ONE BOOK AWAY: THE SALVATION OF MICHAEL CLEERE

I have learned myriad lessons from my perch as an African-American studies professor enjoying the privilege of working with American youth. Probably the most encouraging of all of these lessons has been that most young people are what could be termed “one book away” from transforming a directionless life into “a life worth living.” I, along with thousands of other educators, fervently believe that the path to “a life worth living” is strewn with substantive writings that are essential to both their present and future.

I honestly hold this belief of being “one book away” as a transformative, if not a sacred lesson that every educator should believe it. My faith in this intellectual principle flows from two spaces, the first being I am a product of this mantra and the second being I have successfully applied this principle to my students.

Although I do not remember the date, I do recall being nineteen-years-old when I traveled with my mother to the University of Akron to hear Jawanza Kunjufu speak about a host of topics. I am not ashamed to relate that at that moment in my life, I was a directionless African-American male who had yet to find his way in life. The credit for this day’s impact is not attributable to Kunjufu’s lengthy presentation. My transformation occurred after the presentation when my mother introduced me to this esteemed educator, and he offered me a piece of advice that reverberates with me to this very moment. Jawanza Kunjufu looked at me sincerely and stated: “Young man, when you go back to your collegiate campus, I want you to go to the library and pick up a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” I had no comprehension that this directive was my moment, my “one book away” moment that transformed my life forever.

It would be impossible to overstate the extraordinary influence that The Autobiography of Malcolm X had in my life. This book that I read from cover-to-cover five consecutive times in the course of a week instantaneously changed me. If African-American studies were a drug, I was most certainly hooked by this first hit.

As I am confident that you can imagine, this “one book away” transformation that has framed my life for the past thirty years is an educational tool that I have repeatedly applied to the young African-American males that enter my course as unanchored as I was that moment my path crossed that of Jawanza Kunjufu. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that of all the students I have instructed during the past twenty years, the individual whose transformation most closely mirrors my own, meaning as a result of their exposure to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was a young brother from Dallas, Texas, named Michael Cleere.

Trust me when I say that the moment Michael Cleere entered my course, I instantaneously made several significant judgments regarding this brother on-site; few, if any of these observations extended beyond neutral. Mr. Cleere was a young black male covered with several tattoos, sitting in the back corner of the classroom, staring off out the window, and determined to not engage me in any shape, form, or fashion; except for the tattoos, he reminded me of myself twenty years prior.

Eventually, this young man lowered his defense mechanisms and engaged the robust conversations that we had in that course. However, things took a decided turn when Michael Cleere engaged The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he not only took to it like a fish to water but also differentiated himself from his contemporaries as one of the most astute and serious-minded students I have ever encountered. Through Malcolm X’s story, Mr. Cleere had crossed an all-important threshold and would enjoy the fruits of that momentous occasion for the rest of his life.

I am certain that any, including the subject of this posting, are wondering why I chose to write about this matter. Well, the answer is fairly straightforward. During the annual homage that all revolutionary-minded African-American men must pay to Malcolm X on his birthday, Michael Cleere posted about his reverence of Brother Malcolm. I took the occasion to ask him a simple query, “Who has been more influential in your life? Me or Malcolm?” Although the question was presented in jest, the answer was humbling. Mr. Cleere responded, “Ahhhhh Doc, that’s a tough one. You know that I love Malcolm, but I also realize that without you, I would have never met Malcolm.” I could do nothing other than laugh at the politically correct answer that was carefully crafted to offend neither Malcolm nor I.

One thing is for certain; I am proud to say that I have helped so many of our people who are “One book away” find that book. Trust me when I say that it is an experience that brings truth to the saying that “It is better to give than to receive.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, race and Culture, 2017.

HAS THE NAACP OUTLIVED ITS UTILITY

Truthfully, it is an assertion many activists have whispered for a lengthy period; less tactful persons have boisterously asserted it in the public arena. The issue I am alluding to is a daunting query of has the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) outlived its utility. Created in 1909, the NAACP was formed out of a desperate desire by a collective of predominantly white moralists who were repulsed at the 1908 Springfield (Illinois) Race Riot and what the event meant for their beloved nation. Although rarely discussed, there were very few African-Americans involved in the NAACP’s creation, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett were the most notable of that initial cadre.

For much of its existence, the NAACP has served as legal arm for the historic battles to subdue institutionalized racism in an America that was slow to change. It was the NAACP that brought the action to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., contention that the struggle for Civil Rights in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” would be a protracted battle fought in both American courts and the hearts of its citizenry.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned whites that their post-Voting Rights Act celebrations communicated an erroneous belief that America had conquered race.  King vehemently dissented against such naïveté and advised that the solution to persisting racial inequities lay in the completion of two increasingly difficult stages.  According to Dr. King, the initial step toward racial equality, the securing of legal equality, was achieved with the signing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. King posited that the next stage, the exercise of justice, would be much more challenging. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reflected,           

[W]ith Selma and the Voting Rights Act one phase of development in the civil rights revolution came to an end. A new phase opened, but few observers realized it or were prepared for its implications. For the vast majority of white Americans, the past decade — the first phase — had been a struggle to treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not of equality. White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination. The outraged white citizen had been sincere when he snatched the whips from the Southern sheriffs and forbade them more cruelties. But when this was to a degree accomplished, the emotions that had momentarily inflamed him melted away,

When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared. Negroes felt cheated, especially in the North, while many whites felt that the negroes had gained so much it was virtually impudent and greedy to ask for more so soon. 

There is no doubt that the NAACP has spent the bulk of its time engaged in the initial stage, securing equality on the law books of America, and scant time addressing the more difficult process of exercising equality. It is in that gap between legislative equality and the exercise of equality that the vast majority of angst and discord within black America remains. Put simply; it is this cavernous hole that facilitated the abandonment of traditional Civil Rights courtroom activism for direct expressions of resistance such as that provided by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committees (SNCC).

In time, court cases led by figures such as Charles Hamilton Houston, Constance Baker Motley, and Thurgood Marshall were replaced by physical confrontations with Jim Crow and strategies such as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s vaunted “Panther Patrols.” In time, it became evident that the NAACP’s propensity to shy away from such direct battle facilitated their marginalization in the minds of the common man and woman. In many ways, the NAACP was never an organization of the people; it represented their interests. However, it did not have many opportunities for those outside of Du Bois Talented-Tenth to participate in a significant way.

In the new millennium, the NAACP’s disassociation from the masses of black America has become even more pronounced. The emergence of grassroots activist groups such as Black Lives Matter has shined a spotlight upon this occurrence. For decades, the NAACP has rested on its well-deserved laurels as the most iconic organization in the nation. If nothing else, the NAACP’s reputation preceded it. Historically speaking, NAACP leaders were never forced to compare themselves to what many considered lesser groups such as SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Mississippi Freedom and Democratic Party, the Black Panther Party, or the Black Liberation Army.

The venerable NAACP existed above much of the dirty work that served as staples for lesser groups. Outgoing NAACP President Cornel William Brooks articulated as much when he related that “We (NAACP) do not crawl on the ground! We do not fall prostrate before problems! We are not relegated to the dust! We are not insects! We are an American iconic institution! We are the NAACP!” Ironically, it is Brooks, the figure who has worked tirelessly for the past three years to reposition the organization that sits at the center of the NAACP’s push for increased relevancy via a “transformational retooling” aimed at attracting the attention and loyalties of an emerging cadre of young activists. Inexplicably, the NAACP’s current leader is being jettisoned out the door as this initiative expands.

The deposed President articulated the primary problem facing the NAACP when he remarked that the organization “has fallen behind the times…it has been less effective in countering racism today, while Black Lives Matter and other protest movements have exploded.”

Although difficult to comprehend, it appears that the NAACP’s “transformational retooling” is born out of a jealousy/envy of grassroots activist groups such as Black Lives Matter that have managed via social media savvy, not necessarily an activist agenda or political accomplishments, to garner both the loyalties of a new generation of activists and the attention of national media outlets.

Instead of remaining in their traditional lane, NAACP leaders are apparently seeking to leave their throne of dignity and descend into the horde of the unclean masses via “an organization-wide refresh” to address the “audacious challenges…(presented by) today’s volatile political, media and social climates.”

The historical record shows that the NAACP’s most significant utility has been when they entered courtrooms and spoke for those who had been intimidated into silence by institutional racism. I fear that in its rush to recreate itself as young, hip, and cutting-edge activist group that the NAACP is vacating a much-needed role in the movement in exchange for fleeting moments of fame. I wish that someone would tell the NAACP board that there is much danger hidden in their desperate attempt to attract a new generation of activists. This courting of young activists makes the NAACP analogous to a retiree appearing at a club for twentysomething’s with wearing a Kangol and a litany of gold chains hanging around their neck attempting to fit in using eighties lingo such as “chill, dope, and chick.”

I am most certainly not saying that the NAACP should shutter its doors; however, there is little doubt that this movement to become something that it never was in a new millennium that it has never seen, is not only bizarre, but also dumb. If provided the opportunity, I would plead with the NAACP to not refashion itself as a rival to emerging activist groups such as Black Lives Matter. Such action not only betrays the NAACP’s historic role, but also leaves a cavernous hole in the continuing struggle for racial equality. Bolstered by a century of activist experience, the NAACP should be seeking to serve these emerging groups in an advisory capacity, not making moves to dissipate the power that has been mobilized in a technological world that old-guard Civil Rights groups will never be able to understand or keep up with.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

 

 

 

COUNTEE CULLEN (10:30)

INCIDENT

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me
.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

LANGSTON HUGHES (8:00)

The Weary Blues

 

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway. . . .

He did a lazy sway. . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

 

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more—

“I got the Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied—

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

 

Langston Hughes (1926)

Jason Whitlock Proves Once Again that it is Possible to be Black and Totally Ignorant of American Racial Dynamics

For some unexplainable reason, there is an expectation that African-Americans are born with a keen insight regarding the “color line” that W.E.B. Du Bois termed the problem of the twentieth-century. Trust me when I say that many a black schoolchild can share stories regarding a moment when the issue of Race reared its head and caused all of their white classmates to slowly turn toward their direction as if they were equipped to deconstruct America’s greatest social cancer. I am sorry to disappoint America; however, the vast majority of African-Americans know very little, if anything, about Race beyond very limited personal experience. Trust me when I say that when it comes to racial matters, caution is the best advice that I can offer to anyone stepping foot into this minefield.

The latest example of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread is sportswriter Jason Whitlock; in fact, this is not Whitlock’s first foray into the turbulent waters of American racial matters. And to his credit, Whitlock is very consistent as he never fails to make an absolute fool of himself while analyzing racial issues.

Whitlock’s latest unwise foray into this highly volatile arena occurred moments after the public was made aware that Cleveland Cavalier Lebron James’ L.A. home had been vandalized by someone spray painting “the N-Word” on the gate. James addressed this cowardly attack with his usual dignity and poise. Whitlock pounced on this issue as if he and his ravenous appetite were unleashed at Fogo de Chǎo.

In short order, Whitlock verified my previous assertion that blackness does not endow an individual with an innate ability to understand American racial dynamics. According to Whitlock,

“Racism is an issue in America, but it’s primarily an issue for the poor. It’s not LeBron James’ issue. He has removed himself from the damages and the ravages of real racism. He may have an occasional disrespectful interaction with someone, a disrespectful inconvenience.”

I am always surprised when individuals such as Whitlock who have been gifted with a national platform do not understand basic principles surrounding Race in America such as the difference between prejudice, discrimination, and institutionalized racism. Like so many other nationally renowned commentators, Whitlock has fallen into the usual trap of believing that his status as a black man is a substitute for the years of focused study that one must devote to the issue of Race to truly garner any significant insight. Most troubling of all are that the seriously flawed perspectives that figures such as Jason Whitlock haphazardly hurl into flexible public spaces occupied by an unknowing public carry significant weight.

It appears that while making his commentary that Whitlock channeled the spirit of Pino, a white character in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Consider the following dialogue between Mookie, a black character, and Pino, an individual who believes that fame shields one from racial bigotry.


Mookie: Pino, who’s your favorite basketball player?
Pino: Magic Johnson.
Mookie: And who’s your favorite movie star?
Pino: Eddie Murphy. 

Mookie: Pino, all you ever talk about is nigger this and nigger that, and all your favorite people are so-called niggers.
Pino: It’s different. Magic, Eddie, Prince… are not niggers. I mean, they’re not black, I mean – Let me explain myself. They’re – They’re not really black. I mean, they’re black, but they’re not really black. They’re more than black. It’s different.
Mookie: It’s different?
Pino: Yeah. To me, it’s different. 

Despite Whitlock’s well-documented inability to offer anything of substantial to any discussion of racial matters, I am unsurprised by his failure to realize that neither fame nor money shields black athletes and entertainers from racial bigotry. Now there is no denying that the financial resources possessed by individuals such as Lebron James provide creature comforts and options that the vast majority of African-Americans will never know; however, the American historical record definitively proves that such resources fail to move this segment of Black America out of institutionalized racism’s large shadow. Rest assured that such evil is much more disruptive than the relatively mundane racial conflict the average African-American will ever experience.

Quite possibly the most dangerous effect of Whitlock’s uninformed commentary is that his penchant for not knowing is incredibly infectious among an American populace that has never acknowledged its storied past of lynching, rapes, Jim Crow, housing segregation, and discrimination in the employment sector. Although I am certain that Whitlock will seek to shield himself from criticism by stupidly alleging that there is room for multiple voices within the black community regarding substantive issues, his voice is not merely divergent from mine, it is one that works against both the fortunes of Black America and the illumination of every American citizen in regards to an increased understanding of racial matters. I most certainly agree that there is room for a plethora of voices that will sometimes conflict with one another; however, such a realization fails to provide a voice such as Whitlock’s that is so uninformed regarding racial matters that it serves no purpose other than to delay a real discussion on American racial matters. Put simply; Whitlock’s penchant for using his platform to spew uninformed opinions regarding American race relations muddies a toxic river. Whitlock should know better. However, I long ago came to understand that “stupid is as stupid does.” And experience has taught me that there are some levels of stupidity that cannot be reversed.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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