Month: September 2008

What We Choose to Remember, Part Two

But we are Americans. Malcolm understood that, what that means culturally, the way in which African Americans have created, developed, forged, cultivated, scratched out – which metaphor?- an identified and indentifying culture only possible under these unique conditions of U.S. political and social history. We live with the doubleness. It marks us. It marks our modernity. Henry Louis Gates and others remind us of the creole character of our culture, often as a critique of the Afrocentric, the essentialist. But creole-ness has not weakened the magnetic pull of Africa, and American-ness continues to complicate how one lives with the pull. We live doubled.

This is an American.
This is an American.
This is an American Maroon. Maroon, from cimaron, meaning wild and unruly, runaways.
This is an American Maroon. Maroon, from cimarron, meaning wild and unruly, runaways, stray cattle.
This not the South( thank you JVDZ).this is not the South either (Thank you JVDZ).
this is not the SouthThis is not the South either.

So what did Malcolm mean?

What We Choose to Remember

Josh Howard of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks has been in the news this week for disrespecting the national anthem over summer. The clip has been bouncing around YouTube.

Howard has been roundly criticized and denounced, reminded that he owes so much to this country, a country that has allowed him to earn millions of dollars at his profession. But many African Americans agree with Howard. African American citizenship is still problematic, unsettled, in question. Howard’s comments emerge from a discourse of opposition that has been a central theme of African American resistance and counter memory. Expressions of Black anger, of Black critique of the mainstream narrative of the U. S. troubles the plantation,the quarters and the big house. Americans, black and white, don’t like to remember.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, discussing Bourdieu’s concept of the unthinkable explains, “The unthinkable is that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alternatives, that which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions were phrased”. He goes on to explain that this exactly describes the Haitian Revolution and the ongoing silences about that revolution. It is a silence that continually muffles discourses of black Resistance, erased from mainstream discourse and often relegated to legend or “mere rhetoric” in black communities.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, these men and the men and women they led saw themselves as rising to their historic roles in a revolutionary period, actors in the Caribbean phase of the French Revolution. Revolutionary France was ultimately unable to come to terms with African freedom in the Caribbean and under Napoleon attempted to reinstate slavery. The Haitian defeat of France, and England, and Spain in their attempts to fill the vacuum left by the French, shook the slave-ocracy of the young American republic. But the U.S. had its own problems, its own history of uprisings, its own grumbling slaves and natives. Theirs are the silenced narratives. They make Americans uncomfortable. They should. Josh Howard is a reminder, including his comments about the Obama campaign. How will Obama’s campaign and possible presidency be used to regulate African American dissent from the mainstream? Not everyone is drinking the kool-aid. “No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism…I’m speaking as a victim of this American system…And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American Dream; I see an Amercan nightmare.” from The Ballot or the Bullet, delivered April 3, 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The suit

Last night, 9/20/08, I performed a poem that is not a poem.  I wrote it down, typed it up, printed and read it.  It is really the script for a piece on the business suit. The performance entailed me undressing and completing the performance in my underwear and painting my forehead and chest  red, black and green.  No one knew what I was up to.  Afterwards, several people asked if I would be repeating the performance.  My initial response is no.  The piece was conceived as a one time performance that can’t be repeated.  For one thing, the surprise value is gone.  But beyond that, the piece is a kind of declaration of independence.  how many times does one need to declare independence? How many times does one need to openly reject hegemonic culture?

no shame
no shame

 That women on the floor to my left opening the water bottle is Jolia Allen.  She was one of the featured poets.  Below is DJ Watson , our final featured poet.

casting spells
casting spells

The event was an art opening curated by and featuring Mildred Rivera. Mildred, Madrid, is a Nuyorican artist who has been in Los Angeles for several years now.  This was the first time she had poetry as part of the opening.  The photographers were logocentric, forgetting to document the art, except perhaps incidentally. Then again, as the mc and opening poet, my stripping firmly focused the cameras on the poets.  I continued to mc in my shorts until the reading was concluded.

mildred and flag
mildred and flag

Mildred reading her 9/11 poem in front of an image of the U.S. flag.  The flag features a question mark and fingerprints superimposed over the stripes.  I’ve got to get a better image of it. 

Here is the poem I read.  Beginning with the tie, each article of clothing mention I remove.

The Suit

 

As you see, tonight I’m wearing the uniform.

The uniform, for all occasions

Weddings, funerals, graduations, induction ceremonies

The business suit, appropriately serious, somber, sober

 

A demilitarized officer’s dress blues

A remnant of 19th century rationalization of dress

The decorative buttons, a handkerchief

Where medals should hang

And no more epaulettes

Perfect soldiers without commissions

 

 

One night I was watching the Africa Channel

And this brother was being interviewed in his office

About the business climate in South Africa

It struck as ridiculous that this brother

Should have to dress in western suit

In order to be professional

That the premier of China wears a western suit

 

We wear our suits in the tropics and the deserts

And the air conditioned suites choking the planet

Honorary Europeans, bourgeois apes

And working class mimics

 

The tie, what is its use?

Merely a decorative noose

The shoes that do not breathe

These were a snake. Though they fascinate me

I don’t like snakes, but I wouldn’t

Wish this on them.  Is this how Eve’s children

Were meant to crush the serpent’s head?

 

This suit, is this the sign I’m civilized,

I’m modernized, this jacket, double breasted

For what? These pants? The shirt? Piece work

Stitched by Thai fingers

Sometimes I can taste the sweat

 

I don’t want to be modern anymore

It’s tiring and ridiculous

And harbors its own barbarisms

I don’t want to be an honorary Westerner

 

 

Call me romantic if you want

Call me essentialist and dismiss me

Call me post modern pre modern

In boxer shorts and spectacles

Even the post modern pre modern

Has sense of modesty and the practical

 

I will paint me in this sign

Of my black modernity (red black green)

I will wear this emblem

Of African antiquity (ankh)

 

I shall call me:

 

Tableau: the being-ness of simultaneous blacknesses

 

Now, I will read a poem