Nikki Giovanni, “A Historical Footnote to Consider Only When All Else Fails”

“(For Barbara Crosby)

While it is true
(though only in a factual sense)
That in the wake of a
Her-I-can comes a
Shower
Surely I am not
The gravitating force
that keeps this house
full of panthers

Why, LBJ has made it
quite clear to me
He doesn’t give a
Good goddamn what I think
(else why would he continue to masterbate in public?)

Rhythm and Blues is not
The downfall of a great civilization
And I expect you to
Realize
That the Temptations
have no connection with
The CIA

We must move on to
the true issues of
Our time
like the mini-skirt
Rebellion
And perhaps take a
Closer look at
Flour power

It is for Us
to lead our people
out of the
Wein-Bars
   into the streets
into the streets
(for safety reasons only)
Lord knows we don’t
Want to lose the
support
of our Jewish friends

So let us work
for our day of Presence
When Stokely is in
The Black House
And all will be right with
Our World”

~ Nikki Giovanni, “A Historical Footnote to Consider Only When All Else Fails”

Commonplace, Phyllis Wheatley, “On Being Brought to America from Africa”

“‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

‘Their colour is a diabolic die.’

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”

~Phyllis Wheatley, “On Being Brought to America from Africa”

Commonplace: Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”

“Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, ‘the mule of the world,’ because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else-everyone else-refused to carry. We have also been called ‘Matriarchs,’ ‘Superwomen,’ and ‘Mean and Evil Bitches.’ Not to mention ‘Castraters’ and ‘Sapphire’s Mama.’ When we have pleaded for understanding, our character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellations, then stuck in a far corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even our plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats. To be an artist, and a Black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be.

Therefore we must fearlessly pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers knew, even without ‘knowing’ it, the reality of their spirituality, even if they didn’t recognize it beyond what happened in the singing at church-and they never had any intention of giving it up.”

~Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”

Commonplace: Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy”

“I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals–
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting–
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,–
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings–
I know why the caged bird sings!”

~ Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy”

Commonplace: Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

The full letter is here.

Music of the Resistance

So if you need a break from constant Hamilton and Hamilton mixtape replays, and you’re not sure that the Les Mis man the barricades song is the right soundtrack for the resistance, may I suggest hoping over to Bandcamp on Friday and buying some music from international musicians from countries effected by the travel ban and the other anti-immigration order. All proceeds go to the ACLU. If you need some listening in the meantime, Four Tet has an amazing playlist with music by people from some of the countries effected by the ban and more over on Spotify. The resistance will have a soundtrack because dance is a form of rebellion. 

Commonplace: Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest 

A Hasidic Parable 
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. 

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished. 

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories. 

~ Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest