Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Sister Souljah to Sister Soledad

From Sister Souljah to Sister Soledad:
The Etiquette of Black Rage in the Obama Age

Paul Scott

Back in the late 80's, rap activist Sister Souljah lit a powder keg in this country with her sharp criticisms of America's treatment of African Americans. Her rhythmic rebel rousin' rap had black folks of my generation ready to stand up and fight the power at the drop of a hat. Twenty years later, we have CNN's Sister Soledad O'Brien whose sanitized social critiques make me want to drink a peach smoothie and pet a poodle.

There has always been a bitter debate between black folks who advocated building this country up and those who thought that it was more politically expedient to burn it down.

But with an African American as head of the free world the argument takes on new nuances. What is proper black rage etiquette in the Obama age?

Since slavery, black rage has been expressed in many ways

During the antebellum period it took the form of insurrections by Nat Turner and Denmark Vessey who didn't have the patience to wait for an Honest Abe to come along to emancipate them so they took matters into their own hands.

Black discontent took the form of marches and protests from the early 20th century through the Civil Rights Era when Martin Luther King and other leaders marketed their rage in a way to appeal to the moral consciousness of Joe Public only to have it doused by the fire hose squadrons of Bull Connor.

An alternative was offered by the "militants" of the Black Power Era who replaced the sweet gospel harmony of "We Shall Over Come" with the chants of "Burn Baby Burn."

Although middle America frowned on this expression of frustration, Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) said in 1968 that although a lot of middle class folks didn't like it when activist, H. Rap Brown threatened to burn the country down ,every time he said it they got a poverty program.

Seems like throwing a brick through a window has its merits.

This radical idea was not lost on the Johnson and Nixon administrations as Lyndon B. Johnson set up The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to study America's racial unrest and Richard Nixon replaced Black Power with Green Power, offering educational and business loans for any one willing to abandon militant Marxism for the American dream of Capitalism.

The age of Reaganomics produced a new form of rage expression called Hip Hop, as the next generation of black youth saw the gains of their parents begin to go up in smoke. Now black rage had a funky beat to accompany racial incidents in places such as Miami and Virginia Beach.

Hip Hop also articulated black outrage during the "LA riots" of 1992 after four white police officers were acquitted for beating Rodney King, a black man. The Bush administration followed the lead of the Nixon administration by pumping entrepreneurial start up money into South Central Los Angeles.

During the Clinton administration black rage became apolitical apathy. Even Hip Hop became transformed into gangsta rap where calls for black solidarity were replaced with the glorification of black on black violence.

The 21st century brought about the quieting of racial unrest in the aftermath of 9/11 as any questioning of governmental policies may have gotten you tagged as a terrorist and spirited off in the middle of the night to a cozy cell at Gitmo. However, with the anger over the perceived delayed government reaction to Hurricane Katrina and the jailing of the Jena 6, black rage was broadcast by a coalition of black radio hosts who used the airwaves to promote mass nonviolent protests.

But now we are in what many consider a "post racial' America where black folks are urged to be on their best behavior less they blow it for Obama.

So, what's a man who experiences a bout of moral indignation to do?

Now, black rage is neatly packaged in cute little documentaries like CNN's Black in America series.

Harvard professor Henry L Gates was able to express his disgust over his arrest by Cambridge police officers by pleading his case before America on every television network in the country including a prime spot during Soledad O'Brien's Black in America II press conference. However, we all aren't best buds with the Commander in Chief who had his homie's back against the boys in blue and whose friendship guaranteed him continuous news coverage.

So what about the rest of us ?

I think that most black folks would agree that ideally, the best way to get results is through diplomacy; airing discontent in a calm, rationale manner and letting the truth prevail.

But if that doesn't work, there's always the brick.

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots He can be reached at (919) 451-8283