Police Miltarization, Michael Brown Shooting, Egyptian Massacre Anniversary

August 14th, 2014

From Economist editorial “Cops or Soldiers? America’s Police Have Become Too Militarized”
Posted by Predictable-History at 22.3.14

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, has resulted in several days of tension between the local almost all white police force and the majority black community. Police refusal to name the shooter, and confrontational style of handling protesters with a massive show of military like force, is not helping. Apparently participating in a government program to donate surplus Iraq and Afghanistan military equipment to American police forces, has resulted in a police force that looks and acts more like an occupying army that those sworn to serve and protect. What exactly are they protecting in Ferguson, other than themselves?

‘Don’t shoot us,’ the crowd cries at police in Ferguson, Mo., Saturday after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by an officer. - David Carson/MCT www.nydailynews.com

Michael Brown, according to the interview with his family I heard on Democracy Now, was preparing to enroll in college this fall. His father said he was someone who brought people together. He used humor to diffuse situations at home. According to the police story Michael was involved in an altercation in which he allegedly attempted to take a gun from a cop. According to an eye witness Michael was running away from the police, when he was shot, turned, raised his hands to surrender, and was shot repeatedly by the officer. Another eyewitness collaborated that story according to the Democracy Now piece. NPR reports that the refusal to turn over the name of the officer is fueling the hostility and suspicion of the police in the community. The story stated that many in the community already know who the officer is and that he has a reputation for hassling young black men.

Democracy Now story about Michael Brown murder, and interviews with citizens of Ferguson.

The link between state violence and the blueprints laid out decades ago by the Trilaterals in the 1970’s for restricting Democracy has been discussed in my previous blog posting. The issue of continued violence against minorities, shooting black people with seeming impunity and locking up poor Latin people simply seeking a refuge from violence in their own countries has become more and more important. The world of Capitalism is literally exploding and as social media increasingly exposes the state, it becomes more and more obvious that radical solutions are required. Radical in the sense that the powers that be may be discomfited by the pressure from the popular masses.

Michael Brown’s father shortly after the shooting.

From Suman Varandani for International Business Times www.ibtimes.com

It is incumbent upon us as citizens, not only of the USA, but of the world, to act to bring about peace and that can only come about with justice. Justice is not going to happen as long as increasing social-economic inequity drives people to despair. The militarization of society is an attempt to tamp down the desires of people for a better life.

The piece below is from a recent Newsweek article on the source of the recent military look of the police.

“How America’s Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program”
By Taylor Wofford
Filed: 8/13/14 at 10:47 PM | Updated: 8/14/14 at 1:21 PM

Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

As many have noted, Ferguson, Missouri, currently looks like a war zone. And its police—kitted out with Marine-issue camouflage and military-grade body armor, toting short-barreled assault rifles, and rolling around in armored vehicles—are indistinguishable from soldiers.

America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.

Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.

This whole War on Terror thing, after the War on Drugs, all a result of the military industrial complex looking for more profit centers in which to justify spending our tax dollars, has simply gone too far. Ferguson perhaps will cause Americans to wake up to what has happened to our country. It has become a police state in which minorities are treated like Palestinians are in Gaza, as target practice by the authorities.

President Obama has finally been drawn into the fray to make comments about the situation, and Attorney General Holder has sent Civil Rights lawyers and is doing a side by side investigation of the shooting along with the local authorities.

This is from the transcript of Obama’s comments on Ferguson in the Washington Post.

Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority. I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.


His comments are not strong enough and he spends too much time defending the local authorities in his brief commentary. Although I am glad that the Attorney General is getting involved it has taken almost a week of protests and violent confrontations to get the governments attention. Sometimes you have to hit the jackass over the head to get a response.

Protesters in Ferguson, MO.

The poster below is based on the Wobblies old statement “Direct Action Gets the Goods” which was the preferred method of labor organizing a century ago when to be a Labor organizer meant taking your life in your hands. Direct action, done by an aroused population is a powerful means of getting a redress of grievances, especially in a liberal democratic state like the USA.


Otherwise you end up with a world looking like this:

Ferguson, Missouri right now : pics

Or even worse like the poor people in Egypt who are now mourning their own version of Tiananmen square, on the one year anniversary. August 14, 2013 saw the most ruthless slaughter of protesters in modern history.

The dead bodies of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi lie in a room in a field hospital at the Rabaa Adawiya mosque, where they were camping, in Cairo, Aug. 14, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/egypt-muslim-brotherhood-massacre-sisi.html#ixzz3ARLsNQ4A

The Human Rights Watch Report on the Massacre is Damning. This is from the Guardian.

Egypt massacre was premeditated, says Human Rights Watch
Rabaa killing of 817 people was a planned Tiananmen-Square-style attack on largely unarmed protesters, report argues

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 August 2014 04.01 EDT

Egyptian security forces intentionally killed at least 817 protesters during last August’s Rabaa massacre, in a premeditated attack equal to or worse than China’s Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has argued in a report.

The 195-page investigation based on interviews with 122 survivors and witnesses has found Egypt’s police and army “systematically and deliberately killed largely unarmed protesters on political grounds” in actions that “likely amounted to crimes against humanity”.

This edition of Democracy Now focuses on the Massacre in Egypt and has an interview with Kenneth Roth, president of Human Rights Watch.

From Ferguson to Cairo, military responses to the concerns of humanity, shows more and more clearly how the elites ruing the world only care about maintaining control and power.

Musings on Democractic Participation, Student Debt, Trilaterals, Nader, Chomsky

August 10th, 2014

At least temporarily, I have decided to stop posting to Facebook. I have time abuse issues with that site. Almost every day I have been spending an hour or more replying and posting. It can become somewhat addictive. Perhaps some of my Facebook friends will follow my return to blogging, I don’t know. This format gives me more room to express my thoughts, although of late most of the time I have simply been posting papers written for classes in school, largely due to time constraints.

With all that is going on in the world right now that has a certain urgency to it, I am beginning to get issue fatigue. There are only so many hours of CSPAN I can watch of politicians and pundits. It is where much of the daily national news is generated though and at least it provides a relatively unbiased perspective on what comes out of the horses mouth’s or should I say horses asses considering we are speaking of politicians in Washington, DC.

I should not be so hard on the politicos, after all they are educated and for the most part sincere believers in pursuing the public welfare, even if they have to spend most of their time sucking from the tit of lobbyists and other big donors. This is a major problem and campaign finance reform is required. With the emergence of all political news cable networks, internet sites and twitter, there should not be any dearth of outlets to get political messages across. What is lacking is a sense on the part of large parts of the populace that their opinion, needs and wants are taken into consideration. The political process is not woven into the fabric of daily life on a conscious level for most of us and I blame the education system for not doing a better job of weaving students lives with the political process at an early age. Starting in elementary school, children should be introduced to public affairs in local neighborhood cleanup drives and traffic safety issues and so on. They should be taken to local city council meetings and encouraged to present proposals as part of class room projects. By junior high students should be taking stands on issues and by high school participating in the junior leagues of the political parties of their choice, which should be active on high school campuses. Participation should be real and effective such as in student governments that have real power on student related issues at as early an age as is intellectually justifiable.

I am thinking that political participation should be as common as sports or video gaming. It needs to be woven into the fabric of daily life if democracy is to be real and not a charade of biennial visits to the voting booth. This is not to say everyone will become political junkies, just as not everyone is a sports fan, but there needs to be that level of participation for the public to be capable of dealing with the challenges of our times.

There has been a conscious effort to tone down democracy, especially after the 1960’s activism among the youth as the Trilateralists wrote in “The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies initially a 1975 report written by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki for the Trilateral Commission and later published as a book. The report observed the political state of the United States, Europe and Japan and says that in the United States the problems of governance “stem from an excess of democracy” and thus advocates “to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions.’” (The Crisis of Democracy, Wikipedia).

Chomsky cites this in writing about the Carter Administration and the development of the modern approach to international order in an excerpted section from Radical Priorities a collection of essays, this being from an essay about the Carter administration written in 1981, as I found by doing a web search on restricting democratic tendencies. As you can read, it is pretty sobering:

The report argues that what is needed in the industrial democracies “is a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to overcome the “excess of democracy” of the past decade. “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” This recommendation recalls the analysis of Third World problems put forth by other political thinkers of the same persuasion, for example, Ithiel Pool (then chairman of the Department of Political Science at MIT), who explained some years ago that in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic, “order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism… At least temporarily the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity.” The Trilateral recommendations for the capitalist democracies are an application at home of the theories of “order” developed for subject societies of the Third World.

(Chomsky, The Carter Administration: Myth and Priorities).

Recent attempts on the part of Republicans to restrict voting rights is a less subtle and more partisan attempt by neo-liberals and racist ideologues to keep a true populist from rising, unlike the rather tame Obama who has been well tutored in the ways of the ruling classes, and as a constitutional scholar had any impulses to radical mass empowerment channeled into something more insipid and easily controllable. The challenge is to bring real participation by a pedagogy that realizes the potential of the idealistic youth and not simply provides another form of tamping down of democratic and socialistic aspirations. Capitalist elites or state bureaucratic elites, can be conquered if Ralph Nader is correct, by the mobilization of an energized and idealistic citizenry. This must start with the youth. Nader speaks of an emerging Left Right alliance during an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

You’ve got to think of politics in America now as two stratas. On the top, dominating the left-right emerging alliance, are the corporate powers and their political allies in the Congress and elsewhere. And what we’re seeing here is a corporate strategy of long standing that fears a combination of left-right convergence on issues that would challenge corporate power. So, they really like the idea of left-right fighting each other over the social issues. They really work to divide and rule these left-right public opinion and representatives. And so far, they have been dominant, the corporatists.

But they’re beginning to lose. And we have enough historical evidence to show that the tide is running against them. For example, on the minimum wage fight, that comes in 70, 80 percent in the polls, which means a lot of conservative Wal-Mart workers think they should get a restored minimum wage, at least to what it was 46 years ago plus inflation adjustment. That would be almost $11 an hour.

(Democracy Now Monday, April 28, 2014)

This might happen, but it takes an informed and active citizenry and a youth willing to participate. The issue of student debt, linked in with the fight for raising minimum wages can be a way to do this. Student debt is just another means of depoliticizing the young by keeping them focused on jobs to pay off the debt rather than engaging in a dialogue on why students are being burdened with this debt in the first place. Focusing on the issue can be a means of bringing about a restructuring of national priorities away from corporate and elite interests and back to a Jacksonian populist government. Apathy must be replaced by activism if the nation is to be put on a course that reflects the will of the people.

Student debt activist groups are at these links:



Some Thoughts On Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

July 20th, 2014

Today I am going up to West LA to the Federal building on Wiltshire to join the protests against the war in Gaza. War is what some people in the media are calling the Israeli assault now. Justifying the action, pro-Israeli pundits always use the analogy, of an enemy launching missiles from Canada as the example. Well history aside, of several American actual invasions of Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, the analogy is misplaced. What Hamas and other groups in Gaza are doing in striking back at the Israeli settler population is more akin to what if say the Native Americans in Morango, or some of the other reservations in Southern California were lobbing rockets at Los Angeles. It shifts the perspective, from one of two nations with established borders in a conflict to a conquered people, forced onto a reservation, resisting the occupiers. More correctly the analogy would have to be taken back to the 19th century when Native Americans actually had some resources to fight back and still had strong enough identification with their former freedom to resist violently. Just as in Africa the Zulu’s resisted the encroachment of the British and Boers and other tribal groups resisted the European colonists.

The image of Native American casino owners launching missile strikes on near by Palm Springs for example may seem absurd, why would then want to destroy the source of their income after all? But it brings up the point that these people have after two centuries barely clung on to their tribal existence and it is to their benefit that they have found another way to fight, in the US court system to gain the right to operate casinos as they are belatedly recognized as having some sovereign rights. This recognition did not happen in a vacuum, as the Indian gaming rights had resistance from the local states who felt they had authority to regulate gaming within their territorial boundaries. Supreme Court decisions, notably Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373 (1976), in which the court stated “should, as an admittedly ambiguous statute, be construed in favor of the Indians and against abolishing their tax immunities by implication.” Pp. 426 U. S. 390-393. (Bryan v. Itasca County, Justia.com). What I really want to speak to, is not Native American rights, which became encoded in Federal law with the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but to the fact that the Gazan’s have no such symbiotic relationship with Israel and thus that reservation, which is all it is at best, at worst an outdoor prison camp, has no reason to accept Israeli terms if there is a chance to resist and gain sympathy for their cause in the court of world opinion.

This is an important thing to recognize beyond the humanitarian disaster that the bombings, air strikes and such represent, that legally Hamas has been driven to this position because Israel will not recognize their authority in Gaza and when the Palestinian Authority and Hamas made a deal earlier this year to form a unity government, Israel could not countenance that, waving the avowed program of Hamas that Israel did not have a right to exist on Palestinian lands. The position of Hamas is no more unjustified than any group of Native Americans claiming that white settlers did not have the right to take traditional tribal lands. That goes into another issue of Native American collective land ownership concepts versus European private land ownership rights, something which was in conflict in Europe itself and the Enclosure movement of the commons there attests to. Israel in fact does negotiate with Hamas and has in the past, what Israel does not want to accept is an independent and prosperous Palestine, hence no Palestinian Gaming Authority, although there was a time not long ago when that very possibility existed. There is the interesting case of the Oasis Casino in Jericho which was opened in 1998 as a result of the Oslo accords in Palestinian territory very close to the Israeli border. It was a major investment meant to attract Israeli gamblers, very much like Native American Casinos rely on local non Native Americans. The exact scenario played out when “[d]uring the first days of the Second Intifada, Palestinian militants reportedly used the casino to fire at IDF soldiers, who in turn blew a hole into its front. Due to security concerns, which led to the absence of Israeli visitors, the casino was closed down shortly after” (Miri, The Tale of Jericho’s Oasis Casino, Green Olive Tours Blog).

How did this impasse come about? Israel had sown the seeds of much of the recent conflict with Gaza by supporting Hamas against the Palestinian authority. Andrew Higgins writes in the Wall Street Journal, ‘”Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,’ says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades….Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas” (Higgins, WSJ online 24 Jan. 2009). Israel’s divide and conquer policies have led to an unstable Palestine and has thwarted any real efforts on the part of Palestinians to establish an independent and viable state. With hard line conservatives in power, the Israeli position seems to have become one of toughing it out and extending the status quo for as long as possible.

Israel is not the United States where European immigrants swamped the indigenous population and killed them off through disease and warfare. Israel is in a position much more like the old South African regime in which a small white minority used similar tactics, those of apartheid to do much the same as Israel is now. In fact Israel and the old South African regime were close allies and had mutual weapons programs including their nuclear weapons program. Chris McGreal reporting for the Guardian UK wrote in his 2010 article “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons”:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

(McGreal, Guardian 23 May 2010).

Having lost it’s main ally in the 1990’s when South African apartheid was dismantled, Israeli authorities under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prompted by a sense of real politic signed peace accords with and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat under the auspices of then President Clinton who was himself looking to carry on in the tradition of the Camp David Accords under former President Carter. But due to bad faith, when the agreed upon date for self rule of 2000 for Palestine did not occur as planed, and the break down of the 2000 Camp David Peace Summit, the Second Intifada, sparked by an incident when Ariel Sharon made a visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000, began the period of periodic Israeli assaults upon Palestinian territories which the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August of 2005 did nothing to mitigate, because by relinquishing direct authority, it essentially presented the Palestinian Authority with a region it could not rule as Hamas had been developed by Israel as a counter authority, thus playing into the divide and conquer scenario, but resulting in the unintended consequence of Hamas taking its part as a body for the liberation of Palestine seriously and once it was out from under the direct scrutiny of Israel, capable of acting on its own initiative. This is of course an over simplification, but the conflict is both the result of an attempt by Israel to manipulate the aspirations of the dominated Palestinians while it jockey’s for its own survival as an independent polity in a hostile region of the world.

The status quo of cruelty and increasingly harsh tactics has turned Israel from a frontier community, into an increasingly organized prison guard state, Essentially Israel has become something like a community dependent upon it’s ability to guard the prison created for the Palestinians. Like the image of the Dutch dyke builders, holding back the ocean with concrete walls, Israel is doing the same to the Arab world. At some point the unstoppable force plying against the immovable object will win out. It just depends on how long Israeli intransigence is willing to maintain its strained position in this increasingly volatile region of the world. Biblical historical roots or not, the region is predominantly Islamic and if there are to be Christian, Jewish and other minorities in the region, they must find accommodation or eventually perish. The model of South Africa is a real path for the future. If there is an Arabic equivalent to Nelson Mandela, Israel should find a way to integrate and not wall off the Palestinians who are certainly not going away any time soon.

In the meantime I will go join the protests against the Israeli incursion in Gaza for the upteenth time in the last decade.

Long Beach Walk, Protest Israel Assault on Gaza, ERT TV-Greece

July 19th, 2014

Alex’s Bar 2913 East Anaheim Street, Long Beach, CA 90804

This evening I took a stroll through my town, walking across the mid section of Long Beach down Anaheim Street mostly through Cambodia Town. I was struck by the amount of bars on the windows of shops and the empty buildings and lots in my neighborhood. This is Saturday evening and one would expect people to be geared up for celebrations. Mostly I noticed teenager and twenty something youths hanging around empty lots and bus stops, not looking festive, but more aimless, like they were just looking for something to happen. Most of the businesses were closed, except half a dozen liquor stores, a couple of churches, one with a preacher rapping in amplified Spanish and another with a pretty kick ass band playing rousing Spanish Christan Rock, otherwise only bars getting ready for the night crowds, some cops raiding a local residential hotel, and a drunk who bummed my bus change off me. I didn’t mind, I was walking anyway. There are a couple decent clubs in the area for neo-punk/goth fans. I sometimes listen as I go for my nightly strolls. But all day I have had a feeling of foreboding, something about the events around the world has me feeling that things could get crazy, even here in slumbering America.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators holding banners and chanting anti-Israeli slogans walk in Paris, Sunday, July 13, 2014

It could have been me, I have been pondering the explosive world political scene as population pressure on resources is reflected in increased conflict over territory. Ethnic minorities flame up in arms as political solutions, democratic or otherwise increasingly fail to provide satisfactory living environments across much of the planet. Neo-liberals from the affluent post colonial nations try to impose a form of exploitative capitalism upon the struggling nations of the world, encouraging governments and elites to forget social obligations and traditional non-economic relationships, by presenting economic exploitation as the only efficient and inevitable model for the future. This naturally will draw resistance from populations not totally devastated and demoralized.

Protesters run by a fire barricade near the aerial metro station of Barbes-Rochechouart, in Paris, on July 19, 2014. Photo by AFP.

It is one reason that I see the IS as becoming something of a magnet for the disaffected youth of the world who want to do something to fight back against the megamachine of capitalist and western domination. Arabic youth in Europe who feel the cold shoulder of racist, nativist reaction through out the continent are increasingly finding the path to Syria and Iraq as a feasible prospect. The French government’s ban on protests against Israel are not helping. Feeling left out, felling as if they have to conform to western values, which increasingly means chasing the chimera of jobs through education in some sort of version of survival of the fittest now being played out on the former islands of enlightenment, the universities. But in reality as more people gain these degrees they simply become devalued, a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee anything much more than a supervisory position at a Walmart or a fast food chain, the competition for real and not McJobs has just had the ante upped, masters degrees or better now for those good jobs are required. If one is fortunate enough to live in a country with jobs then the debt load for an education can be dream crushing.

New Yorkers protesting unemployment. (file photo). Tue Mar 6, 2012 6:41PM

I was wandering around the internet this morning, watched a bit of France24, turned to RT coverage of the downed plane site in the Ukraine where they were interviewing locals, watched the Obama take on that bombing on the Website of the Presidents press office, turned to Cuban, Afghan, Polish and eventually Greek TV on the internet. When I got to the Greek channel run by former employees of the now unfunded Greek Public Television, I saw the first hopeful thing I had seen in a while on the airwaves. The channel was positively chock full of creative experimental documentaries and art pieces, cutting edge bands playing interesting mixes of heavy metal and classical music, I could feel the palpable idealistic release of energy as a community of activist programers, freed from constraints to toe some government line, were pouring out their hearts in incisive and radical programing. It was Democracy Now on hyperdrive, Or maybe like what TV would be like if Anarchist college professors and students ran the station. Perhaps they do, or at least a really liberated socialist community of programmers are in charge over there. ERT is the network, EPT Live, one of the stations in the network is showing a French language, Russian subtitled antiwar documentary of some film from the twentieth century. Its about “Basil Zaharoff (born Basileios Zacharias Zacharoff, Greek: Βασίλειος Zαχαρίας Ζαχάρωφ; October 6, 1849 – November 27, 1936) was a Greek-born arms dealer, industrialist and philanthropist.
One of the richest men in the world during his lifetime, Zaharoff was variously described including “merchant of death” and “mystery man of Europe”” (Basil Zaharoff, Wikipedia)

No ordinary Orient Express passenger, Basil Zaharoff – later Sir Basil – was an arms dealer, financier and businessman

Check out the channel. It is a breathe of fresh air.

Closed Greek Public TV station ERT broadcasting under workers’ occupation via Spanish Public TV. Posted on June 11, 2013 by critical media review


Now there is footage of street protests in Greece, chanting “the people united will never be defeated” in Greek. My kind of TV, a Greek satirical song based on the tune “Jingle Bells.” how cool is that?

Teachers chant slogans during a protest at the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece,18/09/2013

Protests in Paris, that center of culture and civilization, are growing as the country fails to integrate children of immigrants. Something that has been exacerbated by the economic crisis which still has youth unemployment at 25% to 50% or more in Europe and the USA.

Recent street protests in Paris.
From a site called Paris Through German Eyes (mostly German photos of Paris in WW2).

Tomorrow, Sunday July 20, 2014 I will probably join the protests, at the Federal Building on Wiltshire in LA, against the Israeli assault on Gaza. It is not much but it is something. Just doing nothing would be criminal.

Israeli airstrikes killed five Palestinians in Gaza overnight Monday, with at least 192 killed and 1,400 injured as Israel’s assault enters its eighth day. July 2014.

David’s Sling, Anakim, Gaza & Israeli Propaganda

July 12th, 2014

Israel tests David’s Sling next generation anti-missile system.
Source: www.ainonline.com

Responding to a conversation between an Anarchist friend of mine and a relative of his who is a volunteer for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), discussing their proposed solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The solution suggested by my friend is annexation of the occupied territories and the secularization of Israel. His relative speaks of the fact that Jewish demographics in the region will soon eliminate the Arab problem due to a baby boom among the Jewish settlers. In fact this relative questions who exactly the Palestinians are.
Below are my comments.

Disappearing Palestine
Source: www.a-w-i-p.com

Realistically speaking there were political reasons why Israel could not annex the occupied territories, probably related to US policy at the time, which was more concerned with the cold war and did not want to give the Soviet Union anymore ammunition in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Middle East. They USA was embroiled in the hot war in Vietnam, and had become a net oil importer increasingly dependent on Saudi Oil. Israel was required as a potential base for launching strikes on Soviet supported Arab states, and frankly I don’t think US policy ever had the best interest of the Jewish or Arab people in the region at heart. That is why I think it is vital for the Israeli’s to develop strong local ties, like it seems to have developed with Jordan, the Saudi’s and the current Egyptian strong men.

Israeli Tanks Invading Gaza 7/18/2014.

As for the Israel giving up its Identity as a Jewish homeland, that would be totally against the very essence of Israeli exceptionalism, which is based on the Zionist interpretation of the promise to Moses and the Israelites for a homeland at the end of their punishment of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, outside of Spotsylvania (but I digress onto another exercise in futility). I am talking about another wilderness, part of the American Civil War, probably not a very good pun. Yahweh literally had a cow when he saw the people wanted to stay in land where they could raise cattle, which I think had more to do with alien dietary restrictions than any misdeeds. Basically I think Yahweh was somewhat lactose intolerant. Here I am referring to the Book of Numbers 13 and 14, where Yahweh punished the would be Israelites for not wanting to enter a land of giants, thinking that they would be better off raising cattle where they were, and then being punished to remain goat herds on the wilderness until they had all died out, perhaps another bad pun.

From an Israeli Tourism Poster.

But whatever reasons the “great one” had for killing off the older generation (wasn’t that Jackie Gleason’s reverential epitath?), most likely to wipe out the collective memories of the good old days in Egypt, what is really interesting is that the Anakim retreated to Gaza after being defeated by Joshua in southern Canaan. Here is a reference to Joshua 3:10 and the clearing of Canaan of the others and as Joshua 11:22 says he drove the giants into Gaza. These descendents of the Nephilim mingled with the Philistines and fought the good fight against David’s airborne advanced technology. Spear chucking Philistines could not compete with the laser accuracy of David’s surgical strikes and supported by the power of the US, I mean Yahweh, the poor residents of Gaza were encircled. The propaganda of the victors turned the story on its head with David as the underdog. It is not ironic that the next generation anti Hamas anti-rocket weapon is called “David’s Slingshot” reflecting underlying Jewish association of Gaza with the Nephilim who were giants driven out of the promised land. It is a coded justification for wars of extermination as Yahweh ordered for the Israelis to do. Because of the association of fear of these giants with betrayal of the Lord, showing a lack of faith, those who would compromise with the Philistines hiding the Anakims, as human shields should be exterminated also. Essentially I am saying that Israel is using this Biblical story to prop up its justification for a racialist attitude toward Gaza both from the perspective of Jewish militant pride, ie David, and the fears of giants ie Hamas and terrorists in general. Playing on the tale of David and Goliath, and the history of the settlement of Palestine is an old game in the Israeli propaganda machine.

Israel critique Hamas Call for Human Shields in Gaza.

Slingers were very effective fighters in the ancient world and armies would recruit them especially from the Balearic Islands where they were known to be experts at that type of medium range missile warfare. Often slingers would be deployed at the onset of battles to soften up the enemy at the beginning of an engagement.

Artists conception of a Balearic Slinger

The 4th, Earth Porn, and Nostalgia for a Natural World

July 4th, 2014

“This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation. The Native Americans and wild animals flee” (Modernization Theory, Wikipedia).

I was taken by a facebook site, Earth Porn, the natural world as eye candy. This I have traditionally associated with a form of nostalgia. This was exceptionally well portrayed in an old, 1973 movie, Soylent Green, where Edward G. Robinson, in his last role, living in a world of environmental collapse, over population and scarce resources, decides it is time to snuff it. He goes to local death-atorium where he is given the cool aid, and gets to listen to classical music and watch a video of how beautiful the earth once was. “The “going home” score in Roth’s death scene was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 (”Pathétique”) by Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 (”Pastoral”) by Beethoven, and the Peer Gynt Suite (”Morning Mood” and “Åse’s Death”) by Edvard Grieg” (Soylent Green, Wikipedia).

Bee Colony Collapse Cartoon

This movie had global warming, overpopulation, food shortages, and environmental destruction. People live on stoops and abandoned cars in the street of the New York of this dystopia. Infrastructure is crumbling and only the elite live in a reduced version of the former luxury that they had once known. Most people live on space rations of energy wafers. Fresh food, vegetables etc are only available to the well connected, and even their access is pitiful. Police use garbage trucks to deal with riots, scooping up people into their dumpsters in back. The crux of the movie’s plot is the discovery that the main energy food, a wafer called Soylent Green, is not made from plankton, the original food of last resort, but peoples bodies being recycled. This is the logical result of the collapse of all other food sources.

An Aquatic Air Breather

The Edward G. Robinson character is old enough to remember the days when there was nature, room to live in and dignity in life. If this is the end of the world, then places like Calcutta, and the Favellas of Brazil already are there and have been for decades. Removal of populations from rural self sufficiency into the low wage work in urban environments, performing such tasks as stripping waste electronics from the developed world, of their resalable components, sorting through more traditional trash dumps for bits of recycled materials, selling second hand clothing transported from charity drop offs at Good Will and Salvation army, where they are baled and shipped to Africa where local textile production has collapsed and people wear second had throw away clothing made in Bangladesh sweat shops. The globalization of poverty has been enhanced buy the mechanization of agriculture, and squeezing the last bit of economies of scale out of each and every process in the world economy.

Dino-Soylent it is a matter of perspective.

I have ranged quite far from my initial statement about the environment as eye candy, but because of its increased scarcity and the urbanization of the population, the natural world becomes subject of nostalgia. Even primitive people living outside the pale of civilization, as defined by being incorporated in the global capitalist economy, have disappeared from the planet and those few remaining are like the California Condor, endangered species. Organizations like Survival International are dedicated to preserving the rights of tribal people to exist outside of the western capitalist mode of production and exchange. They are exotic, rare and now instead of being threats, dangerous as portrayed in old racist moves from the 1930’s where even Tarzan is the scion of British aristocracy. This represents a certain nostalgia for a disappearing world also the emergence of a marketable commodity, the trade in untouched human communities. These world heritage cites, reservations, might be the equivalent of that preserved in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Brave New World by MAYUMI OTERO

Whether this commodification of the persistence of the pristine, is a sign of the imminent extinction of these aspects of life in the imagination of man, and thus its elimination from the world, as it is the image of the pristine and untrammeled nature that gives it value. If there is not a remaining image of that as valuable, then it has no means of being given a context in which to give it meaning. Once something is gone, it becomes mythologized, like the American West, recently critiqued in the movie A Million Ways to Die in the West, a Seth McFarlane post modern disparaging of the romantic vision of the old west while retaining the political correct vision of the Native Americans as the original hippies. This is another level of myth that is being perpetuated by McFarlane, who with good intentions is retaining a critique of history that is in the tradition of cultural studies postulated by Edward Said in his ground breaking work Orientalism, which critiques triumphalist eurocentrism. It goes further in claiming that imbedded in the tradition of western classical culture is the racism of an Aristotle and Greek definitions of the other as barbaric. This other became the slave and subhuman when Europe actually recovered from the collapse of the Roman Empire, some thousand ears later in the 16th century, when a rationale was needed to justify the imperial colonial project. Christianity as a justification, offering Christ to an unsuspecting world, as a rational for enslavement, conquest and exploitation was certainly something that a Chinese mandarin might find suspect.


I contend with some little alarm, that the environment is going the way of the passenger pigeon and in a sign of this we value it more. In capitalist language we will give this increasingly scarce resource an economic value as we turn pristine nature into the reserve of the affluent, until we have removed it to the realm of myth and nostalgia.

Nostalgia for Nature – Installation. 2012.
Plexiglas chamber with a lightbox, 3D printed black sculptures (painted Polyamid), 3 beetles, moss, soil, branch by Hugo Arcier

Shakespeare’s Pyramus and Thisbe: The “Rude Mechanicals”

June 28th, 2014

Pyramus and Thisbe, House of Loreius Tiburtinus, Pompeii.
File:Pyramus and Thisbe Pompeii.jpg wiki commons.

Flute and the Rude Mechanicals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, “Pyramus and Thisbe – one of the pair the most beautiful of youths; the other most esteemed of those girls whom the Orient held – lived in houses side by side” (Ovid, 4.55-66). Thisbe, esteemed girl, is not original to Shakespeare, although his treatment of her, and Pyramus is, as the play within a play is presented seriously by the “Hard-handed men…Which never labored with their minds” (MSD 5.1.72-73), who are “translated” as Quince says. They have become more, elevated by this performance for they “have now toiled their unbreathed memories / With this same play against your nuptial” (5.1.74-75) as Egeus states. Each of these men, is transformed, in this case “Francis Flute, a bellows mender” (MSD “The persons of the play”) has become Thisbe, by the magic of the art of the theatre, perhaps not perfectly but enough so that Theseus says “If we imagine no worse of them than they of they them- / selves, they may pass for excellent men” (MSD 5.1.211-212), and later after her soliloquy Theseus magnanimously calls it a “fine tragedy” (5.1.344), perhaps sarcastically, but still he gives the players a leave, rather than the noose. After all it was he who chose their work and he and his companions found it helped “wear away this long age of three hours” (5.1.33).

Thisbe: “Come, blade my breast imbrue.” (MND 5.1.331)
From: Women With Swords in Art By Lili Loofbourow| October 3, 2011

Flute, whose name is perhaps a pun on the sound made by bellows as they are squeezed when not mended, has become the female lead. A bellows is from Old English meaning “blast-bag, blowing-bag” according to OED etymology and it has the additional meaning to “that which blows up or fans the fire of passion, discord, etc.” and also applies to the lungs, also is a contrivance for providing air for a musical instrument (bellows, n). “We heard a hollow burst of bellowing Like Buls, or rather Lyons.” (Tempest (1623) ii. i. 316 cited in “bellowing, n”). Thus we find that Flute could be a mender of the musical instruments required in a church as this source in the OED says “1566 Churchwardens’ Accts. St. Dunstan’s, Canterb., ‘One payer of orgens lackeng iij pypes, also thear lacketh the pesys of led belongen to the belowes.’” (bellows, n). One would think that a bellows mender, which the OED cites A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the original source of the term, would be a person of some importance in the community of artisans. Not a mere bellows mender, but a craftsman whose job was to make the instruments sing and not wheeze. Whether this is a feminine process is another matter, perhaps as the blowing is masculine then the mending of the blower, would be by implication feminine, thus Shakespeare has named Flute as our Thisbe at least in this speculation for as Harold Bloom states “the ‘mechanicals’ are English rustic artisans – the sublime Bottom, Peter Quince, Flute, Snout, Snug, and Starveling – and so come out of Shakespeare’s own countryside, where he grew up” (Bloom 149).

“Woodcut illustration (leaf [c]5v, f. [xv]) of Pyramus and Thisbe, hand-colored in red, green, yellow and black, from an incunable German translation by Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris, printed by Johannes Zainer at Ulm ca. 1474″
from: Penn Provenance Project.

These were the men of the theater, as David Kathman in his article “Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Drapers: Freemen and Apprentices in the Elizabethan Theater” shows with masterful research, that there were many tradesmen in the theater, in fact “[t]he role of guilds and livery companies in the development of medieval English drama has long been recognized, as has their key role in the production of London Midsummer shows and Lord Mayor’s pageants” (Kathman 1). He goes on to describe the importance of the apprentices freed from their trades to perform as actors and their importance to the London theater (2). This is significant as the inclusion of the “rough mechanicals” would have been thus traditional for a Midsummer show and as the Dream is a Midsummer show, there would be reason to include a performance by the men of the guilds or trade. Perusing the list of actors who were tradesmen in Kathman, there are no bellows menders listed (47-49), so an easy correlation between Flute and a particular player remains elusive. But the fact that some fifty persons individual identities from the sixteenth and seventeenth century English theater have been identified, is significant in itself.

Wall scene.
“[Shakespeare] cast the diminutive Nashe – who famously could not grow a beard - as Francis Flute the bellows-mender, forced to play Thisbe through his lack of facial hair…
From The Shakespeare Code blog site.

Greenblatt says in his Will in the World, “[e]ven as he called attention to the distance between himself and the rustic performers [in the Pyramus and Thisbe sequence], then Shakespeare doubled back and signaled a current of sympathy and solidarity… borrowing from the old morality plays and folk culture…he understood… that he owed a debt. The professions he assigns the Athenian artisans were not chosen at random - Shakespeare’s London theater company depended on joiners and weavers, carpenters and tailors…” (Greenblatt, 52). This world of the make believe high society, in the Dream, mirrors that of the society to which Shakespeare aspired and perhaps at this stage of his life, in the mid 1590’s, had gained some position, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been considered to be written for a wedding of the upper classes at which Queen Elisabeth may have attended (47). Yet Shakespeare, at least in this play, does not forget the common people, and the tradesmen who are the foundation upon which the theater is built as Kathman states “London livery companies played a crucial role in the economics of the professional theater” (Kathman 2), providing talented your apprentices, such as Flute, to play Thisbe.

“Edward Kynaston, one of the last boy players (1889 engraving of a contemporary portrait)”

A will o’ the wisp such as Thisbe representing tragic love, in the hands of coarse amateurs would have been an object of mockery, and among the nobility portrayed in the play she is, but not so much, for as Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare “conferred an odd, unexpected dignity upon Bottom and his fellows, a dignity that contrasts favorably with the sardonic rudeness of the aristocratic spectators” (Greenblatt 52). The bard seems to have been allowing a certain grace to Thisbe’s plaintive cry “Lovers make moan” (MSD 5.1.321), even as he follows with an absurdity “His eyes were green as leaks” (5.1.322), but she recovers with a classical reference, “O sisters three” (5.1.223) and then allows another absurd reference to the common, “With hands pale as milk”(5.1.224). The common substances of daily life leaks, and milk, mixed with the references to the classical fates, and a call to the universal moaning of all lovers who have lost loved ones, surely would have touched upon things that were meaningful to all the audience, and elicited sympathetic attention as well as the critical, for even Theseus could not do more than complain of the author, and even then compliments in a backhanded way, “if he that writ it had played Pyramus / and hanged himself in Thisbe’s garter, it would have been a / fine tragedy” (5.1.342-344).

“Bankers of York, from the Ordinances of their Guild, 1595-96.”

Thus it is that I agree with J. P. Conlan in the argument he makes “showing that Elizabethan comedies written for the court could and did advise on policy” (Conlan 118). But short of an epic study of Shakespeare’s Ovid, the proletarian feminism implicit in Flute’s Thisbe and its revolutionary implications, something that deserves a much longer presentation, this will conclude noting that Shakespearean stage utilized and depended upon the apprentices that came from among the artisan classes and the guilds. These talented youths fed the theater with its female roles as Kathman documents so meticulously naming among many others “William Trigge, bound on 20 December 1625 for twelve years; … Trigge was one of the leading actors of female roles for the King’s Men in the late 1620’s, playing at least five female roles between 1626 and 1632” (Kathman 10). Kathman documents his legal petitions to be released from apprenticeship from William Heminges son John “pur apprendre larte que dite John hennings adonc visat … l’arte d’ une Stageplayer” (11). Perhaps Flute was one of these apprentices, learning his skill as an actor, and that Shakespeare was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream presenting his acting family in all its levels of skill to the court to appreciate the effort that went into making the rude artisans into accomplished artists and thus recommending an indulgence toward his trade. Thus making the sows ear of Flute into “one of the most esteemed girls of the orient” by the metamorphosis made possible by the theatrical artistry of himself, hanged as he was on Thisbe’s garter. Harold Bloom says “It is a curious link between The Tempest, Love’s Labor’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream that these are the three plays, out of thirty nine, where Shakespeare does not follow a primary source” (Bloom 149). The primary source in this case was the world in which he found himself, and his actors in the play within a play were his fellows, both literally and literately.

Map Created by Ralph Agas (c.1570-1605)
From shakespearesengland.co.uk

Works Cited
“bellowing, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
“bellows, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books. 1998. Print.
Conlan, J. P. “The Fey Beauty Of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Shakespearean Comedy In Its Courtly Context.” Shakespeare Studies 32.(2004): 118-172. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 June 2014.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2004. Print.
Kathman, David. “Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Drapers: Freemen and Apprentices in the Elizabethan Theater.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 55.1 (Spring, 2004). 1-49. Jstor.org. Web. 22 June 2014.
Ovid, “Pyramus and Thisbe.” Metamorphosis.4.55-66. CSULBBeachboard. Web. 14 June 2014.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition Second Edition: With an Essay on the Shakespearean stage by Andrew Gurr. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2008. 849-896. Print.

W. E. B. Du Bois Breaking the Color Line

May 25th, 2014

” The Souls of Black Folks :Revisited” by John Obafemi Jones 2013 Mix Media on Paper

I am posting portions of an essay written about W.E. B. Du Bois seminal book The Souls of Black Folk. Part ethnographic study, personal account, anti-racist polemic and advocacy of education of the former slaves and their descendents in the Jim Crow south of the turn of the Twentieth Century, the book is a convincing polemic.

Violence against Blacks led to their disenfranchisement as soon as federal troops left the former Confederacy.
Credit: Cartoon by Thomas Nast, published in Harper’s Weekly, 24 October 1874 from blackhistory.harpweek.com

The Du Bois book is of literary interest due to his style and innovative use of music and personal experience interwoven with history, political polemic, anthropological notes and advocacy for the interests of Black Americans. It also picks up essentially where Douglass leaves off historically. The subject of the collection of essays that makes up the corpus of the work deals directly with considerations of class, race and racism in the United States. As Du Bois states at the very beginning of his text, “How does it feel to be a problem? (Du Bois 1). With this the issues of race, identity, class and how to best deal with racism are treated within the seminal work on American race relations.

Southern jails made money leasing convicts for forced labor in the Jim Crow South. Circa. 1903. Credit: Everett Collection / SuperStock

Published in 1903, Mr. Du Bois, book describes the struggles of Black people struggling to achieve the same rights as the rest of Americans in the post-Civil War USA. Written at a time when Jim Crow laws had recently passed judicial scrutiny after Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision, had in 1896 held that “we cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is unreasonable, or obnoxious to the Fourteenth Amendment” (Plessy). Du Bois introduces the concept of double consciousness that is part of the life of black men “One ever feels his twoness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Du Bois 2).

W.E.B. Du Bois and other members of the NAACP in 1929. CREDIT: “20th Annual session of the N.A.A.C.P., 6-26-29, Cleveland, Ohio.” June 6, 1929. Visual Materials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The text is an introduction to the civil rights struggles of the last century by framing it in a wider context than just the experiences of Blacks in the USA. Du Bios puts it this way “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line, - the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia, and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” (9).

Art in the service of Colonialism. “East African Transport ~ Old Style” (1931) and part of “East African Transport ~ New Style” (1931) by Adrian Allinson, in Graphic Design: A New History (2007) by Stephen J. Eskilson

Du Bois, who ended his days as a citizen of Ghana when he died in 1963, lived the majority of his life when the Jim Crow laws ruled supreme. He battled his entire life for the rights of all minorities. His activities were instrumental in the beginning of the collapse of Jim Crow as seen in court cases such as Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. He was a major participant in the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement to bring an end to racism in the USA (Ward iii).

The Pan-African Congress in session, Paris, February 1919; seated in the middle front row is W. E. B. Du Bois, secretary Credit: wyatt.elasticbeanstalk.com

The connection to the beginnings of the Pan African Movement is evinced by his closing speech at the first Pan African Convention in 1900 where his speech “To the Nations of the World” Du Bois introduced his famous line “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line…” (1900). Later he was a founding member of the NAACP in 1908. His 1947 petition to the United Nations, “An Appeal to the World: A Statement of Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress” (1947), presented by the Soviet Union, was an important element in pressuring the Truman administration to “enlarge and strengthen the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department” (Horne 80).

Du Bois with Mao in 1959. This image is from the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst Du Bois collection

Ever active even in his eighties, Du Bois celebrated the founding of the Non Aligned Movement with the Bandung conference of 1955 (Mullen and Watson, xxiv). A conference he was unable to attend due to travel restrictions placed upon him by a State Department black listing charging him with “alien sedition” in 1952 (xi). Nations newly emerged from European colonial domination, had organized around “core principles of the Bandung Conference were political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality” (Bandung). Not long after, Du Bois relocated to an exile in Ghana where his good friend Kwame Nkrumah was President (Mullen and Watson, ix).

W.E.B Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana. nairaland.com

Du Bois considered the color line to be such an essential part of the problems of the Twentieth Century that he based the majority of his professional career upon it. Starting with his speech at age 22 in Paris at the Pan-African Conference, and consistently there after he fought to smash the color line. As he put it in 1906:

The Russo-Japanese War has marked an epoch. The “magic” of the word white is already broken, and the Color Line in civilization has been crossed in modern times as in the great past. The awakening of the yellow race is certain. That the awakening of the brown and black races will follow in time, no unprejudiced student of history can doubt. (qtd. in Mullen and Watson, vii).

Tying this back to the text, The Souls of Black Folk, in which Du Bois leads the charge against Booker T. Washington’s approach “Mr. Washington represents the Negro through the old attitude of adjustment and submission” (Du Bois, 30). He accuses Washington of doing nothing to fight the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South of his day and argues for a militant move to enfranchisement, gaining civil equality and education for black youths (32). He describes the history of the Freedman’s Bureau, calling it “a full-fledged government of men” (17).

Du Bois was critical of Booker T. Washington’s willingness to go along with Jim Crow disenfranchisement of Blacks to get Whites to support his program to educate Blacks in the Vocational Arts. usslave.blogspot.com

Du Bois advocated the reform of education as he says “They made their mistakes, those who planted Fisk and Howard and Atlanta before the smoke of battle had lifted; … [Du Bois, writing of post-Civil War Atlanta and the founding of Negro colleges], The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization” (52-53). This theory, in which he advocated for a Black elite “of the million black youth, some were fitted to know and some to dig; that some had the talent and capacity of university men, and some the talent and capacity of blacksmiths (52), led to a focus on the proper role for black leaders which some such as Nella Larson in books like Quicksand critiqued (Larson, 1732).

Schools set up after the War by New England Women Teachers were gradually underfunded as the North turned away from the Freed Slaves. Du Boils was an advocate of education improvements for Southern Blacks. ncpedia.org

Du Bois has autobiographical sections of his own early days teaching in a backwoods Tennessee community with intimate descriptions of the local inhabitants (Du Bois, 37-45). His own revulsion is documented of the wasted lives of black people, waxing poetic and expressing pathos:

How many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat? How hard a thing is life to the lowly, and yet how human and real! And all this life and love and strife and failure,—is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?
Thus sadly musing, I rode to Nashville in the Jim Crow car (45).

An intellectual and moving writer, Du Bois who makes in this book a declaration of his intentions as an advocate for the minority races of the world oppressed by White led imperialism, racism and colonialism. Du Bois deserves more than passing reference in some academic environment. The Souls of Black Folk is a classic read.

There was a major campaign in the 1930’s to end Lynching by Federal Decree. President Roosevelt was afraid to alienate Whites in the Democratic Jim Crow South and upset his reelection bid.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. Ed. Candace Ward. New York: Dover Pub. Inc. 1994. Print.
Horne, Gerald. Black and Red: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944-1963. New York: SUNY Press. 1986. Google Books. Web. 18 May 2014.
Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Gen. ed. Nina Baym. 7th ed. Vol. D. Ed. Mary Loefflhol. New York: Norton & Co. 2007. 1721-1802. Print (photocopy).
Mullen, Bill V. and Cathryn Watson. “Introduction: Crossing the World Color Line.” Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. W.E.B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line. Eds. Bill V. Mullen and Cathryn Watson. Oxford, MS: U. of Mississippi P. 2005. vii- xxvii. Googlebooks.org. Web. 18 May 2014.
Plessy v. Ferguson. 163 U.S. 537. Supreme Court of the United States. 1896. Ethical Issues in the Courts. Ed. Van Camp, Julie C. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.2006. Print.
United States. U. S. Department of State. Office of the Historian. “Bandung Conference (Asian- African Conference), 1955.” Milestones: 1953–1960. Washington: Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State. n.d. Web. 18 May 2014.
Ward, Candace. “Note.” The Souls of Black Folk. By W. E. B. Du Bois. 1903. Ed. Ward. New York: Dover Pub. Inc. 1994. iii. Print.
“(1900) W.E.B. Du Bois, ‘To the Nations of the World,’.” BlackPast.org. BlackPast.org. n.d. Web. 18 May. 2014.

“Injun Time” - Stereotypes Meet Reality

May 18th, 2014


Geronimo and Warriors 1886. My conception of Native Americans in my youth, Hell Geronimo is still a hero of mine.

Approaching Indian Time: A memory laden semi-review of the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian


Growing up watching Injuns, as a little kid, Noble Savages, as a preteen and Native Americans as I entered my mid-teen radical period, I encountered the gamut of stereotypes of Native Americans. I also have had some friends over the years who are Native Americans, but no real long term relationships, so even though I am familiar, I am not totally free from some stereotypical attitudes that would be disabused with an on going relationship. With that said, this is my experience over the years as described in a short paper based on personal experience as related to the Alexie story.


the new native stereotype, the “magical nature native” that replaced the more dated stereotype of the “unintelligent savage.” Photo via feministdisney

Driving across South Dakota, while returning to Los Angeles after briefly attending the protests at the Republican Convention in 2008, I tuned into the Native American Radio broadcasting from the Lakota reservation. Here was being broadcast an early season football game between the Pine Ridge Reservation high school and one of the local white high schools. This was brought to mind while reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. A book for teens, that I read for a class, American Ethnic Writers. The broadcast, the only thing on the FM dial of the airwaves in that vast expanse of seemingly empty prairie, captured my attention, having attended the 1979 Black Hills Alliance Survival Fair with a Lakota professor from Denver University and his two young female protégés from the Dine reservation in Arizona, I had a context in which this broadcast was of interest, since I don’t generally like listening to sports on the radio. As I read the book, I flashed back to the different trips. I could relate to the depreciating, death bed humor of Arnold the protagonist in Alexie’s book about life on a modern day reservation and one youth’s attempt to escape the despair of life on a reservation with no jobs and few resources.


My Understanding of Navajo’s as I went to visit the Reservation in 1973.

In my more adventurous youth I had hitchhiked to the Dine reservation in search of an authentic Navajo Blanket for my high school sweetheart’s sister’s wedding present. I had just dropped out of community college in Colorado, enamored with my Humanities teacher who had instilled in me a desire to take the grand tour in Europe, but meantime I had hitched up to Maine to see my old high school girlfriend, she told me about her sister’s wedding and I wanted to do something special, something impressively different. So in the late spring of 1973 I caught a ride with an AWOL sailor, who took me from Winter Harbor, Maine and the blueberry bog I had been fitfully roto-tilling. Once back in Connecticut, where I grew up and my mom still lived, my AWOL friend and I parted ways. I stuck my thumb out on the Merritt Parkway outside of Bridgeport and trekked to Colorado Springs where I had a bank account and a little money saved from my job at the Air Force Academy, where I had been one of three Anglos among the forty or so Chicano waiters, at the Cadet Dining Hall.


Site of my first real job.

From Colorado I hitched down the I-25 to Albuquerque to the I-40 where I was deposited in Gallup, New Mexico there I thought I would find the perfect blanket. I was my own personal version of the white man seeking his piece of Native American authenticity, satirized by Alexie, as a poor man’s “Ted” (Alexie 161-163), decked out not in Native American regalia, as Ted was a rich collector of Native American memorabilia, but my hippie American jeans, work shirt and sneakers. Like Ted I was seeking some authentic experience of the Native American world. Unlike Ted I was not coming from a position of extreme privilege. I was just a young idealistic kid following out my own fantasy of version of meeting the Indians. I had seen the movie Little Big Man. My Mom loved Indians, and I could relate, I thought.


Scene from Little Big Man, Dustin Hoffman’s Encounter with US Calvary on the big screen.

Gallup had little to offer, other than overpriced freeway side tourist attractions. I had perhaps $100.00 to spend and nothing was that cheap, nothing but machine made imitations from Belgium or Mexico. I had been reading up on rugs, playing with the idea of going off to Istanbul and becoming a rug merchant. I decided to seek the authentic Indian blanket weaver. I envisioned some old Navajo woman sitting in her Hogan surrounded by sheep busy at her loom, a semi-tragic Penelope, who would be grateful for my willingness to take the burden of dreams she was weaving for a few pennies. This was my first foray into foreign country, off America into the Rez’. But I needed a guide. I stuck my thumb out and found Charlie Deer Hunter who was driving his pickup along the main drag.


Gallup street scene.

Now at this point I need to discuss something of my hippie version of Anglo American times and destinations. Even as a hippie youth, without a job, I was driven by time tables. I had places to go, things to do. I had left Maine just as the weather had turned probably first week of June and had to be back later that month for the wedding in Connecticut. I planned to hitch hike out to Colorado, three days, spend a day there taking care of business, spend another day getting to Indian Country, spend a day locating and buying the blanket and then head to California, another day’s trip, to visit my dad, spend a couple days and then spend a five days hitching back, a total of fourteen days, with four days leeway for getting stuck in places or side trips. By the time I got to Gallup it had been a week. I had spent an extra day in Colorado due to my arriving on the weekend and having to wait a day for the bank to open. So when I went off American time, I was entering into an entirely different conceptual framework of time that of Indian time.


Anonymous saying attributed to wise old Native American

I was sanding on the main drag in Gallup and an Indian guy told me to hop in back of his pickup. Charlie had black hair showing from under a plaid hunting cap, gun rack in the back, a rather old western shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. He was going up to Shiprock, the headquarters of the Navajo Reservation, a straight three hour drive. After six stops at different bars, corner stores and long conversations with his buddies, pointing to the hippie in the back of his pickup, he, now drunk, with a couple buddies decided it was time to head to the reservation. We drove a weaving path in the gathering darkness. About an hour or so out of town on some desolate spot in State Highway 666, they decided to go rabbit hunting. There I was in the middle of nowhere alone, standing by an empty pickup truck while the three took a rifle and a couple six packs off into the desert hills. After an hour, I realized they were not coming back. I stuck my thumb out, got a lift in the middle of the night to town as the guy said. Town was a an all night store and gas station, a couple of shacks and not much else, enclosed in red sandstone buttes that occasionally could be seen by headlights of pickups. There was no liquor, it was dry. Young Indian guys drove around and around the store for hours. They saw me, but I was an anomalous character, just another stranded hippie in the middle of nowhere. I thought it was strange, nobody was curious, or would talk to me. There were no friendly or unfriendly overtures. I was reminded of that desert outpost while reading the description of Wellpinit, Washington, the reservation town Arnold describes in Absolutely True Diary….


Scene from Wellpinit, WA. Spokane Indian Reservation.

Finally, the next morning, I managed to get a lift to a trading post from an old white guy draped in Ted like splendor, who says that he had been trading with the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni for years, and told me to forget finding an ignorant Indian woman, wasn’t going to happen. Only building a relationship, he married a Dine woman, and that took time, “Indian time” as he put it. White people don’t have the patience, they want to do business. So they figure out other ways to get Indian wealth. “Why do you think there are so many bars and pawn shops in that tiny place” he said speaking of Gallup. Catching someone on a drunk was cheating, pointing at the huge turquoise and silver bracelets and rings on his deep tanned wrinkled skin, “I had to earn these.”


“Navajo jewelry - Nizhoni!! They say the older you get the bigger your jewelry gets”

He took me to a trading post where I found my rug for $60.00, not a big beautiful piece, just a small runner, but it was real, and all I could afford. The old guy had driven off and stuck my thumb out again. I was picked up by a twenty something native guy. He said he was going to Barstow, California, and I had decided to visit my dad in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Barstow was on the way. This guy, Roger, had long hair like a hippie, but it was braided and he had turquoise and silver jewelry, wore a clean white western shirt and pressed jeans, even his Tony Lamas were polished. We listened to the pop radio in his Chevi van. He seemed pretty regular, until he began to tell me his plight. He was in love with a college educated Indian woman, a knock out but he was a reservation guy, a Rowdy type, he didn’t know how to talk to her. Rowdy is a character in Alexi’s book, the best friend of Arnold, with minimal social skills. He wanted to pick her up from work and give her a ride while I talked with her. We stopped at the Reservation school where she taught, a rather newish single story concrete building where this stunning black haired beautiful woman came out. She became the model on my mind of Zitkala-Ša. Who in her story “An Indian Teacher Among Indians,” describes her experiences at the Indian school (Ša 104-105). This woman was decidedly different from the sad teacher Mr. P, in Alexie’s book (28-29). This Pocahontas, Indian princess and I were introduced and I was happy to play my part talking to her in the back of Roger’s van.

Teacher from Absolutely True Diary… by Ellen Forney

Thing were going great, back then I was a gregarious sort and her fantastic flowing black hair, inspired my interest. She spoke of the events up in Pine Ridge, where there had been an occupation by AIM the American Indian Movement. Pine Ridge which had been the scene of the deaths of two of the occupiers, including one an ex-marine Buddy Lamont, shot in the heart during a heavy firefight with US Marshals and the FBI on April 27th, They had declared the themselves to be an independent nation and the Feds had shot them (Crow Dog 142-143). I told her about my days with another AIM in Connecticut and the trials of the Black Panthers in New Haven that I had organized caravans of protesters to support the Panthers. She talked of her efforts as part of a group organizing to get Native American teachers and directors at the Reservation school. The BIA take over in Washington the previous year had been part of the process leading to the Indian Education Act of 1972 that gave funding for her now being able to become part of the policy making group for the reorganized schools. This was a part of the general Indigenous effort to increase autonomy and part of the Red Power movement.


Occupation of BIA in 1972.

Before long Roger began to get agitated. We were driving along and suddenly Roger pulls over to the side of the road, and tells me to get out. It was mid-day, I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat and it was boiling hot in the mid-day sun. He zoomed off with his educated love. She seemed a bit disturbed, but not surprised at my departure. I was stuck on the side of the road, I-17 it turned out. But it was hot and I was dehydrated. I decided to crawl under an abandoned roadside booth where I had seen Indians selling trinkets before. Making lots of noise to chaise away any rattle snakes, I then ventured to sleep the afternoon away, since the night before I had little sleep standing around in the cold at that lonely gas station. These Indian guys had a strange way of treating outsiders I thought using my Navajo blanket as a pillow while waiting for things to cool down.

Models for the “Women of the Navajo” 2013 calender pose for pictures at the 66th Annual Navajo Nation Fair. Source: Flickr / dshortey

A few years later in 1979, while involved in my Rock Against Racism organizing in Boulder, Colorado, I went to hear Wallace Black Elk talk about the Black Hills Alliance. Two Buffaloes, a Lakota, sometimes college student with a pockmarked face, and two long braids told me about it when bugging me one day to get some LSD for him to use at some kind of ceremony since he couldn’t get any peyote. Two Buffaloes had a white dad and Lakota mom, and had pretty pale skin, but he dressed in a variation of the indigenous pride outfits, those bone neck collars worn by warriors in the old days and feathers in his hair. Stuff most regular Indians didn’t wear, except for Pow Wows and tourist events.

The drum contest highlights groups of 10 to 12 members each, and they sing traditional family songs that are passed down orally from one generation to the next. National Museum of the American Indian Photo #46 by Walter Larrimore

When I was five my mom worked at a fake cowboy town in the Catskill Mountains called Cimarron City. There was a group of Native Americans, Injuns we called them, down the hill in a fake Indian village where they would perform ‘genuine Indian rituals’ and participate in the fake battles between the cowboys and Indians put on every afternoon for the tourists. I used to hang out with the Indian boy my age, we would go hide behind the archery range stealing stray arrows. One time during an evening gathering where the adults sat around drinking beer and eating corn on the cob out of a big pot, my friend’s dad challenged us to a traditional ritual, picking up a tooth pick out of a peace pipe placed on the ground with our mouths, from a standing position without touching the ground with our hands. I remember how hard it was, he did it. It was his part of the routine done for tourists, but it must have meant something in their reality as well. I fell on my face.


Dramatic portrayal of Native American man stabbing “Custer,” with dead Native Americans lying on ground, in scene by Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show performers. MEDIUM: 1 photographic print. CREATED/PUBLISHED: c1905

So I went to this meeting, Wallace Black Elk was speaking to a group of highly educated University of Colorado students and professors, he was speaker after an AIM representative who talked about the politics of indigenous land rights, the tradition of land theft from the tribes going back to the 1868 treaty with Red Cloud, how the Black Hills were sacred territory and should remain inviolate. There had been gold mining in the past, the immediate cause for the conflict that had led to Custer’s famous last stand at the battle of Greasy Grass as it is known among the Natives. Now the Bureau of Indian affairs with the Bureau of Land Management wanted to mine uranium and contaminate the region calling this area a National Sacrifice Zone as part of the cold war efforts to stockpile fissionable uranium. After a sober and politicized presentation, Wallace Black Elk, medicine man, descendent of the Black Elk who had participated as a thirteen year old in the battle Lakota’s who could trace their family relationship to Crazy Horse (Argonito 211-213), got up, we were all excited to hear his words of wisdom, Boulder was famous for its New Age spiritualism and NAROPA Institute, the Buddhist school.

Assistant U.S. attorney general Kent Frizzell, right, listens to AIM Indian as other AIM leaders sit by in tepee prior to signing of peace settlement, April 5, 1973 in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Kneeling is Wallace Black Elk and to his left are AIM leaders Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Carter Camp, in that order. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Wallace spoke of going up on a flying saucer and speaking with the spirit people and how radiation could not harm his people because it was part of nature and they were natural people protected by the Great Spirit. This struck me, as being hardly reason to rally concerned white people to the cause of Native land rights. Wallace was speaking of spirits and space people. It seemed reminiscent of the tales of the Messiah Wovoka, originator of Ghost Dances, who told his followers that they were protected from the white man’s bullets (Brown 434). In many ways Wallace Black Elk seemed to be living in that other world, of the rabbit hunters, living on a time and in a place that did not translate well to western concerns in my mind. Wallace was one of the spiritual advisers to the Pine Ridge occupation in 1973 and along with Leonard Crow Dog was responsible for bringing the Ghost Dance back to Pine Ridge according to Mary Crow Dog in her memoir of that period Lakota Woman (Crow Dog 144-145). So here was this leader spiritual leader of the Lakota, speaking what seemed to me to be crazy talk about space people. Yet this was a man commanding respect and a standing room only crowd in that early spring day. I decided to make the trek to the Black Hills and find out what these crazy Indians were all about.


Later that summer, 1979 I went with my ride the professor to the Black Hills Survival gathering. Again I was in the back of a pickup, rotating to the front of the prof’s Toyota, with the girls as we drove from our meeting place in Denver to the Black Hills. On the way to this serious political gathering they wanted to stop along the way. We went to Mount Rushmore and spent hours there. I was somewhat aghast that they would want to stop at this symbol of American Anglo dominance in their sacred territory. But the professor said the college girls had never been to the Black Hills and wanted to tourist as well as attend a political gathering. Eventually we arrived, a day late. The professor mingled with his Lakota buddies, I went to find a ‘serious’ political group of anglo-leftists and anarchists. The young women went off elsewhere… to visit other Native American students. The young women didn’t need to be educated about the realities of reservation life, they lived it. The fact that white ranchers had joined in an alliance with the Native Americans to defend their land against the needs of the military industrial complex was heartening. “BHA [Black Hills Alliance] co-founder Mark Tilsen remembers that before the group was founded, the Lakota and white ranchers had only two points of social contact: rodeo and basketball” (Grossman).

“Members of the Dakota Rural Action Black Hills Chapter and the Clean Water Alliance rallied against proposed uranium mining and milling on May 27, 2013 outside Custer City Hall, while inside Powertech (USA), Inc. used the government offices to promote the private project 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Photo: Dakota Rural Action” - Ongoing struggle.

As I read the scenes of the basketball game in Alexie’s book I thought of that drive past the Pine Ridge Reservation, years later, listening to the high drama of local football on the endless sea of the greasy grass prairie. I thought of Wallace Black Elk and realized that he was not crazy, he was not saying radiation is not dangerous, but in nature, left where it would naturally be, it is no more dangerous than any other part of the natural world. Only man’s intervention, without taking into account the long term consequences could make such a foolish choice as to want to create bombs out of the naturally occurrence of radioactive material. I thought that we too need to learn to think at least seven generations ahead when planning changes as the old Native American saying about time indicates. Indian time is not something foolish, it is seeing the big picture, the broad lay of time and space and taking into account more than just the immediate desires of a few. Indian time, at least in this highly allegorical sense is a warning to us moderns, as we face the consequences of our actions upon the Earth.

“You should pay attention. That way, you honor them.” - Wallace Black Elk

Works Cited
Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney, illustrations. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Co. 2009. Print.
Agonito, Joseph. Lakota Portraits Lives of the Legendary Plains People. Guilford, CT. Globe Pequot Press. 2011.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt and Co. 2000. Print.
Crow Dog, Mary and Erodoes, Richard. Lakota Woman. New York: Grove Press. 1990. Print.
Grossman, Zoltan. “The Black Hills Alliance.” Unlikely Alliances: Treaty conflicts and environmental cooperation between Native American and rural White communities. Madison: U. of Wisconsin. 2002. Evergreen.edu. Web. 20 April. 2004.
Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Bonnin), American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.


Phillis Wheatley and Black Struggle for Recognition under Slavery

May 12th, 2014

A slave sale advertisement from 1769

Phillis Wheatley: Navigating the Shoals of Slavery in Eighteenth Century Colonial America

Phillis Wheatley was brought to Boston, at the young age of seven or eight, on a ship of “refugee” slaves, too old or sick for the West Indian Plantations (O’ Neale, Wheatley). She was bought by the Wheatley family hence her Anglo imposed identity, replacing that of her childhood. She was a slave when she wrote “On Being Brought from Africa to America” a teenager, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age. Using the symbolism of the religion of her time, this slave, educated by her master’s family, wrote lines that reflect the double consciousness in which a slave had to live, no matter how benign the master was in her case. Wheatley writes in the poem, ‘That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:/Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.” (Wheatley, 3-4) Brought to America, not of her own will, as she says a “redemption neither sought nor knew” in benighted ignorance, she gives credit to her Christian masters for her being brought to awareness of her ignorant state in a statement that is loaded with the irony of not having sought salvation, it is brought upon her, as she is a bought thing, a chattel, and yet she seems to have a genuine feeling of being a participant in this Christian community as will be indicated. It provided Wheatley with the intellectual tools to navigate her way in the world of Colonial America and to make her own arguments for justice.

The New England colonies practiced slavery beginning in the mid-17th century.

This coming to the light of Christian Salvation is not an unmitigated blessing as in the next line with some reserve she mildly complains “Some view our sable race with scornful eye,” (5) in which she chooses carefully the term “sable,” for black, this denotes a valuable animal, a fur highly sought after, indicating both being valuable in her own right, and at the same time as being a commodity, a precious one, but a commodity still. Perhaps this is indicative of the use of her talent as an exhibition. Wheatley ends the line with a synecdoche, “scornful eye.” This could be a commentary on the racism of the Christians, and their treatment of something of such value as sable, indifferently. O’ Neale notes that during that period, the late Eighteenth century, Northern slave owners would read the work of Wheatley and others, to their slaves, perhaps as evidence that their lot was not so bad under the enlightened rule of their white civilizing masters (O’ Neale, A Slave’s Subtle War, 145). The revolutionary impetus for freedom from the British rulers must have caused some consternation among thinking whites about the irony of the status of their slaves.

Portrait of Phillis Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead (S.M.) Portrait reportedly painted by Scipio Moorhead (S. M.).

Playing upon the various meanings of the word black she says in the next line “Their colour is a diabolic die.” (Wheatley 6). Here is she quoting from a sermon or the man in the street? She places this line in quotations, just as Savior is italicized to bring this to the reader’s attention, in this case it could be the reader who casts a negative light upon the beauty of this sable race. Reflecting ambiguity, the precariousness of her position, an object, both valued and despised. Possibly devil’s spawn, “diabolic,” as if blackness were conjured up in some satanic workshop, where the die is placed over the beautiful sable race; Wheatley is not yet saying the word, as if it is something too powerful, to say in so many words. But in the next line she finally says “black” and there the object is named there she is pined to the label that is indicative of the place of her race in the colonial world.

Abolitionists use symbol of freedom the Phrygian cap.

It is tempting to say that Ms. Wheatley was simply suppressing her true feelings of resentment, as she was a slave who the Wheatley’s had procured as a servant for Mrs. Susannah Wheatley, wife of John Wheatley a successful tailor. Mr. Wheatley decided that Phillis should be taught by his daughter Mary when the young slave girl was seen writing with chalk on a wall (Library of Congress). Phillis, whose name is the same as the slave ship upon which she arrived in the port of Boston, was discovered to be talented and encouraged by the Wheatley’s to develop her abilities. Taught “grammar, geography both ancient and modern, astronomy, history and enough Latin to read the ancient Roman poet Horace, with ease” (Williams 216). This was something that was uncommon for women of any race in that time. “Wheatley… found the biblical myth, language and symbol to be the most conducive vehicles for making subtle yet effective statements against slavery” (O’ Neale, A Slaves’ Subtle War, 145).

George Whitefield (1714-1770) Founding father of Methodism

An indication of the intelligent usage of her relationship to the importance of religion in her time, she chose the death of a famous evangelist to write one of her first known poems, “On The Death Of Rev. Mr. George Whitefield.” This poem which catapulted her to some fame in England and the colonies, even garnering the attention of Voltaire in France was her vehicle to transform her lot. Wheatley has Whitefield, founder of Methodism, saying to the congregants:

“Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you,
“Impartial Saviour is his title due:
“Wash’d in the fountain of redeeming blood,
“You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God.” (Wheatley 34-37)

An interesting point about this is that although written in 1770 when the famous British Evangelist died touring America, she probably had not seen him speak (Rogal 86). This indicates her ability to transform a public event to her own advantage, her path to salvation. “Wheatley had forwarded the Whitefield poem to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, to whom Whitefield had been chaplain. A wealthy supporter of evangelical and abolitionist causes, the countess instructed bookseller Archibald Bell to begin correspondence with Wheatley in preparation for the book” of poems that could not be published in the colonies because of racism (O”Neale, Wheatley). Thomas Jefferson infamously said of her “Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism” (Jefferson 267).

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14, 1781-1782 (excerpt) “In Virginia and Maryland slavery became what nurtured these states to wealth”

Despite the odds, Wheatley is able to navigate the political winds of pre-revolutionary Boston and become a celebrity in her own time, noteworthy enough for the dismissing racism of Jefferson and a presence in the literary world of London, even if as something of a novelty and a pawn for those engaged in political struggle in England. As “Betsy Erkkila argues for Wheatley’s powerful ‘challenge’ to the ‘constituted authority’ of her time, as she points to the transformative frankly political impact Wheatley’s poetry:…Wheatley transformed the revolutionary discourse on liberty, natural rights, and human nature into a subtle critique of the color code and the oppressive racial structures of republican America” (qtd. in Nott 22). This courageous spirit of poor health, a reject for the slave plantations, being foisted on the Americans as damaged goods, exemplified the spirit of resilience that is inherent in all of humanity. As Du Bois stated “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Du Bois 3). Phillis Wheatley made her mark upon the world using the tools she had access to, transcending, as best she could, her lot in life.

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon commended Wheatley to William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, appointed Secretary of State for the British North American colonies in 1772.


Works Cited
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt, The Soul of Black Folk. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. New York: Library of America. 1984. Print.
Library of Congress.“Phillis Wheatley, the First African American Published Book of Poetry September 1, 1773.”americaslibrary.gov. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Nott, Walt. “’Uncultivated Barbarian’ to ‘Poetical Genius’: The Public Presence of Phillis Wheatley.” MELUS, 18, 3, (1993), 21-32. Jstor.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
O’Neale, Sondra. “A Slave’s Subtle War: Phillis Wheatley’s Use of Biblical Myth and Symbol.” Early American Literature. 21, 2 (1986), 144-165. Jstor.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
- “Phillis Wheatley.” Chicago: Poetry Foundation.2014. poetryfoundation.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Rogal, Samuel J. “Phillis Wheatley’s Methodist Connection.” Black American Literature Forum. 21, 1/2 (1987), 85-95. Jstor.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Chicago: Poetry Foundation. 2014. poetryfoundation.org. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Wheatley, Phillis. “On The Death Of Rev. Mr. George Whitefield.” “Phillis Wheatley.” PoemHunter.com. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.
Williams, Selma R. Demeter’s Daughters: The Women Who Founded America 1587-1787. New York. Atheneum.1976. Print.

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