Dreams in Black and Green by Malcolm Hoover

I am on my way home from Memphis, Tennessee where I was part of the Dream Reborn conference, a gathering of people dedicated to uniting the Civil Rights Movement of my parents age, with the Green Movement of today.

Dr King was murdered 40 years ago in Memphis. They say that his blood stained the concrete so badly that the concrete had to be cut out of the balcony and replaced. His blood could not be washed away. Death was strong back then for us, very strong. It was strengthened by the blood of countless lynched and martyred Black men, women, and children. But we returned to Memphis to celebrate the rebirth of the Dream.

To be honest with you, I have not been a great follower of the Dreamer. I could never understand why he was so in love with white people, why he didn’t use his power to tell our people to fight back. That kind of love was beyond me. Surely our freedom, our liberation from white tyranny was worth fighting for, dying for, even worth killing for. I was named after Malcolm X who popularized the philosophy of Direct Action. Malcolm understood the violent nature of America. He never thought to appeal to the good nature of white people because he saw that the nature of America was a violent one. “You have to speak their language” said Malcolm.

The Dreamer’s vision was quite different. And I do believe that his vision was a real vision, not something pretty he said for the cameras. The Dream was something I saw in some small way this weekend. If we can, on a broad scale begin to implement the genius that I witnessed during that weekend, the Dream will be realized – we will live in an America where neither our skin color nor our birth circumstances will automatically determine our future. If we can marry ourselves to this movement, then there is a clear pathway to parity, to prosperity, for anyone who is brave enough to follow it. It won’t be easy, but for those brave enough to claim their own liberation, the path is clear.

Like more than a few young Black and Brown boys, I was raised by militants who never saw the golden promise of America. Life was hard for my parents. My mother was born in Tennessee, and my father in North Carolina, states seeped in White Supremacy. They were born to a country where Blacks were treated as subjects and objects. From a very early age, they endured segregation, and from what I know of their lives then and now, they fought a constant battle.

My parents saw Jim Crow fall. Black people won the right to full participation as citizens. But even as the legal obstacles were removed, no one had a national program for removing the mental obstacles. My mom and dad know what it is to be locked out, to live in America as second class citizens. They also know what it’s like to see an America open to them in ways that were never available to any Black generation before them.

May was Malcolm’s birth month; he would have been eighty-three years old. I often wonder what course his life would have taken, if he had been allowed to live. Surely he would have been recognized around the world for his gifts of motivating and educating the faithful and speaking up for the huddled masses. But whatever his trajectory, we can be sure of one thing, forward movement.

I think he would have been telling us to heal the earth, to get on the side of righteousness and healing. He would have told us to grow our own food, create our own fuel, to live close to the land. He would have told us to be self-determining, to be independent. He called for these things in his lifetime. The Green movement calls us to those same goals now.

For most of our history here, African Americans have been locked out of the promise of America. A few of us have capitalized on opportunity and natural talent and have broken through, but we have not experienced the natural social evolution that we should have. Physical slavery, slave codes, Jim Crow, Willie Lynch – all these things have been a source of constant indoctrination. We have been like the custodian who works in the same position for 35 years. He watches other guys come on the job, he trains them, works with them and somehow never gets promoted. He stays in that same comfortable place. Comfortable for him, comfortable for his bosses. He is reliable and in his place.

Not the most graceful analogy, but my point is this: African people were brought to the US to serve as a dependable, easily identifiable labor pool. We came first as indentured servants, but we were doomed to permanent servitude.

KILL YOUR SLAVE

The Slave Codes made it illegal for more Blacks to learn to read or write; family units were intentionally destroyed, the children, mothers and fathers split up, subject to the whims of the slaveholder. The minds of African people were attacked from every angle. And because of our dark skin, it was impossible for us to blend in with the indigenous people or the newcomer colonists. But it was the labor of slaves that supplied the economic basis of the very founding of America.

Now Black people have been supplanted in the labor market by others, and there is no easy place for us. The factories have shut down, the fields are not an option, and we are not as a people, competitive in this new economy. Where then does our future lie? How can we follow the model of capitalizing on something and then using that to grow a firm economic base?

KUJICHAGULIA (SELF DETERMINATION)

Key in our conversation and movement is the reconfiguration of our thinking. To be economically viable we must move our consciousness from being consumers to becoming producers. We have to produce more than we consume and we must become the owners of our resources. A simple example of what this could look like is the bio-diesel industry. What if we applied our creative energies to re-tooling our cars so that they could be run on bio-diesel, simultaneously creating a cottage industry around fueling, converting, and maintaining those vehicles?

This is but one example of what could be done. We need to form a broad vanguard in our community to re-form our traditions in a way that teaches our young people that you are not only the inheritors of a proud and ancient legacy, not only creators of popular culture, not only can you become magnificent athletes and entertainers, you are also in a position to influence world culture in terms of healing the earth.

Right now, even with all the leaders we have in science, politics, culture, education, and industry, most of us still think like slaves. We throw our money away, consuming things that do not add to our stability or long term health. We are servants and consumers, when we should be owners and producers. In any economic system, in any society, this is where the true power lies.

I think we have a problem with assuming responsibility and power not only because of our multi-generational training as slaves, but also because of the association that some of us have with wealth. We may not want to be associated with “those people” because they are so different from us. The truth is that they are not different – just that we have become complacent in our poverty.

We know we can’t put our faith in the government. This system is not designed to facilitate anyone’s liberation. It was designed to support and shelter the wealthy. And class will never negate race, even though it can ameliorate some of the frustrations of being “the other.”

“UP YOU MIGHTY RACE, ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU WILL”

We used to have it. We were well on our way to economic self sufficiency in the 20’s and up through the 50’s. African Americans, through necessity, started our own schools, financial institutions, insurance companies and farms. We had at that time a small but firm and committed base of people who were determined to not only move themselves out of poverty but others as well. It was during this time, in the late teens and early twenties that the Great Marcus Garvey, built his UNIA movement, the United Negro Improvement Association.

It was also during this time (the late 40’s and 50’s) that the Civil Rights Movement and all its affiliate organization began to form and come to power. The tone then, in that 40-year period was different than it is now. The phrase Uplift the Race had some meaning and definable actions associated with it. Now, in an America that some are rushing to declare “post racial” what does that mean? In my mind, the call to uplift Black people needs to be just as strong, if not stronger than ever.

What I have come to understand, what Booker T. Washington understood, what Dr. King understood, is that without true economic empowerment, cultural pride and grand ambitions are not worth much. It is wonderful for me to know my history and place myself in a continuum and contextualize my life in relation to my peoples’ history. That is necessary for a healthy sense of self. But that is not enough. If I cannot express myself economically, if I am unable to earn a living and satisfy my most basic needs, then I am just another kind of slave.

This is what is happening in the Black community right now. There is not enough opportunity, or knowledge of how to capitalize on what opportunity there is. Everyone can see that there is a need for African Americans to more fully realize our potential. But coexisting with that is an old weariness, a feeling that ultimately whatever we do, we will fail. It is a feeling that I often hear “they won’t let us have nothing.” Too rarely do I hear African Americans voice optimism, or express an “I can” feeling.

This is part of the magic of Obama’s campaign. He has navigated the minefield of being a poor fatherless Black boy in America. So what if his dad was a continental African, so what if his mother was white, so what. No one looking at Barack Obama could know that. He has a Black name and a Black face. I am happy that he doesn’t subscribe to the crippling Black inferiority complex. I am happy that he didn’t have to overcome a legacy of being descended from slaves. That is a burden that I do not wish on anyone.

One of the most telling signs of the enduring mental slavery of African Americans is the thousands of Negros who rushed to tear Obama down, publicly declaring that he is not Black enough. These Negros proclaim Bill Clinton to be more Black than Obama, that somehow because he didn’t have the blood of slaves in his veins that he couldn’t represent the interests of African Americans, that he couldn’t possibly understand our experience. I would bet every drop of slave blood in my body that those same ancestors would have supported Obama, a more direct descendant of the homeland they dreamed of.  The promise of Barack Obama is that a Black person can rise above and accomplish greatness.

This brings me to the Green Movement, in conjunction with the Modern Civil Rights movement, and economic empowerment. Now is the perfect moment for Black people to reconfigure our thinking, to re-socialize ourselves. Now is our moment to recapture the consciousness of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, James Farmer, and Dr. King. We can take advantage of this movement to heal the earth, “go green,” bring money into our community and hold onto more of the money we have. The Green movement offers us the opportunity to be an equal partner in the rethinking of consumption and what it means to be a producer.

So how can we get in on this movement? We can use the knowledge we’ve acquired as a result of having to struggle here, to benefit others. Low income families have long had urban and container gardens. These types of gardens have now become popular again. We should have the right to nutritious, healthy food. We do not. Our neighborhoods are full of corner stores and liquor/grocery stores where the only fresh things are the alcohol deliveries and the blunts.

Up to this point, we have done a very poor job of protecting our communities. The high levels of violence, shrinking and poorly maintained green spaces, high numbers of liquor stores and low numbers of full service groceries prove this. Black communities lack self determination and ownership. We have high numbers of absentee landlords and lackadaisical renters. The Green movement gives us the opportunity to revitalize the places where we live, opens the doors to ownership, and allows us the dream of being an integral partner in the future of this world.

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29 Responses

  1. Here’s the website for the org that sponsored the conference.

    http://greenforall.org

  2. Malcolm, this is a great post. I will spread it far and wide! I think it is high time for non-white people to claim part of the “green movement.”
    Just be wary along the way to the dream, because “green” sometimes means “unsustainable in slo-mo” if you get my drift.
    People’s Grocery, Urban Releaf, others… yes there are many opptys and they must be taken advantage of. Now or never!

  3. On Martin Luther King, you said:

    “To be honest with you, I have not been a great follower of the Dreamer. I could never understand why he was so in love with white people, why he didn’t use his power to tell our people to fight back. ”

    are you crazy or just uneducated??

    Would you condemn Ghandi for his very effective peaceful protests?

  4. ummm…
    I don’t know how to answer that Jennifer. I am willing to discuss whatever ideas you want, but don’t insult my intelligence. I’m not stupid, I just don’t think like everyone else, I am not politically correct and I will tell my truth without fear. Just because this is the internet, there is no reason to be rude to one another. I believe in dialog, and through dialog we can all learn from each other and move the discussion forward.
    Ghandi’s program worked in large part because Indians were able to overwhelm the British by force of numbers. I am not saying that non violent direct action was/is not useful. You missed what I was trying to say. Let me be explicit. White people have been killing Black people and benefiting from institutionalized racism for a long time. I did not understand (then) how “loving your neighbor” or “appealing to the moral conscious” of White America was going to liberate Black people. White people as a bloc, seemed very determined to keep Black people “in their place” by all types of violence. America has killed a lot of people right out in the open. Indians, Negros, Philipinos, Hawaiians, even the Irish, Italians and Armenians got their turns to be second class citizens for a while.
    African Americans had no assimilation plan that allowed us to move gradually into American society. If you don’t believe me, study our nations’ history.
    I was raised by militants, who believed that if we were ever to be truly free, then we had to be prepared to die and kill for that reality.
    Call me crazy if you wish. I think America has a long way to go before we can understand each other. And no, I would not condemn Ghandi, or King, or the Dalai Lama. I just don’t believe that getting knocked upside the head or shot, is an effective way of securing your freedom. Your thoughts?

  5. Might wanna read up on Gandhi a bit (Wikipedia) instead of just believing the myths. To me, the real hero of the movement was Stokely Carmichael. Read about him too – he was a mover and a shaker.

  6. MLK did a tremendous thing for civil rights! And I’m sorry about the uneducated part –I’ve just never heard of anyone dissing MLK that way. If, as you say, that he supported the idea of assimilation in order to fulfill the needs of the African American’s, then that’s just what he had to do. ‘Fighting’ for rights would have been antagonistic to the cause, and would have only inevitably produced more violence and more segregation. MLK was simply being a smart diplomat!
    And he was a brilliant man to boot! He made for a great Idol to the African American people.

  7. Stokely Carmicheal was absolutely a hero of the movement. He was one of the architects of the Black Power movement. He was very hands on. My uncle Bob Hoover, and he were very close friends, My uncle always says that he was Stokelys’ student. I met him a couple of times as a young boy, and he was incredible.
    Yes, you’re right, I should study Ghandi more. I saw the movie, but most of my opinions about Ghandi come from reading other people write about him. I think he was a visionary. I really do admire him, and didn’t mean to sound as if I did not.

    When I said fighting for our liberation, I don’t advocate a bloody race war, but I do mean that we could have been all along more active in defending ourselves from violent white supremacists, and the people who kept us from excercising our full human and civil rights. It’s complex, I don’t believe in war, but I am not a pacifist. Hey, we are all complex human beings and I am no different. In any case, these are different times. Some of the challenges are different, some are very much the same.
    I think the lines were very clear during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. But even then, there were always allegiances that were based on common interest, not race.
    I don’t want to seem like I’m frozen in time, I am happy that we are moving forward as a nation and confronting these things that we should have confronted long ago. The nation needs healing and in order for that to occur, we all have to drag out these old ugly issues, discuss them and take definite action to heal old wounds so that we can move ahead as a truly unified nation.

  8. I am white. Malcolm X teaches me that I am the result of a freak experiment by a mad scientist named Dr Yakub who created me and those who share my skin tone irredeemably evil. Please advise.

  9. Another African American I think would make a great president ( and don’t laugh) is Bill Cosby.

    Yes, you might say he is also assimilitated, but atleast he fights for ‘the people’ to ‘fight for themselves, get off the drugs, be responsible for your children, and puts a great emphasis on education. He’s a tough love leader, but he is well respected, universally.

  10. What African Americans need are positive role models. Barrack Obama and Bill Cosby, Denzil Washington or even Spike Lee are good examples. I used to work in the ghetto ER in Baltimore, and have seen too many African Americans give up entirely. They need someone to fill them with hope and pride. And they also need someone who is going to make them be independent and accountable. As for now, their role models are too often rap singers who promote violent behavior, or atheletes that send them the message that they are only worthwhile if they can succeed in sports.

  11. Steve,
    The Nation of Islam DOES teach that white people were “grafted”, created by a mad genius called Dr. Yacub, aka the Big Headed Scientist. I don’t think that was a belief that endured in Malcolm, particularly towards the end of his life, after he had prayed with White Muslims.
    Do you think you and other white people are irredeemably evil? Because what someone outside of you thinks of you?

  12. Jennifer,
    What we NEED is better economic judgement, more family unity and mental health. It would be nice if more people would take on the role modeling, but entertainers are by the nature of their business, in the spotlight.
    All those people you named are great, but we have plenty of doctors, politicians, lawyers and scientists, but they are not on tv making headlines.

  13. Malcolm,

    Yes, I know that there are. They need to speak out! White people are not going to do it. They need to establish a better way to install self confidence in their people. Baltimore is a hopeless situation. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Jewish people unite, so why can’t they? There needs to be some kind of accountability, and I think that Bill Cosby does his best to address these issues. African Americans can succeed. They just have such low self esteems, and their is no establishment that is financing change in their educational systems. If I could, I would open up a community center in Baltimore that promoted good health, tutoring, group activities and other activities to promote self esteem. Show them the beauty of Africa! Teach them about their heritage with some pride!

  14. How very retro-custodial to read a white woman explain what the black american “needs.” YIKES!!

  15. Yes, a white woman who has worked as a Nurse Practioner for a large population of blacks at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s ER in the ghetto. So, yes, that qualifies me to speak on behalf of what the poorer African Americans need in this country. The population of Blacks that come thru that ER is about 90%. And of that 90% atleast 60% are HIV positive. And of the traumas that come through, and I do mean stabbing, gunshots etc..that population is more like 85% African American against African American.

  16. By all means Bill Cosby could do as much for “his” people as Ben Franklin did for his ie Help “them” better themselves while protesting that all are equal. Franklin’s (for example and comparison) helpfull advice to the middling classes on how to raise themselves up was dependant on his agenda that class should be defined – and that he could identify the classes by adressing them with his advice. What a hero! No wonder he got a bigger funeral in France than he did here. Cosby is to my mind- just such a glib “benefactor.”

  17. Nurse Cuddy,
    I respectfully disagree. Your service is wonderful, and needed. I don’t know if you’re married to a black person, or if you have any black children, or if you live in a black community. Do you serve in any positions of leadership in the Black community? Are you a member of any of the black sororities? I don’t know you personally, at all, and don’t know your personal circumstances. But I can tell you that your work history does not entitle you to speak on behalf of what we need in terms of leadership.
    Now if you were to write more about the health disparities, homicide rates, HIV infection and the like, well yes, you are a healthcare professional and it is your business to know about such things.
    I enjoy our dialogue, I really do, but I know what my area is and I stick to it. For a long time, I did a lot of work with and in the Jewish community, I got to know the community really well. But 17 years of service and fellowship did not equip me to be a spokesperson for the Jews. I have never lived one day as a Jew, and so ultimately, whatever I know about being a Jew is second hand or observed.
    I don’t know, but I suspect it’s the same for you.

    BTW, My stepmother,(a white woman) is also a nurse. She’s been my mom for over 30 years and not once, not one time, have I ever heard her say to anyone, anything about what Black people need to do. She’s a very accomplished, intelligent and outspoken woman. She will tell you what white people need to do, to fix their own racism.

  18. Fine. I’ll do nothing for the Blacks then. You all can do it yourselves.

  19. Kathy,

    Apparently, you know nothing about Ben Franklin.

  20. Can’t we all just get along? Malcolm, I believe a Black man, Barak Obama, might know what’s best for white America; why couldn’t the reverse be true? Also, if your Uncle Bob has stories about Stokely Carmichael, I’d love to hear them. He was always a hero of mine.

  21. Jennifer,
    I tried to be as gentle as possible in my response. Please don’t get all butt hurt because in all honesty, I meant it to be gentle. We all need each other, every single one of us needs the other in order to advance as human beings. What I need, you need also.
    My criticism was with the tone you took, not even the substance of what you said, because, overall you were right. That needs to come from within, because groups of people are the same as individuals, the only lasting changes are the ones that we determine to make ourselves.
    To my brother in struggle Stokey,
    Racial politics, it’s all crazy, and people, including me get too sensitive. In sum, Black people need to be self determining-as self determining as you can be in an interdependent globalized society. We have too long looked to whites for our solutions. We have to generate our own solutions and supply our own momentum. Everyone can help, but we have to determine our own agenda, and then implement it. Is everyone who works on that agenda going to be Black? Nope, of course not. But most of them should be.
    How this is going to happen, I don’t know. Tavis Smiley does a good job of getting people to talk about it, and his “Covenant with Black America” is a fine program. Is it going to be implemented across the nation in our communities? I dunno, but I am willing to do my part.
    Finally, it takes dialog and discussion to get to where we all need to be. I have long said that my true enemy is white supremacy, not white people. I regard anyone willing to take up this discussion as an ally at least in part.
    Also Stokey, Barack is as white as he is Black. He was raised by white people in Kansas, not exactly a bastion of Black culture. He has tremendous insight about what it means to be white in America, because that is his family.

  22. Malcolm,

    We don’t seem to be in disagreement. I don’t know what you mean by tone. I certainly did not intend on that being inferred. I have very deep affection towards the Black Community that I served while in Baltimore, and I miss them, alot! I suppose I can not help thinking in terms of ‘helping’ because I am a nurse. that’s what I do. And I wasn’t meaning to gain any points by saying that if I had the money, I would open up a community center in the ghetto of Baltimore. Perhaps you don’t understand because you are far removed from their plight there. But this IS what I would like to do, because I believe that life could be and should be better for them. It’s the kind of satisfaction you get when you are doing something of great importance to mankind. Baltimore has a huge problem that is being ignored, as more and more of the indiginous people are being financially pushed out of the newly ‘trendy’ refurbished rowhouses in what is now called Fell’s Point and Canton. You don’t know how bad poverty can get out there. Not until you have to cut the pants off of some homeless person, covered in shit with maggits eating his scrotum, and watching his toes fall off as you pull off his socks. You don’t know until you see how night after cold night we had homeless people coming up with any reason at all to be seen in the ER, just for a warm bed and maybe a turkey sandwhich. You don’t know until you have to treat the thousands of HIV positive heroin addicts coming in with absolutely no veins left to place an IV, who inevitable get discharged back to homeless. It’s a war zone out there. And it made me sick how the MD’s would go flying out to Africa to ‘volunteer’, while they do nothing for the people in their own backyard, but instead, coming back home with Safari photo’s etc..
    Do you think they really care?

  23. And Barack Obama was a civil rights attorney. Did you know that? I’m sure that he knows what it means to be black just as much as you, if not more so. Can’t you imagine how isolated he must have felt growing up in a white community?

  24. Jennifer,
    I have always lived and worked in the hood. From Philadelphia to East Oakland to Bayview Hunters Point, the Fillmore, East Palo Alto to North Philadelphia.
    I have never disputed Barack Obamas’ Blackness with anyone. And yes, for a little while as a youth, for half of 7th grade, I was the only Black kid in my whole school of about 400 kids and I think I had to defend myself from white kids and have a fight at least once a week, so yes, I know a little bit about what that feels like.

  25. I am far removed from Baltimore, but not at all from Philadelphia or the ghetto where I live or the ones where I work in San Francisco.

  26. So, we’re on the same side then. Hey, did you know that there was or still is (I don’t know) a school based on Afrocentrism? Maybe the name’s not so great, but it’s an all black school that focuses on their own heritage. Kids come out of there with a sense of pride. And why shouldn’t they? We have Catholic school, Hebrew schools, etc..I saw it on 60minutes once and thought it was great!

    Hey, have you ever read anything by Richard Wright? He is my all time, hands down favourite writer of all time. His book ‘Native Son’ is rightly placed as one of the best books ever written. Not only is it a fascinating page turning read, but there are passages in it that are just poetry. A true literary Giant, he was. And so far ahead of his time. I can’t sing his praises enough!

  27. Yup. There are a lot of African Centered schools. I am a product of two such schools, Ivy Leaf in Philadelphia, and Nairobi Day School in East Palo Alto. I also taught at Shule Mandela, another Afrocentric school.
    I’ve been Black my whole life, and I come from a family that has always been very serious about our culture and heritage, so yes, I’ve read Native Son. You should check out Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Healers” and “Two Thousand Seasons”. Armah is my favorite author. Laura Esquivel is great too (the Law of Love)
    Yes, we’re on the same side.
    Peace!

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