I am Not Your Negro
There have not been too many instances in my role as a writer where I felt it necessary to disconnect thought process pertaining to specific subject matter. Not too many instances where subject matter precluded the desire to research content fully. I have never been a reactive writer or a myopic observer though at this one juncture I found myself having to question all of my literary qualities. Narrative passions and intuitiveness as a writer.
It is a Sunday, supposedly- the most religious day of the week and my thoughts, amidst household chores and meditation upon the day's events, bounce back to a mid-week poster plastered on the inside of a shop window in my local town. It is advertising Raoul Peck's 2016 documentary. 'I Am Not Your Negro' based on the socio-politically uncompromising James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript. 'Remember This House' which explores the history of racism in the united states through Baldwin's reflective musings on the physical destruction of three civil rights leviathans. Medgar Evers. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr. Three of his close friends.
James Baldwin was a literary behemoth, I had always admired his tenacity as a writer though had never explored the scholastic minutiae of this uncompromising figure's work, till; the random stroll through town, a shop window and the poster. James's sunglass clad face; deciphering, calm, surrounded by a multiplicity of bodies with different hues; it seemed at an outdoor event. I was curious, my interest now peaked. The ethnic demographic in my town had no major forums as such. No dedicated committees. No Afrocentric infrastructures engaged in the daily configurations of how we -'fitted in' 'Assimilated' and why there were no 'cultural meeting places'.
I wanted to know the brave-hearts, airing this documentaries stinging indictment of a dissenting capitalistic system, that had fostered a healthy disregard for those who did not subscribe to the fanatical 'hatred of self' philosophy, buoyed up by an uneducated regime that had assumed the illusion of race was a realistic construct upon which to base deeper understanding of a peoples different in colour and physical make-up. This rebellious child of the system that had passed pernicious laws without real recourse for address. This rebellious child of the system who had created Machiavellian type legislature to subjugate those who could not rest peacefully in their dark skin. This rebellious child of the system, cold, un-erudite, detached from civility.
I soon discovered after some investigation, that a local cinema club vested in unearthing hidden, thought-provoking cinematic jewels was responsible for showing the documentary. Decided that, the occasion was far too momentous for me not to share my enthusiasm with four close, strong, intelligent, well-read 'Sisters' who never missed an opportunity to analyse the deeper elements on any subject matter. This; I felt, would be right up their street. I tagged one into the conversation, which quickly became two, three and then four. All were unanimous, this was definitely a 'cinematic jewel' worth seeing.
We convened a short while after at mine, all occupying one car with healthy banter centered around the day's events, the unforgivable massacring of 'exotic names' and the central topic 'I Am Not Your Negro' . The short jaunt to our scheduled destination amidst, at times, uproarious but good natured conversation saw us arrive at our stop in good spirits, not really knowing what to expect but eager to immerse ourselves in one hour, thirty three minutes and forty seconds of James Baldwin's purgative narrative
Approaching the nondescript community building by car we had no sense of just how well versed in cinematic dissection the assembled throng might be. This would be our initiation into uncharted territory and we all welcomed it. The venue sat tucked away at the back of the retail park in the neighbouring town and to the right of a sprawling car park and this was our introduction to an evening of cultural metaphors, analysis and challenging debate we would later discover.
For those unfamiliar with the exploratory schema of Raoul Peck's in-depth documentary, he paints; a sometimes harrowing collage of images that define a sickening moment in history that had opened itself up to all of the social ills wrong with our world. It is the sixties and there is much social unrest after the physical destruction of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin. Tensions are high, discrimination against those not fitting into an elitist social class are rolled out with full force and ignorance is worn as a badge of honour.
The opening scenes, six minutes and twenty eight seconds into the documentary of a young fifteen year old Dorothy Counts in 1957. On her way to attend her first day at a previously all white High School. 'Harding High' in Charlotte. North Carolina. The recalcitrant baying crowd of white youths behind her. Berating, egregious. Hateful. Spitting, throwing pre-picked objects. Menacing and vociferous in their disdain at a dark-skinned girl attempting to attend one of their schools.
The scenes of violent physical reaction towards dark-skinned students in peaceful sit-in, lunch counter protests, being dragged out of an all-white cafe in Greenboro, North Carolina. Beaten. Ridiculed. A defenseless dark-skinned woman, body slammed by a white police officer three times her size as she fled rioting in the deep south. A mature dark-skinned elder thrown to the ground, restrained by a white police officer by a knee to her throat in Birmingham, Alabama left me deeply perturbed and truly uncomfortable. Some of these images I had seen many years prior. I was shook then, but now, woven into a concentrated compendium of barbarism to actuate pain and suffering upon a peoples guilty of only wanting equality, when the playing field was always level to begin with, made me grasp the weightiness of the subject matter.
This documentary was more than just a collation of James's thoughts so I inhaled mentally, breathed out consciously and settled myself for what was to further unravel in this documentary which made compelling viewing. James's autobiographical interspersing of his reasons for leaving France, which is where he was living at the time of the start of civil unrest in the U.S, pushes the diarising of his monumental struggle with the concept of segregation in the land of his birth out of first gear, quickly up through second and settles apace in third as the bleak recounting of the seemingly hopeless situation his people find themselves in. Downtrodden. Hated and reviled simply because of the colour of their skin, scores him deeply. ' Everybody else was paying their dues. It was time I went home and paid mine' he documented verbally.
Central to the cogent intermingling of his experiences with segregation, juxtaposed against the spectre of oppression against a peoples he identified heavily with as a man, a son and an exponent of all things benevolent. The connections he had solidified and the life that had produced him saw James journeying back to his childhood years. Filmic imprints, and remembrance of the unconditional love extended to him as a student. At ten. His school teacher. A young white lady by the name of Bill Miller; an important factor in his developmental state, had readied him for his induction into a world that would not understand, be ready or care for him or the people that had created him with the academic bounty of books, knowledgeable discourse upon Totalitarian states and the chameleon-like shape of 'Global Governance'
So, to go forward, we must go back. James's vivid recollections of a 'terrifying life' as he put it, in his evolving from a chrysalis into a distinguishable literary butterfly, subsidized intellectually by Bill Miller, propelled him to question the antediluvian status quo through his seminal years into manhood. He found it decorated with a cinematic movement, antithetic. Biased. Intolerant of anything or one that did not acquiesce to the concept of a 'Master Race' . Singled out such films as, W. Forest Crunche's 1945 motion picture - 'Richard's Answer' starring Monroe Perry's character 'Stepin Fetchit. A character synonymous with degrading racial stereotypes. Scorned by African-Americans across America and someone with whom James could not identify with and openly loathed as he made mention of knowing no one like Step and Fetchit.
This he hoped would not be the criteria through which he would come to understand his place in the world as he cited a less ambiguous scenario more relatable, regarding the Afro-American experience. Depicted in M Leroy's 1937 film. 'They Won't Forget'- in which an African-American janitor is accused of the murder and rape of a young white girl upon the school site of which he is a janitor in a small Southern town. Based upon a true story. Even though there is no evidence and someone else is charged with her murder at the same time he has been implicated. 'He is terrified', James relays as we see the janitor in a handful of scenes pleading his innocence. Overwhelmed physically with fear, sweat and deep distress etched into his features as he is interrogated ruthlessly by officers. It is a brutal reminder of the political mechanism in film that allows the easy target to be vilified because of his skin-tone and therefore his downgraded status in detaching him from his sovereignty .
He further explores this antithetic theme via H.A Pollard's 1927 film. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and it was now at this point becoming clear as I viewed the emotive journaling through his investigative lens why James was so eager to strip away the rosy facade neatly packaging the mental, emotional and physical incarceration of a dark skinned genus of peoples leaving only a distorted reworking of their community, history and spirituality which historically was and still is the substratum stabilizing a more supranatural perspective upon the world. To James, 'Uncle Tom' was 'not' a hero. In the film I witness the disintegration of a man overly slavish. Spiritually impotent. Abnormally docile and dependent upon a rabid slave owner, who sends him to a premature death after a vicious beating for refusing to offer up the whereabouts of the slave master's wife who is in hiding from him
James laments for it is no better in J Ford's 1939 film. 'Stagecoach', where white heroes implement a self-aggrandizing schema around their misguided status as emancipators. 'These movies were simply a reflection of what was going on in society' he verbalized. It is a painful acknowledgement that is palpable against the stark footage of Apache Indians being shot down, trampled under horse foot and presented as manageable savages throughout the movie. These types of absolutions that sought little to no positive equilibrium. No balance. No reciprocity for the habitual litany of deliberate misrepresentations being peddled as truth left James in no doubt. To define his quickening evolution by the indecorous standards, formulated in service to continued oppression of his people made him fully aware that there was 'no place for the negro' he decried 'In a country where my white countrymen are my enemy'. I am moved by him. Moved by his candidness at a time when choosing to speak in such definitive tones would have easily cost one, one's life. Moved because of his uninhibited orations around the moral apathy, and ignorance seasoning the minds of those who justified segregation of the day for no other reason than to benefit and profit from forced division. This, is a phenomena that is ever more present in modern day America today. He had managed to isolate the problem and package it in a way that everyone could comprehend, even now. It released poignant images in my mind of a recent excursion to Southern California and a brief story to tell by way of anecdotal correlation with his cerebral stride pattern.
It is a Tuesday, a day blanketed by the sweltering June heat, one, typical for Southern California and its inhabitants, and the type of heat that holds well into the evening. My excursion was two-fold. Family, dotted, in various locations spurred me to vacate often in a city that at first glance to the untrained eye looking in, would appear undiversified. Over-ostentatious. A work-in-progress betraying little of the simmering disparity between rich and poor beneath the surface. 'Da Poetry Lounge' on 544. North Fairfax Avenue, housed inside The Greenway Court Theatre was my destination, and just as important a reason as the first for my excursion to Southern Cali'. An exceptional fixture in the Los Angeles Performance Arts scene and one that I had read and heard much about.
I was eager to experience the passion and emotion of bards driven by the boundless propensity for collecting emotive verbs, rhyming pentameters and random inflections of tone when gripped by a word, words. A sentence taking them back to that moment of creating a masterpiece fit to share each week in this hallowed portal that drew in thousands on a monthly basis. Eager to understand what it was that made this venue an apt vehicle. A homogeneous communal meeting space. A Co-Creative's paradise. I had explored the website on several occasions and amidst the informative blurb on DPL's creation, success and entry times, the last few lines stayed with me. 'Arrive early to get a seat'
This instruction was not lost on me. The times 7.15-7.30 pm for arrival to secure a seat or a position to perform seemed to be the standard hours in their FAQ's. Lateness in any form was not something that I admired so along with a close friend as eager as myself to take in the creative ambience of the evening, we both arrived early, happy to find we were the first two to take our place in front of the wrought iron grill gates. The sweltering heat of the day now cooling to a comfortable tropical vibe, incense and a pleasant DKNY fragrance, flirting with our olfactory senses drifting up the avenue past us. We waited in this unpretentious air of coolness for a little while before noticing a robust figure nonchalantly mounting the concrete steps to the right of us. Over-sized plaid shirt and neat corn rowed hair announcing his presence. He was engaging. Chatty. Introduced himself as Jamaal. [Not his real name] Asked us off the back of our inquiries about how things flowed in a typical evening at DPL whether we would be performing or not. 'I would be. My friend was simply here to soak up the ambience' I offered up.'
Jamaal, it turned out ,seemed to be revolutionary symbolism diametrically opposed to everything America had fashioned him to be. "The city knows exactly what it's doing by creating ghetto-like pockets of disquiet in our communities by pitting the minorities against each other man" He spat out. The energetic retort had come off the back of the question "So where you guys from?" after hearing the English accents. He was appreciative of the fact that we had travelled such a great distance to share in the atmosphere of evocative words. Told us that he had been to England once before. London to be exact and was impressed by not only the cultural pastiche of peoples and their numbers, but how this distinct mixing of peoples appeared fluid and effortless. He had immersed himself in this phenomena new to him for some weeks while visiting family and had clearly been moved by it. I was taken by his comparisons to the place he called home and curious to know why this rhetoric was so undisguised.
" Are you kidding me man" He was now more animated. 'There's a level of diversity in London that I haven't seen in too many places out here. People bond with each other, regardless of colour, race or creed. Out here we have to pay for that privilege with sponsored ads for events encouraging people to come together to celebrate those characteristics. In London I wasn't even trying to be anybody different. I travelled all over London especially the South East and everybody showed me love man. I was going outta my mind thinking that this was some dream and any minute I'm gonna wake up because we ain't as communally infused as you guys are'"
" Man, you hitting them activist threads again Jamaal?" The good-natured summary preceded another figure now making his way up the concrete steps. Tall. Lean. Baseball cap twisted down slightly over his right eye. The cool gait adding to his mystique as he bumped fists with Jamaal and gave him a brotherly hug. Clearly a good friend.
" Nah man, am just rapping with these lovely ladies about how it is down here" The tall. Lean figure's segway into the evolving conversation was to introduce himself . 'Q'. Short and sweet.
" Because you can't question the Q in Q. Right?' He tendered verbally. The rolling of eyes from Jamaal behind his back, comical.
" Listen Q. You know how it is man. Political disenfranchisement as an African-American in this system, makes me invisible. You know I like to champion causes. Bring light to a lot of issues dominating the news but the one thing I can't get people to see is how this pyramid system creates deficiencies educationally and socially for our people. The resources that flow through freely to all other cultures is derailed frequently en route to us. So when you see me getting mad about us being the most marginalised, on every level it's because I know that a large part of it is by design to keep us at the bottom of the pyramid begging for crumbs. Anything we wrestle back we do because we know we have to work ten times harder than any other group of people in this area and it's not because we don't have the skills and passion to elevate ourselves but because this pyramid system that they've built is designed to prevent us from stepping up to our real worth and you know what I'm talking about. The colour of my skin in this system embodies a false identity placed upon us to facilitate the continued disenfranchisement because the only times I exist man is when my identity is linked with something negative. I'm a scapegoat because my darkness threatens the systems' inadequacies and somehow I end up paying for that every day "
As the; what was now a discussion continued. We learnt that Jamaal was a father of a baby girl. A poet. Activist. Writer and fierce defender of the fairer sex. Unashamedly unapologetic for speaking his mind on the blatant injustices consuming, the community, his community. All communities. Inside and outside of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, which is where he hailed from. I had heard of Skid Row, knew no areas in London that I could liken it to such was the ferocity of its destabilizing effect upon the inhabitants. Five blocks from the affluent banking district with a populous of over seventeen thousand it is a tent city, a sprawling mass of urban decay and the epicentre of America's homelessness crisis. On any given night in L.A there are sixty thousand homeless. The drive to solve this growing crisis by city legislature was to concentrate all of the city's homeless services into one area with the hope of containing the problem and or wiping out the problem
That place was Skid Row where every disharmonious vicissitude of life seemed to lay. Waiting for the unsuspecting to enter. Watching the stories before my excursion to L.A of young mothers. War veterans, the disabled and the very young scanning the streets for a place to live, dodging the gangs and the predatory conduct of other homeless people, exposed to the dirge of drugs and prostitution, begging for food and struggling to stay alive in a city whose sanitised image suggested otherwise had me reflect on Jamaal's words. Q now countered.
" it is what it is right. It won't change because not enough people want it to change"
" So that makes it okay to be comfortable in our space against this backdrop of oppression?" I set my question amidst the small crowd that had now gathered intrigued by the subject matter my mind flashing back to a 2017 race census for Skid Row. White 12%. African-American 62%. Native -American 1%. Hispanic or Latino 21%. Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 0.3%. Other races 2%.
I now understood why Jamaal's spirited rhetoric was so undisguised. The disproportionate statistics told its own story. America was still not equal and the playing field this time around was still far from level as another two bodies joined the conversation, both also knew Jamaal, exchanged hugs and cordial greetings and launched into the conversation; as if on a mission to complete a university thesis on the sociological oversights befalling L.A.
I suddenly realized I was seated amongst a group of poets that were 'critical thinkers'. Felt blessed enough to be able to witness this examination of the sociological crisis happening around them and so the discussion made sense for where we were as the young man and woman that just greeted Jamaal put in their two cents worth.
" I'm not sure why we're even having this discussion. I'm a mixed-race brother who has never had any problems assimilating. Why, because I don't see colour. I see the effort a person puts into whatever it is they want to achieve in this world. When you use the spectre of race as a 'achieving or underachieving analogy' you're only doing yourself a disservice by not striving to climb to your highest potential."
" Ok, I see where you're coming from to a degree my friend."
The young lady with the 'I am a free woman' emblazoned across her t-shirt interjected as she took aim at the young man that had just spoken.
" But am hearing Jamaal on this because in terms of disenfranchisement, reflecting the social ills in our community the issue of housing stands out, and it stands out because we are the most affected, and I know you wanna jump in but I need to finish this. The social engineering in our communities and specifically our communities has been designed to stop us from rebuilding what, historically gave us the superiority to build kingdoms that flourished and prospered. That came from original African ingenuity . That is what they're afraid of, that if we wake up and realize our true worth we'll get back to that level of greatness. look. Eighteen million my friend. Eighteen million homeless people in this country and an overwhelming majority are African-American. You do the math"
" And this is why we all up here in this mess sis."
Jamaal's tone hit a different octave and cracked a little as he set his sights on the young man who had identified himself as mixed race.
" My brother. In this country, and I can only speak about this country because this is where I live. You"
Jamaal emphasized his 'You'
" are the acceptable face of what it means to be African-American, because when you dilute the culture, dilute the African Ideals. Principles. Morals. That have made and still make us what we are today. When you tell us as African-Americans that what we should now be holding onto is a vision created by everyone else except us. That reflects nothing of who we are and that the lighter the shade the more acceptable You are, that sets the tone for what comes next. so let me throw this at you. Am on the bus yesterday and a young white dude on there is abusing an elder. Beautiful black lady. Minding her own business, just trying'a get home
And here comes Joe America, verbally abusing her and calling her out of her name all because she stumbled into him when the bus broke sharp. so I step up and tell him if he don't stop am gonna lay him out and he stops. So am gonna ask you, if u were on that bus would you have come to the elder's aid?"
"Because I get that you're assuming that this is something I should do because the lady in this scenario is black "
" And our black women should be protected"
"All women should be protected"
" I totally agree so if the scenario were reversed and a black brother was abusing a white lady would you step up?"
" Yes "
" Because it's necessary to let white people know that we aren't all thugs and we don't all act the same. To step in and diffuse the situation sends a clear signal to white America that we can all live peacefully when we eradicate questionable behaviour from our culture'
For a moment it felt as if the oxygen had been pulled from the air as the temperature dropped around the young man's statement.
It took me back to James's telling expression in one of his all too familiar interviews. Those interviews where he tirelessly addressed the issue of race as if trying to draw the final curtain upon a subject that seemed purpose designed. intractable. Never ending. As never ending as it had been for him to have to travel back to the south to complete unfinished work not only upon his book but to gather up the pieces of three decimated lives that had had a great impact upon him in shaping his political and social outlook. Gather up the scattered ruminations of the loved ones that had been left behind , offer succour. Comfort in the face of hopelessness and reassurance for a brighter tomorrow.
For James the challenge to prove himself worthy of the title friend was to release the altruistic nature of the legacy all three men had left behind which had led to their untimely demise. Celebrate their story- vision. Show that even though politically they were torn overall they all embraced the same outlook . Together they validated their own and gave them hope in the face of real adversity. I let the young man's statement sink in, laid it against Jamal's analytical breakdown of the concept of racial and social ills still plaguing America. Ever more rampant now in the face of growing political apoplexy, driven by the obsession of crunching numbers and compartmentalizing lives. I had been initiated unknowingly into an intimate space fuelled by the efficacy of poetry and the spoken word to revolutionize with evolved thoughts bitingly accurate commentary on the agenda/s shaping America, torched by an array of impassioned performances later that evening
I was taken by those 'fire in their belly' performances documenting the glaring inequalities. Taken by Jamaal's eulogy to the courageous souls in Skid Row who despite their shortcomings fought to get through each day with the goal of securing change of some kind, however small for their situation, and I was now back in James's world where the flesh and blood of his words took on new form, made perfect sense against the civil rights backdrop of the 60's. Could easily equate those words with what was now happening in the 2000's being connected to the testimonies I had been privy to whilst in L.A.
The components of this cyclical phenomena played out for decades were twinned with his exposing of something more ruinous for everyone exposed to the surreptitious political leanings of a few who were happy to mask his words with character assassinations. For he still fought the injustices surrounding the senseless slaying of pivotal figures in the fight for justice for all that he loved.
Called our attention to the fact that the slaying of anyone innocent only of wanting to live was a terrible act, but that the deliberate lynchings and murders taking place at that time, was as a direct result of a system excusing behaviour acceptable to a group of people trapped outside of their humanity. Torn from logic. Bereft of kindness. Living in a programmed blind spot, owing nothing higher than themselves any reverence. Holding the spectre of purity up as the shining beacon of light for acceptability into a world excluding diversity of any kind. As the documentary further unravels James highlights this as a timely rebuttal to these misconceived notions of purity by reminding us of the moral compass within him fortified by Bill Miller, who, preparing him for the journey into this world of compromised substance, treating him with respect and galvanizing his curiosity about himself culturally, gave him enough of a grasp upon his humanitarian character, not to hate anyone different to himself.
To James, in his further musings upon the subject matter he makes a case for the validity of us all being of a similar strain 'we are all mixed, spiritually and otherwise' he says and forty six minutes and nineteen seconds deep into the documentary I begin to connect the dots to his line of thought upon the subject matter laid out against the problematic rhetoric of the time. How could the wanton enslavement of a peoples different in complexion be liberating for anyone- especially those that had organized the attempted massacre of thousands. Instead it had made of those invested in such barbarisms captives of a mindset that facilitated little progression and had created an over- riding hatred of anything evolved that could have possibly enabled peacefulness for all. I found myself fixed upon his almost private disclosures of the inner workings of a system troubled by apathy on all sides as images of Eurocentric prosperity amidst the loaded environment of continued lynchings and murders are shot out across the screen alongside James's summary.
His observations condensed, he is aware that the vacuous layer of being cocooning the hearts and minds of Eurocentric America at the time and still now is exactly because of this detachment from the higher more attuned self. Aware that this inflexible stance rolled out as a way of 'Keeping the waters pure' so to speak, had spawned mass paranoia provided to sooth un-awakened minds. For 'Black Folk' in this conveniently sterilised world really were the problem needing elimination. So it seemed. This prophetic juncture is where I watched another landscape roll into view. Hatred on any level is a manifestation born out of fear of not understanding one's self. Understanding one's environment. Understanding one's true place of worth in the greater composition of this world or the greater composition of things. This had been clearly detailed in every strand of the physical and mental set-up of a society that was created to tell a different story about our fusion. To tell a story that would have us believing we are too different to one another to possibly live in harmony, as the creator or as nature intended.
Against this backdrop James directs our thoughts to the scenario of the Black man bold enough to stand up against such a system dedicated to convincing him that he is less than his Eurocentric superiors negative opinion of him. Struggling to secure his place of worth within this empire committed to solidifying this false narrative . His very existence stolen, scrutinized, re-programmed to help build the economy, the empire. The country. This uneasy alliance that had and still has one group of people absorbed by the process of unshackling themselves from forced invalidation. The other , desperate to secure a misguided sense of power behind nefarious bureaucracy was truly, telling. From this recounting, it appeared that this could be the only mental make-up peculiar to the latter group , though my rationale via life's experiences laced with James's accurate prognosis made me question this as razor sharp images of Richard Widmark's character. Ray Biddle from J. Mankiewicz's 1950 movie 'No Way Out' layers our screen. James's way of reinforcing his point on the plight of the black man in society.
The clips alone sequenced in plot order make uneasy viewing. Poitier. A fresh-faced intern known as Dr Luther Brookes treats Ray Biddle and his brother for gun-shot wounds at the local county hospital after a failed gas station robbery goes wrong. A fan of Black and White movies with thought-provoking content I had already watched - J.Mankiwicz's- 'No Way Out' I now understood James's reasoning behind the necessity for this cinematic insert by way of reflection upon the bigger picture which most seemed to miss but which the movie depicted perfectly. The aura of unclouded incomprehension of just how much hatred can mould decency was acted-out perfectly by Widmark's -Ray Biddle. He, throughout the movie is- Impetuous. Sardonic. Having a sense of self-entitlement that is breathtakingly appalling and a seasoned race baiter who has no compunction when it comes to making Luther Brookes aware of his loathing of and for him and his kind and the travesty of a black man placing his hands upon him and his brother never mind treating them.
It is a film peppered with racial slurs and caustic put-downs that would make the KKK and the Far-Right parties, feel justified,working from unelightened selves, as the movie plays out with Dr Brookes desperate to maintain the Hippocratic oath after being accused of murdering Ray's brother whilst trying to save his life performing a 'spinal tap'. I am forced to wonder- If all of the roles had been reversed in this movie, would periodic censorship at the time 'No Way Out' was released have been an issue?. I doubt it. I also doubt that the tender shoots of such an artistic framework would ever have been fertilized, or ever seen the cold light of day by way of production and yet, with each exposing of these atrocities James chooses not to weld himself to any institutional radical philosophies, regardless of who it was pushing out the philosophies for he was a man dealing with the unmitigated facts of those atrocities visible in plain sight that one could not question. But he also did not tar all white people with the same brush for this was not in his nature.
It all made perfect sense, for if I extracted the kernel of his musings. Took a closer look at the depth of his post- mortem on what had been played out for the whole world to see. I, as one of a sceptical generation of people unsatisfied with the bogus explanations for just about everything that happens in this world, could see that a vast amount of what we are force fed on a daily basis by the system we live in, is designed to keep us, intoxicated. Violated. Un-satiated. Dependent sheeple, frequently concerned with the materialistic superficialities of a world that exists only in the minds of those preoccupied with upgrading our programmable inserts of mental enslavement. I had to agree with James. It would be preposterous to believe that the entire Eurocentric nation of peoples was completely morally bankrupt with not one ounce of humanity or shred of decency to trade upon simply because, the sum total of the whole is not defined by the unscrupulous conduct of a few and the good, bad and indifferent is a concrete feature in every group of peoples in this world.
This repeated conditioning of the masses eager to market themselves for inclusion in a slice of the illusion is what James brings to light critically in this documentary, focussing upon the absurdity of these patterns endorsing the mental, spiritual and emotional persecution of and against each other daily when the lowest base self and its amoral offshoots becomes the engine room to drive all our contrary traits. Ravaging our core and leaving us third eye blind co-creators in our own destruction. Viewing the America of his birth from the foothills of this realism had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. He wanted to reconcile all that he now was and had become with the flowering of a country that boasted of its humanitarian pedigree for global change and incorporation of the diverse masses though knew deep in his heart, reconciliation with the glaring contradiction would always be pending and this for James was a hard pill to swallow.
Edging towards the documentaries full length I sense fully the abrasiveness of the times James had catalogued almost as if I were there, summoning an abundance of good karma to reverse the decaying effects of the- Empty vessels. The deficient souls. The beings in a state of perpetual disregard for real human interconnectedness with one another. James's final post- mortem on the weakening discourse of the time punctuating the narrative around- Privilege. Glaring nepotism. Social degeneration and outright hatred as the blueprint for forward progression left me in little doubt as to the effect it had had on his viewing of America as a Black man throughout his life.
He had not been born a slave but had had to battle as if one. Had not been subversive though had had to battle well-established resistance against his moral and intellectual breakdown of a system crippling to good, bad and indifferent, and so, had stepped into a system intent on grooming him to think, act and conduct himself as an entity less than the noble class of people he had come from because he stood for everything opposed to the system. Was trying to educate those that despised his second-sight, grasp and tenacity about the positive essence of what it is that drives us all when we seek to work together and create environments that have us embracing one another as opposed to being wary of each other. For if we nourish the capacity to tear each other apart as standard practice. Only the faces in the shadows with discriminatory agendas will benefit from our un-awakened state.
Watching the end credits roll against the hip hop, reggae infused drum kick backdrop pushed me back into reality and the medium sized space of the community hall as the lights were brought up. A couple at the back of the hall noisily pushing back their chairs to beat a hasty retreat. I guessed the imminent psychological dissecting of the subject matter wasn't their thing as, eyes focussed only upon the main doors, they exited hurriedly into the darkness of the evening. I was not all together surprised. This documentary, its content, depth and trajectory had underlined the negation of accountability by all of those continuing to believe the issues placed 'centre stage' in this documentary belonged only to that period.
Interestingly this same theme was reflected in the intense discussion that followed. The event organizer opening up the floor prompting all to share, setting the tone with the codicil.
" I'm aware that the documentary touched on some very intense issues for the times. Particularly the usage of some quite derogatory terms which we obviously frown upon in this day and age. Would anyone like to comment on this or just what the film's message is?"
" I think what I found quite stunning was the way in which the film maker wove together all of the scenes with some very interesting footage. "
The voice held in place by a male tone trickled in over my right shoulder as he continued
" For me it made the documentary that much more interesting "
" Ok - But did it say anything to you about the temperament of the time? " The event organizer challenged
" Well clearly the events that Mr Baldwin spoke of were obviously of the time as I don't think we suffer the same type of narrow-mindedness today that was displayed in the documentary "
" I would have to agree "
A young woman to my left and one row behind added her voice.
" Of course there are still some race issues though I think where we are now shows that the type of racism experienced then is now more or less non-existent "
It suddenly became apparent to me that the largely white turnout; my companions and an interracial couple being the only 'other' grouping in the community hall that evening had plainly absorbed the film's content in very differing ways as one of my party responded to the latter comment.
" I can appreciate your perceptions regarding specific pieces of content in the film around the issue of certain types of treatment meted out to those with a different skin colour then and now, but I have to draw a parallel in terms of what we've just witnessed as I was one of the early Caribbean generation that came to this country and witnessed the- 'No Blacks. No Dogs. No Irish' phenomena. I was shocked because my sister and I suffered terribly at school because of the racial insults and the bullying. Our parents were invited to this country believing they would be welcomed as Commonwealth citizens but instead found themselves having to fight to defend their heritage, culture and colour. It hasn't changed as my children suffered in the same manner when they went to school, so I do hear what you're saying but I would have to disagree that the type of racism highlighted in the film is more or less non-existent as our children still experience it today as did Dorothy Counts '
" And so maybe I can jump in off the back off what you've just said " Another member of my party claimed her moment . " Because if we look at the demographic of this area very carefully as an example, there was a great influx of the Windrush Generation that came over exemplifying the model of the ideal worker for the labour market because of their willingness to reconstruct the health. Industrial and hygiene maintenance industries. They were an invisible force in terms of their value as a percentage in society simply because of their skin colour. And it was this type of commercial appropriation of large numbers of Africans and Caribbean's coming into this country, similar to the newly acquired spending power African Americans were depicted as having and enjoying at the time in the documentary that showed just how expendable we were, and still are as a group of people most viable to the government when there is an economic crisis requiring our services.
At this point I noticed the gentleman sitting next to my friend who had just spoken; eager to counter.
" I really see no dissimilar elements in what you've just said in terms of the shared reconstruction of our industrial landscape in this country. I'm a Historian who has spent a number of years researching this and wrote a book on the subject. What I think we are overlooking is the fact that it wasn't just one group or race of people engaged in the redevelopment .
" I agree though I am referring specifically to this area as an example based upon my friend's parents' experience. Her and her sister's experience and the experience of her children. We, today, in this area still have some extremely entrenched ideas being peddled based on and around race even though the Windrush Generation set the standard for others to follow wanting to come here to rebuild the economy."
" And I do understand that because my point was, instrumental in that building of this area were the Irish"
" Indeed. I agree with you but the Irish were not an invisible percentage in the workforce because of the colour of their skin which is the point made in the documentary. The new spending power afforded was based on blacks being given visibility to help an ailing economy grow specifically because they were now free to live a very Eurocentric lifestyle previously only open to a certain class of people "
I felt I needed to add my two cents worth somewhere along the line though also, in that moment, understood the importance of quiet observance of what was unfolding which was rather significant and quite telling. For our visibility or lack thereof regardless which side of the fence we stood, it seemed, would always be precipitated by a system creating a culture of the haves and have- nots and how we all choose to be a part of the solution and not the problem would be very squarely based on real understanding of each other's real place of worth in this world. as opposed to elitist agendas.
(c) Sy4ndene Jahia