Monthly Archives: January 2016

Dr. King and Malcolm X: Dream or Nightmare

On Monday of last week, millions of men, women and children celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in church ceremonies, plays, marches and speeches throughout this country and all over the world. All of these celebrations were primarily based on the dream that Dr. King expounded during his 1963 speech in front of the Lincoln Monument. Here in San Antonio, the city has even adopted a “Dream Week” that runs from January 11 to the day after the King March. It can easily be surmised that the Dream has taken the front and center position in the entire Civil Rights Movement of the twenty-first century.

malcomxHowever nine months after the famous King speech, Malcolm X challenged the premise of the Dream in a speech delivered at the University of Ghana. He exclaimed, “So if someone else from America comes to you to speak, they’re probably speaking as Americans and they speak as people who see America through the eyes of an American. And usually those types of persons refer to America as the American Dream. But for twenty-million of us of African descent, it is not an American dream, it is an American nightmare.”

From a historical perspective we had two Black leaders viewing the plight of their people from different lenses. These two points of view still exist today and speak to the division within the race. No doubt for many Black Americans, King’s dream has become a reality and they function well within an integrated, capitalist system. But for far too many of the very people that King set out to help prosper, they still remained trapped right in the middle of Malcolm’s nightmare.

You need only go to any large city in this country and the pattern of economic deprivation is the same. There are no jobs for the youth and only minimal jobs for an unacceptable percentage of adults. While the national unemployment rate had fallen in 2015 to a low 5%, the rate for Blacks still hovers above 10%. And the figures for young Blacks between the ages of 16 and 19 are astounding. Over the years it has been 393% of the national average. In 2013, the figure was 36% while the national average was 7.3%. When measuring these statistics against the dream or the nightmare no doubt the latter prevails.

An even more devastating statistic is the number of young Blacks who are the victims of violence. In the years 2008 and 2009, 5,740 children and teens died from gunfire. Of that number 3,892 were homicide victims and 2,320 were Blacks. Again, measuring these statistics against the dream or the nightmare the answer as to which one prevails is quite evident.

We are now confronted with the deplorable situation in Flint, Michigan where our children and adults have been drinking, washing and bathing in water that has been contaminated with lead. These children, as well as adults, will suffer the consequences of this evidently deliberate refusal to cure the problem by the elected officials in the state of Michigan, for the rest of their life. If one were to ask the men, women and children in Flint if they view their condition as part of a dream or nightmare, there is no question how they would respond.

martin-luther-king-and-malcolm-xI am not trying to make an empirical argument in support of Malcolm’s nightmare analogy but only to point out that we have a long ways to go before the dream is realized, for not only a few, but everyone. At some point we must stop placing the emphasis on the Dream aspect of Dr. King’s speech but more on the un-cashed check that was the real message he delivered in 1963. When his speech is examined from that perspective it becomes quite compatible with Malcolm’s nightmare and unites the two leaders in their outlook on the condition of Blacks in this country.

As we begin the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century, those Black Americans who have achieved the dream must pause in their savoring of success and realize that we still have a great deal of work before us. They cannot afford to be content until no Black man, woman or child is left behind. And that simply means that the unemployment rate among Blacks is equivalent to the national average, the killing of our youth by the police and from gang warfare ends, and that Black Americans are given the same opportunities to succeed in a country that claims to offer equality to all.

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Nina Simone’s New World Coming

Every year when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, I do something much different than most people. Right at the dawning of a New Year, “Should all acquaintance be forgot,” resonates at every gathering of New Year revelers. Instead of joining with the crowd, I prefer to listen to Nina Simone’s melodic sounds, “There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend. There’s a new world coming, and this one’s coming to an end.” I really do appreciate Ms. Simone’s words because they are filled with hope for our race.

simone

As a novelist, I consider myself to be a dreamer. Most writers who engage in the creation of fiction are dreamers. The great Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in his, Letters to a Young Novelists, that the goal of the writer is to create a world that far exceeds the one in which we live. The dreamer or visionary sees beyond the frailties of our world and shares with us his or her vision of a better existence. What the writer does with words, Nina Simone does in song. Her verse continues, “There’s a new voice calling and you can hear it if you try. And it’s growing stronger with every day that passes by…There’s a brand new world coming…The one that we’ve had visions of coming in peace, coming in joy and coming in love.”

As I look back over this past year, I believe Ms. Simone’s words grow in relevance. As a Black man and writer, my concern for our future as a culture increases with every young child killed by the police or the gangs. For far too many Black Americans in this country there is no peace, there is no joy and there is no love. No matter how hard we’ve tried over the decades since emancipation, we often seem to come up short. And our condition continues to worsen. It is almost impossible to find peace in these turbulent times. When a twelve year old Tamir Rice can be killed by the Cleveland Police and when nine year old Tyshawn Lee can be murdered by a punk gang member and they represent only the tip of the iceberg, we have a crisis. The irony of our dilemma is that there is nothing intrinsically bad or evil about our people. To the contrary we have, over the centuries, been the most forgiving and loving race within this multi-cultural nation in which we live.

That is why every first day of the New Year, I concentrate on a new world that is within our reach. A world where, as Nina Simone tells us in song, is filled with peace, joy and love. That is contrary to what we are experiencing in our communities. And that is why I write. It is my niche and where I am anchored for the remainder of my life. My works will not glorify the vulgar, the obscene, the killing, the drugs and the slow extermination of my race.

chestnuttThe great novelist Charles Chestnutt exclaimed in an interview with Crisis Magazine in 1926, “the realm of art is almost the only territory in which the mind is free, and of all the arts that of creative fiction is the freest.” The issue then becomes how do we as artists use the freedom to create. Do we mirror the violence that is drowning out our culture and write about the negative influences on our young, or do we, as Nina Simone suggests, dream of a new world that is about the eradication of hate and destruction.

I know exactly where I stand on these critical issues to our culture, and I believe that all of us in the year 2016 must take a stand. And hopefully, it will be to uphold the new world that our great prophetess told us “is just around the bend.”

 

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