Sunday, July 25, 2010 Parable of the San Francisco Negro, Part II
Parable of the San Francisco Negro, Part II
Today, Sunday, August 25, at the San Francisco Main Library, Ishmael Reed discussed his latest book Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media, Return of the Nigger Breakers, Baraka Press, 2010. The esteemed Dr. Nathan Hare gave him a proper intro, befitting the great commentator Ishmael is, aside from being a novelist, essayist, poet, playwright and anthologist. Aside from his wife and daughter, the audience included Al Young, Conyus, Dewey Crumpler, Herman Rainey, Margot Dashield, et al.
Before the program began, Ishmael told me not to be selling my books at his gig, also please do not cut him up doing the Q and A. I ignored both requests. He signed a review copy of his book for me.
I respect Ishmael because he is my senior or elder, also one of America's most prolific writers, although I'm on his tail. Actually, he is the one who named me Plato, after stopping by one of my street sessions downtown Oakland at 14th and Broadway. I added Negro to distinguish myself from the Greek philosopher who plagiarized African philosophy (see Stolen Legacy by George M. James). But Ishmael has supported my projects and productions in the Bay Area, and he praised my play One Day in the Life as the most powerful drama he's seen.
But Ishmael is an interesting character, He comes from that group of black intellectuals who lived in Greenwich Village during the 50s and early 60s, including LeRoi Jones, now Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Calvin Hernton, Askia Toure, David Henderson, et al.
After the assassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones, aka Baraka, escaped the Village and sought refuse in Harlem. Askia and Neal were already in place. Ishmael declined to join the Black Arts Movement and was somewhat critical of it. He never claimed to be a revolutionary activist, and on Sunday at library, he made it clear he was not an activist nor revolutionary. He seems to take a centrist position, neither left nor right. He made it clear during his discussion that in his mind the Left has fantasies as fantastic as the Right. He recalled when Che Guevara was interviewed on New York's WBAI, Che laughed when asked if there could be a Cuban style revolution in America. Ishmael said Madison Avenue and corporate America would immediate co-opt the revolution, thus making it a fad, perhaps in the manner of Hip Hop culture. We imagine it might be similar to everybody in New York wearing the Kafiya scarf of the Palestinian revolution, but they ain't hardly with the Palestinian revolution, especially New York Jews, but they wear the scarf.
So where is Ishmael coming from? For sure, he's a thinker with an opinion that is often outside the box of Americana. In this we are similar, although I'm to the left of Ish, to say the least. I sense Ishmael loves America while I loathe America. I'm like that song Tobacco Road,
I hate you
but I love you because you're home.
Go git some dynamite and a crane,
tear it up and start all over again,
Tobacco Road (Lou Rawls version).
Ishmael speaks as an insider, I'm an outsider. He's one of the select public intellectuals, along with Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Cornell West. White America has never heard of me, for the most part, and neither has a large portion of black America. My audience is the rejected and despised, a population America also wants to know nothing about.
Ishmael is a truth seeker, wise enough to reject the fiction of the fabricated America reality. The good Dr. Nathan Hare taught us the fictive theory: everything America says is fiction unless proven to be fact. Ishmael is excellent at tearing apart the Hollywood fantasy America, especially that portion perpetuated by the media, the witch doctors on Television, movies and internet.
He discussed the spin doctors and others of and in the white supremacy regime who castrate the black man at every turn. He noted the icons of the 60s, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Kwame Toure, Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad Ali, who were torn to shreds by not only the media but feminist propaganda as well. Yet who do they have to equal such giants?
My special advisor, Ish, talked about the University as part of the military/corporate complex Eisenhower warned us about. After 35 years teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, he asked where is the radical, socialist/communist academia?
I agree, after teaching briefly in academia, it is indeed part of the complex Eisenhower warned us about. Imagine, as we speak, a lawyer who endorsed torture is yet teaching at UCB, Professor Yu.
Ishmael still has much faith in Obama, while mine has waned, perhaps because he is more patient than I. After two white men tried to disrupt his discussion with leftist rants, Ish asked if they'd come with me, especially after he called upon me for an opinion on Arab liquor stores in the hood. Actually, he asked me to write an essay on the topic, but I said yes, the Arabs sell us swine and wine in the name of Allah, additionally, they sell dope, guns and pussy inside and outside their stores, and take liberties with our women, while they will murder us if we have sex with theirs, as happened in Sacramento when an Arab father found a black boy hiding under his daughter's bed. Ironically, the Arab got the NAACP chief attorney, Nathaniel Colley, to successfully defend him.
At the end of the session, while he signed books, Ishmael let me know he asked me to make a comment during the Q and A, not deliver a sermon. Now those who know, know better than ask me a question because I will give a sermon.
After pics with Ishmael, Al Young, Arthur Monroe, Dewey Crumpler, Conyus, Tennessee Reed and myself, I excused myself from a dinner invitation to make my way through San Francisco's multi-racial ghetto the Tenderloin. I had to visit my old hang out, though the artists warned me not to get stuck in the black hole.
On my way to the library, I had thought about those TL chicken wings at the Arab liquor store, but Conyus brought them back to my attention when he informed me he gave Al Young, poet laureate emeritus of California, a tour of the TL, after which Al wrote a poem, including the liquor store as subject.
When I arrived and got the chicken wings, I walked outside to meet a brother from back in the day, one of those wheeler dealers who has miraculously survived the rough and tough Tenderloin, one of the roughest and toughest ghettos in California, if not America. By the grace of God, I mastered every street in the TL, every alley, doorway, hotel room. I am not bragging, this is just a fact.
I showed my Obama book to my friend, but another brother checked it out. I also showed him Mythology of Pussy. He gave me five dollars for Mythology. Then I showed him Pull Yo Pants Up, he said he wanted Pull Yo Pants Up--said he knew enough about pussy. So I exchanged. He was happy, more so because he said he never bought a book before, nor had he ever bought a book from the author, so he was honored and said he was going to take it home to his peoples in Richmond and share it with them.
I was humbled. It is enough to kiss the ground when a black man says he's never bought a book, let alone from the author himself.
I departed the TL to across the street at Market and Powell. It is a movement from one block to another wherein one enters the world of the rich and white, the tourists from around the world who come to board the Cable Car, yes, only a block away from the TL, one of the most wretched areas in the world. A block away!
In my hustling days, I was not only the king of the Tenderloin, but on Union Square, the shopping area of the rich and famous in San Francisco. On this day I posted up by the BART escalator. I just wanted to observe before I boarded the subway back to the East Bay.
I stool around watching the action. I saw a police officer I recognized, Brother Payne who has a twin brother who worked the Cable Car line and was the champion Cable Car bell ringer. I watched officer Payne do his thing. He told a Negro to leave the area, when the Negro resisted, he pulled out his hand cuffs at shook them in the Negro's face. I knew officer Payne from the 80s and 90s when I used to hustle, so I made eye contact with him and signaled with my finger for him to come over. He came. I said how's it going, Brother? You brother Payne, right? He said yes. How you doing? He said it's rough. Rougher than it used to be. Rougher. Then he was off to a purse snatcher. I took out my promo for the book Pull Yo Pants Up. A young brother came by with two young girls who appeared to be his sisters. I gave him a promo. He read the title and said, "Wait a minute, let me pull my pants up." He pulled them up and showed me he was tightening his belt, then went on his way, but not before I said, "Thank you, brother!"
When the brother submitted so willingly, it let me know there are infinite possibilities here, and that the elders are allowing this negative situation to continue out of their sloth and laziness. Thus, we must get on our job and speak to our sons and daughters. They await the sound of our voices, the command of our message of truth.