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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.