When James Met Nikki

 

If you can keep your head while chopping off those around you

If you can destroy cultures, religions and Gods and make them worship you,

If you can enslave, colonize, rename, reconstitute and baptize

If you can kill in the name of profit, slay in the name of prophets

If you can sleep with a slave, she bares you a child in the dark, yet sell him like fish in a market

If you can sell your soul and gain the world, trade love for gold and pearls

If you can dream and make slaves achieve you dreams, with cracking whips and screams

If you can teach a man to hate himself, to love you more, rip his shell and inner core

If can make the slave hate themselves, to curse a mirror, to love you dearer

If you can make the slave think he’s free, free at last thank God Almighty,

If you can keep the system as before, with chains virtual, in the mind they hurt you all

If you can do it same as before, shoot a nigger in the streets, runaway slave on concrete

If you can exclude from education, deny health and redline wealth,

If you can be a liberal but have all the benefits of discrimination, if you can lace your golden boots up

If you can call the poor lazy when they have no boots to strap, no food to eat, no market to cap

If you can watch children die of hunger and disease, still keep bombing, blockade, sanctions increase

If it is good for a man to sell his soul and gain the world, with all its ugliness, give me all of it.

Then yours is the world my friend, what’s more, you’ll be a man my son, you’ll be a hollow dead man

My opinion of the great poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling has changed of late, it is still a great poem to give a child, it basically says “Give it all you got” but it has a deeper meaning. It was trying to explain why the white man is on top of the racial order, it was due to endeavor, resilience, bravery and high morals. As we look back at the colonial era we see the real reason the white man dominated, it was by evil, ruthlessness, lack of humanity, and lack of morals. Colonialism put the white man close to the finish line, the colonized had to start way behind the start line. We are trying to emulate the West, but their system is failing and has failed. What created peace and prosperity in the West was the uneven global market which gave them an advantage, with the rise of the third world and China in particular we have seen a decline in the West. Into this confusion have arisen many groups and movements from Brexit, to Yellow Vests, to Podemos, to Five Star. The cause of this chaos is that no leader can clearly articulate a viable future for their nations, they can only threaten that the alternative is worse.

 

In 1971 in London, two Great Poets met to discuss the future of the black struggle, their insights were so clear and prophetic. It was a great battle of minds of two generations. The context was crucial, MLK and Malcolm X had been assassinated, the movements became more militant with Black Panthers and Mau Mau. Black people became ‘conscious’ with their Afros, African names for their kids, new hip slang, slogans but nothing more. The promise of integration fell apart, and black people came to the sudden realization that they were in their own again. Young Black Feminist Nikki Giovanni met the whiskey swigging genius that was James Baldwn, their conversation is one for the ages, eternal questions that remain unanswered. What is power? What is morality? Can one be moral and powerful? They are questions not just for Black people but people in general.

 

They foresaw identity politics

“The biggest danger for your generation is to substitute one form of Romanticism for another, all these are just commercial categories.” James Badwin

When I look at sexuality today and I see the micro-categories “Cis-het, non-binary, transgender, intersex, queer, cis-queer, gay, bi” it goes on. You wonder what is driving this micro-fragmentation of identities and you see the commercial driver, algorithms now demand more precise parameters to provide more precise information to keep you buying stuff. The capitalist world turns everything into a product to be bought or sold, even Black Militant fantasies are sold back to us via Wakanda. The Black person was a commercial product for 244 years, it is hard to stop thinking of a people like that quickly. Nikki speaks of how everything becomes a fashion, becomes stylized, made into a package and resold to you.  It all comes down to power, our attitude towards it and how it interacts with us as people.

 

“Why do I have to learn so much about my oppressor when he knows nothing of me?” NG

“His game is working, he doesn’t need to know you,” JB later says “Power without morality is just sterile, look at Franco in Spain. When you got to lock up every one it just means your game ain’t working.”

Power comes from social capital and acceptance, when people don’t accept you then you have to use brute force, like white police in Black ghettoes. Why do we spend so much time studying the ways of our oppressor? Trying to reverse-engineer our corruption, or to emulate and hopefully oppress him back. Mostly we study our oppressor to try and fit it, so as not to get on his bad side. They don’t need to know our culture, but we must know theirs. They don’t know our God, but we must worship theirs. Their game is running, no need to change it. Nikki expressed the frustration of younger black militant generation.

“What has a man to gain by gaining the world but losing his soul? The world!! That’s what you can gain. Give me the world with all its ugliness and bitterness, give me all of it.” NG

“The White man gained the world but lost his ability to love.” JB

Slavery enslaves two people, the master and the servant, the master becomes dependent on the slave, he becomes a slave to fear, paranoia, he fears revenge and being killed any time. In order for the White man to gain the world, he had to lose his soul, to cease to be human, to be above human, to kill any sense of empathy to a person of a different complexion to them. If the Black man wants to assume that position of authority it would mean abandoning all sense of humanity, to adopt the pathological thinking of White people. She didn’t care, power is power, in all its ugly glory. The way the West developed is not sustainable, the industrial revolution would never have happened without millions of slaves digging minerals for free. He was warning her that the power system is corrupt and will corrupt anyone that controls it.

“In a moral situation top is bottom, you are on top of the argument by being on the bottom” NG

This is a central tenet of the non-violent struggle, brute force vs moral authority will always lose. The brutality sways public opinion towards you, by being weak you are strong, the victim has all the power in that situation. Baldwin warns to be careful of this, the Power always has media to demonize you, they use fear where persuasion fails. This has been adopted by many other groups against the system. In this modern age fake victimhood is power, even Trump supporters who are privileged think they are victims, even billionaires think they are victims. In a moral struggle it is like Jiu-jitsu, using the weight and strength of your opponent to maneuver around them, the extra power becomes a liability, you win the hearts and minds of the public. Baldwin counters that by warning against desensitization. When we look at the Black Lives Matter movement, and the mass sharing of harrowing images of Black men being killed and the net effect of that was desensitization and loss of shock. That is the emotionally numb world we live in now, it always takes more and more to shock us.

 

The most interesting part for me was the aspect of gender relations. Nikki was exasperated about the state of Black men in America, who perpetrated the same violence on their women that was they accuse the White man of. Baldwin “Once you destroy a man’s sexuality, you destroy his ability to love. He has no floor on which to dance, he has limited means to express his love.” I just don’t understand that, said Nikki, whose father was a violent alcoholic. “How does a Black father explain to his child that ‘I quit my job coz my boss called me a nigger’ the child won’t understand.” But Nikki responded in a common way “I don’t need your money, you don’t have to put a steak on the table, I can get my own damn steak. I need you, let’s do this together.” The Black family was breaking up badly, the first waves of deindustrialization, expansion of federal employment to Blacks especially black women, generous new welfare programs, were masking a deeper crisis. A crisis of confidence in Black men, so we saw more militant Black movements like the Black Panthers, who Giovanni saw as just a fashion and wanting to replace white patriarchy with Black patriarchy. “Like Fred Hampton, who can be his wife?” This was the founder of the Black Panthers, who heavily criticized Black women often espousing a more obedient ideal Black woman who didn’t exist anymore.

 

It takes a nation of millions to hold me back

The push and pull between the past and present, the generational transition and the fight to stay relevant. “Respectful of the past, but not bound by it.” Is how Nikki put it. Knowing what to keep and when to change, Africa was colonized because to failed to adapt to see what was happening until it was too late. We kept the same military tactics as we did before, charging into machine gun fire with our spears, over and over again. We did this because we were bound by the past, this was how warfare was fought and we failed to adapt. The one nation that was not colonized went and bought the same arms and cannons their enemy had, got military advisors with new tactics and defeated Italy 3 times. The inner battle between individualism and collective effort was also showing, the seeds of the destruction of the Civil Rights era “You deal with your Black, I’ll deal with mine.” Nikki said. Deal with your individual circumstances and not the collective, but that is where you lose your power. Like a herd of buffalo can fight off a pride of lions, soon each buffalo feels strong enough to fight a lion alone, they branch out alone and are eaten. Public Enemy had an album called “It takes a nations of millions to hold me back” it requires an entire system, millions of gatekeepers “Sir, you can’t go here, can’t go there, do you have a badge?” The system is not just isolated individuals but a network of millions to maintain the status quo as it is.

 

What we did with Jesus

Nikki lamented that she was attending a protest and the best blacks could offer was Gospel music, songs about Jesus. “What we Blacks did to Jesus was a beautiful thing, we took him with his blue eyes and made him ours. Ain’t no Swedes come from Palestine, so you know he was dark.” This is what I take away from this… Blacks use the tools of oppression and turn them on the oppressor. Think about it, music was supposed to indoctrinate slaves and make them work harder, they used music to set themselves free, the art of the oppressor is transformed into the art of liberation. We did the same with Jesus, re-appropriated him with new or original values of fairness, equality, Justice and freedom. We became believers but we made the White men atheist, now that this God had been taken over by the pagans they couldn’t believe no more. From now they would use science to defend racism, religion was no longer a useful tool. Today when the Patriarchy wants to convince the public they don’t summon the Bishops, they summon scientists, lawyers, researchers, the new priesthoods. Baldwin strikes at the heart of White Christian hypocrisy “God, to the white man represents purity and safety. Why has the Son of God got to be white? Aren’t we all Sons of God?” The problem with using the tools of the oppressor to free yourself is that you are never really free, and you are still trapped by the same thinking as before. The oppressor finds new methods of oppression using the illusion of freedom. Then you realize you are a mental slave, the chains are in your mind and impossible to break unless you use an entirely different mindset.

I would advise any person to watch this conversation. I cannot do it justice

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