Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Beautiful Struggle" -- lyrics courtesy Talib Kweli, for “fair use.”

(This post contains language not appropriate for minors. It contains Talib Kweli's lyrics from "a Beautiful Struggle." I listened to this song during most of my restless times in Iraq. I have come to realize recently what the song means. This new appreciation for the lyrics I attribute to a class I'm taking on law and social change. Through the many things we are reading, I am beginning to understand that Dr. King's struggle have much in common with struggles of many peoples around the world. That's why it is so powerful. The atrocities, however, are equally shared by those who are struggling for change--even today. Welcoming Black History month, I wanted to write something I saw. In the words of my Mexican brother from another mother: "Ideas are Untouchable.")

This is a tear jerker

Emmett Till’s eyes were gouged, never to be closed; somewhere un-rested, his eyes would be watching his prize.

Marilyn Nelson A Wreath for Emmett Till- Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

By a vote of 422-2 in the House and with unanimous support from the Senate, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was signed into law in 2008 by President Bush. The Act authorized a spending of $10 million per year over ten years for the attorney general to investigate and prosecute other civil rights era cold cases.

The ACLU criticized the bill as having come too late, can hardly be expected to contribute much to justice and reconciliation since “witnesses and suspects are aging and physical evidence may be scant.” Senator Dodd joins the dissenting sentiment calling the bill “long overdue;” but he is optimistic for its future:

While this legislation cannot change the past or heal the wounds caused by senseless crimes of racial hatred, it can help restore faith in our justice system. And to those who perpetrated these heinous crimes and still walk the streets as free members of society, the enactment of this law should send a message that they will not escape the hand of justice.

Both seem to miss the point about Emmett Till’s pass:

The revolution is here, the revolution is here people
I said it once, I'll say it twice
You gots to be ready
The revolution is inside of you
People, the revolution is here, yeah

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways (rock with me for a second)
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

A few years later, Tracy Russo, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, echoed ACLU’s frustrations in a DOJ blog:

Because of legal limitations, it is unlikely that there will be federal jurisdiction over most of these cases. Two critical statutes used to prosecute racially motivated homicides, interference with federally protected activities and interference with housing rights, were not enacted until 1968. Under the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution, these laws cannot be applied retroactively to conduct that preceded their enactment. The five-year statute of limitations on most federal criminal charges is another challenge for prosecutors.

Yo, I heard it's said the revolution won't be televised
But in the land of milk and honey there's a date you gotta sell it by
Otherwise it just expires and spoils
And these folks jump out the pot when the water too hot
Cause the fire boils inside

You go to church to find you some religion
And all you hear is connivin' and gossip and contradiction and
You try to vote and participate in the government
And the muh'fuckin' Democrats is actin' like Republicans

You join an organization that know black history
But ask them how they plan to make money and it's a mystery
Lookin' for the remedy but you can't see what's hurtin' you
The revolution's here, the revolution is personal . . .

When people pass, we tend to want to close their eyes for them. Their last impression of the world would be a restful darkness filled with the coming of lights. It’s a last sort of comfort we feel we owe to the dead for having endured the living. Surviving their pain, we hope that one day, when time comes for us, there shall be a friendly face there to offer the same comfort to us, so we can sleep in private, in peace.

But once in a while, a pair of eyes is kept open to watch over us, to bear witness to our aspirations. Once in a while, a pain so great, so public, that it would keep eyes on us, on the prize.

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

Why had two men so obvious murders could’ve gotten free from the justice? Why would dead souls turn in their graves to face their Anglo-Saxon-ness for such injustice? Those things we still only think of in the “binary”: we see those men either as murders or great defenders, the rest of us innocent; we believe some of us racists, but we fail to see the humanity in others. In these false hopes, we deprive ourselves of our dreams: that one day things will change, just not today. Today we are too busy or too afraid to dig a little deeper, to discover what it really means to have eyes watching from beyond; we are too shy for the uncommon the human experience.

Today, we accept the things as they are; we say “Howard Armstrong should have voted to convict Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam of murdering Emmett Till.” But we soon forget that Mose Wright had stood there and convicted both men, in those times, against a people with convictions so strong that they are ready to kill to protect them.

We are reminded that to make such courageous decision, 

[f]irst, we would have had to decide that the established order, the system in which he had lived [our] entire li[ves], was wrong. Second, [we] would have had to decide that it should change. Third, [we] would have had to decide that it could change. And finally, [we] would have had to decide that [we ourselves] should do something to change it.

It’s easy to prejudice Emmett’s skin color and the egregious murder so that we can comfort ourselves by saying we would take those steps.

If confronted with some other injustice today, something that escapes our prejudices so well defined, would we be able to call into question our entire set of system of belief, decide that we are wrong, decide we should make the change, and finally do something to make those changes?

. . . laughter's the best medicine
But the troubles you have today you just can't laugh away
Stay optimistic, thinking change is gonna come like Donny Hathaway
You have to pray, on top of that, act today
Cause opportunity shrivel away like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away"

Today, we must decide if Claudette Colvin’s darker skin color makes her that much different from Rosa Park; we must decided if Claudette Colvin’s pregnancy by a marry man makes her that much less reputable than another.

Today we must decide if a poor child living in the United States is that much more precious or insufferable than a child living in elsewhere, we must decide if we can arbitrarily judge someone based on their religion, their wear, or the things too gruesome to remember? Isn’t there something deeper in the Human Experience?

Everybody pass away, the pastor prays, the family mournin'
Everybody act accordin' to the season that they born in
You'll try to change the world
You fight in the streets, start bleedin' 'til the blood is pourin'
In the gutter, mothers cry 'til the Lord be livin' by the sword and
All that folks want is safety, they goin' gun crazy
The same reason Reagan was playin' war games in the '80s
The same reason I always rock dog chains on my babies
The struggle is beautiful, I'm too strong for your slavery

Just a year before Dr King was murdered, he reminded us that:

[t]he black revolution is much more than struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

While Dr. King and Emmett Till keep their eyes open on their prize, where have our eyes been looking? Do we see it with our own eyes or are we only too afraid? What sort of human beings does it make us if we can only use Emmett’s eyes?

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing,
a crime that’s so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt,
your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains,
and your blood it must be refused to flow,
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

-- Bob Dylan, “The Death of Emmitt Till”

It's a beautiful thing that's happenin' right now
Right now G
Yo, I'm rockin' with my man Hi-Tek on the track right now
We fightin' the good fight
The Beautiful Struggle
Yeah, let's go

(So please excuse me while I laugh)

Today, we are fighting a battle for our planet, for its very survival. Changing the world is a complicated business; it starts slow and in questionable forms. It offers death and atonement, war and peace, struggle and progress. Today we take steps to question our entire system of belief, and say that there are parts unworkable, and we decide that we can do something about it, now. Yeah, let's go.

From time to time, there is a narrative . . .

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