him.  MLK Jr. was a prophet of love, preaching a message of nonviolence, racial equality, and economic justice.

If these two persons were indeed so radically different, it would seem quite strange that King Jr. gave Fanon a sympathetic yet critical reading of WOTE.  But this is exactly what he did in the second chapter of Where Do We Go From Here?.  MLK recognized the urgency of the moment, and the impact that Fanon’s words were having on young Black women and men in his day.  King, Jr. was a committed Christian, and dismissed WOTE‘s conclusion as being bent towards materialism and violence.  This is a rather peculiar and unfair assessment of Fanon’s own words. I think in a way, MLK, Jr. was reading WOTE’s opening chapter “On Violence,” as prescriptive rather than descriptive, and there’s a nuanced difference here. See, it was colonial domination that placed the Algerian people (and other colonized people groups) into a predicament and cycle of violence. Fanon was observing that colonized subjects, victims of violence, experienced an emotional release through revolutionary activity.

Frantz Fanon was far more graphic at depicting specific instances of structural violence: White supremacy, antiBlackness, and settler colonialism.  Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned the rise of the nonviolent person to overcome the violent history of modernity.  MLK believed that nonviolent individuals could come together to promote a nonviolent moral order.  Nonviolence, a practice out of Christ’s call to love our enemies, was a duty placed upon the marginalized.  “With every once of our energy we must continue to rid our nation of the incubus of racial injustice. But we need not in the process relinquish our privilege and obligation to love.” And yet Fanon argued in the same concluding chapter that MLK Jr. cited, “Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism, and violence. [……] Europe has denied itself not only humility and modesty but also solicitude and tenderness. […] Let us decide not to imitate Europe and let us tense our muscles and our brains in a new direction.” In Fanon’s thought, there is space for an ethic of love and tenderness, but it must be a free choice that the oppressed must make for themselves. The problem with the colonial situation is that it is dehumanizing in its limitations of choices for colonized persons (see WOTE chapter 1).  Furthermore, we see in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks that his view of freedom is far more essential to his ethics of liberation, since there is “one duty: the duty never to let my decisions renounce my freedom.”  Black people (in Fanon’s view) needed to recognize our natural capacity for self-determination over and against a White Supremacist/ antiBlack society where racial violence was the over-determining factor.

In so far as Fanon participated in the creation a nation-state, that of Algeria, Fanon’s praxis of a “new humanity” apart from Europe was merely a reflection of European, Western modern nation-state, which is built upon violence. Nation-states are formed through middle class hegemony, crony capitalism, and nationalist hymns. Liberation movements should lead us away from the war-mongering model of the nation-state, not sustain its mirror image. This is where we can look to MLK Jr.’s call to love although his message of blacks immediately integrating into a white supremacist society is somewhat questionable. MLK Jr.’s politics, much like his ethics, was built on love.

Unlike many con artists today who claim to be leading a “revolution,” Dr. King (and Fanon, for that matter), had  specific plans with details about how to go about real change. Rather than the nation-state, the U.S.A. would become part of what King called “the World-House” with a guaranteed income for every family, federal funding for local school buildings, and educational parks as well as a national affordable housing plan that consisted of low-cost rehabilitation loans and new public funded, racially integrated housing (think the inverse of gentrification).

Dr. King’s political model of Black citizens joining in loose alliances with either the Democratic Party or the GOP, along with “Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain church and middle class elements” is pretty much outdated. It was a highly optimistic approach to electoral politics that correctly diagnosed Blacks potential as a voting bloc yet it was one that ignored the history of trade unions and racial resentment, and that perhaps overemphasized national politics over local.  Fanon’s program emphasized local municipalities governing themselves all the while maintaining an eye on the lumpenproleteriat (WOTE), the jobless and criminalized of the world.  We need to re-imagine a post-colonial politics that is glocal, that is global in outlook and at the same time prioritizing local issues.   The best way forward is to practice a politics of love and freedom.   It is possible for one to affirm Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  nonviolent Christian realism as well as Frantz Fanon’s humanism simultaneously. Even with the installation of a tyrannical regime taking place later today, it’s not too late. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, the call to love and liberation is only the beginning.

 

Thoughts on Rogue One A #StarWars Story

No spoilers ahead, so no spoiler warnings.

After the results of the 2016 Presidential election, liberals, progressives, radicals, and reasonable (anti-Trump) conservatives alike were searching for symbols  to invoke their outrage and disappointment. It was a bit of a coincidence that less than a month later a stand-alone film from the Star Wars franchise would debut.  The story of Star Wars has always been political, and in these partisan times, even more so. The idea behind Rogue One was to tell the backstory about how the Rebel Alliance were able to steal away the blueprint for the Death Star, and therefore know of its weakness in the final battle of Episode IV: A New Hope.  It was a prequel that takes place in between the prequel trilogy, after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope. 

In a funny way, members on the right and the left can identify with “The” resistance, seeing themselves in a story about a great struggle against the evil empire. The “white working class ” (according to the media’s narrative) is The Resistance having had to defeated the proponents of internationalism, the North Atlantic Treat Organization, and NAFTA. Disaffected democratic socialists and angry Hillary Clinton voters are now teaming up as the new “Resistance” against Orange Mussolini’s regime. Like the Rebel Alliance that is portrayed in the Star Wars canon, this alliance (the one of radicals and mainstream liberals) historically has been fragile in nature.

Rogue One provided a very helpful image of this relationship.  It took place during a discussion between Jyn Urso, the strong white feminist protagonist of the story and Saw Guerrera, the radical black freedom fighter.  Saw is angry because he has witnessed the transformation of the Republic into an evil Empire.  Saw (played by an African American man) tells Jyn of how disgusted he is with having to look at the empire’s flag everyday he wakes up.  Jyn (played by a white British woman) provides some simple advice, “Do not raise your head up.” The message is: keep your head down, keep quiet, and you won’t get into any trouble with your oppressors. For Saw Guerrera, that obviously would not suffice.  Jyn’s words ring eerily similar to the current controversy surrounding #theResistance to organizations like the Women’s March in Portland which said that signs mentioning #BlackLivesMatter were “too political.”  If you’re black, step back. Blackness, having black skin, participating in black culture and black institutions, is always seen as something Other, that any mention of Blackness as seen as going too far, too radical.

Was Rogue One a good movie? Of course, there’s no doubt that it’s a fine addition to the Star Wars canon, and in comparison to the other prequels, it was very well received. The feminist spirit of Rogue One was also comparable to the Hunger Games  and its dystopian world. I found the movie enjoyable, but going back to the issue of blackness.  The heroic tale of a loose band of goody-two shoe rebels adorned in white against a powerful group of dark-hooded men and women in black reads like a recapitulation of the American revolution.  Space fantasies and science fictions are never too off from historical events from which they find their inspirations. Good guys wear white, bad guys wear black.  Good guys are intuitive and make their decisions in the spur of the moment. The Bad guys are well organized, they have a plan, and often times they have a strict hierarchy. There was a point in my life when I found the Star Wars world to be uninteresting, but ever since I decided that what appealed to me were the Sith, it became much more intriguing.  If one thinks about the Sith Code as opposed to the Jedi, it’s actually the Sith values that save the world in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.   It is a blend of passion and the deep knowledge of the powers that be that helps the Rebels to triumph.  Stoicism and objectivity have no place in the Emperor’s fall.

The other part of the problem with Star Wars   as a whole is its reception by the average fan.  Everyone wants to be a Jedi sort of like every three year old child wants to be a police officer when they grow up.  The very weapons that the Jedi forge (lightsabers) are powered by the same crystal responsible for powering the Death Star: the kyber crytals.  The Jedi police the galaxy with the power of the Death Star in their hands.  Think about it. The Star Wars Animated Universe (Clone WarsRebels) is particularly adept at showing just how the Jedi and the Sith, the Dark Side and the Light Side are but two sides of the same coin.  Of course there is such thing as right and wrong, but these labels are not due to which ever side of the Force one chooses, Jedi or Sith, but rather what one chooses to do with the Force, or in the case of “The Resistance,” our choices as it relates to power and power differential.  Many aspiring Rebels in today’s politics want us to follow the way of “Occupy” (a term that rests on settler colonialist assumptions), marching for the sake of marching, demonstration to DEMONSTRATE that someone doesn’t like what’s going on, politicking on our intuitions and feelings in the moment. Yet this is EXACTLY how the opponents keep winning.  They are counting on the Resistance remain deluded with their Rebel logos and Safety Pin [TM] entrepreneurial endeavors as distractions.

The Alt Right, like the conservative movements before it, the Moral Majority, the Reagan Revolution, Nixon’s Southern Strategy,  knows that in order for them to remain in power they need to divide and conquer (in this case, the poor, liberals, progressives, radical academics, People of Color, moderates) and so far, so good. The Alt Right white supremacists have a plan, they have specific policy goals, and they have both well-oiled corporate media outlets as well as popular independent fake news sites to get their message out there. In other words, they have a Death Star. The major challenge for Rebels in 2017 isn’t knowing what we are up against or what’s the best way to resist; the major challenge is planning what type of country/ Death Star are we going to replace Orange Mussolini’s regime with.

 

(Photo: The picture is of the Death Star from Star Wars.  It is a space ship shaped like the moon.  The sky is black. Found on Flickr. Taken by Mirek and Coop)

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

(The following essay contains excerpts from a presentation given at this year’s Race, Ethnicity, and Place Conference in Cleveland, OH)

“Can’t we all just get along?” These are the famous words from police brutality victim Rodney King that sparked the 1992 L.A. uprisings, some call “riots.”  What exactly does it mean for two people groups “to get along” in the context of White supremacist violence and domination? In July of 1967, there was another set of uprisings in the city of Detroit, Michigan. In the aftermath of the rioting,  President Lyndon Baines Johnson commissioned a report to investigate the cause of the riot and ways to prevent it in the future. The infamous Detroit Riot of 1967 led to the federal investigation into social unrest in what would be published in the Kerner Report.

Nearly fifty years later America is still haunted by the ghosts of the Kerner Report. In particular, the major findings of the report still ring true. The continued impact of hundreds of years of systematic oppression has created a deep rift between the experiences of many black Americans and white Americans, which led to the report’s conclusion:  “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, and one white- separate and unequal.” Although this report was published in 1968, it described a reality not unlike today.

The lack of political power was a major frustration of many of the participants in the riots. The report reads: “What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens.” (NACCD, 1967)  The lack of political representation in local government only further angered the residents. The demographics of the Detroit had transformed so that African Americans were the majority by 1967. However, this change in demographic was not evident in political representation.

Minority political under representation continues to be a problem today in many places. In Ferguson, where Michael Brown was shot, the overall population of the city is over sixty percent African American. However, they only make up around fifteen percent of local legislators. According to Karen Shanton, approximately 1.2 million African Americans across 175 different communities do not have proportionate representation in their cities (Shanton, 2016). She goes on to describe how groups that are not descriptively represented are less like to participate in the political process or have someone advocate for their interests. Political disengagement and inattention simply helped to perpetuate a system of mistrust between civic leaders and the community. In a country where a revolution was sparked by the words, “No taxation without representation,” it would seem as if representative democracy in this republic strictly favors the dominant culture. The vast majority of whites continue to believe that everyone receives equal opportunities in America, while minorities on the other hand see great disparities. In other words, our nation continues to “move towards two societies, one black, and one white- separate and unequal.”