Air Date 1/14/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which, on this Martin Luther King Day weekend, we shall take a look at a wider range of Black radicals who all helped build the unfinished Civil Rights Movement, and who our history either white washes or demonizes to fit the narrative of American exceptionalism marching us inexorably toward perfection.
Clips today include a TED Talk by David Ikard, The Chauncey DeVega Show, a speech by Tika Lee. Communist party USA, don't be frightened, Left Anchor, Second Thought, and Vox, with an additional member only clip from the History of Indian and Africana Philosophy Podcast.
The dangers of whitewashing black history | David Ikard - TEDxNashville - Air Date 6-18-22
DAVID IKARD: I am the proud father of two beautiful children, Elijah, 15, and Octavia, 12. When Elijah was in the fourth grade, he came to me, came home from school bubbling over with excitement about [00:01:00] what he had learned that day about African American history. Now I'm an African American cultural studies professor, and so as you can imagine, African American culture is kind of serious around my home, so, I was very proud that my son was excited about what he had learned that day in school.
So I said, "well, what'd you learn?" And he said, "I learned about Rosa Parks." "Okay, what did you learn about Rosa Parks?" He said, "I learned that Rosa Parks was this frail old Black woman in the 1950s in Montgomery, Alabama, and she sat down on this bus, and she had tired feet, and when the bus driver told her to give up her seat to a White patron, she refused because she had tired feet. And it had been a long day and she was tired of oppression, and she didn't give up her seat. And she marched with Martin Luther King. And she believed in nonviolence."
And I [00:02:00] guess he must have looked at my face and saw that I was a little less than impressed by his history lesson. So he stopped and he is like, "dad, what's wrong? What, what, what did I get wrong?" I said, "son, you didn't get anything wrong, but I think your teacher got a whole lot of things wrong." He said, "well, well what do you mean?" I said, "Rosa Parks was not tired, she was not old, and she certainly didn't have tired feet." He said "What?" I said, "Yes. Rosa Park was only 42 years old." Yeah, you're shocked, right? Never heard that. "Rosa Parks was only 42 years old. She had only worked six hours that day, and she was a seamstress, and her feet were just fine. The only thing that she was tired of was she was tired of inequality. She was tired of oppression." And my son said, "well, why would my teacher tell me [00:03:00] this thing,? This is confusing for me.?
Cuz he loved this teacher and she was a good teacher. A youngish, 20 something White woman. Really, really smart. Pushed him. So I liked her as well, but he was confused. "Why would she tell me this?" he said. He said, "Dad, tell me more. Tell me more. Tell me more about Rosa Parks", and I said, "Son, I'll do you one better." He was like, "what?" I said, "I'm gonna buy her autobiography and I'm gonna let you read it yourself."
So as you can imagine, Elijah wasn't too excited about this new lengthy homework assignment that his dad had just given him, but he took it in stride. And he came back after he had read it, and he was excited about what he had learned. He said, Dad, not only was Rosa Parks not initially into nonviolence, she said, but Rosa Park's grandfather, who basically raised her and was light enough to pass as [00:04:00] white, used to walk around town with his gun in his holster, and people knew that if you mess with Mr. Parks' children or grandchildren, he would put a cap in your proverbial bottom. He was not someone to mess with.
And he said, I also learned that Rosa Parks married a man in Raymond who was a lot like her grandfather. He would organize. He was a civil rights activist. He would organize events and sometimes the events would be at Rosa Parks' home, and one time Rosa Parks remarked that there were so many guns on the table because they were prepared for somebody to come busting into the door that they were prepared for whatever was gonna go down.
Rosa Park said there were so many guns on the table that I forgot to even offer 'em coffee or food. This is who Rosa Parks was. And in fact, Rosa Parks, when she was sitting[00:05:00] on that bus that day waiting for those police officers to arrive and not knowing what was going to happen to her, she was not thinking about Martin Luther King, who she barely knew, she was not thinking about nonviolence or Gandhi, she was thinking about her grandfather, her gun toting, take no mess grandfather. That's who Rosa Park. Was thinking about.
And my son was mesmerized by Rosa Parks and I was proud of him to see this excitement, but then I still had a problem, because I still had to go to a school and address the issue with his teacher, cuz I didn't want her to continue to teach the kids obviously false history. So I'm agonizing over this, primarily because I understand as an African American man that whenever you talk to Whites about racism or anything that's racially sensitive, there's usually gonna be a challenge. This is what sociologists, White sociologist robin D'Angelo calls White fragility.
She [00:06:00] argues that in fact, because Whites have so little experience being challenged about their White privilege, that whenever even the most minute challenge is brought before them, they usually cry, get angry or run. And I have experienced them all. And so when I was contemplating confronting his teacher, I wasn't happy about it, but I was like, this is the necessary evil of being a Black parent, trying to raise self-actualized Black children. So I called Elijah to me and I said, "Elijah, I'm gonna tell your teacher, I'm gonna set up an appointment with your teacher and try and correct this and maybe your principal, what do you think?"
And Elijah said, "Dad, I have a better idea." And I said, "Really? What's your idea?" He said, "we have a public speaking assignment, and why don't I use that public speaking assignment to talk about debunking the myths of Rosa Parks?" And I was [00:07:00] like, well, well, that is a good idea.
So Elijah goes to school, he does his presentation, he comes back home, and I can see something positive happened. I said, "well, what happened, son?" He said, "well, later on in that day, the teacher pulled me aside and she apologized to me for giving that misinformation. And then something else miraculous happened the next day, she actually taught a new lesson on Rosa Parks, filling in the gaps that she had left in correcting the mistakes that she made."
And I was so, so proud of my son, but then I thought about it. And I got angry and I got real angry. Why? Why would I get angry? Because my nine year old son had to educate his teacher about his history. Had [00:08:00] to educate his teacher about his own humanity. He's nine years old. He should be thinking about basketball or soccer or the latest movie. He should not be thinking about having to take the responsibility of educating his teacher, his students, about himself, about his history. That was the burden that I carried. That was the burden that my parents carried, and generations before them carried. And now I was seeing my son take on that burden too.
You see, that's why Rosa Parks wrote her autobiography. Because during her lifetime, if you can imagine, you do this amazing thing. You're alive and you're talking about your civil rights activism, and a story emerges in which somebody is telling the world that you were old and you had tired feet, and you just were an accidental activist. Not that you had been an activist by then for 20 years. Not [00:09:00] that the boycott had been planned for months. Not that you were not even the first, or the second, or even the third woman to be arrested for doing that. You become an accidental activist, even in her own lifetime. So she wrote that autobiography to correct the record, because what she wanted to remind people of was that this is what it was like in the 1950s, trying to be Black in America and fight for your rights.
During the year, little over a year that the boycott lasted, there were over four church bombings. Martin Luther King's house was bombed twice. Other civil rights leaders' houses were bombed in Birmingham. Rosa Park's husband slept at night with a shotgun, because they would get constant death threats. In fact, Rosa Park's mother [00:10:00] lived with them and sometimes she would stay on the phone for hours so that nobody would call in with death threats, because it was constant and persistent.
In fact, there was so much tension, there was so much pressure, there was so much terrorism, that Rosa Parks and her husband, they lost their jobs and they became unemployable and eventually had to leave and move out of the South. This is a civil rights reality that Rosa Parks wanted to make sure that people understood.
The Black American Civil Rights Movement Was One of The Greatest "Military" Campaigns and Insurgencies in History - The Chauncey DeVega Show - Air Date 1-10-23
THOMAS RICKS: I'm fascinated by the fact that the American Civil Rights Movement, one of the great social reform movements of all time, is so widely misunderstood. I've had interviewers say, "well, tell me about the Civil Rights Movement and its method of passive resistance." Hell no! If there's one thing that the American Civil Rights Movement was not, it was not passive. It was confrontational nonviolence. One of my favorite lines from the [00:11:00] movement is something that an activist in Selma, Alabama said in 1965, he told his audience as he was teaching them how to protest.
He said, remember, the sheriff is not coming after you, you are going after the sheriff. And to me, that just captures the entire posture, the Civil Rights Movement, which is changing the way people think about who they are and your entire approach to the world around you.
Diane Nash is one of my real heroes in the movement. In 1960, as a 20 year old college student in Nashville, Tennessee, and she says, the first step is to decide who you are and that defines your strategy. And she said, we define ourselves as people who will no longer live with segregation. And she said, now we understand you may kill us, but that's on you, it's not on us. We no longer live with it.
CHAUNCEY DEVEGA- HOST, THE CHAUNCEY DEVEGA SHOW: And that idea of [00:12:00] books becoming compulsion, the book that has to be written— and I'm pretty frugal with my compliments, so I'll shine you up very quickly_this book is a book I wish I had written, and this is a topic that I have been thinking about for a long time, going back to college. The folks who mentored me, the courses I took, and I told this story many times. One of my great joys in college, I'm from New Haven, Connecticut, so one of the free week in going down to New York, Harlem, taking the Metro north, you get up in the Harlem stop, they would have, I don't know if it still exists, every Saturday or Sunday, they would have independent books in African American press all on this one street, and all the book sellers would come out.
So you'd have like Third World Press, you'd have independently published work, independent scholars, Haymarket Press, et cetera, and there are all these books. And oh my God, there's all this information out here that you're not seeing at the mainstream press. I'm not seeing this at Barnes and Nobles or Borders. And I remember seeing these books about the Black freedom struggle as insurgency, as resistance. Of course, you had the Black cultural and Black Nationals brothers and sisters writing about the African-American [00:13:00] Marshall tradition, this struggle of resistance, not passivity, but just picking up those books, and it was like forbidden knowledge. And that totally reframed my thinking. That and my mentors and conferences I would go to in courses I took in Black studies about the freedom struggle, as struggle, as resistance.
So when I heard about this project, I said, here it is. Someone has synthesized this, and as I'm sure will talk about, this is not a very popular story on either side of the color line among certain elite. So where did [inaudible] come from? Because this is a critically important book, and I don't often say that to folk.
THOMAS RICKS: You're the reader I hope would be out there that would respond to this. And honestly, quality of reader is better than quantity of reader. You get it. What I was trying to do in this book is say, these people who ran the Civil Rights Movement, who taught people, who recruited people, who trained them, who led them in marches, these people are as important to American history as Civil War generals. They should be known like Civil War [00:14:00] general's names are known. Their names should be on military bases. Their names should be on... their faces should be on posted stamps, and they're not.
And I'm thinking here, people like Medgar Evers kind of mildly known, but people don't really know who he was. This World War II vet of enormous courage, who alone in Mississippi operates knowing that he almost inevitably is gonna be killed, but he's on death list. Amzie Moore is like the French resistance leader inside Mississippi, but for two decades, helping civil rights workers keep protecting people, keeping them alive. , Diane Nash, I mentioned. James Bevel, a wonderful strategist who really is, in many ways, the guy who rescues the Civil Rights Movement a couple of times by brilliantly innovative approaches, both in Birmingham in '63, and Selma in '65. The guy who actually thinks up the march from Selma to Montgomery, [00:15:00] that really represents the victory of the Civil Rights Movement.
So my feeling was this is incredibly important. It should be better known what these people actually did, and, key, how they did it. I think the subtitle of my book was a bit of a mistake. I called it a Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, and I think it kind of fell between the two different subjects. Military history people said, "well, I don't read about civil rights." Civil rights people said, "well, I'm not interested in military history." But what I was trying to say is you really can't understand the achievement of the Civil Rights Movement unless you use some military terminology. Because though it was nonviolent, it had a very military structure and approach.
In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. said at one point, you really need to think of this in terms of war. By that, he meant things like logistics, the movement of people and supplies, training, recruiting, [00:16:00] and above all dignity and discipline. The discipline of the Civil Rights Movement, I think, is something that's been lost in how it's talked about. The ability to suffer a violent blow and then go out again and do it the next day.
James Lawson, the great trainer of a lot of civil rights leaders said, "the measure of the success of a demonstration is not how big it is. It's whether you can do it again tomorrow morning." Very similar to what a warship captain would say in say, World War II. You've gotta be able to fight and do it again tomorrow. That's the measure of success.
CHAUNCEY DEVEGA- HOST, THE CHAUNCEY DEVEGA SHOW: This is not the popular image through the white gaze of happy slave singing songs. These are terror regimes. Jim and Jane Crow was authoritarian regime. And how do you resist and fight back against an authoritarian regime? You have an insurgency, you have spies. You manage logistics.
Going back to slavery, Harriet Tubman was a scout. In another life she'd be a Ranger or a Marine Scout Sniper. She's an insurgent leader. All the [00:17:00] thousands, as documented by Herbert Ecker and others, of rebellions, both small and large, that as you certainly know.
THOMAS RICKS: This is the brilliance of the Civil Rights Movement, is the decision to be confrontational, but non-violent because America is a violent country and it's security forces—police, the whole structure of Jim Crow White Supremacism—was based on violence, as slavery was. A runaway slave, one of the punishments was, we'll cut your toes off. Whipping is always in the background. Slavery was built on violence as was White Supremacism.
So the Civil Rights Movement has this wonderful insight, the leaders, which is don't use the language and tools of violence. The White Power structure speaks that language fluently. They know violence, but they're so flummoxed by nonviolence, they don't know how [00:18:00] to respond to it, and that means you're always one step ahead of them. When you don't fight back. They're kind of "what's going on here?" When Diane Nash says, "you may have to kill us, we understand that, but we are not going to live with segregation anymore. So the problem is on you people to figure out how you're gonna live with us."
CHAUNCEY DEVEGA- HOST, THE CHAUNCEY DEVEGA SHOW: Black freedom struggle. How do we conceptualize that language, and then in conceptualizing the language, how does it challenge some common understandings of the Black freedom struggle in the Civil Rights Movement?
Because we don't hear enough emphasis on the freedom and the struggle. We have all these stereotypes through the American Mythmaking machine, but this was struggle, it was freedom, it was planned, and it was centuries in the making. And it's continuing.
THOMAS RICKS: [Inaudible] of James Lawson sitting in a church basement in Nashville in 1959 and he's planning, we're gonna do Gandhi-like sit-ins. We're gonna challenge the entire power structure of this city. And they spend literally, not days, not weeks, [00:19:00] but months, training people for sit-ins. Because if you're gonna put somebody in a sit-in, you have to give them the ability to go through this horrific situation where mobs are going to attack them and spit on them, and put out cigarettes on their back as they sit in trying to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Nashville.
One of the things you have to train people is to overcome the impulse to fight or flee. Human beings have in our bodies, in our minds, we are programmed, if you are attacked, you either run away or you fight back. And one of the problems was to train people to overcome both those impulses, to neither run away, nor to fight back. And this is summarized actually, the training they give. One guy is sitting there, a white guy, a teenager, spits on him and he says, "excuse me sir. Do you have a handkerchief?" And the kid reaches for his handkerchief. And then as he's reaching back thinks, and he says, hell no. But for [00:20:00] one moment he'd made that connection.
CHAUNCEY DEVEGA- HOST, THE CHAUNCEY DEVEGA SHOW: How do we explain this common dominant narrative myth about the American Civil Rights Movement? The figures and the characters, the political work being done there as, compared to the intervention that you're making here.
THOMAS RICKS: Rather cynically, I think if the Civil Rights Movement were taught accurately, you'd be giving people, not just the tools for radical social change, but a blueprint for radical social change. And power structures don't like radical social change. They are designed to prevent it. So they teach, as you say, this kind of cartoon version of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and people marched. Marches are the least of it. Marches are only the tip of an iceberg. They reflect months and years of training and planning and thinking. Different approaches and keeping the adversary off [00:21:00] balance. Fundamentally, what Americans don't want to hear is that the Civil Rights Movement was militant almost from the get go. It was radical the whole time.
#ilovemalcolm: Tariq Ali on Malcolm X at Oxford - rosaluxnyc - Air Date 3-23-15
TARIQ ALI: He sat next to me on the bench before he went up to speak. And he made the most amazing speech that union had heard. Moving. Powerful. Intellectually light years ahead of all the people participating in that debate, including those on his own side. And he was educated. By God he knew how to educate people.
And I can still see in my mind's eye that audience. 99.9% young white kids, 99.9%, just completely hypnotized because they had no [00:22:00] idea of the world that he was describing. And when the conservative member of Parliament, Humphrey Buckley, I still remember him, made fun in a very Oxford way, saying, "Why're you called X? Why not Y? Why not Zed?" He might have been better, not understanding the reason. It wasn't he was joking, but he really didn't know. And Malcolm's reply, which explained slavery in five minutes to the 600 people who had back, was just amazing. We all learned from it.
Now, once the debate was [done], he came back and sat next to me and said, "Was that okay?" And I said, "Just look at them, Malcolm." The whole place had given him a standing ovation. Very unusual by the way, in that body.
So afterwards we went, I walked him [00:23:00] back to his hotel and we talked and talked, and at the end of it -- and you know about many things, his travels to the Muslim world, what was really going on in that world, et cetera, et cetera, the United States of America -- when we were going to get up, we hugged and we shook hands and I said, "Malcolm, been really great, you know, and a real privilege, and I hope we meet again soon." And he said, "I'm not sure. Do you come to the states often?" I said, "No." He said, "I, I don't know whether we will meet again." And it was such a startling remark that I, I, I just sat down again. I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Look, they're going to kill me pretty soon." And at first I thought, what the hell is going on? You know, who is this guy? I mean, I've heard him. [00:24:00] What on earth is he talking about? I mean, why should--? And I said, "Who's going to kill you, Malcolm?" He said, "The FBI, the Nation, who I've broken from and who are very angry with me for that break." And I said, "Well, no one else in the world of Islam takes the Nation seriously, as you know, full well, Malcolm, because they don't recognize them as Muslims, because Islam, if it's one thing, it's universal. It never has a closed membership by ethnicity or race or anything. It's universal." He said, "Yeah, now I know that, but they don't." And then he said, "The FBI or the Nation, or a mixture of both." And I said, "But why would they do it now?" And he said, "Did you hear that speech?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "You know, for you it's normal what I said." I said, "No, it's not [00:25:00] normal, but you know, it's pretty amazing." He said, "No, but you didn't understand, which you would if you were living in the United States. That I made it very clear that I was in favor of Blacks and Whites and any other progressives uniting against the system. and I said I was not opposed to mixed marriages." He said, "This creates shockwaves on both sides, because the White establishment doesn't like Black leaders who try and unite everyone. And people like the Nation don't like it either for their own different reasons, and their interests are converged."
So, you know, we embraced again and I walked and met a lot of friends the next day and said, "Everyone in the city was discussing the [00:26:00] speech," because we were on the edge of a radical upheaval. No one knew it, but there were signs that radicalism was in the air. This was part of it, Malcolm's speech. It fed into all that.
And the next day, discussing with a group of friends, mainly socialists, I said, this is what he said last night to me. And they said, "They're going to kill him? Come on!" And three months later, I picked up the Guardian and on the front page, "Malcom X Assassinated".
I tell you, honestly, a group of us met that day quite spontaneously in a place we used to meet and we wept. We didn't say anything to each other at first. We wept. And it taught us, that single incident taught us a great deal about the history of the United States of America. [00:27:00] And we read. And we became more engaged. And we understood what the movements, new movements that were springing up for voter registration, was.
And then after a few years had passed and Martin Luther King declared in public that it was a shock to him, he said, when he discovered that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world is my own country, something Malcolm had been saying for many years.
And when Martin Luther King was considering standing as an alternative presidential candidate with Dr. Spock as is running mate, as some of you will remember, to challenge the power structure, he was killed and executed.
And then after these two giants [00:28:00] came the Black Panthers. Systematic repression against them. Systematic. We now know it. All the stuff is out there. They were infiltrated, killed. Young men and women, African Americans who had grown up listening to their leaders. To Malcolm, to Stokely, to Martin Luther King, to others not so well known. And it decided to do something, to form a party. And they were repressed.
And so Black history in this country became a major discipline. And for us too, abroad, we learned a great deal. I remember most of the stuff I read on the Civil War. And on the lynchings. And the fact that the Ku Klux Klan was, like it or not, the largest political [00:29:00] movement in the United States after the Civil War, the largest with millions of members and sympathizers. That we learned.
And we learned how deep this went in the American psyche, in different ways. And so when I read a book by Michelle Alexander today in which she describes the incarceration of African Americans, and in which she says that the number of African Americans either incarcerated or going through the judicial system, parole or whatever today -- she did this about four years ago, so it's four years ago -- that the number of African Americans being treated in this way is virtually the same as the number of slaves there were before [00:30:00] the Civil War.
That figure haunts me. It haunts me when I think about it. 'Cause it means that on some levels there has not been much progress. Despite all the talk and despite having a mixed-race president in power, and all the talk we heard after Obama's victory through his colleagues that we are now in a post-racial society. And I asked myself, what the hell are they talking about? I mean, I don't even live there and I know that this isn't true. [Applause]
So the important thing, I think, in paying tribute and honoring the memory of Malcolm is to remember his ideas, what these ideas were, [00:31:00] what he stood for, in a certain way in times that were more difficult than our times today. Remembering those ideas and taking them forward. And that's why I said, The great movement which sprang up in this city, in other cities in the United States a few weeks ago, was a cause for great deal of hope. It went one step for me beyond Occupy.
Spontaneously, in different parts of the city, people, young people, Black and White and Latinos and others came out and spontaneously marched in different ways so they couldn't be isolated one by one, and brought the city to a halt against the crimes being committed by young people. And to them [00:32:00] we pay tribute.
And to them, Malcolm would've paid more than tribute. He would've seen the completion of his work. The fact that things don't go away, that you don't gain without struggle, and that ultimately it is the struggle of the ordinary people, the common people, that will be decisive in transforming this country.
The Radicalism of Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois Part 1 - Communist Party USA - Air Date 2-26-20
EDDIE CARSON: In DuBois's 1961 applications to join the Communist Party, the Massachusetts born American sociologist and civil rights activists wrote quote, "capitalism cannot reform itself. It is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all."
King would also study [inaudible] and King's look and vision will be a little different than that of DuBois, [00:33:00] obviously. We know that DuBois is going to essentially evolve in his radical nature as he continues to learn and come to see the imperialization of the world. And that transformation will drive him in a different way, making him a much more pronounced radical at times. Yet, King, who's also gonna study, in a sense, will delve into this.
And as I read from this source here, King will say, "In short, I read Marx, as all of the influential historical thinkers—from a dialectical point of view, combined a partial 'yes' and a partial 'no'. In so far as Marx pointed out in a metaphysical materialistic fashion and ethical relativism, a strain in terms of totalitarianism. I responded with an unambiguous 'no'." King would go on to say, "but in so far as he pointed to weaknesses of traditional capitalism contributed to the growth of a [00:34:00] definite self-consciousness in the masses, and challenged the social consciousness of the Christian churches. I responded with a definite 'yes'."
So, King would go on and he would spend time really studying Marx and he would never become a communist and he would never join a party, but yet, by the time we get to the end of his livelihood, he came to recognize the realities and the offering that socialism offered to the United States, particularly in his early campaign against poverty.
As we look back to even that of DuBois, one of the things that we all know in the life of the radical DuBois is that he set self for Ghana and self exile in which he would later join the Communist Party USA. DuBois was a communist, yes, he was a communist for many good reasons. DuBois was a race man, but evolved into a global intellectual within a radical leftist framework, as he fought for the liberation of people in a darker land, as well as those occupied [00:35:00] by the forces of capitalism. DuBois persistently juxtaposed the American race problem to the endemic forces of global imperialism, vis-a-vis capitalism in a fashion shaped through his lens.
As noted, "the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." As we all know, DuBois famously illustrated a recasting of that sentence, inaugural iteration, most famously in his work, The Souls of Black Folks, published in the year 1903. But as the concluding sentence to the nations of the world, the statement collectively constructed by participants in the Pan-African Congress of 1900. Thus, in understanding the Russian Revolution in black oppress, one must not attempt to recount DuBois' life and legacy as a Pan-Africanist or iconic civil rights activist, or as other scholars have addressed, but to simply measure him by his internal struggles and of course the maturation in his growth into [00:36:00] his radical framework. He would champion Black working class in a way that reflected his later claim to being a communist.
The Socialist Anti-Imperialism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Left Anchor - Air Date 1-18-21
ALEXI THE GREEK - HOST, LEFT ANCHOR: There's a saying that every radical was once a liberal, and I think there's probably some truth to that for King too, in the sense that he got radicalized over time. And, of course, the etymology of radical means root. So he ends up piecing together that true liberation, true freedom is in keeping with the human dignity of the person as a whole, and that must include these economic conditions that give rise to all kinds of other indignities.
RYAN COOPER - HOST, LEFT ANCHOR: Yeah. In any system of production, I think capitalists or otherwise, an income, a job, some kind source of ability to pay for the necessities of life. Is not just about the ability to pay for the necessities of life, it's about being able to participate in society, about being able to go and do the things that regular [00:37:00] people do. If you are so broke that you can just barely cook your pot of beans and rice to feed yourself, and you can't do the things like go to the movies or take your girlfriend or boyfriend out for dinner every now and then, or buy some notebooks for your kids at to go to school with, you are ostracized. You are not able to participate. You are humiliated by the economic system.
The material deprivation is bad, but the social effects of it are bad, and maybe in some ways, even worse. The inequality in itself is associated with all kinds of horribly toxic, social outcomes, slower life expectancy, and, higher rates of disease and alcoholism and addiction and all the rest of the various social dysfunctions, and I think that is partly, or largely at the root of that, is the withdrawal of community, so to speak.
ALEXI THE GREEK - HOST, LEFT ANCHOR: Yes. And that's why [00:38:00] capitalism is, I think, best understood as about social relations, and the many ways in which social relations are organized or disrupted. And that includes how we relate to other citizens and how we as a nation state relate to other countries and other peoples around the world, and all the ideological ways where, say race is constructed in order to do various things.
And again, this all comes back to, to, to power and how power can be something that people relate to as a way to dominate or as a way to liberate. There's spiritual freedom and spiritual power that comes through solidarity and understanding the human dignity that we all share in common because of our shared humanity. The fact that we are ontologically all created equal. Or there's the ability of those to use political and economic power to dominate, and in so doing, make it seem as if they can create themselves to be [00:39:00] more than human and make others less than human.
So King was piecing together, it seems to me, the relationship among all these forms of abuse of power and all these forms of domination, and on the other side of it, all the forms of freedom and dignity that need to be fought for. And so he came to see that the next front in the war for human dignity and spiritual freedom was increasingly about poverty and unions and militarism.
RYAN COOPER - HOST, LEFT ANCHOR: The major legacy of Dr. King, it is about improving a lot of Black people, but I also think that there's an element to his thinking, his writing, his advocacy, and his activism, that is a useful thing for White people to take and consider and value as part of their own heritage in a sense.
Basically, King argued on many occasions that the black and White poor and working class population [00:40:00] were of necessities stuck together, and that allowing racism to dominate society harmed both of them in the end. It harmed Black people worse, oftentimes much worse, but it also harms the White people by preventing the type of broad based working class coalition that could advocate for mass unionization, for better social welfare programs that would benefit everyone equally. And also, more spiritually not letting your heart be poisoned by race hatred.
Whitewashing 101: How To Rewrite Black History - Second Thought - Air Date 2-18-22
JT CHAPMAN - HOST, SECOND THOUGHT: It's pretty difficult to find anybody who doesn't claim MLK's legacy as their own. Everyone loves to say how much they love MLK and how they 100% agree with him. And to show how much they love him, they'll happily take the monument of his life's work, his countless campaigns, protests, and efforts to address the injustices of American life, and boil them down to just one speech and really to just one line of that one [00:41:00] speech.
And everybody loves that one line.
ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: In our ears that we must judge one another by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. No. He wanted people to be judged by the character and not by the color of their. On the color of my skin, but on the content of my character. We should judge our fellow citizens by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.
JT CHAPMAN - HOST, SECOND THOUGHT: This obsession with the "content of their character" line and the I Have a Dream speech in general is no accident, by the way. It's been part of the tactical recuperation of MLK's legacy by the American state and its defenders for decades. An effort that is immortalized in the Reagan years. Why Reagan? Because Reagan is the guy who made MLK Day a national holiday.
As such, you'll sometimes hear dweebs claim this six foot one flake of dandruff brought to life was actually proof of how the great American patriot can reconcile the country's racist history and become the biggest champion of [00:42:00] racial justice. But that's wrong. Because for a guy like Reagan to become the MLK Day guy, a lot needed to change about how America viewed MLK.
The Reverend could no longer be the radical extremist despised by over two thirds of the country, the most hated man in America. He had to become an empty shell for any vague sentiment of justice. And most importantly, he had to be the colorblind guy. Because how did Reagan really feel about the Civil Rights movement? Let's take this quote from an article in The Nation.
"Reagan opposed every major piece of civil rights legislation adopted by Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. As president, Reagan supported tax breaks for schools that discriminated on the basis of race, opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act, vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, and decimated the Equal Employment [00:43:00] Opportunity Commission. When you combine Reagan's political record with his symbolic stance on race issues; his deriding welfare recipients as 'welfare queens'; his employing state's rights rhetoric in the same county where, in 1964, three of the most infamous murders of civil rights workers occurred; his initial opposition to establish a national holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.; the Reagan legacy begins to lose much of its luster. And that's putting this outwardly racist guy's legacy extremely mildly. So then why would Reagan suddenly flip on this issue, and why would the "I have a dream" line become the rallying call for every politician trying to score easy popularity?
Two academics explain it pretty clearly in this article. "The focus on 'I Have a Dream' in public discourse also made King ripe for appropriation because the emphasis on one speech and one issue served to obscure King's many other speeches and writings, as well as his less successful ventures, such as his effort to desegregate Chicago, [00:44:00] his opposition to the Vietnam War, and the Poor People's Campaign. As early as 1964, for example, King praised the Indian government's preferential college admissions policy for Untouchables, and argued that the United States must also find ways of atoning for the injustices she has inflicted upon her Negro citizens.
"The civil rights leader called for a broad-based and gigantic bill of rights for the disadvantaged, parallel with the GI Bill of Rights, for a guaranteed annual income and for restitution in the form of radical changes in the structure of society that would provide African Americans with compensation in education, housing, employment, and healthcare.
"The public focus on 'I Have a Dream' with its simple, poetic beauty, overshadowed the specific proposals that King had recommended in order to achieve his dream. Again, making it much easier for President Reagan to appropriate King for his own uses. And those uses were gutting the policies MLK advocated for in favor of the [00:45:00] Reaganomic free market liberalism that funneled wealth from the poor to the wealthy, which, given how wealth distribution looks in this country, also meant from many Black people to very few White people.
"But the trick is that focusing exclusively on the 'I Have a Dream' speech and misinterpreting it entirely allowed neoliberals to turn MLK into some weird conservative libertarian who wouldn't have wanted all this big government stuff that took into account people's race in its effort to redress the historical wrongs that made one group of colonized and enslaved people materially worse off than the people who colonized them."
Dr. King would've hated redistribution. Trust me. He loved and definitely wanted more of that sweet, sweet free market capitalism, and the colonial and chattel slavery systems it was born out of. He doesn't want a race conscious system of justice; that doesn't sound very colorblind, guys, doesn't sound very "content of our character." My best buddy MLK would definitely not approve.
But of course he did. Don't be [00:46:00] fooled. Actually listen to the guy for once.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: In the greed and exploitation which creates the sector of poverty in the midst of wealth, again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice.
The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of Black slaves. And continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both Black and White, both here and abroad. And we must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political [00:47:00] and economic power.
We must further recognize that the ghetto is a domestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into the hands of residents of the ghetto, so that they may in reality control their own destinies.
JT CHAPMAN - HOST, SECOND THOUGHT: And that's just two snippets out of many.
The point is, MLK readily admitted the incredible damage capitalism had produced in the United States, and explicitly advocated working through government measures, not the free market, to address the gulf between the poor and the rich, and the Black and the White. Don't misinterpret me here. He didn't just advocate for government measures, but he certainly valued them tremendously.
Anyway, the truth is that these are uncomfortable quotes for an American society that has never realized MLK's goals, but that has very much elevated MLK to the [00:48:00] status of an untouchable God of Justice. There's a dichotomy there that's too difficult to actually address. Too uncomfortable. He's great and perfect and a visionary, but also we didn't listen to him. How do you own up to something like that? Well, you don't. It's much easier to retell his story disingenuously, obscuring the parts which contradict the fantasy of American exceptionalism and the steady march of progress towards a more perfect democracy than it is to actually challenge the poverty that capitalism and the exploitation of non-White others has wrought.
Textbooks are probably the place this contradiction between MLK as a hero and American society not listening is most obvious. In an article titled "The Limits of Master Narratives in History Textbooks", Professor of Education Derek P. Aldridge looks at exactly this phenomenon with MLK. He describes how American history textbooks, and the overarching narratives they shape and are shaped by, have killed the reality of [00:49:00] MLK's life. By elevating him to the status of a Messiah, framing him as the embodiment of the entire civil rights movement, and then trying to make him appear as if he was a moderate, the way American history has told MLK's struggle has served to sidestep questions too uncomfortable for it to ask -- questions of poverty, capitalism, and war. Questions that are not neatly answered with the end of Jim Crow laws, questions that still endure to this day and that bring together MLK and the people he is so often depicted as an adversary of, like Malcolm X or the Black Panther Party. Giving a proper place to these facets of MLK's politics and his proximity to the figures only remembered as radicals would raise too many questions about the legitimacy of the narrative American textbooks are so attached to: constant, predictable and certain progress. Because if textbooks started depicting MLK accurately as an anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, they would risk undermining the image of [00:50:00] American democracy as the perfect representation of the will of the people and the true realization of justice.
The truth is that King's dreams never came true for most of the issues he fought against. And even if they had, MLK was not the civil rights movement. He was just one face of it. And the civil rights movement was not a single issue movement. It had a long list of demands that still remain unheard. He is not the proof that American democracy works. And he was not an enemy to the radicals that shared his same ideas.
Why the US government murdered Fred Hampton - Vox - Air Date 6-2-21
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton founded what was initially called the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense. Newton had studied law and knew it was legal to carry arms in California as long as they were not concealed.
The Panthers began to patrol their communities. As the movement grew, several highly publicized confrontations with police would bring about mainstream awareness of the Black Panther Party. [00:51:00] The allegations in these confrontations were serious, but the public accounts of them were typically one-sided and shaped largely by police.
Media coverage depicted party members as a caricature of black militancy.
AKUA NJERI: The Black Panther party was portrayed as a marauding gang. They said their goal was to kill all the white people.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: In reality, the Panthers did call for radical change.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: What they were hoping for was a revolution, a revolution to overthrow the capitalist enterprise.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: But what they called revolution might not actually sound so radical today.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: Focused on socialism's a way of solving economic means. They look to places like Canada, which always had a democratic political system, but the economic system has always been socialism. Seal wanted a democratic socialist country here in the United States, which they saw as a more equitable or more humane system.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: They released a 10-point plan for broad social reform that called for an end to police [00:52:00] brutality and for black employment, housing, education, and freedom from prison and jails. Chapters began forming across the country. They started to implement social programs, which they called survival programs.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: The Panthers will say, put that theory into practice. If you really want to change minds and you really want to meet the people where they are, you have to give them the services which they need.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: The programs included food and clothing drives, free health clinics, and sickle cell disease testing, and were funded largely by volunteers and donations from businesses.
One of their biggest programs was a free breakfast for children initiative.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: Here we are living in 1966, 67 is the most wealthy nation in the world, and kids were going to school hungry, especially in African American communities. So one of the first community service programs were free breakfast for school children.
AKUA NJERI: And all the children had to do was come.[00:53:00]
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: It was during this time that Akua Njeri then known as Deborah Johnson, met Fred Hampton.
AKUA NJERI: I was a student at Wright City College and Chairman Fred had come up to the school to speak, and he say at the breakfast program, we feeding over 3000 children a week. We are serious about making power to the people of reality. We not just sitting up here jaw jabbing and talking shit, you know, we about work. And I said, damn, be serious about this business.
Anybody that has met him or heard him speak, they say he wasn't bullshitting. He was for real.
FRED HAMPTON: You have to understand. If you have to pay the price for peace. If your dad struggle, your dad'll win, and you dad don't struggle, then goddammit you don't deserve to win. Let me send peace to you if you're willing to fight for it.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Chicago in particular, was a place where the party's ideals especially resonated. It was then the second largest American city, and due to decades of discriminatory [00:54:00] policies, also one of the most segregated.
In 1969, Hampton led the Panthers towards an unexpected alliance: a coalition of activists, working across racial lines, against a corrupt city government that threatened their communities.
FRED HAMPTON: We gonna fight racism, not with racism, but we gonna fight in solidarity.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: What they had in common was their poverty. So they was building a revolution based on class solidarity that transcends race, that they all had the same hell to pay.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Hampton named the group, the Rainbow Coalition. It included the Black Panthers, a Puerto Rican group called the Young Lords, and a group called the Young Patriots, made up of largely poor white migrants from Appalachia who had moved to Chicago seeking economic opportunity.
FRED HAMPTON: We don't hate the motherfucker white people. We hate the oppressor, whether he be white, black, brown, or yellow. We gotta know...
AKUA NJERI: I don't mean sing kumbaya and make a quilt. I'm talking about bringing them together on common things [00:55:00] they could unite on. Not everything, but who could say that children do not deserve to have a healthy meal?
FRED HAMPTON: If we work with anybody from coalition with anybody that has revolution on their minds, we are not a racist organization because we understand that racism is an excuse used for capitalism.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Hampton and other Panthers helped the Young Lords and Young Patriots launch their own social programs. They organized protests together. And it was working.
Members were traveling across the country to organize Rainbow Coalition chapters.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: Particularly where Black Panther chapters were, but also in these rural white communities as well, to bring the revolution to bear. This blows people's minds. These people are not supposed to get along, but here they are operating as brothers of the struggle, as revolutionaries against the capitalist structure. And that was the threat to the state at the local level, but also at the national level.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: In 1968, the FBI had sent around this [00:56:00] internal memo. It outlined goals to prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups and prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.
It wasn't written about Hampton specifically, but by 1969...
AKUA NJERI: chairman Fred Hampton was the one that that fit the bill.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: The revolutionary was in the air and the ways in which the Panthers was able to transcend those racial lines, especially charismatic leadership. But one like Fred Hampton, they saw him as a greater threat, a greater threat even than Martin Luther King and Malcolm X ever was.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: In one FBI memo about the Black Panthers' breakfast program, they claimed the real purpose was to poison minds with anti-white propaganda and indoctrinate youngsters in hate and violence.
AKUA NJERI: The FBI under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, had deemed the Black Panther Party as the number one threat to the [00:57:00] internal security of this country.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: The FBI operated a counterintelligence program called Cointelpro. It was a program that targeted dissident political groups in the US. Their methods typically went outside the law.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: They were using tactics such as assassination, discrediting, false narratives. They were falsely putting people in prison in exile, which were all illegal.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Several Black Panthers were killed or imprisoned, including the party co-founders. In Chicago, the party was also targeted by Mayor Daley and the Chicago police.
AKUA NJERI: Our office was burned down at least three times. People would disappear. You never see their bodies again.
FRED HAMPTON: Before you go to bed, say I am a revolutionary. Make that the last word. In case you don't wake up, then somebody might believe it and you might, you know, end up in what they call a revolutionary happy hunting ground.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Hampton, a rising star at just 21 years old, knew he was a target [00:58:00] too.
On December 4th, around 4 a.m., 14 Chicago police officers arrived outside Hampton's apartment on Chicago's west side. Inside, Hampton and Njeri and seven other Panthers were asleep.
AKUA NJERI: I was very pregnant and the first thing I remember was Chairman Fred had fell asleep while talking on the phone. The next thing I remember was someone in our room start shaking the the chairman. "Chairman, chairman, wake up, wake up! The pigs are ramping!" And I'm seeing Chairman Fred look up and then he laid his head back down real slow.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Officers kicked open the door and shot Mark Clark, a visitor from another party chapter. They shot a sleeping 18-year-old named Brenda Harris. Then they shot in the direction of Hampton's bed.
AKUA NJERI: The [00:59:00] mattress is going, you can feel the bullet going into it. I had moved over on top of Chairman Fred because there was shooting into our mattress. The person that had come into room kept shouting, "Stop shooting, stop shooting! We have a pregnant sister in here!" Eventually the shooting stopped.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Njeri was forced into the kitchen when she heard another voice.
AKUA NJERI: Someone said, "He's barely alive. Barely alive. He'll barely make it." I assume they were talking about Chairman Fred. Pig said, "He's good and dead now."
As they took me out and jammed a revolver to my stomach as I was handcuffed behind my back, I didn't look towards that bedroom cuz I didn't know what I would see or how I would respond.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: The police fired nearly 100 shots. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were dead. The seven surviving Panthers were arrested [01:00:00] and police smiled as they removed Hampton's body from the scene.
The Chicago police and the state's attorney's office quickly shaped the narrative to call it a gunfight, a battle, and a shootout.
ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: Shootout. Officers involved in the raid testified that they were fired on from four different rooms in the apartment by shotgun. "And before I could get past the threshold there were three shots fired from the rear bedroom."
AKUA NJERI: They played back a story that you could not even fathom. They gave a fictional account of what happened. Again, vilifying the Black Panther Party.
ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: I mean, they were firing at police? Yes, sir. Oh, we saw the shots coming out of the two bedrooms. This attack by the Black Panthers on the police clearly demonstrates the true character of the Black Panther Party.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: But experts and lawyers hired by the Panthers, along with other journalists, inspected the crime scene. The [01:01:00] Panthers even opened the apartment so that anyone could examine it. And a drastically different picture emerged. It was clear that the police had fired unprovoked. Of the nearly 100 shots fired, only one possible shot could have come from a Panther's gun, likely from Mark Clark at the front door.
The bullet holes that the police said came from Black Panthers were nail heads. Later, it also emerged that the FBI had assisted Chicago police with the raid. The FBI had an informant within the Black Panther Party named William O'Neill, who had become chief of security in Hampton's bodyguard. O'Neill had provided the FBI with a hand-drawn floor plan of the apartment, which the FBI then gave to Chicago police. And evidence strongly suggests that before the raid, O'Neill had drugged Hampton.
In the years after Hampton's assassination, the police [01:02:00] and the FBI continued to imprison dozens of party members across the country. The official Black Panther Party would continue to exist until 1982, but membership decreased dramatically and it would never be the same.
FRED HAMPTON: And I hope that each one of you will be able to die in the international proletarian revolutionary struggle, and to be able to live in it, and I think that struggle's going to come. Why don't you live for the people? Why don't you struggle for the people? Why don't you die for the people?
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Fred Hampton wanted revolution. Those in power wanted to destroy him and what he stood for, but they weren't totally successful.
AKUA NJERI: Chairman Fred lives, you know what I'm saying? Through the military assault, through the destruction of the party as an organization itself, you know, by the state, the legacy of the party is still, still here.
RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Today the work of Fred Hampton is [01:03:00] alive through some of the same programs that marked him as a threat.
JAKOBI WILLIAMS: Many of the programs that the Panthers created are now staples of our society. We didn't have free breakfast in schools prior to the Black Panther Party's Free Breakfast Program. Those free clinics, almost every major college campus got a free legal aid clinic. The ways in which sickle cell testing is now respected as a disease by the CDC and others, none of that stuff existed before the party.
I think that's revolutionary.
Written by Himself - the Life of Frederick Douglass - History of Indian and Africana Philosophy - Air Date 2-29-20
CHIKE JEFFERS - HOST, HISTORY OF INDIAN AND AFRICANA PHILOSOPHY: Young Douglass was aware of his own entire dependence on the will of somebody I had never seen. His unjust relationship to this owner is a perversion of man's relation to a distant and absolutely powerful, but perfectly just God. This idea that slavery perverts morality in Christian religion is a leitmotif in Douglass's writing.
Speaking of another master's wife, Sophia Auld, he remarks that "her natural kindness and generosity was undermined by the need to oppress her human chattel [01:04:00] so that slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me." Or as he elsewhere puts it, "There's some truth to the saying that slavery is a greater evil to the master than the slave."
Douglass suggests that slaveholders, as much as slaves, have their various status as rational beings undermined by the tyrannical power they wield. "Whereas the slaves are reduced to the level of a mere beast to be bought and sold, the master's license to wield arbitrary violence means that they simply follow their irrational passions rather than having to give reasons for their actions, even to themselves."
In the autobiographies, Douglass gives many concrete examples of the immorality of the slave owners. There are scenes of murder and beating and intimations of systematic rape, and he also speaks of the way masters encourage drinking and other bad behavior among slaves to keep them passive and weak. He observes mordantly that "it is worse to be the slave of a master who aspires to religious piety than a more secular-minded one."
An appendix to his first [01:05:00] autobiography discusses the vast gulf between real Christianity and Christianity as it actually exists in the slaveholding United States. But amidst all this hypocrisy, Douglass is able to maintain his own ethical compass. This ratifies his theory of innate moral intuition and also fits with his repeated claims that he has been guided in his life by divine providence.
One of Douglass's most famous quotes, "Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave," expresses another idea that echoes throughout the autobiographies. "It is in the interest of the slaveholder to turn their human chattel, who are in fact moral and intellectual beings, into ignorant creatures on a level with animals. The slightest glimpse of a more fully human life will make them restless and disobedient."
This was Douglass's own experience. Every slight improvement in his condition made him chafe more at his own freedom, this being an inevitable feature of human nature.
One of the most powerful roads to self-mastery is education, [01:06:00] something else that Douglass intuited at an early age. He thinks he may have inherited the ambition from his mother, whom he was not allowed to know well, but as he proudly reports was unusual in being literate.
This was an instinct Douglass's masters needed to suppress. For as he observes, "To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and as far as possible to annihilate his power of reason."
We're given a particularly sickening glimpse into life among the slaveholding class when Sophia Auld is berated by her husband for teaching Douglass how to read. Auld tells her -- and here we'll substitute a euphemism for Auld's racist oath -- "Learning would spoil the best N-word in the world. Now, if you teach that N-word how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave."
Douglass elsewhere comments that this logic was, in his own terms, "impeccable" even when it again led to an undermining of Christian piety, "the slavery be [01:07:00] right, Sabbath schools for teaching slaves to read the Bible are wrong, and ought to be put down."
But he was not to be dissuaded from his goal, and got White boys in the street to teach him how to read. He would go on to teach other slaves in turn.
The fact that slavery seeks to turn its victims into illiterate beasts comes to the fore In the most famous incident of Douglass's enslavement, his conflict with the sadistic bullying and cowardly Edward Covey. This was a man to whom Douglass was loaned out who had a reputation as a slave breaker; that is, someone who could turn an unruly slave into an obedient one. It wasn't standing up to Covey that the self-made man first began to make himself. "I was nothing before; I was a man now."
The story begins when the teenage Douglass is beaten mercilessly by Covey for losing control of a pair of oxen. He goes to his master to complain, saying that he fears for his life if Covey continues to have power over him, but is summarily dismissed. At this point, Douglass's Christian instinct [01:08:00] to turn the other cheek is literally beaten out of him. In another illustration of the way that slavery defeats piety, "My hands were no longer tied by my religion." He confronts Covey and the two get into a protracted and brutal fist fight, which cows Covey to the extent that he never lays a hand on Douglass again.
There's a lot to say about this tale, which is treated as central in all three autobiographies, but given different emphasis and detail in each case. For starters, Douglass is able to inflict a final defeat on Covey by casting him as a minor character in his own story. Like the Baron Devante before him, Douglass identifies victimizers, exposing them to the judgment of posterity. As he says, when introducing a particularly egregious religious hypocrite named Rigby Hopkins, "I might as well immortalize another of my neighbors by calling him by name and putting him in print."
As for the aforementioned theme of humans and animals, when describing his rough treatment at Covey's hands, Douglass explicitly compares himself to the poor beasts of [01:09:00] burden: "They were to be broken and so was I." Yet he goes on to compare Covey to another animal, namely the sneaky and dangerous snake. So it is the slave driver, not the slave, who is truly beastial. By defying the animalistic Covey, then, Douglass lays claim to his humanity.
This fits pretty well with a philosophical approach to the story, first put forward by Angela Davis, that interprets it in terms of existentialism. The insight here is that Douglass's desperation is such that he is willing to risk death in order to stake a claim to freedom. His assertion of dignity and self-worth shows that he and he alone is responsible for that freedom.
This is a powerful reading. It makes especially a good sense of the version in the narrative, Douglass's first autobiography, which does seem to put the individual struggle at the center of the tale. Extrapolating, the message of the Covey incident would be that Black Americans should rise up as free individual subjects, violently if necessary, to defy the constraints placed upon them.[01:10:00]
But, as several other commentators have pointed out, the version of the story we get in My Bondage and My Freedom, the second autobiography, is rather different. It puts more emphasis on Black solidarity, telling how two other slaves courageously refuse to help Covey restrain Douglass. So in this version, we don't have the irreducible individual faced by an existential struggle for his own freedom, but a politically united group that works together to win space for at least a limited degree of practical autonomy.
On this interpretation, the story of Covey would go together with Douglass's account of how he joined forces with several other slaves who were "true as steel," and like a band of brothers, to plot an escape from bondage.
Final comments on the producers who made this week's topics come to life
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with David Ikard and his TED Talk, telling the story of his son learning myths about Rosa Parks before helping to correct the record. The Chauncey deVega Show discussed the militant insurgent mindset of the civil rights movement. Tariq Ali spoke about his experience meeting and then grieving [01:11:00] the loss of Malcolm X. Communist Party USA highlighted the communism of W.E.B. Du Bois. Left Anchor discussed the radicalization of MLK as he discovered the interconnectedness of racism, militarism, and capitalism before his assassination. Second Thought explained the reasons why MLK's legacy has been so whitewashed and the mechanisms by which it was done. And finally, Vox looked into the life, death, and legacy of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.
That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from the History of Indian and Africana Philosophy which highlighted writing from Frederick Douglass, giving insightful analysis of the way slavery wasn't just immoral, but drove otherwise naturally kind people to cruelty.
To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestoftheLeft.com/Support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let [01:12:00] a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And finally, a quick thought on solidarity, as that's been one of the sort of quiet themes running through today's show.
I just wanted to point out that, in my opinion, this has been an incredibly strong week of topics for us. First, the analysis of how food choices are structurally influenced by society, and now today's fresh take on using the excuse of the MLK holiday to highlight more of the supporting cast of the movement, and particularly their radicalism that has been stripped from them in the historical telling. Two really fantastic topics, if I do say so myself, which I feel comfortable doing because neither of them were my idea.
We have two research producers here at the show, Erin and Deon, and each of them this week was responsible for one of the episodes. Erin, our resident vegan and all-around food expert, had been stewing up that food topic for months, carefully selecting clips as she went. [01:13:00] And Deon, whose TikTok algorithm knows to feed him videos of White guys, the thicker the southern accent the better, talking about the evils of racism. He came up with today's topic after being inspired by a video of a guy talking about how he was assigned lots of Black writers to read in school, but didn't find out until years later that most of them were communists.
So we'd been discussing whether we needed to do a fresh MLK episode this month or not, because we've done several in the past and we wondered, does our audience really need to be given that lesson again? But then Deon had the idea for today's show and we knew that was the answer.
Of course, this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, but these were a couple of very stark examples, so I just wanted to highlight them and give credit where due in the spirit of solidarity, and as a reminder that we can all achieve greater things when we work together than if we try to stand alone, which to be honest, was mostly my [01:14:00] inclination for way too long.
As always, keep the comments coming in. You can leave a voicemail as always, or you can now send us a text through SMS or find us on WhatsApp or Signal, all with the same number: 202-999-3991. Or keep it old school by emailing me to [email protected]
That's going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks of course, to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. I mean, if you want to hear more from Deon and Erin, membership is definitely the way to go. We do some great bonus episodes and that's where you will hear them. Also, as always, thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken and Brian for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. And thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting.
And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at [01:15:00] BestoftheLeft.com/Support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player.
And if you want to continue the discussion, join our Best of the Left Discord community to discuss the show or the news, or basically anything you like. A link to join is in the show notes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestoftheLeft.com.
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