A fear is haunting (whatever remains of) the contemporary Left: the fear of directly confronting state power. Those who still insist on fighting state power, let alone directly taking it over, are immediately accused of being stuck in the ‘old paradigm’: the task today is to resist state power by withdrawing from its scope, subtracting oneself from it, creating new spaces outside its control
It is September 1955, and Mamie Till Mobley chooses a glass-top casket so the world could see in the mutilated face of her son, 14-year old Emmett Till, the face of the enemy. “Let the world see what I have seen.”
And now, where are the Mamie Till Mobleys to let the world see maimed, blinded, deformed, and mutilated Black young bodies and minds crippled by the institutionalization of racism?
They appear in films like Precious as Black icons of post-racial rhetoric: inept and helpless. The would-be-Mobleys, as repressed and maimed as the children buried too early or the ones sent off to school on the first day only to be transformed into prison inmates before their 21st birthday - the would-be-Mobleys and their children have had their tongues removed, for if, as Martin Luther King noted, “a riot is the language of the unheard,” then it is the tongueless, today, who have preserved the “peace” for the liberal middle class.
The liberal middle class no longer wants to know what is happening in the post-Civil Rights Era. It does not want to know police bullets destroyed Black activists, even while they slept. It does not want to know collapsed manufactories devastated Black families just one or two generations from the Jim Crow South. To use Zizek’s phrase, the refusal-to-know is championed by the middle class because the middle class just wants to “sustain its way of life” (In Defense of Lost Causes). This is why, he adds, it “tends to support the authoritarian coups which promises to put an end to the crazy political mobilization of society, so everybody can return to his or her work.”
Was it the Black Power Movement, the Kwame Tures or Huey Newtons or Dr. Martin Luther King’s refusal to stop at integrated lunch counters and his call for economic equality and opportunities? Certainly King offered “a crazy political mobilization” of the poor and working poor. No wonder it has been forgotten, or does it rest there in that refusal-to-know paradigm? Was it this threat that disturbed the “peace” of the middle class?
Where are the alternative, progressive media cameras now?
I remember a documentary on the Civil Rights Era in which a white man pointed out that the white business community overseas was embarrassed when confronted with footage of buses on fire and bloody Black protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. Where are the alternative media cameras, the reporters, now when for years the middle class of the North, the Upper South, in conjunction with corporate-capitalists partners, effectively maim, torture, mutilate, and spiritually and physically murder the Black community.
Liberal middle class is right. Bull Connors is gone and so is George Wallace. But we now have the Democratic Party, liberal educational institutions, and the alternative, progressive media.
Well, no one knows what is going on. Or rather they know Blacks are problematic, criminal, and prone to violence. The good people have acted to control the situation with government-funded educational programs for young Black children, outreach programs for their dysfunctional family members, crime prevention programs for the Black teen, the counseling programs for ex-convicts and drug addicts, and, of course, prisons.
In the state of Wisconsin, the Upper South, if you are enlightened enough to know what is going on there, the new governor who seemed to spring a surprise on the good folks was Rep. Scott Walker, Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Correction and the Courts. According to Capital Times writer, Steven Elbow, in 1999, Rep. Walker, Chairman of Corrections and Courts Walker, envisioned “a landscape dotted with shiny new correction facilities, built and operated by private prison companies” (“Aggressive Firms Plan More Prisons as State Resistance Crumbles”).
Democrat Rep. Larry Balow of Eau Claire, the article continues, thought this was a great idea! The farm communities of Stanley, Boyd, and Cadott are “‘virtually dying.’”
Resurrect them with the bodies of Black youth - also from dying or dead urban communities!
The article continues: State Sen. Robert Jauch, also a Democrat, agreed. “‘Like it or not, prison industry is economic development.’” For whom? And will all of the rural employees be union workers? “‘Communities seek the development of prison construction because they recognize that family economic income, retail business and community development thrive as a result of these major economic development projects.’” In what world can private corporations and government consider the building of prisons positive development?
Apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King’s concern about housing disparity has been answered: Vice President Jim Roberts of Dominion Venture Group of Edmund, Oklahoma is reported to have said “‘We have pioneered the concept of ‘Field of Dreams’ prisons…If you build it, he will come’” (“Aggressive Firms”). If we build it, the chosen will be found to fill it. If we destroy the chosen in plain sight, and then conceal the remains in coffins…
This practice of disaster capitalism at home did not turn the heads of the liberal middle class in Wisconsin. The politicians never saw a crowd of 100,000 outside the Capitol in Madison to protest this outrage?
Journalist, Senior Editor at The Nation, and resident of Madison, John Nichols, callsWalker a “mainstream conservative” (Democracy Now!). Meaning what? Was Rep. Walker, chairman of Corrections and Courts, a “mainstream conservative” too? What of the Democrats who supported the corporate capitalist prison projects inWisconsin? Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman, echoed the chant of theDemocrats who refuse to vote on Walker’s budget and who are currently in hiding inIllinois: “Shame! Shame!” It is a shame that Democrats did not stage such a protest when 6% of the Black population in Wisconsin represented 48% of the incarcerated (Gibbs Magazine: News, Opinions, and Ideas of African Americas,March 1-7, 2011). It is a shame that Wisconsin’s liberal middle class and its alternative media did not cry en mass “shame!” when, as In TheseTimes writer, Roger Bybee, points out in his article, “Progressive Wisconsin? State Marked by Empty Factories, Full Prisons,” April 5, 2010, Wisconsin’s “black male incarceration rate” became the highest in the nation; “twelve times the rate of white men.”…We have pioneered the concept of ‘Field of Dreams’…
Illusion represses reality: a restructuring of pension payments and health care benefits and a reduction of funding to Medicaid “will also allow” Gov. Walker “to spend an additional $21 million in the Department of Corrections” (Press Release, Office of the Governor, February 11, 2011). A restructuring of social services and educational funding will allow President Obama to request in the FY 2011 budget a record $671 billion for defense spending and $29.2 billion for the Department of Justice to house more prisoners (Justice Policy Institute Report, February 16, 2011). Obama’s budget exempts cuts to law enforcement agencies under Homeland Security. Walker’s budget exempts cuts to the police force…
…We have pioneered a concept of ‘Field of Dreams’…
All the hopes and dreams of the liberal middle class rest in these Field of Dreams in which America has buried the sons and daughters of the Mamie Till Mobleys. As a Black, I find it hard to recognize a difference between a Representative or Governor Walker and a Senator or President Obama! As Bybee states, “[a]t every point in the downward slide toward prison, African-Americans find less favorable treatment than whites.” For Black Americans, this “downward slide toward prison,” I argue, suggests a calamity of social, political, legal, economical, and cultural crises at the heart of every social, political, legal, economical, and cultural institution masquerading as fairness and equality for a post racial era discourse in which Blacks are depicted as having always been violent and, thus, criminal. But what better way for the liberal middle class to maintain the illusion of white supremacy!
Yet, alternative media, controlled predominantly by white liberals, seems to have missed interrogating this illusion.
Prisons, Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States, has long been an “extreme reflection of the American system itself”:
the stark life differences between rich and poor, the racism, the use of victims against one another, the lack of resources of the underclass to speak out, the endless ‘reforms’ that changed little. Dostoevski once said: ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’
Many have paid the price for the middle liberal class children to have a place in the sun. Employing the refusal-to-know paradigm institutionalizes the belief that Black children are inferior and potential criminals. Any Black is automatically criminal unless exceptional, that is, emptied of the desire for freedom. Our children are to be locked away to safeguard progressive capitalists’ fantasies. Peace!
The rise of Jim Crow Black slave laborers will not be televised! Stay tuned to news from distant and faraway lands where the demands of colored workers are not an immediate threat to capitalism!
Turn the bright camera lights on in Madison, Wisconsin, where an acceptablecritique of capitalism’s excesses, to use Zizek’s words, avoids confronting capitalism’s mechanisms, thus presenting a more “progressive framework” rather than actual fundamental change (In Defense of Lost Causes).
The “honest reformers” of Wisconsin’s progressive Movement sought to fend off the rising tide of socialism, Howard Zinn writes (A People's History of the United States). Similar to the nation’s progressives, including Teddy Roosevelt, the progressives of Wisconsin recognized socialism as a threat to capitalism. Nationally, it was necessary for progressive movements, Zinn continues, to carefully plan and to wisely direct the effort “‘to instruct public opinion as to the real meaning of socialism.’” Progressives, writes Zinn, pushed reform not change in order to “restore some measure of class peace in a time of increasingly bitter clashes between capital and labor.”
Recalling how the Black revolt of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to come as a surprise to Americans, Zinn argues (in 1980) that Americans should not have been surprised. “The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface” (A People’s History of the United States).
But we are here now in 2011 and the target of that refusal-to-know paradigm in these last 30 years has been the “memory of slavery” and the memory of “segregation, lynching, [and] humiliation.” That memory, dislodged from its carrier and co-opted for the furtherance of capitalismis bound to leave the remains silent, as any good liberal knows!
Perhaps when John Nichols reminds Wisconsinites and the world of the state’sprogressive spirit, maybe he is not misrepresenting the state’s proud tradition, after all.
There is a history of maiming and mutilating honest protest. But the repressed Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, the true working class of this world, will rise up!
BlackCommentator.comEditorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Clickhere to contact Dr. Daniels.