In those days, in a Southern black community, children could not talk back. It meant, writes bell hooks, that a child was "speaking as an equal to an authority figure" (Talking Back: Thinking Feminist. Thinking Black). You dared to disagree with authority figures! Dared to have an opinion! "Children were meant to be seen and not heard."
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, in Chicago, and "back talk" meant danger. I did not experience corporal punishment--but worse! Shame! How could I, a child of my parents, my grandparents, talk back? You must be crazy to talk back! Crazy to step out of line! Young ladies remain young ladies at all times--and young ladies keep company with silence.
I was well into my 20s before I learned that talking back as a black woman in a predominantly white and male society was a necessity I could no longer afford to cultivate. The image of the bourgeois young lady instilled in me by parents, grandparents at home and priest and nuns at school required my complicity with the narrative that might is right and that my place in society is in the back, the corner, the margins--anywhere but up front.
Talking back would be crucial to maintaining my sanity in Amerikkka!
I became Presente! at my own transformation. This was the case for Malcolm X, as it had been for so many of the truly free and the brave. As bell hooks writes in Killing Rage, with transformation comes a recognition that silence will no longer prevail and in its place rage will illuminate what is hidden, repressed, what is to be ignored or to be avoided at all cost. "Rage," hooks concludes, is "a necessary aspect of resistance struggle." For the rage of the black, brown, and Native American is that expression demanding "freedom and justice"--in absence of freedom and justice! Rage, as hooks writes, is an expression of passion which, in turn, "illuminates, heals, and makes redemptive struggle possible."
When constructive, rage is talking back to the system that has institutionalized oppression as a form of violence in an effort to control and subdue the black, brown, and Native American.
Let us look at white rage--for it is there! See how it is misplaced, focused, as it is and as it has always been since the period of struggle in the 1960s and early 1970s on rioters! From their living rooms, corporate media asks of Americans and the world to glare at darkened streets and the broken glass of store shops. It ask that white Americans, in particular, be witnesses to violence, compliments of corporate media's camera lens. Focus, America, your collective glare at the lit flames rising from the commercial districts. It avoids looking at Michael Brown's dead body on that street, even as it laid there for four hours. Avoid identifying with someone's son, brother, nephew.
In avoidance is white rage; imbecilic if, in its expression, it echoes the teachings of corporate media. Frighteningly ominous if silent.
The collective American glare avoids looking back at Officer Darren Wilson, gun in hand, firing. Americans heard an echo of a shot and, like Wilson, saw, in their mind's eye, what looked like a "demon." A "hulk!"
Firing and murdering, white rage avoids a recognition and an understanding of what no indictment of Wilson means to Brown's family, friends, community--to the nation.
And America's keepers of law and order ask no questions. Two seconds! Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice is taken out! Snuffed! There he lies on the concrete. No more! No questions asked! Shoot to kill black and brown children under 18 years old. Adults. Choke Eric Garner, if you please, keepers of the peace! It is all the same.
Exoneration of murder is white supremacy in action, today--not yesterday. White hoods are off!
White rage expresses no compassion but only helps white America identify with its role as guards, militiamen, suppliers of weaponry and training to kill--keepers of law and order. Keepers of peace!