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.