FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET: Sail Away to Victimhood

Huckleberry Finn as everyman. Chronic suffering of brain cramps, broken by occasional lapses of sanity. The decision by a publishing house, NewSouth Books, from Alabama,  to exchange the nigger word in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”, , for “slave” , or another form of slavery,may be a Shakespearean “tempest in a teapot” .Or in the contemporary sense is it another trope in a brand of identities? Twain did understand idiom, and the straightforward terms, and the reproduction of dialogue is perfectly coherent and as a catalyst for advancing moral understanding, it remains a work in progress, though the flaws appear redeemable.  Interestingly, the Finn text is in the public domain which can open up to some new appropriations and interpretations as part of a participatory culture.

In America you’ll get food to eat
Won’t have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It’s great to be an American

Ain’t no lions or tigers ain’t no mamba snake
Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake
Ev’rybody is as happy as a man can be
Climb aboard little wog sail away with me…( Randy Newman , Sail Away )

"This is all separate from the original Huck Finn lawsuit, which acknowledged that the book’s use of “nigger” is not racist in and of itself. The lawsuit’s complaint was that even if the use of the word is merely a part of the accuracy of the setting, its repeated use lowers the self esteem of African American students, especially when there are no competing works depicting white people in similar ways. Moreover, the reading of the book (and its discussion of these racially charged themes) created a hostile environment where young students who are still not self-aware enough to know how they think weren’t able to process the heavy material. It’s a complex question that goes far beyond merely banning a book for being racist or for having bad words. It’s a dialogue about the nature of words, the real world consequences of words that hurt even when there’s no avoiding their existence. "

Well, Huckleberry Finn is certainly not D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”, at least ostensibly. Griffith’s film, hand, is unabashedly racist. The protagonists of the story are the Ku Klux Klan, charging in at the last minute like white knights to save white, mainly blond, fair skinned princesses from angry hordes of unpacifiable blacks; substitute Freud, and hysterical for white women. The film also features the lynching of a respectable black man, who perhaps to Griffith had engaged in voodoo, goes bezerk and chases a white woman into the woods as perhaps part of a blood ritual; read Jews.

---What were your first thoughts on reading the play? I thought it would be interesting to do, especially to be a black guy playing a slave. Also how well it was written, he has managed to keep the dignity of the character without going too far the other way. I thought it was a bit like some of Steinbeck’s work – all these characters having nothing and all looking for someone else at the bottom that has less. ---

…”For Cleaver, the word eunuch is more than just a description of the other young, black inmates in prison. It precisely described Cleaver in his cell with his white woman pin-up. He gazed up at an image of one of the “forbidden tribe of women”– hoping, dreaming, caressing only in his mind that which he could not consummate and even if he attempted to violate the forbidden zone it would mean his life….

In Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson, the word “jew” is mentioned with frequency of tears in a river of woe with almost no outcry. But then Jacobson is a jew, culturally and symbolically, according to his atheistic claims. If Mark Twain was black, would he have the liberty of expression that Jacobson gets drunk on. Jacobson has written about memory and the Holocaust, asking the question of whether the commandment to “Never Forget” may lead to generations of unhealthy resentment among the victims. …that why in your current book, The Finkler Question, the protagonist begins calling Jews “Finklers”? Were you yourself trying to get away from overuse?

"Comedian Alex Thomas used the word “nigga” in this casual nonchalant manner just over 100 times in a 50-minute comedy performance at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles in 2001. His show was entitled ‘Straight Clownin’ and at times he used the word so repetitiously it began to lose its meaning. He said the word more times than Richard Pryor did in his 1974 performance of That Nigga’s Crazy."

A: Oh fantastic! Do you know? I was asked the other day, “Where did this Finkler thing come from?” and I said, “I don’t know. It just happened.” But I think you’ve absolutely got it. Kalooki Nights has got the word “Jew” in it more than the Old Testament. It’s a far more Jewish read than the Old Testament. The Old Testament is interested in a few other things. Kalooki Nights is interested in no other things. …”‘Never forget”  is an injunction inscribed on Holocaust memorials across eastern Europe,” Jacobson writes in the Guardian. “Not forgetting has become a sacred duty. But others argue that time must be allowed to heal us, otherwise a conviction of bitter victimhood will become the permanent condition of our souls. How does one adjudicate between these positions?

…In his prison musings, Cleaver told us that the “black man’s sick attitude toward white women is a revolutionary sickness” and then described how that sickness might be cured. According to the Soul on Ice Cleaver, the black man must manifest power, raw and naked, over the white woman and the entire white world in order to finally free himself. Like Ginsberg’s poem, Cleaver’s Soul on Ice is a perverted howl tinted with the blues of blac

istence. Its pages contains a horrifying amount of self-hatred and fearful doubt….

Nicholas Lezard, Guardian:As do many of Jacobson's novels. Kalooki Nights, he once said, in an off-hand remark which has come to haunt him, was intended to be the most Jewish book ever written. But the whole corpus is pretty Jewish. His protagonists are often Manchester-born Jews, as he is; one of them is even a gifted ping-pong player, as I understand Jacobson is, or was ("Is it too much for you to bear, you yiddenfeit, you antisemitic piece of crap, that we should be good at a game and win scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge? Is that more than an erstwhile fucking Church of England grammar school can swallow? Well, prepare to swallow more, shithead. Meet the master race. You're looking at a double-starred first and the next World Ping-Pong Champion"). When it comes to describing Jews in this country, it's as if Jacobson has cornered the market....

Sail away sail away
We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay
Sail away-sail away
We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay

In America every man is free
To take care of his home and his family
You’ll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree
You’re all gonna be an American…

In what context do blacks use this word today, and do their justifications of the use of the word create a double standard where non-blacks are vilified when the word “slips” from their mouths? How and why has the word become socially acceptable among blacks? Brandi Polk, undergraduate at California State University, Los Angeles said, “blacks should be the only ones that can say that word,” and this view, extremely popular among blacks, has created for others a double standard. If the word is highly distasteful and unpleasant, some believe (mostly non-blacks); the word should not be used by anyone, especially in public settings.?

n this form, blacks proudly use the word to show pride about their ghetto roots and the social problems associated with their inner city lives. Tupac proclaimed himself as a “nigga” and used the word in the title of his second album, Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.z. (1993). For many male youths you have to be part of the “click” and be known as a rider, or a brother that will not hesitate to commit the ultimate assault if need be. Most people are not murderous thugs, but like most of American youth they are fascinated with depictions of crime and violence, that include movies like the Godfather, Goodfellas, and Scarface. This was Tupac’s audience and they loved the “nigga” identity. ...

“But here is where the similarities end. The film is worse than Twain’s book in its controversy; Twain used the word “nigger” as part of his attempt to write a vernacular novel, to be accurate to what the people of the day would talk like. His whole novel was about opening Huck’s eyes and equating physical and political freedom with intellectual freedom. Huck and Jim escape from their captors early on in the book, but it isn’t until their minds are opened to the world at large that they are truly free. You never once think Twain believes the things his characters do–he satirizes the South and its racist society. To appreciate it you merely have to separate the form and message of the book from the specific use of an extremely racially charged word. The book isn’t racist. It has racists in it and uses language racists continue to use today. The book is one man’s satire of the times he lived in.”

"---As mentioned earlier, the word “nigga” is heavily used among many of the top rappers and among those that have mainstream audiences. For example, Billboards top 40 included 11 rap songs during the first week of April 2003 and those lyrics had the word “nigga” in the lyrics 17 times. The number one single in the country, In Da Club by 50 Cent, used the word “nigga” 9 times. Not surprisingly though, NAS’s positive song, I Can never used the word, along with Lil Kim’s song, Busta Rhyme’s song and the two Eminem songs that were in the top 11 rap songs. For the other seven rap songs, the word appeared 17 times in the lyrics. Eminem, who has been known for making controversial comments in his lyrics, told Rolling Stone Magazine (November 22, 2002) that he would never use the word “nigga” in his lyrics, but many have suggested that his two underground albums that were circulated regionally did use the word. ---


During this period, Cleaver discovered in the deeper recesses of his consciousness that he had an “Ogre,”– literally the white woman–who  possessed “a tremendous and dreadful power over” him. The sexual appeal of the American white woman, he philosophized,  was a great power in the  mind of the American black man. Though he attempted to be theoretical on generalized racial traits, Cleaver thus introduced inadvertently  his own sore spot–the interconnectedness of his “sexual identity” and his identity as “an oppressed black man.” In short, Cleaver politicized his own sexual perversions.

---Two women buy copies of DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 after a jury at the Old Bailey decided that it was not obscene. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate, had the unenviable task of reading through 138 novels to help determine the longlist for this year's Booker prize, announced last week. Among his conclusions about the state of the British (and Commonwealth) novel was that no one was writing much about sex any more. He had a theory to explain this. "It's as if they were paranoid about being nominated for the Bad Sex Award," he said, referring to the Literary Review's annual giggle at the most purple description of carnality in the year's fiction. Motion, caricatured during his time in the laureateship as "Pelvic Motion" by the Daily Mail, noted with dismay that "there were a lot of people writing about taking drugs, as if that was a substitute for sex".---

Read More:






What will we do to become famous and dandy,
just like Amos ‘n’ Andy

It’s quite a spectacle
to see us land in
waste receptacles
as if we’ve planned it
We’re never skeptical
when we get branded
Then disrespectful
cause we feel abandoned
The height of mediocrity
is the challenge
Crawling through the entrails
of imbalance
We learn to like to be the heroes
We learn to lie to the brand name negroes
We learn to laugh to avoid being angry
We learn to kill and learn to go hungry
We learn not to feel, for protection
and we learn to flaunt when we get an erection

What will we do to become famous and dandy,
just like Amos ‘n’ Andy

"Anyhow, he gets kidnapped by his dad, fakes his own death and hooks up with Jim, a runaway slave, whereupon they raft down the Mississippi River together and have ridiculous “adventures.” Wocka-wocka — Huck dresses like a girl! (Just like Tom did in Tom Sawyer — what the good hell, Twain? You need to tell us something?) These “adventures” allow Twain the opportunity to heartlessly mock all walks and forms of Southerners, good and bad alike, including cruel lampoons that make fun of poems written for DEAD CHILDREN. Nice. Defenders of Twain say that he is deliberately trying to exploit the failures of Reconstruction, which is fine, except that the lazy bastard never bothers to suggest how to actually correct or escape the situation. He just criticizes the shit out of everything and we’re all supposed to be “Har-dee-har-har!” He was like a 19th-century Glen Beck, and just as humorous. ..."

We’re born believing we’re greater than circumstance
Infinitely stronger than chance
As our first breath is handed
We taste the double standard
the need to wear the mask
And with society’s nurturing
The psychic plastic surgery
begins to take effect
As our souls watch astouned
Our characters flounder
duplicitous identity
Diction and contradiction
have become the skills
of assimilation
Razor honed to perfection
From the moment of creation
It’s gone from identity crisis
To survival slingshot to rifle
Sin to revival
Try to get looked at
but not poked in the eyeball
Warned of our impurities
Afraid of insecurities
Real life experts of the artificial
Athletes and entertainers
have become the minstrels
on commercials ( Amos and Andy, Michael Franti )


---Kara Walker: "...when it comes to work produced by black women in this country, there's almost an expectation of something cohesive...a kind of 'Color Purple' scenario where things resolve in a certain way. A female heroine actualizes through a process of self-discovery and historical discovery and comes out from under her oppressors and maybe doesn't become a hero but is a hero for herself. And nothing ever comes of that in the pieces that I'm making."---Kara Walker

The word “nigga” not only has never left our vocabulary, but it is becoming increasingly popular in recent years. In addition, other racial denigrations have become popular in mainstream speech. For example, Shaquille O’Neal, the center for the Los Angeles Lakers said, “tell Yao Ming, ching, chinh chong” when asked about playing against him in an upcoming game. Although many from the Asian community were offended, Shaquille O’Neal did not suffer a serious backlash and his endorsement deals were never in jeopardy (Nestle, Burger King, Swatch Watch, Radio Shack, etc). The word “chink” has appeared on T-shirts, and “white boys” has replaced the 1970s word “honky” for white Americans. Maxine Waters, black Congresswoman and Donna Brazile, black Democratic Strategists have both publicly used the word “white boys” with absolutely zero backlash. Waters once said, “I don’t see them slamming young white boys on the hoods of police cars” when referring to a questionable use of force by an Inglewood Police officer in Los Angeles County during 2002.

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