Some twenty years ago, given my experience with racism in academia, I used to ask advocates for the status quo "What do you fear?" I wouldn't receive an answer, in fact, the individual would stare at me, and, between the two of us, we understood what an audible answer would be. Today, we all hear the answer those who feel that the right to denounce what doesn't promote white privilege, the right to justify the suppression, in turn, of an anti-white power, anti-democratic presence in America, is being stripped away from them. So, yes, their lives are in danger!
But I can tell you this feeling of a life-threatening danger has been simmering for a while, and this fear of being in danger of an increasingly pervasive blackness hasn't been limited to rural America.
I used to have a friend who repeatedly informed me that she never read the work I posted in my online column at the time. It was as if she were recently freed of a huge debt: I don't read your articles! She read, instead, the work I sent to a local newspaper where I had a column. The online magazine, dedicated to the analysis of the Black experience, was more in depth, which meant it required a longer engage with the subject of slavery, exploitation, or police brutality.
This was some fourteen or fifteen years ago. Long before 45 occupies the Oval Office at the White House. The presence of Americans refusing to confront that ugly America history of conquest and enslavement, torture, suppression has been in the making since writers, justifying the young nation's forging and ultimate dependence on the Atlantic Slave Trade, crated images of uncivilized Africans. Thank God, Anglo-Americans existed to save the inferior African!
This same friend was present on an evening in which I held a film event. The event was open to the public. Sometimes I was able to reserve a backroom at one of the cafes. Once, I showed a bell hooks' documentary, Cultural Criticism and Transformation, in a university classroom. But this time, I believe it was a last minute, backroom in a church. It's the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, so a few students attended, but regular residents were present. There were plenty of whites in the audience. Like my friend. A longtime resident of city still 90 percent white. After she helped me set up the refreshments at this event, she took a seat. I too sat down in the row behind her.
That late afternoon, I was showing the deceased historian John Henrik Clarke's A Long and Mighty Walk, a documentary I had shown several times in a classroom setting without objection from students. But now it was my friend who kept turn back looking at me in the row behind her. I was ready to click the remote, but I caught her look: It was the look of someone desperate to avoid an impending disaster. Should I free her? Tell her she needn't stay.
I understood feeling uncomfortable.
I called back for someone to turn off the lights, and I clicked the remote's "on" button.
As James Baldwin once wrote, in "Take Me to the Water," to allow "a friend" to think you are "a Negro," is to "become" an accomplice. Be my friend, as long as you are not too Black!
The last time I organized a book or film event was late in 2006, I believe. A Black woman from the community assisted in organizing this event. She was an organizer and activist, particularly when it came to the education of Black children in Madison. Her daughter was a seventh or an eight-grade student. A good student. But the pipeline from school to prison wasn't a hysterical fantasy of concerned Black parents. It was real. So was the effort to discourage the joy of learning, reading about American history, the real history. The daughter's reading habits seemed to attract the ire of her teachers"
When this woman and I arrived, a group of mainly whites were already gathered around a table in the basement of this old bookstore. Maybe ten people, at best. No students. Not the usual crowd. The bookstore had a reputation for being radical. Anti-war. But word gets around, I thought. What are these people up to now? Should I save myself? But it was a fall night, I remember. Cold. I sat down. Mostly men, I noted. I was sure to be the subject!
I had highlighted some key passages, and I had planned to skip around and then stop for discussion. I noticed, however, that only one or two had the book, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, in front of them.
"National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon
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