My mother used to work at Roper Jr. High in Northeast Washington, D.C. during those days suburbia malls didn't suffice. We would roll back into D.C. for almost everything. We shopped at the Morton's down on Pennsylvania Avenue, hit the Jumbo over by Eastern Ave, the Murray's, and the Wonder Bread Factory in Northeast. She was a D.C. Public School teacher for many years in that old D.C. that now seems gone. On the good days when joy came, we used to hit the Holly Farms on the way home-best taters in the world.
Most of my almost forty year ago memories are now gone, but I remember walking with her into Roper one day and hearing her say that some students had jumped a teacher right at the spot where I feet touched the ground. The comment was distant and chilling. Had I been older, I woulda been like-you can't work here; but I was child. The danger passed right through me and I kept on walking.
And another day when I went to use the bathroom I entered a cloud of smoke and found students on their knees rolling dice and saying, "Come on Moftherfucker." I was done, and scared. A tiny little suburban kid who at the time really ain't know nothing about that.
Needless to say, I was worried about her in the way kids, and more likely young men, are worried about their mothers; but didn't have the words or age for it then. I was too young to understand why she said it. Obviously, there was fear in it; but like police officers or people in Israel or Palestine, or people in D.C., Baltimore danger neighborhoods, she went to work inspite of the implicit threat.
When someone tells you black people are still enslaved they are talking about the almost everpresent danger of our lives. It's a black lives matter moment. You can easily imagine that your life don't matter or that you are just a body caught up in some evil design.
To get out of the city to our home in Lanham, Maryland we took George Palmer Highway, which is now called Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway. Many years later in the early years of our bookstore, I took the same route back towards the city to our house in Capitol Heights on the D.C. Maryland line on my way home from the old Landover Mall. Some nights I would pass three or four cars with swirling lights on the edge of the road stopping cars for routine checks. The routine stops where a constant part of the environment. You grew used to men with their arms bowed out sitting on the curb while the police went through their trunk. I grew used to the idea that there was crime all over that stretch and that that was the way police did their job.
In 1995 after the murder of Prince George's Captain John Novabiliski, the stretch of road on George Palmer Highway across the street from the Old Kinny's shoe store became a ground zero for the search for the killer. I remember my mother coming home after driving through the intersection filled with police officers. She said they had slowed down traffic and were encouraging citizens to take flyers of the suspect at the time. She said they came up to her window and she treated them like anybody else coming up to her window. She didn't roll it down and just kept driving.
In that case the wrong man was brutally beaten by the police before the real culprit was found.
Slavery is about ever-present danger that seems only avoidable by tip-toeing around when there's no free black space. If one watches Roots, on can see how Free Black Space is constructed and operated. The story of slaves, the idea that we can mine the history and tell the story that has never been told, is a journey into Free Black Space. Slavery and much of its resistance, terrors, and horror were always some "I'll never tell" shit. But telling relegated by laws and the codes of white supremacy functioned like a gag rule on the mouths of Blacks in the presence of whites. It was as though telling was owned by someone else. It was a false ownership enforced by brutality. You could get your ass beat for saying the wrong thing. For the telling, the mouth, the lips formed to say the words that went with what was going on acknowledged the crime. To some degree the saying alone formed the foundation of whatever punishment, whatever destruction of the false social order that was needed.
Free Black Space became the place and center of the acknowledgement of the crimes, but it was trapped there.
In the I-Ching, hexagram #21 is Eradicating or Biting through. The gua presented there are thunder under fire. The passage for the hexagram win the Wilhelm translation begins, "Energetic biting through overcomes the obstacle that prevents joining of the lips; the storm with its thunder and lightning overcomes the disturbing tension in nature. Recourse to law and penalties overcomes the disturbances of harmonious social life caused by criminals and slanderers. The theme of this hexagram is a criminal lawsuit..." The hexagram uses its mouth as the symbol. In similar fashion to Nommo or the power of the spoken word to transform reality in some African cultures, one must understand the power of the mouth in transforming reality. While we imagine the body as being oppressed under slavery, we would do well to consider the tongue and the mouth too.
The beginning of punishment is the ability to say what you need to say. The mouth in speech links the cognitive world with the external. Words vibrate. The voice exists and through the act of speaking transforms for reality.
Punishment is worthy of meditation in Free Black Space. It brings to mind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. For atonement or healing to occur somethings must be said. We like to imagine action as being the definitive mode. I guess that is why some people got beat down after the first showing of Roots in 1977. It was almost a decade after King's death and the ensuing riots. There weren't as many cable channels, and the black mind attempting to reconcile the pain and horror depicted sought action. There is no endorsement of violence in the observation. I am more so proposing a question. If we were allowed to acknowledge the crimes with our mouths how far would it go towards transforming our reality?
We are now back to square one. It is the black lives matter moment on the edge of the road as one confronts an officer. To use ones tongue to handle the situation is as chilling as using ones fist. The body may be able to survive if the mouth is clamped shut; because in that way, the crime goes uncontested. Yet, when we speak, especially in the face of a crime we are prone to anger and frustration. Slavery is about the thing the black tongue could not bite through. Slavery and its horrors is the thing we cannot say. It is fundamentally about keeping our mouth shut. And the trick is to understand how punishment, acknowledgement with speech is far more efficient than the internalized action. In that way Free Black Space must cease to exist. Blacks must be free to communicate across the racial divide.
But there's a lot of learning that needs to occur towards this goal. There is the question of trust too. To speak freely is the end of free black space. I am not so sure we are there yet.
My wife tells me she talked to a co-worker about Roots who confessed she saw a student punch a white teacher she claimed she like in the head when the series first aired in 1976. The situation was so tight at Eastern High School that they closed down the school for a day or two to let student's calm down. The two of us had set down and watched one of the episodes of the remake. I was like Boo-I was about to tell the same story my Mama told me about Roper Jr. High.
It was my mother's Roper years when the first Roots came out. That's why I mention it. People already got partial amensia on the old D.C. I was on Fourteenth Street the other day and couldn't remember what was in all the places. I hardly saw any black folks. It was a beautiful spring day and their were patios, the smell of grilled food in the air. I guess society needs historians because someone must preseve the memory of the truth.
My mama told me that there were only three or four white students in the whole school at the time and they were in danger. D.C. at that time was that Chocolate City abandoned to blacks for a few decades waiting to be gentrified. The city was symbol of the nation, but also for many of its residents example of de facto segregation up North in the Nation's Capitol over two decades after Brown vs. the Board of Education. I remember in a different way, cuz something about Roper clarified why my Mom sent me to private school where I was the one of a few blacks. My parents were educated migrators from the South who in some ways left to get to better. First and foremost on the better list was education. And better almost always meant white. But the stories of white students getting beat up after watching Roots were beyond my imagination like dice rolling and smoking in the bathroom, like teachers getting jumped.
I wander back through my memory and can't seem to keep my finger on what I'm really talking about, or what really happened. I know I have seen some of the first Roots episodes, but I didn't come from an epic T.V. household. We were more like some immmigrant house I may imagine. A house where you could get one or two hours of T.V. like you could have one maybe two popscicles, one slice of cake and a little bit of ice cream. So I don't remember sitting down watching the whole thing. If anything Alex Hailey stands out. I worked for the Coast Guard for a few years and he is one of their prized alumni. And if you hail from the Washington area you know about the Annapolis Kunta Kinte festival and the statue of Hailey by the water downtown.
Those white kids at Roper got beat up. Beat up bad. I thought about that as I watched part of the Roots remake. I could understand the emotional response. Watching images of our mistreatment during slavery made me feel like jews must feel when they learn about the Holocaust. Not a never again idea, but a never again feeling. Marching to school the next day with that thought could easily lead to an altercation. I can understand that. I would venture even farther and suggest some of the students could understand the links between slavery and the cognitive code on repeat in their brains. No doubt the violence was an elementary response to a connect the dots exercise.
As we discuss here on Free Black Space, slavery is conceptual code, blackness is doused in amnesia, and free black space is all the whispering and secret talk that you see in the film.
The tears well up in me watching Roots. I love the Africans looking so African. Kunta had the fly wedding gear. Seeing him I genuiely wished my people was never slaves so I could be like that. It is fly and hip like Africa is fly and hip. It feels good to see that.
They movie uses story and narrative to give insight into our moods, habits, and long term predicament. For many the statement that white supremacy still exists is a verifiable reality; while the continuance of slavery is not. The two are wedded. If one still exists, so does the other.
So I can understand why some people would get beat up after you saw Roots. I can see young people moved by the wind of Hollywood Entertainment wanting to lash out in a way that is similar to the legendary Scarface film for folks intoxicated by the street. Entertainment is well capable of creating an emotional response well capable of leading to violence. I don't know if that will happen now, but if it does, it is wrong coming out of somebodies personal confrontation with the wrong.
But I don't understand the Snoop phenomena talk trending on social media about what he has to say about slavery. A couple of threads I saw seemed to make him more important than he is. Thus blows the wind of social media. What fascinated me was that we even, if for a second, care what Snoop has to say about slavery. One cannot expect his opinion on slavery to be of much substance. Strange even how it it fits in with the Snoop Lion whatever. Yet, we can be sure Snoop is a really smart dude. Just writing about him and black history seems rather silly. I would be much more interested in hearing about how he built his empire and how it tested his sense of morality and what success really means to him.
Free Black Space is more than a blog, but we operate under the guise of being a blog, so we are allowed the wandering and the roundabout. And we did it here because it is slavery. Slavery is extremely important. We should talk about it and engage it as sacred territory. It seems Snoop failed to do that. He should know that but has done other questionable things. Many of us know little about slavery; and even among those who know about slavery there are many who have failed to contemplate it. That is imagine its webs, its lasting influence, and as the Tao says attempt "to untangle the knots."
Whatever Snoop said Whatever.
Free Black Space