“Manning isn’t just an outrageous character, perfect fodder for a satirical late-night show and click-baity internet headlines. He also runs a K-12 private school at the church, the two units of which are called Great Tomorrow’s USA Elementary/Middle and Atlah High School. His persona there is anything but an entertaining spectacle. Around the same time Manning was gaining notoriety for his dangerous rhetoric, he locked a teenage boy named Sharif Hassan in the church’s basement, according to Hassan and several other congregants and students from that time. For three full school days in 2011, a church leader would take Hassan to the pitch-black basement in the morning, locking the door and leaving him there for eight hours. Hassan, then 17 and a junior at Atlah High School, sat on a grimy bench in total darkness. His lungs filled with dirty air from the nearby boiler. Bugs and rodents crawled around him. Each passing minute felt heavy and lingering, and each hour felt like it dragged on for days.”
“The Queen of Soul” (After Charles White’s “Folksinger”), by Kadir Nelson
Aretha Franklin, a pillar of postwar American music, passed away Thursday morning, at seventy-six. A few hours later, the artist Kadir Nelson sent a sketch to The New Yorker, which drew inspiration from “Folksinger,” a 1957 ink drawing by Charles White. “I wanted to draw her in a choir,” he said. “She was a preacher’s daughter, and so much of what she gave us came from the church, even after she moved beyond gospel.” Nelson, of course, wasn’t the only one who paid tribute, and you can read some of The New Yorker’s writing on Franklin, old and new, below.
David Remnick on Franklin’s legacy:
“Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable. Smokey Robinson, her friend and neighbor in Detroit, once said, ‘Aretha came out of this world, but she also came out of another, far-off magical world none of us really understood. . . . She came from a distant musical planet where children are born with their gifts fully formed.’ ”
Amanda Petrusich on Franklin’s live performances:
“When Aretha sings ‘Amazing Grace’ in that church, it’s suddenly not a song anymore, or not really—the melody, the lyrics, they’re rendered mostly meaningless. A few bits of organ, some piano. Who cares? Congregants yelling ‘Sing it!’ None of it matters. I’m not being melodramatic—we are listening to the wildest embodiment of a divine signal. She receives it and she broadcasts it. ‘Singing’ can’t possibly be the right word for this sort of channelling.”
Emily Lordi on the Queen and soul:
“This was the promise of soul: that pain granted depth, and that one was never alone but accompanied by a vibrant community that had crossed too many bridges in order to survive. Franklin was the queen not only of soul music but of soul as a concept, because her great subject was the exceeding of limits. Her willingness to extend her own vocal technique, to venture beyond herself, to strain to implausible heights, and revive songs that seemed to be over—all these strategies could look and sound like grace. She knew that we would need it.”
RUBY SALES —Where Does It Hurt?
Where does it hurt? That’s a question the civil rights icon Ruby Sales learned to ask during the days of that movement. It’s a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now, but it gets at human dynamics that we are living and reckoning with. At a convening of 20 theologians seeking to re-imagine the public good of theology for this century, Ruby Sales unsettles some of what we think we know about the force of religion in civil rights history, and names a “spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of this time.
[OCG NOTE: Dr. Ruby Sales is a frequent contributor and commentator of OUR COMMON GROUND. In addition to being an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, she is an OCG Witness from the Bridge. Our visits with Dr. Sales can be found in our archives. Please do check out a couple of most important discussions that we had with her in our 2016 Season, “Hands Off Our Children: 300 Strong” Report from Field with Dr. Ruby Sales on 04/16; and, STOP THE WAR ON OUR CHILDREN™ • MARCH 18, 2016. We are proud of our association with Dr. Sales, our friendship and support from her and the Spirit House Project. Ruby Sales is a national treasure. ]
ABOUT ABOUT THE FILM
The Psalm of Howard Thurman is the first feature-length documentary film on the life and wisdom of one of the world’s greatest spiritual treasures, Howard Thurman (1899-1981).
The film introduces audiences to Thurman’s uplifting story, his transcendent yet grounded presence, and his important voice for our times. The film aspires to be a psalm,a lyrical work of beauty and truth, and a creative utterance that moves, touches and inspires.
ABOUT HOWARD THURMAN
A JOURNEY OF HEART, MIND AND SOUL
In 1935, while a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Thurman and his wife, Sue Bailey Thurman, led a pilgrimage of African Americans to Ceylon, Burma and India and met with Mahatma Gandhi. As a result of this trip, he formulated, a generation before Martin Luther King Jr., a non-violent approach to social change in America. This “love-ethic” informed one of Thurman’s best known works, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book which later influenced King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
At the close of the 1935 pilgrimage, looking down into Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass, Thurman experienced a vision of a church that would be open to “seekers of all colors and creeds.” He was compelled to see if “experiences of spiritual unity among peoples could be more compelling than the experiences which divide them.”
Hoard and Sue Bailey Thurman
Howard Thurman Birth Home, Daytona, Florida, USA
HOWARD THURMAN was born in Daytona, Florida in 1899. Early on, he developed a kinship with nature and a “hunger of the heart”–a curiosity into the meaning of life. He found refuge during times of loneliness and trepidation in an old oak tree in his back yard. It was while young Howard stood with his back placed firmly against the tree that he first felt the unity of all living things and engaged in what he would later call, “the religious experience.”
As a young boy Thurman was raised by a strong and affirming grandmother. She was a former slave who had a profound influence on what would become an essential part of Thurman’s thought–that if theology is to have any validity, it must justly deal with one’s life situation and must affirm one’s worth as a child of God.
MEET THE ARTISTS BEHIND THE FILM
“Arleigh Prelow is the right person to create a documentary about Dr. Thurman. She has the spiritual sensibility to understand his life and convey who he was in a truthful and meaningful way.”
– Sue Bailey Thurman (before her death in 1996)
ARLEIGH PRELOW, PRODUCER/ DIRECTOR
INTERVIEWS WITH ARLEIGH PRELOW, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR
THE SPIRIT AND WORK OF HOWARD THURMAN LIVES ON
PEDRO CESCA FALCI
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, HOWARD THURMAN CENTER BOSTON UNIVERSITY
THE HOWARD THURMAN CENTER FOR COMMON GROUND
Source: The Psalm of Howard Thurman
ve gotten a range of reactions to my “open letter” to Ta-Nehisi Coates. Some people find the piece extremely compelling, while others are horrified and accuse me of putting “class over race” or worse, “Marxplaining.”
Perhaps the unkindest criticisms are from people who charge me with not seeing race, or not really appreciating the power of racism in American society. If we must play that game, I can show you around the South Louisiana parish where I grew up, which was still in violation of a 1969 federal school desegregation order when I left the state to attend graduate school in the early nineties.
But let’s move beyond character assassinations. Such dismissive language does little to debunk my argument and basically just rehearses the same anti-Marxist posturing that I’ve become accustomed to in academia, where any insistence on examining the internal class dynamics of black social and political life is labeled “economic reductionist.” Ironically, in most cases, the most vocal opponents of class analysis of black life seem painfully aware of their own class position and yet are unwilling to address its political implications in any reflexive and critical manner.
I don’t expect people to agree with what I have to say, but we should focus on our interpretive and political differences if we have any interest in moving forward in the struggle for justice and equality.
This being said, I appreciated Brian Jones’s willingness to take up my arguments in a serious way, and I agree with aspects of his recent response. As fellow educators, public workers, unionists, and socialists, I am confident that Jones and I have enough common ground to engage in a constructive way. In the spirit of comradely criticism and solidarity, I want to take up two points where he addresses my argument directly.
An Elite Demand?
Jones’s interpretation of my point about reparations being an elite-driven discourse is a misreading, and assumes that my use of the term black elite refers only to the uber-rich like Kenneth Chenault and Oprah Winfrey. Jones writes:
There is a small but growing class of black elites who will never support reparations — or any politics of genuine wealth redistribution — because it is not in their material interest to do so.
That’s why Johnson is wrong to characterize the call for reparations as emanating from the black elite. This group is too well integrated into American capitalism for that to be the case. Walmart, for example, is also a corporate sponsor of the Congressional Black Caucus. The largest employer of black people, in other words, also pays off the black politicians — so don’t expect the CBC to jump into the fight for higher wages and wealth redistribution any time soon.
Jones and I agree on the basic fact that there are different material interests animating black political life, but this passage does not reflect the specific and contradictory ways such interests have been articulated by different black elites, and as a result, fails to provide a helpful class analysis of black political life.
Jones’s claim that elites do not support reparations is simply not reflected in the past few decades of sporadic debate and attempts to operationalize the reparations demand. For example, Michigan congressman John Conyers, a founding member of the CBC, has been one of the foremost sponsors of legislation on reparations, and for much of its history, the CBC has consistently voted in support of more progressive labor rights and redistributive public policy than most of their congressional colleagues.
Randall Robinson, the founder of the foreign policy lobby TransAfrica, and the late Ronald W. Walters, longtime professor at Howard University and campaign manager for Jesse Jackson during his 1984 and 1988 bids for the Democratic presidential nomination,both advanced the reparations demand in their speeches and writings during the nineties. And in the early aughts, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree championed one of the most practical approaches to the reparations demand: a flurry of lawsuits against Aetna, Fleet Boston, New York Life, and other corporations whose origins rested in profiting from the slave trade.
Organizations like N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) have sought to build a national campaign around reparations. And the Black Youth Project 100 has embraced the reparations demand as part of its “Agenda to Build Black Futures.” Others have used the language of repair to demand rerouting of public funds from police departments toward reinvestment in urban youth, education, and neighborhood revitalization.
Activists have employed the language of reparative justice in the John Burge torture settlements, which awarded compensation to citizens whose civil rights were violated by the Chicago Police Department, and also in the legal cases that sought restitution for victims of theforced sterilization program in North Carolina.
These cases are not the same as the demand for slavery reparations, but rather, like the settlements paid out to the Japanese internment camp and Holocaust survivors after the Second World War, these cases sought renumeration for a defined legal category of victim. Reparations for slavery, in contrast, is based on a more complex scenario of repair for intergenerational offense, a matter that in all likelihood cannot be rectified through the same legal strategy.
The reparations demand has also flourished elsewhere — within the academy, in black nationalist circles, and now apparently among some socialists. But it is only tangentially connected to the expressed interests and felt needs of actual black publics. Neither Jones nor Coates demonstrate convincingly that there is a reservoir of black popular support for reparations, or alternatively, that building such support among blacks and the larger American public is on the horizon.
Some of my colleagues have tried to convince me otherwise, citing various public opinion polls to illustrate black support for reparations. But opinion polls are a shaky source of evidence due to issues of sampling and, equally important, the difference between public opinion and political interests.
In many national polls, blacks are drastically undersampled; for example, in a recent YouGov poll taken around the time of Coates’s 2014 Atlantic essay, only 119 blacks were sampled, making the results of that survey completely useless for drawing conclusions about the sentiments of the national black population.
But even a larger, random sample of black citizens — which might provide data for a more sound generalization — only captures momentary, abstract preferences, and those preferences do not map neatly onto actual political interests, which are formed and negotiated within complex, changing social relations.
In other words, some black citizens may support reparations as an ideal, but in the everyday fight to protect and advance their lived interests, other issues like policing, rising housing costs, livable wage employment, and quality education may rightly take precedence over reparations, and form the core of their political commitments.
Over the past few decades, I’ve lived in the Deep South, the Midwest, and the Eastern Seaboard, in rural areas, mid-sized cities and America’s largest conurbations. Reparations is rarely if ever a central concern of the scores of working and middle-class people, black or otherwise, I’ve encountered in community meetings, labor union halls, neighborhood events, campaign headquarters, schools, and churches.
Coming to terms with the distance between this abstract moral claim and the actual felt needs of black people is not “class reductionist,” nor a failure to appreciate the historical relationship between race and class. It is simply the only responsible left politics worth pursuing.
A Political Dead Letter
Second, and more importantly, Jones’s reparations argument collapses under the weight of its own logic. He notes that while all workers are exploited, “Black people have been robbed specifically and continuously in this country.”
We can all agree that at various historical junctures, the majority of blacks have been a hyper-exploited and submerged part of the working class. Yet, as Jones notes, not all blacks would support reparations nor should all blacks be recipients of redress if it were ever achieved. Also, he suggests that capitalists should pay out reparations, not all whites.
But after parsing out who deserves redress and who doesn’t, and who should pay up, we end up right back where we started — redressing the inequality that exists between classes, a multiracial investor class on one side, and a multiracial laboring class on the other.
We can’t go back in time and address slavery, dispossession, and debt peonage as they were unfolding. By default we are stuck with addressing oppression in our midst, which is descendant from this longer history but actively determined by contemporary processes — foremost being the production and realization of surplus value in our world.
“As Marx argued,” Jones writes, “all profit is theft — if workers were paid the full value of their labor, there would be no profit. Reparations therefore must be targeted at the class of people who benefit from this theft.”
But if class struggle is the fundamental conflict, why then is there a need for the rhetoric of reparative justice? In asking this question I am not “counterpos[ing] the call for reparations to the fight for social-democratic redistributive policies,” as Jones has claimed.
I am merely pointing out that the reparations demand exists largely in the realm of the political imaginary, and that in the concrete world of struggle, social democracy and socialism have a demonstrated history of improving the lives of black and other working-class people around the world, e.g. the democratic right to organize in the workplace, the Scandinavian social-democratic model, the public works programs of the American New Deal, infrastructural development in Nkrumah’s Ghana, Viennese social housing, Cuba’s health care, education and civil defense systems, Chilean nationalization under Salvador Allende, and so forth.
Conversely, the reparations demand has been restricted to narrowly defined legal cases, sloganeering, or the lecture circuit. Without an actionable set of proposals to organize around and a popular constituency to advance them, the reparations demand is not a real political demand, but a form of moralism that evokes past injury to address contemporary inequality.
Moreover, it isn’t clear from any of these recent pro-reparations arguments how that political project would address racism more effectively than other historically proven approaches, e.g. effective enforcement of anti-discrimination law, targeted recruitment of blacks and other minorities in the workforce and higher education admissions, and enhanced support for institutions like historically black colleges and universities that have long served as a means of black social mobility.
In the end, Jones (and Coates) settle on the claim that at a bare minimum, another round of the reparations debate will at least have some important, and positive, pedagogical and consciousness-raising effects. According to Jones:
The bottom line is, the very concept of reparations for people of African descent is dangerous to the American ruling class. . . . Grappling with the real legacy of white supremacy would explode the lies America tells about itself (from “meritocracy” myths to “culture of poverty” arguments). And, equally important, a serious debate over reparations would raise dangerous questions about where wealth comes from and about who is owed what in this country.
Jones is right to argue that the Left should continue its war of position against racism and underclass mythology and lay bare the historical and contemporary processes of dispossession and exploitation. But how is this debate over historical injustice more dangerous to the ruling class than the actual power of a broad, multiracial alliance with the capacity to contest the demands that capital makes on living labor and the planet in our own times?
I appreciate the moral power of the reparations claim, but time and again, the demand has proven to be a political dead letter, incapable of ever addressing institutional power in any effective way.
I suspect that, at least for some socialists, reparations offers a means of demonstrating antiracist commitment. But it’s important to recognize that the claim is not grounded in the expressed concerns and immediate needs of black people. Nor is the reparations claim the only means of confronting racism or the most effective way to build broad, popular support for a socialist political vision.
The fundamental basis of political alliance, after all, is not shared identity nor even a shared perspective on historic injustice, but rather, common interest.
Life is short, and time is precious. We need to decide which fights we want to prioritize and be honest about which ones we can win. We should strive for a critical view of history and its role in shaping our own conditions. But our political task is to change this world, and the first necessary step is to find common cause — not in past grievances, but in shared predicament.
Cedric Johnson is the author ofRevolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics and editor of The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism and the Remaking of New Orleans. He is also a representative for UIC United Faculty Local 6456.
Activist and Organizer, Ruby N. Sales
“The Flames of Liberation: Rebellion and Resistance”
Saturday, September 5, 2015 Φ LIVE 10 pm EDT
“Transforming Truth to Power, One Broadcast At a Time”
OUR COMMON GROUND Session II 2015 SEASON
33rd BROADCAST SEASON
We open our 2nd Session of the 2015 Season continuing to examine the depth of structural and institutionalized racism, the impact of white supremacy and the concept of #BlackLivesMatter as a clarion call and the its promise as a movement. As always we ask, “What is your End Game?” We invite you to join us and be part of the response to THE STATE OF EMERGENCY.
Guest Moderator, Ruby N. Sales, Founder & Director, The Spirit House Project
To help us kick off this session we have asked Rev. Ruby N. Sales to join us a co-moderator on the critical questions and issues that challenge, trembling like a swelling tsunami beneath the ocean. A seasoned veteran of the civil and human rights campaigns of our time and a fierce and clear visionary of Black Power, we believe that she is most appropriate to help us press out an authentic narrative on these issues.
Institutionalized Racism is the concept and practice of white supremacy. It is the practice of discrimination and oppression based on skin color, physical characteristics, continent of origin and culture. It has its origins as a justification for slavery and the conquest of the Americas. From the beginning, slavery in the United States was tied to the development and growth of capitalism. Founded on the sale and ownership of human beings on the basis of their physical characteristics and color, its purpose was the exploitation of unpaid labor for super profits. As chattels, Africans were hunted like animals, transported to the “New World,” and then sold on the auction block like beasts of burden. In like manner Native American Indians were exterminated on a massive scale.
Moral and intellectual rationales were invented and continue to justify this kidnapping, sale, enslavement and genocide against human beings. As an ideology, racism provided the moral and intellectual underpinnings of slavery, the westward expansion of colonialism and the seizure of half of Mexico. Thus the purpose of this doctrine was, and still is, to put forward ideas and theories founded on the myth that Black people and other people of color are inherently inferior.
Almost 130 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the legacy of slavery remains. It is embedded in and influences every aspect of social, economic and political life. Institutionalized racism is the combined economic, political, social, cultural, legal, ideological and other structures that exist to maintain the system of inequality. #RaceMatters
Institutionalized racism has economic, social, political, ideological and cultural forms, and denies equality, justice and dignity to all people of color. There are new problems because of the systemic nature of crisis. Our discussions should examine what adjustments must be made in these new efforts to eradicate our place in this society. We rebel and resist the effort to force us into the margins, to make us invisible and to remove us to prison for profit camps.
Our discussions must explore and examine how to elevate our voices in the fight against police brutality, housing discrimination, immigrant rights, and the dismantlement of public education to mention a few issues. At OUR COMMON GROUND provide “a place for our unfiltered voices”. With the brightest, most loyal and insightful Black activists, community organizers and servants, scholars, researchers, journalists and social scientists we raise, clarify and illuminate the racist dimension of these issues, show how their roots lie in the system of capitalism and its new stage of crisis, and come up with concrete ideas to launch new initiatives and support existing ones.
As a set of institutions, racism is infused in the very foundations of our society and is inseparable from the economic foundations of U.S. capitalist society. The “new domestic military policing” is implemented to intimidate and destroy racially homogenous communities and put into place a ‘superexploitation’ of racial oppression that ensures our silence and to fill prisons serves to create and make real the essence of white supremacy. We are living in an increasingly surreal special system of oppression and racism perpetrated by a narrative dictated outside of our community. None of this is new; the struggle to liberate ourselves has been before us since our time on these shores. One of our most effective weapons is to ensure that we work from an authentic narrative and that its formulation comes from our Truth. OUR COMMON GROUND for more than 33 years has focused its broadcast mission on ensuring that the Black Truth illuminates and informs our struggle. #BlackTruthMatters #BlackVoiceMatters
BOLD BRAVE BLACK
OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”
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Call In – Listen Line: 347-838-9852
Tomorrow at Mother Emmanuel Church, Charleston SC the life of Mother Susie Jackson, one of the 9 murdered in that church will be celebrated. She particularly of all the victims have been in my thoughts.
Can you imagine what she has seen, how much she knew from 87 years of living Black in Amrerikka? We all know this woman. She arrived at this time, in Faith and believing that there is a Balm in Gilead. In the last moments of her life, I imagine her whispering, “Dear Jesus, oh my God”. A prayer she might have uttered many times in her life. I think about her, fearing for her nephew, Tywanza Sanders,26 sitting at that same table. He, in his youth and Faith, brave enough to plead for their lives to an unmoved monster.
I want to remember her as I imagine her preparing for Bible Study. Picking up around the house, having an early dinner and clearing and cleaning the dishes. Maybe even visiting that day with a friend. Ensuring that she studied “the word” of the week, marking a small tablet with her impressions and questions for the evening session. Making sure to put some mint candy in her purse and a handkerchief or tissue. I know she was not thinking too much about that “crazy girl trying to be Black”. I imagine she might have been singing or humming some old hymn, giving her lift to her step as she advanced to the time. Maybe “A closer walk” or ” faith of our fathers”. Getting a ride or even walking to the church, participating in a bit of chatter once seated. We all know who she was beyond the oldest of the victims. One of the Mothers of the church, having survived and found sanctuary in her Black life.
Tomorrow there will be no President with a eulogy for her. Her one spiritual leader and confidante is gone as well. So who will witness her life, her deepest victory over a moment’s fractured faltering Faith, her fear of Black night terror and the wonderment of her journey ? We will Mother Susie, we will. All respect for your life of prayer and purpose. We who understand and rejoice for you. You who sought in this time in your life, one thing – A Closer Walk with Thee. Your life’s journey and what you chose as your comfort lifted you in the church you loved and served. Rest well Mother Ancestor.
I imagine her smile, listening to something like this.