The Functional Aspects in King’s Writing: Reflections on ‘Where Do we Go From Here’

Where Do We Go From Here is Dr. Martin Luther King’s existential question, that leaves one to ponder the journey to a materialized space — proposed in his summation: chaos or community. This vehemently registers as obtuse, yet creatively brilliant. Or, it verges, on the notion of a risk, — of just how disenfranchised, Black people are in the United States.[1]King’s deployment of chaos as a descriptive noun relative to community produces a comparative tension that the reader is forced to re-imagine throughout the read. The mere audacity to equate chaos or community as a binary function is an interesting phenomenon to interject from the commencement. Because King uses “or,” he is intending chaos or community to be functionary in its application. There is nothing static, abstract or cerebral; he is writing a strategy to ignite a movement. In Where Do We From Here: Chaos or Community, Dr. King is presenting strategies for navigating through a terrain which may be chaotic or neighborly. [2]

Dr. King details how white fragility is amassing the courage to continually mishandle the humanity of Black people. He carefully, almost to a disheartening reaction, presents how whiteness has managed to misconstrue the difference between equity, equality and justice. Firmly positing that if one can respite or peace within spaces of justice, then equity and equality will become inevitable participants. But, justice wrongly affixed constructs an equality and equity that only benefits the privilege — white racist. King is desperately striving to engage a power structure that is, keenly, destroying, any resemblance of, anything that represents a powerful emblem of Blackness. Thus, King desire to dismantle racist structures and not just un-seed rhetoric, is visible. Interestingly, and yet inexplicable, it appears that he focuses more on un-seeding Black Power rhetoric in comparison to white racist rhetoric. Nevertheless, King’s desire to reconstruct a system that has intentionally allocated Black people as second-class is emerging. King audaciously writes, “Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting polls.”[3]Here is where we find King in-breaking a designated space. Yes, he understands the voting poll is a valued placed but he is carefully assessing it in comparison to the jobs. This embarks on the notion of chaos or community from a personal connective. Understandably, both voting and jobs have lasting effects but he understands that there is more at stake when one attempts to create jobs. Jay Electronica, the New Orleans’ rapper, has a lyric in the song Renaissance Man, where he says, “my grandmother want leave the fuckin projects, I got to raise the slum up…”[4]In spirit of Dr. King, Jay Electronica (Jay Elect) is attempting to reconstruct chaos in order that it may benefit those who in are locked in its space. King is visualizing people like Jay Elect’s grandmother who will never leave or give up but need access to jobs and the voting booth. So, moving within a Jay Elect-ethic, he is making every effort to raise the conscious of white America as well as trying to restructure the system. Is King successful?: is the fundamental question, and could quite honestly be the simultaneous answer. This is Baldwinian frame of reference, where James Baldwin seems to use questions as answers. Not in the Socratic sense, in order to move the conversation into greater depth but in a way that finites the conversation with the rhetorical question. King is presenting such a frame but does himself a disservice with the subtitle chaos or community. Because he is developing infrastructure—community— in the midst of chaos, the usage of “or” forces the reader to make a choice throughout the text. But, clearly, he is not asking folks to make a choice; he is insisting that community can be developed in the midst of chaos.[5]Thus, we see the Jay Elect- ethic being brought to the foreground of the text.

Early in the text, King makes an integral shift that incorporates race and economic equality to the struggle for freedom in community. He writes, “Negro programs go beyond race and deal with economic inequality, whenever it exists. In the pursuit of this goals, the white poor become involved, and the potentiality emerges for a powerful new alliance.”[6] Though King does not mention much about the connection between the poor whites connecting to the movement this particular point blares out for further explanation. King has just expounded upon the fact that there has been “sluggish progress” but proceeds to denote how poor whites joining the movement becomes a major happening that sparked life into what King was strategizing. [7]What King did by gaining the coalition of poor whites was he solidified the validity of their agenda. This movement could no longer just be labeled simply a movement for Black Power, because poor whites had a valid investment within the movement. This is embarking on the Christian term of koinonia which means to fellowship but there is an investment that is connective with the fellowship. King’s theological underpinnings are vastly coming into play as he is strategically building the movement. He is faithfully trying to construct a movement that considers all of humanity (or at least all the men.) King is embodying this in his speech and praxis which makes it palatable though oftentimes disagreeable in application. I contend that King was wrong when he states that “Black Power was a slogan without a program.”[8]The Black Panthers were on the scene operating within the spectrum of Black Power with the Free Breakfast Program burgeoning on the horizon of January of 1969. And, within its corpus of thought and operating principals, they had white people who worked closely with them. What this depicts is King’s genteel southern Christian roots that radically beckon reconciliation with the hope that Black folk will get a significant piece of the pie to survive. King is pressing for this strategic move to happen but the emergence of Black Power registers with the spirit of the traumatized and beaten Black community. What it also shows is the slight disconnect that King has with the majority of the people who follow him. He cannot in a visceral manner understand why this is connecting with his followers. King’s upbringing is not similar to many of the people who are following him in the movement. So, to encounter such a radical statement like Black Power and a figure like Stokely Carmichael is a pedagogical event that forces him to comes to grip with his lack of street cred. Here is where I ponder the question of whether King is now asking is it chaos or community in an individualistic sense — self-introspection.

King critical analyzes of capitalism is the worldly problem that goes intentionally overlooked because to address his analyzes is to admit guilt. King was adamant that the world was amply filled with enough resources to care for the people of the world. The problem was that the greed that has humanity trapped has blinded the rich into believing that it has the authority to ration those natural resources to the highest bidder. King states, “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.”[9]When material wealth overshadows the welfare of the hungry evil has become a necessary good. King is viewing capitalism through such a perspective, but is not as bleak as I may be painting the picture to be. King generates a concerted effort to find the good in capitalism but continuously demonstrates how people are corrupted by capitalism’s thrust. Honestly, he admits, that we all live “eternally,” “in the red.”[10]I believe this is King giving capitalism the opportunity to get it right. However, he undoubtedly, comprehends that capitalisms will ultimately fail to see how we all are inextricably connected to others. It is within that theoretical framework where King is trying to find the sweet spot for the movement and the justice of America. The failure of capitalism to see “truth is collectivism” is the crux of why it is hard for King’s ideas of community to flourish in a capitalism. I want to be very clear that I am not saying that it cannot be constructed or started; but, I am referring to flourishing. King’s idea of community thrives on a collective theory of we all make it through whereas capitalism is centered upon the best/chosen/strongest only make it. Therefore, flourishing is not a communal happening but is individualistic. King is strongly and passionately fighting against the notion of capitalistic venture that rescues the privilege one and ostracizes the oppressed many. King understands it this way: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”[11]This is the revolutionary stance that King is aiming to ascend toward throughout the movement.

What I am proposing in this reflection is that King is not asking a question but making a statement. Throughout the text he is wrestling with what that statement will ultimate resemble, but, nonetheless, he knows that he is preparing for something in the end. I found King to be a bit to compromising in some places but I understood why he approached it in such a manner. Because, it is one thing to write a text for academic musing but it is another to write a text that will used as revolutionary weaponry. The application is different but how scholarship is appropriated in the given space challenges the writer to creatively construct a sentence that may save a life. Writing with that in mind is something that King had to keep in the forefront of his thinking, I suppose.

I have constantly repeated that King was not really asking a question but making a statement when he asked where do we go from here, chaos or community. In the last sentence of the official pages of the book, King writes, “This may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”[12]King has waited to the last sentence of the book to show that his question was his answer. He is still trying to figure out what America is trapped within. There are glimpse of how he is being influenced but the real changes do not bear fruit to a little later in his life. King is unsettled, and, rightly, so.

Concluding Thought

Blackness has always been the ambivalent reality of the American project. King’s brilliance is that he understood Blackness and the how racism handcuffed the humanity of the Black body. Where Do We Go From Hereis King’s attempt to provide a piece of literature that would speak to a generation after him about what the movement had to endure to get “that” point. He is very referential throughout the text and hopeful that people will look back, and remember what was exemplified by his generation. King has a nostalgic appeal that is essential to remembering how Blackness was the center of his reality. Though he is an integrationist, which is centered in his interpretation of Christianity, King is deeply committed to the plight of Black people. For most people, I would consider this a contradictory statement, but for King, it is a testament to his character. He embodied his belief in nonviolence and integration, which made his love for Black people even more viable. He was willing to give his life for the Black community. King was not just about frivolous banter but was action prone. He believed, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.”[13]What can be concluded is that King was serious about making functional words and actions. I go back to his usage of “or” rather than “and.” I still believe it was problematic to entitled the book this way but using “or” produces a forthright-ness that engenders movement. And, we when we think of Dr. King we think about movement.

 

[1]I am not quite sure how to verbally commit to how risky I believe King is moving within the title. But, my usage of a comma to then a dash is an intentional indicator that signal that something I happening with speech that must be attended to. This is very Baldwin-like when words escape his grasp he tends to use punctuation as points of contention.

[2]Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Beacon Press: Boston, 1968.

[3]King, 6.

[4]Jay Electronica, Renaissance Man, Style Wars EP

[5]This is something that is not noticeable from a service read or from an initial perusing of the text. It is only after close reading that it become visible that King is not asking the reader to choose but actually declaring such to be.

[6]King, 17.

[7]King, 17.

[8]King, 18

[9]King, 187.

[10]King, 191.

[11]King, 193.

[12]King, 202.

[13]King, 164.

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The Project of Re-hearing N.W.A.’s “F—- the Police” as Lament

(This is part of a larger work entitled, “Perspectives of a Black Rage Sensibility: (Reshaping) God Through Spaces of Blackness”)

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has awakened elements of resistance in some youth and adults in the black community. The constant fight for injustice upon the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland and many more has stressed the importance of resistance, of naming the issues and calling for socio-political accountability and reform. These widely scrutinized deaths, and subsequent testimonies of black parents about the imperative they feel to inform their children about what they need to know to survive in America.[1] This rising national awareness is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement, when young black students took to the street in forms of protest. Then, as now, their aim was to draw attention to the maltreatment of the black body in the hands of a racist American judicial system. During the Civil Rights Movement, Professor Michelle Alexander suggests that over twenty thousand people were arrested for protesting.[2] Now, in current days, “BLM is the new model for civil rights,” states Khalil Gibran Muhammad. [3] He quotes historian Andy Seal that BLM is a “…rearest of rear-guard positions one can imagine, petitioning for the right not to die prematurely, a mark of retreat from the larger hopes and assertive agendas.”[4] This BLM protest is an outcry for help in the midst of a society that institutionalizes its marginalization of black citizens. Thus, Black Lives Matter becomes a tautology that emphasizes the value of the devalued black body as do the words of N.W.A.’s Fuck the Police.

N.W.A.’s Fuck The Police may be easily dismissed for it is the work of a group inner-city teenagers. Their song, this Hip Hop lament, can be ignored as misguided epitaphs and excuses to commit crime, but upon further review, a look at the treatment these young men endured, at the hands of mis-trained policemen, their words become screams for help.  The words of N.W.A.’s Ice Cube in Fuck the Police levy the fiercest critiques aimed upon cops. Ice Cube raps,

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground/

A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown/

And not the other color so police think/They have the authority to kill a minority

Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one/

For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun

To be beating on, and thrown in jail/

We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager/

With a little bit of gold and a pager

Searching my car, looking for the product/

Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics

You’d rather see, me in the pen/

Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o [5]

Superficially, these words appear to affirm the killing of police officers as a justifiable act. But, read closely it is a lament for help. Professor Cornel West explains that the world of Hip Hop has emerged from a place of rage against the injustices of black bodies. He further articulates that Hip Hop originated with a “fierce disgust with the hypocrisies of adult culture-disgust with the selfishness, capitalistic callousness, and xenophobia of the culture of adults, both within the hood and the society at large.”[6] This rebel music became the backdrop for Black Rage against police brutality. N.W.A. sparked an outcry, rallying black youth in the hoods of America. N.W.A. spoke about the injustice that was being displayed on the faces and backs of black people in the policing of the cities of America. In Open Mike, Michael Eric Dyson argues that this “agitprop anthem” denotes a recognizable reality because it raises the “language of rebellion against political tyranny and police force.”[7] Dyson also declared,

There’s also solidarity in fighting the distortion of human identity under oppression, as the poor the world over fight against their bodies being trapped, contained, and demoralized by social structures and governmental practices.[8]

Thus, the creative instinct, fueled and directed by Black Rage made N.W.A’s work foci of resistance contemporary. What West and Dyson articulate as academic critics of the culture of Hip Hop, KRS-One, an icon in Hip Hop, vocalizes as a one who is embedded in the culture: “The real lives of those that are affected by injustice, lawlessness, and corruption created…Hiphop as a way out of oppression.”[9] Fuck The Police became the song of protest and a timely lament for black youth.

The movie Straight Outta Compton, shows the members of N.W.A. taking a break from a recording session.[10] While standing outside of the studio, they are accosted by the police for no apparent reason. After the group members are harassed and humiliated, the manager of the group Jerry Heller, an older white man, comes out and demands that the police allow the men to get off of the ground. Demeaned and treated inhumanely, the young men are allowed to get off the ground and stand up but only after a few more degrading comments from a Black “cop.” Upon re-entering back into the studio, you find the young men frustrated with their treatment. Reflecting upon the harassment they just received, they come up with the song, Fuck the Police. In response to their Black Rage, they creatively lament in a song. Ice Cube’s verse set off a montage of lyrical critiques which exposed and lamented a system that defrauded black men of their dignity.

Dyson quotes John Singleton, who reflected, “Most white people don’t know what it is like to be stopped for a traffic ticket violation and worry more about getting beat up or shot than paying the ticket.”[11] Singleton is indicating that while whites are sheltered from this on-going black reality, the song exposes the experience. This daily vulnerably of blacks was the reality that Ice Cube was referencing in his lyrics. It would be easy to dismiss it as vulgar music that makes excuses for crime but that would be an unfair assumption. Theologian Daniel Hodge is clear that “Hip Hop requires a basic theological worldview of the profane.”[12]  He goes further by denoting, “Theologians and church heroes assert that God meets us first in death and despair –the hell of life. Only those who enter the “s—-”(to borrow from Martin Luther) can encounter the God of Jesus.”[13] Hodge’s analysis indicates that N.W.A.’s Fuck The Police was not the outcry for the murdering of a police officer: it was a Black Rage lament, searching for assistance in a community of resistance. Professor Robert C. Dykstra proposes that to “lament is to protest some circumstance perceived as especially shaming…,” and that lament breaches favorable decorum, and fluctuates between “one’s tenderness and rage.”[14] I suggest that Ice Cube has experienced such a shaming trauma that his lament brands itself in the terms shared by Dykstra. Ice Cube understands that his skin color is the very reason that he is in this predicament: he was just standing outside on the sidewalk with his partners. His brown skin drew police attention to his friends and himself. This “attention” which automatically gave police the “authority to kill a minority.”[15] This lament of Black Rage by N.W.A informs society of the life of the black body as a body constantly traumatized in encounters with those sworn to protect American citizens. Perhaps the vulgarity distracts, but the message is pertinent to the violent acts that are being thrust upon black bodies. Dyson agrees with the message of Fuck the Police, but challenges them “to develop an ethical perspective on the drug gangs that duplicate police violence in black-on-black violence.” [16] What Dyson indicates is a restructured form of genocide that finds ease in the senseless murders of black bodies. His challenge is that a means be found to alter this acceptable practice that has been made an institutionalized practice for people of color.

 

[1] This is a product of numerous conversation that I have had with black parents about their fear of their black children being killed by police.

[2] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press,2010.,37.

[3] Khalil Gibran Muhammed. “The revolution will be live-tweeted: why #BlackLivesMatter is the new model for civil rights”, The Guardian, December 1, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/01/black-lives-matter-civil-rights-movement-ferguson (accessed March 25, 2016)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fuck The Police, N.W.A.

[6] Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialisms, New York: Penguin Group, 2004.,179

[7] Michael Eric Dyson. Open Mike, New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003., 268. Agitprop anthem is a term that Dyson uses to display that the song was a propaganda tool that was deployed by N.W.A to get people to view the police in other ways other than serving the community.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cornel West quotes this from KRS- One Ruminations. Ibid.,174. KRS- One (Kris Parker) is known as the Teacha of Hip Hop. He was one of the original members of the legendary group BDP (Boogie Down Productions). He has lectured at Princeton, Harvard and many other universities throughout the United States.

[10] Straight Outta Compton was the biopic film detailing the lives of NWA’s rise to success.

[11] Quoted in Michael Eric Dyson, The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, New York: Basic Civitas, 2004.,342.

[12] Daniel Hodge, The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology, Illinois: Intervarsity Press Books, 2010, 23. Hodge argues that God can and does show up in the most unusual and interesting places. He writes, Hip Hop Theology is…a study of the Godhead in the urban context, with a goal of better understanding God’s rich and complex love for everyone (not just those who look and talk “nice”) and the revelation of God through the liberation of the oppressed from the oppressor.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Part of Ice Cube’s lyrics.

[16] Ibid., Dyson, Reader, 407.

 

Brothers In Conversation About Race (Part 7)

In his last installment Brian writes, “we must be extremely clear of the danger of entering into spaces where your skin color has (been) weaponized and framed you with a malicious intent” in response of my reference to Luke 17:11-19. I refer to the ten people with leprosy being forced out of mainstream society and out to the borderlands as a parallel to the treatment of people of African descent in this country. I may have erroneously indicated that people of African descent have an option to stay in the borderland in relative safety. However, that was not my intent. The point I intended to make was/is that people of African descent are keenly aware that there are no safe spaces in this country for us. History has shown time and again that not even the church is a safe space for us. As a people, we have learned that even staying in the spaces where we have been pushed and limited to occupying does not ensure safety. We have also learned that staying in the borderland is not an option.

A Tribe Called Quest has just released their last studio recording and one of the tracks is titled “The Space Program.” This track speaks to the notion of making space for people of African descent in this country. Using the recurring hook, “ain’t no space program for niggas.” As much as I detest the word “nigga,” I felt its use here is appropriate and would pray that my inclusion of this word does not sidetrack the conversation. For in many ways debates about the use of the word “nigga” or other side debates take the focus off of the real problem that the Tribe is addressing. This track calls us to understand that space is not limited to physical, geographic space but rather refers to social, cultural, and historic space. People of African descent are often denied space in this country. The teaching of African American history has faced opposition and hostility even in school districts that are more than 80% African American. The use of the name “African American” itself ignites debate and hostile opposition. People of African descent are often invited out of the borderland to sing, dance, and/or play a sport with the understanding that no space will be made for you. African American culture is often co-opted, from rock and roll to hip hop, from soul food to spirituals. There is no space for people of African descent.

Yet, we survive. We continue to exist and that existence cannot be denied. It is the denial of our existence; the lack of space being made that continues to fuel the conflict. We are here and we are not going anywhere. The simple but complex answer to our racial problem in America is the creation of a space program for people of African descent.

Peep the Lyrics-Critical Analyzes of Hip Hop

Mr. Nigga from Black on Both Sides

You can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you wanna

Woody Allen, molested and married his step-daughter

Same press kickin dirt on Michael’s name

Show Woody and Soon-Yi at the playoff game,

holding hands Sit back and just bug, think about that

Would he get that type of dap if his name was Woody Black?

O.J. found innocent by a jury of his peers

And they been fuckin with that nigga for last five years

Is it fair, is it equal, is it just, is it right?

Do you do the same shit when the defendant face is white?

If white boys doin it, well, it’s success

When I start doin, well, it’s suspect

-Mos Def (Yasin Bey), Mr. Nigga

Something I learned from DJ Premier: A Quick Hip Hop Lesson

Around 1983-84, I remember hearing a sound that would forever be embedded in my brain. It was the sound of Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. For days this vinyl record would spend on the turntable until I learn the words from beginning to end. Then you would go to school and spit the lyrics as if you wrote them yourself, with your own personal swag.

It was years later that I would learn the art of sampling that would dominate the 90’s Hip Hop. It was DJ Premier (Premo) of Gangstarr that I would grow to love as the epitome of the sample. Not only did he sample for beats to produce, he also used lyrics from different artist to scratch into the song as a hook.

90’s Hip Hop was known for Dj’s providing a hook through showing homage to a fellow rapper by scratching one of their lyrics on a song. You could hear Gangstarr’s Mass Appeal with a hook from the Da Youngstaz’s Pass the Mic as they said, “Moneys growing like grass with the mass appeal.” 
The Youngstaz’s were never a really large mainstream group but got some play in Philly (their hometown) and from those of us that were true Hip Hop heads. They never sold a million albums but will forever be etched in Hip Hop because of that potent, powerful lyric.  Premo also does the same thing on a Notorious B.I.G.’s song, Unbelievable
where he uses a hook from R. Kelly’s Your Body’s Calling Me.  

With precise skill and timing, Premo manages to scratch some of the most obscure sentences into a song from other creditable sources-other hip hop artist or singers.  He displays his knowledge for the music as well as his intentional ear for the definitive. It is not usual to hear Premo mix a classic lyric into a song of new Emcee too create a masterpiece. (just too many to name) His hook brought a level of creditability to the song much the same as a footnote from a scholar in a certain field.  The hook acts as the proverbial agreement to the lyrics of the song. It is up to the artist to then add context, clarity and creativeness to the hook provide through the scratch.

Through 22 years of listening to authentic Hip Hop and analyzing the skill set that Djs such as Premo possessed, I learn to do the same thing with books. As with great Hip Hop songs, the finding of great passages from obscure books or subject matter expert, brought about a certain viability that otherwise might be lacking in the discussion, article or dialog.  It was through trying to figure out where Premo got that hook that would lead me to other great albums. Much like endnotes, footnotes or bibliographies the records were noted in the liner notes. So, I would read the liner notes then go buy that album as well. Now I do the same things with books. I buy the book that was quoted in the footnotes because that is what I took from Premo as he displayed his signature scratches.