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Friday, October 11, 2013
Dr. Nathan Hare on the Black Arts Movement Conference, UC Merced, March 1-2, 2014
From: Nathan Hare [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Friday, October 11, 2013 5:51 AM To: 'Jim Greenwood'; 'Kim McMillon'; 'UncleIsh@aol.com'; 'email@example.com'; 'firstname.lastname@example.org'; 'email@example.com'; 'firstname.lastname@example.org'; 'email@example.com' Cc: 'Nigel Hatton'; 'Sean Malloy'; 'Gregg Camfield'; 'Jan Goggans' Subject: RE: BAM Flyer
Good morning, Jim Greenwood,
I don’t believe we have ever met but I can’t say your thoughts hadn’t occurred to me in appraisal of myself, but then I reflected upon the tenets of the Sociology of Knowledge, which unleashed my sociological imagination.
I then recalled Mao Tse Tung taking over and using the arts of the oppressor, but Chinese-ing the arts -- so to speak and making them relevant to the oppressed group he was fighting for. Something like Black Studies was trying to do for education. Also, unlike Maos subjects, for us as “Negroes” in the U.S. in the Sixties we were oppressed by race as well as class, and Art was “classical” and separate and white (reserved for the elites, the white elites) even among our racial oppressors and hence tended to be an affection denied the lower classes of our oppressors and all the classes of us as “Negroes.” So in addition to Mao’s simple stroke, it was necessary for our Negro artists to fight before they could be recognized or permitted into the arts, indeed had to fight to set up a kind of art of their very own. Thus Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) they all changed their names in the process). Indeed changed the name “Negro” to “Afro” (which in turn became the word for a chief instrument of revamped personal appearance which young black men often wore in their hip pockets, having no purses like the women to carry a “pick” of the magnitude of the combs.
Thus it was that, unlike Hitler, who as I recall began also as a failed artist (indeed Mao tried to be a poet but admitted his poems were to “stupid to be “taken seriously”), Negro artists had to fight for racial acceptance before and over and above the fight of the white underclass to gain entrance into the kingdom of the established art of the bourgeoisie. Thus you’d not be surprised to have artists as some kind of activists long before they could deign to be called an “artist” or “artiste.”
Also bear in mind that the leading, artists here at the Black Arts Movement conference appear to be poets, with a poetic license, that is to use poetry and words and such as part of their armamentarium most of us do not possess. We come as unarmed bandits to this occasion, if not disarmed.
But I suspect that for the rest of us, who may have had some feelings of handicap or lack of opportunity or development (frustrated in our artistic dreams (I myself never got over the fact my mother said she couldn’t afford me saxophone lessons, so I never even learn to whistle or pop my fingers very well – which reminds me all of us know we can dance, if not sing, and painting and sculpting looks like a piece of cake to anybody who can grasp a brush or a piece of clay), we have come now to the final stage of the life cycle half a century after we ended our a revolutionary avocation or our streak of activism died or faded away. Therefore, the artists are entitled, many with poetic license. to take center stage (aside from the difficulty of simulating or portraying action except as performance or art. Our medium must be a forum, a speechfest, a gathering of talkers and talking which suits everybody. But naturally the poets would reign in such a milieu, if only because they alone are free to read what they say, openly and unashamedly, and I also believe it was the last poets who made talking into an art form called “rapping,” thus democratizing it for the rest of us. Speaking of the rest of us, after fifty years, half a century, some of us are getting over in the evening, as my mother used to say, and are only too glad to be involved or get any recognition we can get. Perhaps it is time for us to begin to bestow upon our artists some social stature befitting their tribe and for us to be called the same instead of being painted into a corner.
Hope that made some sense, I’m just waking up and getting into this internet, an art in itself. Have a good Friday.
P.S. I was rambling and didn’t go on to say that no less than Haki Madhubuti, and many of the black poets of the Sixties, denigrated one of my professors, the great black poet Melvin Tolson (“The Great Debaters”) at least at first as “white.” As you know, Tolson was said by the Southern white liberal Allen Tate to be “the first Negro to master the modern poetic technique.” However, in person Tolson was the blackest person I met before I met E. Franklin Frazier, if not Malcolm X. One of his weaknesses or failures as an incomparable professor was he never taught the course but just one continual course in Black Studies 101. This in an all-black college in an all black town of which he would become mayor for four terms as well as the official Poet Laureate of Liberia in the days of Jim Crow segregation and McCarthyism in Oklahoma. Indeed he brought the entire campus to a standstill for a couple of days in the early 1950s for holding out on signing the loyalty oath. He openly called white people “Crackers” and boasted that some of his best friends were Crackers and that some Negroes could steal chickens and eat watermelon better than Crackers could.