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 
(C) roots and culture media

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Forecast on Race in America: Passing Clouds, Sunny But Not Bright.

By Clairmont Chung

The Admission
In the sad aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin incredulously admitted on CNN that she had not ‘seen race’ in the Trayvon Martin case. She went further, adding that she had never seen race in her 20 plus years as a prosecutor. I had heard similar statements before and, though always incredible, dismissed its owners as ignorant and without any power to seriously hurt anyone anyway.  But Hostin had to have hurt many people in her capacity as prosecutor and now had a certain power as legal analyst and frequent commentator on TV with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and others. This essay is not about the specifics of racial inequality and its parents: white supremacy and monopoly capitalism. I am not writing about unequal pay, access to health care, mass incarceration, homelessness, joblessness and sub prime mortgages. It is too complex a subject to cover in an essay. I make brief references and recommend a few sources for that information and they are many. Instead, I write about a peculiar group who, all things being equal would stand as true examples of achievement; the colorblind: and particularly those of African descent. Perhaps they are not as colorblind as claimed and have chosen the massas over the masses.

I tried to contemplate what it meant for a person of obvious African descent, living on earth, let alone in America, not to see race, in the Zimmerman case, any criminal case, anywhere, on this planet. American platitudes from the highest office and cabinet about ending ‘stop and frisk’ and repealing ‘stand your ground’ ring hollow. It’s time for the expansion of a national and international movement to lift the veil from the eyes of the injustice system; beginning with a review of all verdicts Ms. Hostin, and others like her, has had a hand. Because to ‘not see race’, to be ‘race neutral’, in a racist society, is to violate its victims. To not see race is to be racist.[1] There could be no serious discussion of racial inequality without seeing race.

Sunny Hostin, CNN legal Analyst
As stunning a revelation as that was, Ms. Hostin exceeded it by adding that she did not see race in the case before, not until the Anderson Cooper’s interview with juror B37[2]. Unbelievably, it was not the history of slavery and race in America, Zimmerman’s predation, the method of Trayvon’s killing, the prosecutors’ ineptitude, the exclusion of Black people from the jury, the covert references to race by the defense, or the verdict itself, that informed Ms. Hostin. Instead, it was the interview with, a hooded, hidden, White, juror B37 that opened Ms. Hostin’s eyes. It is then that I began to see Trayvon’s killing as a ritualized sacrifice: shrouded in some kind of mystical cloud, maybe destined to change the world, yet hidden from the uninitiated. I’m speaking metaphorically and metaphysically.
On one hand, it was for George Zimmerman to act-out some ancient rite to cleanse his personal torment through a terminator-like predator syndrome, coded for activation by any perceived threat to White supremacy. On the other hand, and as a consequence, even the colorblind could now see. In a role reversal of sorts, on national TV, justice wore a hood rather than a blindfold: The juror hid her identity like a Ku Klux Klan member, but in the process lifted the blindfold off a number of eyes: if not brains.

Justice with Blindfold
Historically, the blindfold was intended to cover the eyes of justice to affect a truly blind and unbiased judgment. Initially, and arguable still, people of African descent were not citizens and not included as part of the beneficiaries of this blindness. But with admission into the multiracial mix, the blindfold became a weapon against people of African descent. Justice retired the blindfold to her closet and ruled with color-consciousness, but claimed no bias. The blindfold was originally intended to hide differences in White people and to help justice reach an objective decision: to balance the scales. In benevolent patriarchy, men decided justice is female. Race based decisions like the Zimmerman verdict remind us there is no blindfold on justice for black people. Those who do not see this, the blindfold is on them..While some of us use the blindfold to hide from ourselves. Justice used our blindfold to hide from us. After Trayvon, even the blind felt compelled to speak.

The Outing
As a result, out came a number of peculiarly situated people of African descent, like Hostin, to speak on race. Many prominent figures, some barristers of eminence, and others not so eminent came from behind the blindfold or some rock. Many African descendants, who ought to know better, had fallen into uneasy silence, totally co-opted, invested.  The sacrifice of Trayvon and, more so, the sacrilege of juror B37’s interview ‘outed’ a group of people ‘passing’ not as White, but as Black.

‘Passing’ was historically used to describe very light skinned people of mixed African and European or other descent who looked, acted, and lived White, as a way of accessing white privilege, while protecting, and advancing themselves. It was like a reverse witness protection program: where you witnessed crimes but joined the gang to save yourself rather than be a victim. It’s not peculiar to any people or race. It’s a technique applied wherever advantages are gained because of membership in identifiable groups, for example, political parties, ethnic groupings, gender and sexual orientation. Generally those under despotic rule seek to join the ruler, even if in disguise, to preserve self.

Of course, the stakes are higher, dehumanizing, when the power group seems to control all the advantages and the basis for exclusion is your ‘unchangeable’ skin or sex. Bleaching is its own dehumanization. But we struggle to explain it in the context of White privilege.  White privilege is the reward in a racist construct. Often, the privileged neither knows nor admits to privilege. There was a time when successful passing could mean life over death. But as the name suggests it was intended to be temporary; like clouds. The plan would be to revert to your true self in safer times. Evidently, those times are not here yet.

Today the terror is more sinister. In a pigmentocracy the lighter you are, the better: white is still best. But it’s more about ideas or the absence of ideas and less about color. If you were passing in the traditional sense, you could not realistically claim the absence of racism. It was the reason for your passing.  But this new group, passing as black, requires the absence of race based ideas and analysis. You can be obviously Black and still pass by absorbing the cultural norms of White supremacy. That requires colorblindness: an affliction affecting people of all hues and requiring a blindfold.  Those who cannot ‘pass’ in the traditional sense instead ‘pass’ as Black.  It’s ideological.

The Passers
You pass as Black when you enjoy the benefits of the historical struggle, but ignore any attempt at its recognition: you ignore the existence of White supremacy. Others in this group recognize it exists but say, so what: fight harder. To them the idea of reparation is ludicrous. Even some, who shouted racism from platforms in the past, now appear forgetful or blind. Some are public figures and represent their government at conferences on racism then walk out on the crucial discussions on repairing racial inequality. In their personal lives, those who can afford it, they move to completely White, or passing, neighborhoods; as is their right. They live with the trappings of privilege: exclusive schools, gated communities, and summer homes. This access was fought for by people over centuries of struggle, the majority of whom remain without access. Okay, maybe summer homes are a little too much, and not the goal of struggle, but you get the idea: it flows from assimilated upward mobility. Trayvon’s dad’s mobility played an unfortunate and cruel trick.  Intended, perhaps, to serve as a reserve of peace, the gated community became a trap.

Trayvon Martin and his father, Tracy Martin
All passers need do is close their eyes to race discrimination as a way of advancing oneself and maybe maintaining a kind of sanity. There are two groups: the blind and the blindfolded. It’s a peculiar altered state. Whereas they act like a White person, seek out and pursue all the privileges enjoyed by white people. They are able to secure the benefits fought for by those who, could not or, chose not to pass. Affirmative action access to schools and many token positions in the social and economic structure are filled by these people. Others may even claim racism as a way of advancing but soon forget. Some in this group, that see race, feel their hands tied and their mouths taped; the blindfolded. They occupy the same positions as those who see no race: the blind. So, something tragically dramatic has to happen before they say or see anything. Trayvon happened.

Racism is a reward system. 
If you play your cards correctly you can make it all the way to the top: even to president.In the past, we may have referred to this group as Uncle Toms or House Negroes but these terms have been misused. Malcolm X was attempting to make a particular point in a particular context, when he berated house Negroes as an ideological concept. It’s the same people I attempt to address now. Much of what Malcolm X said has been converted to serve the ends of these same opportunists. For example ‘by any means necessary’ is used to justify the accumulation of wealth, gettin’ mine, even by trampling on the rights and lives of others. 

But contrary to popular belief some of our most revolutionary and radical activists and thinkers were actual, if not ideological, House Negroes. Revolutions in Haiti and Berbice, and rebellions elsewhere, would not have been as successful without House Negroes. They lived near, and had access, to the Great House. They had intelligence on the comings and goings of massa, the location of weapons and the numbers of the enemy. They had access and opportunity to poison opponents and animals and otherwise sabotage the plantation production system. L'Ouverture and Cuffy were House Negroes. Servility was also attached to the House
Frederick Douglass
Negro along with a friendly disposition. Nat Turner led perhaps the most brutal revolt in US history, yet it was remarked how subservient and amiable a slave he had been. Another house slave, Frederick Douglass, would learn to read because he had access to the big house as a non-threatening boy. He would escape and put that coveted skill to maximum use. It’s not where you spend your days but the dreams you inhabit at night.

Toms and Negroes
The terms House Negro and Uncle Tom is often conflated. But not by Philosopher Dick Gregory who has credited Uncle Toms, made famous in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s[3] novel, with shape-shifting.  Shape-shifting is the ability to change shape and morph into different life forms: a skill found often in African mythology.  A hero may become a lion or an ox depending on the obstacle ahead. In the Epic of like Sonjara (Sundiata) the protagonist shifted shape. Today these ideas are associated with Voodoo and Obeah.  Stowe’s hero, Uncle Tom, remained a loyal Christian but incited escape. Escape often required a shift in shape. Nat Turner had certainly shifted his shape as a result of instructions he claimed he received in a dream. Harriet Tubman avoided detection sometimes dressed as a man. Frederick Douglas used fake identification as a prop in his own daring escape disguised as a sailor[4]. Much like the Uncle Toms of old, today, African descendants indentured to corporations are often engaged in a kind of shape shifting as a survival mechanism. They must present a face on the job and another at home.
In the supposedly post-racial era, African descendants have been incorporated within, if not assimilated into, the whole: black and white. But that too is not an exact science. That many of the passing members are, historically and currently, light skinned is more than likely due to the long history of the original ‘passers’ and the effect of White male aggression, rape, on women of African descent.  Douglass’ father was listed as an unknown White man. This has been further reinforced by the reward system set up by White supremacy where Black people consciously choose lighter partners to affect better opportunities. Its current evolution seems to be the skin bleaching phenomenon. Bleaching like passing is temporary, though you may kill yourself before times get safer.

But this is not light skinned privilege, by itself. Passers can come in any description.  Malcolm X, Detroit Red, did not make a distinction in describing House Negroes. On one hand we have prosecutors and judges of dark complexion sending us to jail and presiding over the disappearance of constitutional rights. On the other hand, many of the most fearless fighters for the rights of people of African descent were light skinned and some could even have passed for white. In fact, some were white.

Passing is not something that afflicts only people of African descent. Everyone is affected. At one time, some Jews had had to change their names and list themselves as Christian to find work. Recently, Asian media personality, Julie Chen admitted to plastic surgery to Europeanize her eyes on the advice of her boss and noted the increase in opportunities as a result. Even some White people seek to lighten their hair and eyes for the same reason.  Volumes have been written about the Whiting of Europeans; the Irish and Italians in particular.  This is not some pathology peculiar to African descendants. But Black people have borne the brunt of its negative effects and precisely because of their color and false notions of beauty, but only as a toll to secure power and control for a White minority capitalist group: the one percent.

However, this multiplex passing group is a one percent of sorts, the chosen few, enjoying these benefits and while eating at the table of white privilege, offer a few contemptuous comments to the wretched about the hang of their pants, the correct position for caps, the coarseness of speech, the importance of an education, personal responsibility,  littering, laziness and fatherlessness.  Beyond that, they see nothing and say little else. They don’t see the skin or anything deeper, below the skin. The education they speak of is not about independent thinking, but about appearance and presentation. They don’t see themselves. Instead, they look at mode of dress and appearance, the surface, things that cover skin.

Uncle Tom  assaulted by plantation owner Simon Legree
printed Circa 1883
As happened to Hostin, Trayvon forced Eric Holder, our nation’s highest justice official, to speak on race in a way he had never done. He offered his own experiences at being racially profiled even once while a federal prosecutor. We heard he had cautioned his own son on racial profiling as his dad had cautioned him. He since offered to end prosecution of low level criminal defendants for drugs and suggested we needed to take a look at the five- decade old war on drugs with an eye to reform. This was something new: maybe, its shape shifting.  Shape shifting like tom ism is also ideological. Tom in the Beecher Stowe narrative has come to personify the hat in hand servile slave. But remember Tom was beaten for refusing to whip another captive and later killed for refusing to reveal any information on the whereabouts of the recently escaped Cassy and her daughter Emmeline.

It’s hard to fathom which is worse: Attorney General Holder who knew and saw race, but said and did nothing, or former federal prosecutor Hostin, who never saw race and said and did nothing: but for Trayvon.  Even, President Obama suddenly found the voice to intone that Trayvon could have been his son. These outings and confessions ought to have caused a major shift. Don’t be too optimistic.

The Changes
Stop and Frisk [5]is now under scrutiny: even though President Obama is about to appoint its most recent public defender,  NYC Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, as head of Homeland Security. In Floyd V. The City of New York[6], Federal District Court Judge, Shira Scheindlin, in a brilliant opinion, ruled ‘stop and frisk’ unconstitutional. New York City, the recent model child of ‘stop and frisk’ has a council that is seemingly on the right path to end the practice.

But let’s not be carried away by these pronouncements and rulings. Understandably, some and particularly the passers have rushed to highlight these developments as progress. Avoiding the Voting Rights Act or the health care discussion for the moment, am I to rejoice about the return of something you took from me? Is this progress, the change? We will rejoice at the return of both: The things you took from us and the things we lost because of the things you took from us. Know the difference.

This is very little, very late, but an indication of what continued pressure can do. Perhaps, that is what President Obama meant when he said, “make me”. I resented it then and do now.  Is Trayvon’s death the requirement? My response then, as now, was ‘who do you think made you’?

Even as we rush to celebrate some victories, we are being defeated. Michael Jackson, that extraordinary artist and microcosmic conundrum of race and class with bleaching and all, reentered the news recently when his concert promoter, AEG, was found not liable for his death. Imagine his doctor, Murray, who worked for AEG was convicted in criminal court and at the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, while Dr. Murray’s employer, AEG, was found not liable.  Michael Dunn, a white gun collector fired at least eight shots into a car full of teenagers, killing 17-year-old African American Jordan Davis. Dunn is awaiting trial and claiming ‘stand your ground’. Miriam Carey, an unarmed single mother, was gunned down by security personnel in Washington D.C. while fleeing police pursuit and allegedly using her vehicle as a weapon. I promised not to talk about mass incarceration. But using the car as a weapon and eluding were laws and ideas created to target the inner-city: Blacks and Latinos. The only video circulating so far, show the police vehicles surround Ms. Carey but carelessly leave sufficient space for her to reverse and drive away. The chase should have ended right there with all parties safe.  Then there is the motorbike ‘gang’ in New York. Did the driver of the SUV not use his car as a weapon, seriously hurt somebody, and left the scene of an accident while eluding a group that included police officers. Instead, the voices are about the attack of the bikers on the ‘passing’ driver.

As I write the US Supreme Court deliberates over a White student’s claim of discrimination as a result of being rejected from the University of Michigan and because of spaces reserved for minority candidates. The tenor of the times says she will win. It says enough that the highest court is considering these issues 50 years after the march on Washington. Though Trayvon forced some important people to belatedly lend their voices to the obvious, its business as usual.

This race based access to education needs more attention, because it is the same passers who attended these same universities because of race but now are against the idea. Imagine, this court challenge amounts to people requesting a judge to force public universities to wear blindfolds.  After years of racial oppression and inequality everything is now equal. We now must all agree to be colorblind. One would think you balance scales by adding or subtracting from the left or right. The University of Texas is also in court over the issue of ending race based enrollment at public universities. Given recent decisions on Voting Rights and others, I fully expect a minimum of five Supreme Court judges to find race-based policies unconstitutional. One of those Judges will definitely be named Thomas.

But it was not just Trayvon that brought the positive results and outings. It was the voices of people like Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It was the voices of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, Harry Belafonte and Boyce Watkins. More importantly it was those unknown voices that took to the streets for Ramarley Graham, chased and gunned down in his own home by NYPD, and Kimani Gray in Brooklyn, and many more across the United States and abroad.

There is so much work to do and its global. Trayvon’s killing and Zimmerman’s trial had global repercussions. We cannot forget the 43 miners at Marikana, South Africa, the 3 protesters at Linden, Guyana, and 70 plus at Tivoli Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica. When we calculate per ca pita the 70 plus lost in Tivoli Gardens is more than the 3000 lost on 9/11. [7] Instead of fear seizing the masses it seems to have seized the state.

On July 28, 2013, I was sitting in the Atlanta Airport, on a return trip from Jamaica, outlining a letter to Ms. Hostin, when Don Lemon popped onto the screen with his ‘tripe’ as my mother would sometimes refer to foolishness[8]. As I went through security, I was singled out; randomly they said, to test for recent contact with explosives. Angered by Lemon and now this intrusion, I realized that in ten days, I had been tested for bomb material five times. This is not a confession intended to reveal my empathy and enlist yours. This is how we are living.

Writer in Jamaica
The first was on Thursday, July 18, 2013, I was stopped at Port Authority, in New York. The officers told me I was randomly selected. They did not say whether I could leave or refuse.  There were about five officers some in the dark blue of NYPD and at least two in the lighter blue shirts of the TSA: the ones seen at airports. I guess transportation includes trains, NYC subways too. They swabbed my hands, ran the swabs through a sensor and sent me on my way: clean. The next morning I went through security at the Newark Liberty Airport on my way to Jamaica and was again randomly selected, swabbed, and sent on my way.

In Jamaica, I grounded with my brothers and sisters, ate, drank and grounded some more and soon forgot all the anxiety. Until, ready to leave from Montego Bay, I was randomly selected and tested, not once, but twice before boarding. After passing security, I was randomly selected for exposure to explosives, hands swabbed: you know the drill. I waited quietly for an hour to board, showed my boarding pass at the gate, and was again randomly selected for recent exposure to explosives. I told the security person that I was already swabbed by security to enter the area. She indicated that that was for the airport, her swab was for the plane. This is what is happening now.

Many young black men and women have been murdered by the state or those acting in place of the state. In fact, many young Black men have been killed by young black men as TV personality Don Lemon, another passer, reminded us. The Las Vegas Guardian reported Five hundred and twelve murders in Chicago for 2012[9]: President Obama’s political home state. Seventy Five percent of those victims and perpetrators were of African descent.  In these daunting statistics, somehow Trayvon’s killing stands out. It is an epic tragedy and the trial a farce like so many.

Much like Africans involved in the trade of other humans, blame must be placed where it belongs. It is a system organized and maintained by Babylon without any care of any humanity, only for the strength of its dollar.

Don Lemon, Host CNN
The Don Lemons’ and Sunny Hostins’ are chosen indeed. It is not entirely their doing. They have little power and are selected precisely because of this propensity to ignore race.  The skilled job interviewer can identify this person without a word exchanged. Anderson Cooper, for example, can select from any number of deep thinking legal practitioners but instead selects Sunny Hostin. Dr. Drew also demonstrates his contempt by selecting Shahrazad Ali as a panelist to help analyze race and the Trayvon Martin case: completing the minstrelsy. Ms. Ali’s claim to fame is a book on Black women that challenges Willie Lynch[10] for foolishness. So, an occasion for serious discussion becomes a show replete with colorful performers engaged to entertain.

Don lemon can host at CNN and emit some of the worst stereotyping and nonsensical reasoning that I have ever heard unless it was Bill Cosby or another of those passers. Then he cites President Obama for support. If he is any indication of what his kind of education can do, I caution against it. He prefaced his diatribe by warning us that Bill O’Reilly and he had agreed on these points and O’Reilly had not gone far enough. Mr. Lemon and others like him evidently hadn't noticed the killings in Black communities prior to Trayvon Martin. Or maybe Trayvon gave him license to speak: whereas before, he only mouthed the thoughts of others who seek to show why the young black male gangster model, a micro set, is a paradigm for all black males and black people. No social scientist has been known to show the relationship between sagging pants and low expectations, low achievement and prison. But Don Lemon and his mentor Bill O’Reilly have so concluded.  That he remains on air is incredible until you realize that that is precisely why he is on air. He was properly vetted. Human resources did a splendid job in finding Lemon. They know exactly what they are getting.
The establishment loves this group because they make the point, of white supremacy, better than even White men. Once passers remain as window dressing and powerless in the decision making process, the point can be made about how well adjusted the rest of us can become. It’s our potential to pass.

The random testing, just days after the Trayvon verdict, seemed not so random and I began to wonder the reason for this attention. How does one get tested for exposure to bomb making materials 5 times in 10 days? Perhaps, it was my longer beard grown to escape the tyranny of the daily razor. I did notice that more Black men had taken to growing longer beards. Perhaps it was some silent solidarity with the would-be terrorist. I am just lazy. Imagine that under the national leadership of an African descendant and an attorney general of African descent I can still be randomly selected 5 times in 10 days for bomb activity and so soon after their promised review of stop and frisk. Not even gun or drug possession but bomb. Jamaica was only interested in testing me as I left. Presumably they didn't care about Jamaican casualties, but were protecting the US: my destination.

It is October and when we celebrate Columbus Day. In true Columbian fashion, the US sets its sails abroad to recover the wealth and obedience of others by arms. My nationalists’ family rejoice in the knowledge that Columbus’ navigator was of African descent. Similarly, some revel in the fact that the current expedition’s navigator is African, or of African descent.  Like Columbus, America targets the world, but the Caribbean is special. Assata Shakur in Cuba has been placed at the head of the most wanted list of terrorists by the US Department of Justice. She is the new Osama Bin Laden with a bounty of 2 million.  She can be murdered by the state at any time or anyone acting on its behalf. Would that be black on black crime or is Columbus’ legacy living?

I hope that my analysis is wrong, because seeing race and not saying anything must be torture. If I sound like I am at the gate of color deciding who is and who is not, it is only because of the complexity of the subject and that it defies the confines of an essay. I hope that those passing are really Uncle Toms and House Negroes that can shift shape and swiftly reform as revolutionary change mongers rather than passing like ominous clouds on the racial landscape, announcing a rain that can wash color away.

Let’s be clear. Not seeing racial imbalance is, in fact, racial imbalance. Not seeing white supremacy is White supremacy. Its goal is to hide. It has always been that way, at its worse.  Sunny Hostin’s view of race was clouded like our view of juror 37. Hostin later relented and called her own view, ’naive’. Naive is a soft word. Blind is more accurate. The education Sunny received did not prepare her to analyze White Supremacy and monopoly capitalism.  It is the education that blinded her. I hope that our passers are like clouds temporarily blocking brighter skies or shape-shifters priming for imminent rebellion and we would not have to mutter as did Zimmerman, “these assholes always get away,”

The End

[1] For a working definition of racism see Huffington Post, October 12, 2013, an interview conducted by Kathleen Wells, J.D., Prof. Robert Jensen Discusses Racism, White Supremacy and White Privilege, Part 1.
[2] Anderson Cooper Interviews Juror 37`
[3] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, John P. Jewett & Co, Boston 1852
[4] "Escape From Slavery, 1838," Today, 12 million undocumented residents of the US cannot get on that same train from Baltimore to Philadelphia and beyond unless with fake identification.  
[5] Stop and Frisk a policy credited to New York Police Department, in error, that permits the stop and frisk of Black and Brown people without probable cause or without any crime being committed. Ray Kelly is the current NYPD Commissioner and advocate for the practice.  
[7] Jamaica’s population is roughly 2.9 million, 3 million for the ease of calculation, and the US roughly 300 million. We would have to multiply the 70 deaths in Tivoli gardens by 100 to match the deaths on 9/11 to that in Tivoli. Instead of 3000 deaths on 9/11 it would have to increase to 300000 to match the death toll in the Tivoli Massacre.   
[8] Don Lemon exhorted young Black men to do 5 things in order to save the Black Community.
[9] Las Vegas Guardian Express, Chicago Murder Rate Climbs, Four More Killed and Ten Wounded Since Friday, by Douglas Cobb, July 14, 2013, “Between 2003 and 2011, 4,265 people were murdered in the city of Chicago. In 2012 alone, 512 people were murdered in the city.”.
[10] A largely discredited essay, supposedly written by West Indian planter, slave owner, Willie Lynch, instructing American slave-owners on the methods of breaking slaves.