Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lewis Hamilton: A study in courage presiding over a race to the real end

Clairmont Chung

MR Hamilton is a brilliant racer and a bona fide daredevil,
already a legend. But in a world where so many people
live in darkness starved of fuel, and oil extraction has
caused so much suffering to communities, global warming
and environmental activists must question motor sports:
 the misuse of fuel for the sole purpose of going fast.
Lewis Hamilton stands as the first obvious African descendant to participate in and to win a Formula One World Drivers’ Championship (F1). On Sunday, 23 November 2014, Hamilton, born in England to a white British mother and an African Grenadian father, claimed his second championship. He won his first in 2008. There are many parallels between these wins and the historic burdens of other firsts, such as the election of President Obama in the United States and the many successes of golfing legend Tiger Woods. Of course, a key difference is that F1 is a contact sport. Worse, Hamilton is now the face of perhaps the most decadent sport ever. The real question is whether he can do for this sport what Tiger Woods did for golf, lifting it from looming financial collapse and the coming critique of its excesses.

Support for Hamilton is primarily on account of his obvious ability. He is a brilliant racer and a bona fide daredevil, both courageous and already a legend. And, yes, he acknowledges his Caribbeanness and possibly, by extension, his blackness, his Africanness. Hamilton was dominant in winning 11 of the 19 races of the just completed season, six more than his closest rival and teammate Nico Rosberg. Before Hamilton, I supported European-looking drivers like Damon Hill, Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard and Hamilton’s idol, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna. I looked at their calmness under pressure and their generally ethical behavior on the track: they refused to win easy by endangering the lives of everyone at the track. Senna did have an incident at the Japanese Grand Prix in 1990 that forced out his rival, Alain Proust, and left Senna the champion. But Senna, Hamilton’s idol, was a known campaigner for drivers’ rights and safety. In 1994 Senna crashed and died in a race at Imola, Italy.

Hamilton, a boy at the time, recalled watching the Imola race on TV with his dad, and the profound pain he felt that Sunday and long after. A driver was seriously injured at practice on the Friday and another died while qualifying the Saturday before that race. That weekend reconfirmed the inherent danger in speed, and that death was more possible in this sport than perhaps any other. F1 has claimed at least 30 drivers.

Many sportspeople have been compared to gladiators. Boxing and ultimate fighting (UFC) come close. But not many go to the arena for a performance that generates the force these cars do, and where a collision can quite possibly be their last. Most gladiators of the Roman Empire were slaves forced to fight. Consistent wins and popularity could lead to freedom, and only a few were actually released from shackles. The emperor often had the last say. The greater problem for Hamilton and F1’s current Emperor, CEO Bernie Ecclestone, is not the lives consumed at the arena but those defeated away from the arena. F1 is a symbol of the rape of resources, mainly oil and rubber tied to our car culture and the waste that it produces while masking the danger with shiny machines so fast as to challenge the naked eye.

In a world where so much of the world lives in darkness starved of fuel, global warming and environment activists should be targeting motor sports and making it harder to justify the misuse of fuel for the sole purpose of going fast. In F1 fuel is needed for racing, testing, qualifying and practicing, but also to transport staff and the huge mobile offices and cars to 19 locations around the globe. Motor racing, and particularly F1, is the spectacle of the rich and nowhere this is more true than in the oil rich Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where Hamilton won the 2014 season’s last race and the championship. There is an underside to every extravagance, and in this case a huge carbon footprint too.

The Emirates’ use of foreign slave labour has been well documented but was not visible under the white tents and space age architecture at its Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi. Men and women mostly from South Asia toil and live hidden in inhuman conditions with few rights and little pay. The excitement of race day occurs far away from the destruction of oil exploration. The insignia for Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) is splashed across a sharp turn on the track but far away from its environmental destruction of Ogoni lands in Nigeria’s delta. This year Shell announced plans to reduce its Nigerian holdings where after decades of exploration the country still suffers regular power failures and Shell has made little effort to clean up the mess. This is as it plans to expand its role in Canada’s tar sands.

In contrast to those that risk their lives for fame and fortune are those whose lives are at risk but without the promise of freedom, let alone fame and fortune. Walk Free Foundation estimated that 35.8 million people are still enslaved worldwide, defining modern-day slavery as ‘possession or control of a person to deprive them of rights with the intention of exploiting them.’[1] They publish a list of countries, beginning with the worst offenders. India and China head the list, with Russia rounding out the top 5 of 167 countries for the numbers of its people enslaved. All three of these nations host F1 races. Nigeria, number six on the list, and The Democratic Republic of Congo at seven, host no races. There are no F1 races anywhere in Africa.

More and more arable land and forests are grabbed for rubber plantations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Gabon, Cameroun and Cote D’Ivoire. Indigenous populations are threatened and displaced. Modern day slaves work the rubber plantations in Malaysia (32nd), Indonesia (8nd) and supply Singapore (141st). All three locations host F1 races. Mexico, ranked 18th, gets a race next year.

In contrast, F1 sponsors read as the who-is-who in oil, rubber, banking, cars, of course, and technology: they include Mobil, UBS, Pirelli, Johnny Walker and SAP. Only for the Abu Dhabi weekend did F1 suspend alcohol advertising. A few years ago F1 banned cigarette advertising as a bow to some moral code. Teams looked elsewhere for support and worried that they may disappear. But new sponsorships came to this fast-moving engine of consumerism and excess. F1 prides itself on its contribution to the safety and fuel efficiency of our road cars, and to our lives. But it was noticeably late when only this year did it reduce its engines from eight to six cylinders. And the lifestyle of big engines continue off the track.

The leaders of industry attend F1 events to see and be seen, usually with the gratuitous model types for effect. The rich and celebrated watch even faster moving billboards as they go round and round. The shiny yachts and private jets that crowd in for race weekends in Monaco, Yas Marina and Valencia are thumbs in the eyes of the struggling workers and regular Jeans and Joes unable to afford a ticket to the party. Instead, they may watch from grainy communal screens on their one day off, only to then prepare for the plantation on Monday.

It’s this display of glamour and speed that is used to influence consumers in a fast growing, unsafe car culture. The developing world is the fastest growing car market. The UN International Panel on Climate Change estimates the car population will triple by 2050, with 80 per cent of that in the developing world. The WHO reported 1.3 million road-related deaths in 2013, 90 per cent of those in the developing world. These represent twice as many deaths as those attributed to mosquitoes by Bill Gates’ scientists.[2] It would be the ultimate irony to survive collecting rubber in malaria-ridden rainforests and die in a car accident on a dusty street somewhere.

Despite the biweekly displays of excessive wealth at these races, F1 is in financial trouble. It seemed immune from the 2008 global recession. But Emperor Ecclestone recently admitted that the sport has financial problems and he is unsure of how to fix it. It costs US$120 million a season for an average race team, with top teams approaching a few billion. Ecclestone shares monies from advertising, ticket sales and merchandising by secret formula. Big teams like Ferrari and Mercedes demand more while lesser teams need more. The gap is widening in performance and teams are threatening to quit unless this changes. The weakest teams threatened strikes for the last few races in 2014 but they never materialized.

The Spain-based bank Santander is probably the sport’s biggest sponsor and reflects the current plight for F1 and its sponsors. It’s the sixth largest company in the world and continues to expand while it and its officers are almost under constant indictment or investigation for some transgression, such as paying two executives €164 million in a retirement package, insider trading and losing investors money through one of its Ireland-based hedge funds and involvement in the ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff to the tune of $3.1 Billion. They have been either acquitted or charges been dropped and business is as usual.

Hamilton now stands as the face of all this, though not the head of it. I love Hamilton. He has raised emotions in me that I thought no sport could again. His courage is inspiring. During a 2012 race I stood holding a chair cushion in a chokehold as Hamilton came out of what would be his final turn in the race. At the time, he was leading the Championship point’s table. The chokehold became a deadly vice, as Hamilton was about to exit the turn with Pastor Maldonado in close pursuit. I threw the limp cushion at the television as Maldonado, the brash young Venezuelan, bunted Hamilton into the wall. Hamilton stepped from his wrecked car having lost the race and his lead in the world championship title. The image was not one of defeat, but one of triumph, that of a real gladiator. I took inspiration from it. It reminded me of Amílcar Cabral’s exhortation to ‘claim no easy victories’.

Not surprisingly, media commentators reasoned that Hamilton was leading the world championship race and by allowing Maldonado through he would have avoided the wreck and scored enough points to maintain his championship lead. His tires were worn and damaged, and he could no longer accelerate at his usual speeds. He could not hold off Maldonado. Maldonado was faster at that point. Besides, Maldonado was a lap down. Why risk a tangle, the whole race, when a simple maneuver would have allowed Maldonado through? The status quo would have been maintained. They asked nothing of Maldonado.

Immediately something felt wrong about that position. It did not fit the figure of Hamilton the gladiator and world champion who puts everything on the line, takes it furthest and then some. It is an attitude lauded among the chosen captains of industry, while the rest of us, and now Hamilton, are asked to slow or move out of the way, to let someone through.

Hamilton had forced Maldonado wide going into the right-hand part of the turn. Both had a decision to make: slow or go. Both went. But the law of the sport only permits one to go in those circumstances. And it gives the benefit to the one in front: Hamilton. Why these experienced commentators failed to appreciate the law was proof of their inability to appreciate what has to happen to reach the pinnacle of success, particularly if one is of African descent.

Understandably, commentators say nothing about decadence of motor sport, and F1 racing as the most decadent of all. Several times during the Abu Dhabi race, cameras would pan to the obligatory shiny yachts bobbing in the Yas Marina as in most other race locations. It has made Europe’s economic high-wire act seem a lie. The machines, the drivers, the rubber, the fuel, all cost millions. Each team goes through more tires in a weekend than the average person in a lifetime. Add to that the cost to transport these teams to nearly two dozen countries each season. Then add the lives that make it possible, from those lands devastated by rubber plantations and oil spills, suffering in the dark, thinking of a car as a step up.

Hamilton emerged as a star in a sport reserved for white men. He eclipsed all in daring and talent. We can see that this is no ordinary man of any kind. At the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, former F1 driver and BBC commentator David Coulthard described Hamilton’s overtake of teammate Rosberg by saying, ‘That was bravery in the extreme,’ and, ‘That is an overtake other drivers will remember.’

Hamilton’s success may be reconciled as an example for ordinary people of courage and achievement. But nothing in the F1 party weekend can be reconciled; nothing in that experience can be reconciled with the lives of ordinary people. His talents and courage cannot mask the socioeconomic and political meaning of a spectacle like the F1 race, and more than likely cannot save F1. In the Abu Dhabi race Hamilton only needed to finish second to win the championship. Second would not be enough for a champion. Even when his closest rival ran into electrical problems, and Hamilton only had to finish and the crown would be his, he instead fought and won. Such a shame that he is champion of something that has probably run its course.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Racism is Corruption

Transparency International defines corruption, as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Then it lists the least and most corrupt nations. Not surprisingly, the ‘wealthiest’ are the least corrupt. Not only is this definition at the core of all oppression, but also at the core of White supremacy, aka racism, and all other kinds of discrimination like gender, age and ethnicity. It is at the core of slavery, colonialism, neo colonialism and whatever you choose to call the current system.

Figure 1 Reposted in an Article by Michael B. Kelly, Business Insider,

So something is seriously wrong when the wealthiest most developed nations, built on the backs of oppressed, become models of ethics.

Corruption kills

Racism is a ‘private gain’ reserved for one race at the expense of another. Police power is ‘entrusted power’ that protects any challenge to the corruption. The killing of the poor, and this too often means 'Black', is a gain to whom; which private interest? We need only look at the whole of the history since Columbus to see which private gain. The Columbus expedition as well as the Dutch West India Company and the British West India Company were private corporations, with entrusted power, protected by the state.
Figure 2 Reprinted from an Article by Michael B. Kelly in Business 
Insider, The 17 Most Corrupt Countries, 12/3/14

So how is it that Europe, its allies and satellites, sit at the top of the ladder as the least corrupt?

These same nations sit atop the ladder as the greenest countries according to The Climate Reality Project. The beneficiaries of this continuous exploitation and extraction of human and other resources smile contentedly as the cleanest, greenest and furthest away from the ravages they have wrought elsewhere.

The corruption reality and the green reality is just an extension of the same thing. It must be real nice to be on top.

The Climate Reality Project
This is not to ignore what is going on in the ‘least green’ and ‘most corrupt’ nations. Look at 17 most corrupt and then think about recent US and Allied military intervention.  Oh what would it be like to be on top or be the beneficiaries and not the victims of ‘development’? Our reality says, not much different and, that Mike Brown and Eric Garner are the latest in 400 years of history and even before. 

Corruption is the seemingly unstoppable virus and its everywhere even among well-meaning social commentators who with a smirk claim the best for themselves. Racism is corruption by another name: but its not factored into the index by Transparency International.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Environmental Activism is not About Carbon Emissions: A Call for A Sustainable Caribbean Plan.

by Clairmont Chung
Part I
Saving our environment is much more than carbon emissions and global warming. That is part of it. But environment is foremost about the quality of our lives. Developed nations convene global summits to discuss acceptable levels of carbon emissions and then promptly ignore any recommendations. Similarly, they either ignore even UN sponsored conferences on racism or attend and then walk out i. The result is the same because the attitude is the same. The attitude is the same because the subject matter is related and born of the same history. The quality of our lives gives way to profit. The result is a continuing attack on our environment. Environmental degradation and oppression is immediate family.

The level of particulates in the atmosphere matters little to the average citizen. For the majority of the world, environment is about the bars on our windows and alarms on our homes. Its about failing schools and healthcare. It's about expanding prisons. Its about water, Its about food and fuel. It's jobs. It's about police brutality. It's about violence in general, domestic, sexual, racial and ethnic. It is suicide. It's about plastic in our drains and now our veins. It's about animals and plants. It's about immigration and deportation. It's about us, humanity. It's about the whole thing and not just global warming.

I deliberately left a few topics like crime, poverty, and  health care out of this essay. This is intended as the first in a series of essays to introduce what is missing from the conferences and debates. People are missing as well as the day to day struggle of real families to survive and to connect and see the relationship of that struggle with environmental chauvinism.

It is foolish to reduce and isolate all that is wrong with our environment to increased levels of carbon emissions. It is much more complex because people are more complex. The basic science on climate change is that increased levels of carbon emissions trap heat against the entire planet. That heat is referred to as global warming and result in climate changes that include the extremes of weather and climate. Just as it is foolish to reduce environment to climate change, its is foolish to solve global warming by addressing it in one part of the world.

Nevertheless, here, I offer a few notes towards our need to develop policy in the Caribbean that would address the regional environment in a holistic way. I use Caribbean examples because I know it best and we cannot wait on developed nations. It does not preclude others from adopting similar applications. Climate change is happening everywhere.

USS Constitution,commissioned 1797, powered by renewable wind
 energy similar to ships involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and
later protected the institution of slavery.(c)rootsandculture 

Friday, February 21, 2014

One Bright Morning

by clairmont chung

William 'Bunny Rugs' Clarke, the extraordinary musician, intellectual, ambassador, Rasta MessenJah, and member of Third World ended his earthly phase on February 2, 2014. In July 2013, I saw Sly and Robbie perform at Irving Plaza in NYC. It was to be a birthday gift to self. I wondered whether they would use horns because that would be the cake and the icing. They did have a horn: a trombone. And they had Bunny Rugs.

Visions of my own transition to the ancestral realm are always accompanied by an assortment of alternatively screaming, and screeching horns. Brass; particularly trumpets, but trombones too, and saxophones of all sizes wail joyfully, happy at my departure. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Amiri Baraka on Rodney, Black Liberation and Obama.

Also titled, Amiri: Writa, Painta, Waila, Neva Bada, Booboo, Baba Baraka

by Clairmont Chung

As I contemplated Amiri Baraka's recent passing, and that of so many fighters, I questioned whether it would be as easy to redefine Amiri Baraka, tone-down his image, so as to make him more palatable, as has happened to others. Hunters and momento seekers succeeded stunningly with Mandela's hagiography: the blessed peacemaker. Something seems to happen to us when we become government. Baraka stayed away. He poses a more complex problem. He has recorded it all and made it difficult to rewrite. His work stands like thorns protecting a core.

I knocked at Amiri Baraka's front door one early Spring morning in 2009. He opened the door neatly dressed as if about to go on regular Saturday morning errands. We were both wearing Clarks, brown suede, Dessert Boots. Initially, he seemed surprised maybe expecting someone else. Sensing he was about to refuse whatever I was selling, I quickly reintroduced myself and mentioned the magic words, Walter Rodney, early in my delivery. My camera bag, tripod, and lighting equipment completed the message.

A few months earlier, we had agreed to an interview and today was the day. He seemed to relax at the mention of Walter Rodney and to vaguely recall our agreement. He did not protest. I pointed out our mutual taste in shoes. He stepped aside and waved my wife and I towards the foyer. His wife Amina poked her head around a corner, to assess the commotion and to remind Amiri the contractor would arrive at any moment to estimate the cost of house repairs. I don’t believe she remembered us.

Four years earlier, I had begun to put the pieces together for a documentary on renowned Guyanese scholar and activist, Walter Rodney. I had completed most of the needed interviews, but was missing the commentary that connected the black power movement in the Caribbean with that in the US, Africa and elsewhere as a global movement. Up until then, interviews had dealt with Walter Rodney, the personality or the ideology, in a specific place. My interview with Manning Marable had begun the wider process but that tape was stolen.

While going through the Rodney Papers, at Atlanta's Robert W. Woodruff Library, I found letters from Baraka to Rodney dated as early as 1972. Baraka had recognized Rodney's importance to Pan Africanism and wrote inviting him to Newark to address the American movement. In those days Pan Africanism was often used synonymously with socialism. From that letter we know that it was no longer just Black Nationalism, but Baraka was championing a broader socialist line in keeping with the global Black Liberation Movement:a Pan African position. He was not alone. The Black Panther Party leadership was already there.

In our interview, he identified a long standing divide that was ideological and not geographical; cultural nationalism versus scientific socialism. He and Rodney would meet the following year in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and that is where our interview began.

We took 15 minutes to set-up camera, lights and audio, while I explained the socioeconomic and political importance of the Clarks Dessert Boots. Baraka had obviously done this many times. He calmly took his seat, submitted to being miked-up, and tested the sound as instructed. He seemed only mildly interested in Clarks boots but a bit more quizzical as I tried to explain the role of the boots, using the dialectic, as a prized possession among working-class and not-working-class Caribbean youth. There is no equivalent in African American style: maybe the Adidas shell-toe or Timberland's Chukka. But nothing as long-serving and as unsuited to the Caribbean climate as the Dessert Boot. The common affront is none of these manufacturers have demonstrated any reciprocal loyalty.

Baraka is a lot of things including stylish and swaggering whether in dashiki or tweeded and bow-tied. This was no ordinary style. It was bold and confident without ostentation. This was swag of a man who had met with Malcolm X and entertained Dr. King, Jr. in his Newark home. We sat for under an hour. But I got a lifetime.

He clearly had a story and a position to articulate. In his mind, if its Rodney I wanted, that’s what he was going to give and it would not be an isolated Rodney. It would be his Rodney: a global and timeless one. He needed no prompting and did not disappoint. But he did shock. But then its Baraka. I should have known.

We first met at Columbia University. He was a visiting professor teaching what we called Afro-American Literature. This was around the same time President Obama attended. More than likely, he skipped Baraka's class. I had read Baraka's book on Jazz, Blues People:Negro Music in White America, while a teenager and could hear the music on the pages. I too marched through the aisles, behind screaming horns, and out into the streets with the band as he described. Looking back much later, I think that book is as important as C.l.R. James' Beyond A Boundary, or maybe even The Black Jacobins, and does for jazz what James did for cricket and revolution. Through the analysis of cultural expression, in this case Jazz, he was able to demonstrate the unbreakable embrace between culture and revolt; expression and struggle and how what happens in the arena reflects on socio-politics and back. To understand Jazz you needed to understand all of history.

I read him in conjunction with that flood of stellar literature, art, that came out of the movement in the US: The time of Black Power. It was our enlightenment period. We had had other periods but this rivaled, perhaps surpassed, anything of 18th century Europe. It had the benefit of the mistakes of 18th Century European thinking. So once I heard he was teaching, I knew I would be in every class. I knew instinctively that this was good for us, the world, and a bad thing for Columbia's Administration.

The divestment movement was developing and would reach a head while Baraka was still around campus. I still believe his presence contributed substantially to the escalation at Columbia. Though divestment was the issue on several campuses, it was Columbia students that moved to occupy Hamilton Hall in the Spring of 1985. That spread to other campuses, but Columbia was one of the first to put a plan in place to divest and that was from the direct action of students and some faculty. Many attended his class and more were influenced by those who attended his class.

He taught “Black Women and Their Fictions” and we spent a lot of time on Zora Neale Hurston's, Their Eyes Were Watching God”. The compilation he did with his wife, Confirmation:An Anthology Of African American Women, featured prominently. He analyzed texts according to the dialectics of class struggle. He was clearly in love with Hurston: her writing too. She was before his time, of course, an earlier Black enlightenment, and probably would have been a challenge. In class, he confessed he had tried to hook-up with Toni Morrison while both students at Howard. She had dissed him. He loved challenges and Morrison must have been.

He wouldn't have minded, with his ever-present Sisyphean analogy as a refuge. We were all rolling the mythical ball uphill. Often it came crashing down sometimes on him, but mostly on the gains made by the people for and to whom he advocated. He cautioned that you cannot go wrong if you tell Black people what you think they needed to know and do. And he expected we would start the ball against all odds.

No one person is ever responsible for any movement. It is always a series of factors and personalities.

Outside the classroom something began to stir. Protest and takeover were not knew to the college campus and certainly not to Columbia. Columbia Students had taken over and occupied Hamilton Hall in 1968 as part of the struggle for Black self determination manifested in opposition to a new sports facility in Harlem. Baraka was there then too: in Harlem and active.

In the 1980s, during Baraka's teaching stint it was the Committee for a Free South Africa with the call for divestment. As he pointed out in our interview, it was the 'same struggle' ebbing and flowing. Its like a river.

By spring 1985, students channeling those students of 1968, chained the doors and slept-in, to bring attention to the injustice of apartheid. We held teach- ins in the years leading up to occupation and crowded the university senate meetings to advocate divestment. Columbia University was reported to have some 200 million invested. 

There was no more eloquent corollary to apartheid than our own history of segregation in the US. We could see fascism. Baraka had explained it to us. We talked about US segregation:class and race. Though not a placard carrying marcher he did appear and read poetry, like only he can, and that energized us and gave a sense of our power.

Never missing an opportunity, he performed on campus at the Miller Theater, Dodge Hall. Baraka on the mic, Reggie Workman on upright base, and Max Roach on drums: yeah Max Roach. Plus, Baraka was doing some percussive stuff with his vocal chords. His voice was a drum, his words bullets, like Monk played piano. 

He was a Pan African, performance artist, and Marxist. He made clear: the connection between hip hop and bebop. This was the 80s during the early rise of hip hop. The continuation of Blues People through performance. Baraka has never been late for anything. He was always ahead, well except once.

He started our interview talking about his first meeting with Rodney at the Sixth Pan African Conference in Dar es Salaam, 1973. Then we moved to the importance of Rodney. But you can watch the film yourself.


Then came the shocker. It was not what was said, but who said it. He launched into a stinging critique of the 'Black left' and urged, demanded, their full support for President Obama. He saw Obama as an extension of that earlier struggle for civil rights. I had traveled across the Caribbean, Africa and North America in making the film. I was fully aware of the global support that Obama had generated in unlikely places. I attempted to contextualize Obama's appeal: first according to race and then class. For Africans, people of African descent, the appeal was clear. How could he not have appeal to Black people given the racial history of the US and the planet?

Even Europeans, especially abroad, welcomed the possibility, and then President Obama, and I believe for what he represented as they too needed an Obama. He represented a challenge to the class based selection that characterized most elections and left the working class hardly working.

Their Obama did not have to be of African Descent, they probably would prefer not, but nevertheless she must hold the promise that Obama appeared to hold even without saying a word. 

This I believe spread throughout the world. In fact I believe it was a movement that came here rather than spread from the US outwards. In Latin America it elected Presidents there too and, in-turn, influenced Latino voting inside the US and towards Obama. That swell joined with African Americans and progressives here to elect Obama.

It was the coalition Baraka had constructed 50 years earlier in electing Ken Gibson, Mayor of Newark, with the possible exception of young White voters. Obama brought those.

I remained deeply skeptical: actually dismissive.

But Baraka's support was shocking because it came from a now avowed leftist, Marxist Leninist, Pan Africanist. And because, I did not do my usual preparation for interviews. If I had, I would have read his lambaste of the usual right-wing press suspects, or of Tavis Smiley, Cynthia McKinney and the Black Left in his The Parade of Anti-Obama Rascals. I thought our past together would have been enough preparation. He did not hold anything back. He called them Uncle Toms. Hell, I voted for Cynthia McKinney in that election. She never attacked Obama, then. She was just fighting fascism.

But Baraka made some passionate arguments describing the auto industry and bank bailouts as forms of nationalization and believed Obama would see them as such. I looked at his eyes. Everything said he was dead serious.

For not the first time I tried to rethink my position. I tried to look for something I had heard somewhere, or missed, that even remotely indicated that President Obama would move against corporate interests and commandeer its wealth for us. Maybe his stated unwavering support for Israel would be matched by unwavering support for Palestinians, Pakistanis, Black people, and human-rights. I thought about the military and the planned expansion in Afghanistan, how there and Iraq were now destroyed, and wondered where in that was any inkling that the seizure of oilfields, or whatever, would be made directly available to us without the intervention of the military, Mobil, BP, and Shell.

I was now the Black left. Or worse, I might be in the tea party. I learned this at his house. He was actually describing me. I wondered about the icy hand of the merger between fascism and corporate power and its strangle-hold on our stomachs, warming our planet and heating- up our neighborhoods. This was not about Obama. It was about us, imprisoned, some in our own homes, with flimsy overpriced alarms and steel grilled windows afraid to travel at night in areas where police and thieves roam looking for each other, locked in a battle orchestrated by that icy hand now on our throats.

Then I did something shocking. I did not challenge him. I looked at my dessert-ed feet. I wanted to complete my interview. I was on a deadline and not about to risk any interruptions; even my own. It took too much effort to get here.

A year and a half earlier, we had met unexpectedly in a Newark restaurant. Amina was with him and my wife and one daughter with me. We were the only patrons in a spacious feng-shued and upscale restaurant. We had taken our seats only minutes before Baraka arrived. I immediately saw the opportunity. This entire film was made in divine order, or so I told myself, and approached soon after he sat down. 

I  re-introduced myself, but it was clear he had no recollection of me in his class 25 years earlier. Both he and Mrs. Baraka were polite and gracious to me, my wife and daughter. I told him about the film, he said he was interested, gave me his card, and agreed to discuss it further. It took this long to get to his front door. Nothing was going to stop me.

Looking back we looked so Obamaesque in that restaurant. Two handsome couples, and child, who can still afford a meal in a somewhat upscale restaurant. It was the same look that had now been placed on fascism. In Obama, a pretty wife and smiling cute children, would be the cover. Fascism had become face-ism.

I did not call him the day before, as is customary, it was too important an interview and the time too short to risk a reschedule. So now, I would not risk it by challenging him and demanding that he showed me how is it that the auto and bank industry bailouts were nationalizations. Or that how, the bank executives who had bankrolled Obama's campaign and had reformed as his cabinet somehow can reform themselves to care about poor people:or Black people for that matter. Were these not the same bank executives that presided over the sub prime scandal that stole poor people's money: mostly Black people. 

What about the executives who flew private jets to Washington to argue their cases. Where were we in this cabinet; anywhere. Did he not recycle Bush's key people, the same Bush who Kanye said 'don't like Black people'. What about 'stop and frisk' on federal money, mass incarcerations and mass deportations. We justified it all. We said he needed experience and continuity. I shared my disbelief to my closest friends unwilling to suffer public rebuke or worse.

I agonized later, as I listened to the interview and contemplated how it would fit in the Walter Rodney story. In the interview, he proposed that if Walter and Stokely were here they too would be smiling about Obama. I felt a little sick. Imagine.

I knew the interview was gold. But I also knew it could have been platinum had I challenged him. That is how fascism grows. He had told me this years ago.

Fascism is one of Baraka's favorite targets. It seemed no class ended without it being mentioned once. He pointed out the examples of Franco and Hitler in Europe. Some in Africa and the Caribbean with pretensions to socialism, but fascist in practice. Apartheid is fascism. Its not dead. Its alive right here, right now.

His poem “Somebody  Blew Up America”, is about fascism. My own experience with fascists is that they do not or would not listen. It is that strong man, woman, who accepts no counsel. Its the inability of individuals in power to self correct, self analyze and change with the interest of others in mind: those out of power. Its the hoarding of power. Moreover, it is the inability of others with access to the source, the core, to point out the contradictions to the contradicted. Had I become that person: silent, a kind of sycophant interested only in my project?

The US and its NATO allies invaded Libya. This struck a nerve in Baraka and he struck back, Baraka style. He wrote in 2011, The New Invasion Of Africa,
So it wd be this way
That they wd get a negro
To bomb his own home
To join with the actual colonial
Powers, Britain, France, add Poison Hillary
With Israel and Saudi to make certain
That revolution in Africa must have a stopper....

In the process he did what fascists cannot do:self-correct. On Libya, I was my usual cynical self. It was business as usual imperialism. Baraka redeemed himself and in the process saved others; me included and demonstrated what was possible. But if you know anything about Baraka, know that's what he does. 

Now Syria has joined the others in the dust and guns have swung to Iran. A pattern has appeared. In whose interest, and whose bidding, is it?

Baraka can leave the Village and head to Harlem, unify Latinos and Africans to elect Ken Gibson, leave peace and love for Black Power, leave cultural nationalism and find or add scientific socialism, take or leave Obama. Its not always smooth or complete.

Baraka can be anything and always, soon enough, in the service of the oppressed. In the interview, he told me not to hold him responsible for things he said 20 years ago. It sounded incredible. Only 20 months had passed since President Obama's election before Libya happened. People change. He saw in Libya what he hadn't seen before and was courageous enough to call it.

It must be a lasting treasure for his family to know a man so intimately and a man who was so needed by our world. He did what he did for all of us, not for the money and fame. He read and wrote courageously. We are forever grateful to his family for being so generous.

Politicians and world 'leaders' did not rush to pose for pictures with him. Some wanted him dead. He was not killable. They certainly cannot kill him now. His contribution is immortal

Luckily he lived into the technological age and we have near sufficient of him to last beyond us. That's a pleasant thought: a barrier against forgetfulness and silence.

So as we contemplate his passing, know the usual suspects will rush to eulogize him and try to euthanize whats left, what he thought, his image, and in the same way they did to Mandela. I expect Corey Booker, Obama II, the ex-Mayor of Newark, now a Senator, to be one. No reference would be made to Baraka's Somebody (any four letter word) Up America or Africa's new invasion. Many decry Apartheid as some distant past, but are blind when confronted by it in the present, in the US and Israel most notably, but its really everywhere. They sidestep it so as not to upset the benefactors. We rationalize the approach because we think they have to get into power to change it. Someone said about elections, 'the government always gets in'.

That icy grip forces the oppressed to adopt survival tactics based on race first, religion first, party first, tribe first, gender first, whatever first, while not seeing that 'firsts' sow the seeds of fascism. It works great when seeking unity to seize power, but not so good after the seizure of power. And the reason is the inability to deal with inequality, the distribution of resources to all, the economics of it necessarily begins an exclusion process that dehumanizes. We become the very thing we decried.

So eulogize if you must, but know its fascism we fight and that fascism attempted to eliminate Rodney and Biko and El Hajj and Assata, El Amin, Amiri and understand why we cannot euthanize what they say. They never shut up. His works are like thorns protecting his core. No laureate can achieve that, no Peace Prize, no Pulitzer. Thanks Amiri for humanizing us with culture. We may not be able to fill your shoes or walk in your footsteps. How about wearing the same shoe?

De attacka 
Neva guh backa 
Writa, Painta, waila 
Teacha, preacha 
'mi na
Neva fear ah breda
like you neva
dappah rappa
boppa hip hoppa
Black powa
yuh neva

For Information on the film go to  W.A.R. Stories:Walter Anthony Rodney

A transcript of the extended interview is in the edited volume, Walter Anthony Rodney: A Promise of Revolution, Monthly Review Press, New York 2012 
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