2016 African American History Month 6-Pack
Dave Zirin – Racism, Resistance & Black Athletes
In the wake of a rising number of racist incidents at the University of Missouri, nicknamed Mizzou, black athletes threatened to boycott football games. Wow. Did that get people’s attention. So much of the economy of state universities is tied to football, the multibillion-dollar TV contracts, the multimillion-dollar coaching salaries, and the small fortunes that pour into small towns on game day don’t happen without a group of young men willing to take the field. The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement threatens the lucrative operation of this machinery. The Southeastern Conference, where Mizzou plays, field teams that, in the words of sociologist Harry Edwards, ‘look like Ghana on the field and Sweden in the stands.’ Athletes have tremendous influence on and off campus. Speaking out and acting collectively, they can bring the powerful to their knees.
Angela Davis – Transnational Solidarities
Solidarity was long a term invoked by unions and working men and women. Now, alas, unions, under sustained political attack, are in acute decline. Who can forget Ronald Reagan championing the rights of workers in Poland while smashing the air traffic controllers union in the U.S.? Today from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Ferguson, Missouri to Gezi Park in Istanbul people are in the streets raising again the cry of solidarity. Solidarity, linking up with kindred spirits is a crucial element in overcoming isolation and atomization. Mutual support and feelings, yes, of love, empower people over the rulers of the Earth. The masters want to keep us apart and to have us focus on shopping. There are glimpses of cross border alliances. They need to grow. Given the global scale of the climate change crisis transnational solidarities are needed now.
Cornel West – Love & Justice
From Tamir Rice to Akai Gurley the names of African American men and boys killed by police keep piling up. The lack of a grand jury indictment in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson sparked a protest movement with signs and shouts of “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter.” The death of Eric Garner in New York was videoed around the world. His plea of “I Can’t Breathe” became a rallying cry. Many people are asking where is justice? Illusions have been shattered that we live in a "post-racial" society. Fundamental questions are being raised. Is property more important than people? Racism, poverty and inequality run deep. African-Americans are disproportionately incarcerated. Dr. King believed in the transformative power of love and as he said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
Tavis Smiley – The Hidden Dr. King
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr has been shrink-wrapped and formatted to be innocuous and non-threatening. Dream speeches, desegregation, voting rights, and Selma marches could be accommodated. But when he articulated a critique of the system as a whole then he became a danger to the establishment. That Dr. King has been largely obscured. At Riverside Church in New York he said the Vietnam War was “a symptom of a far deeper malady.” And then he added, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” By giving that speech Dr. King basically signed his own death warrant.
Martin Luther King Jr. – Beyond Vietnam
August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It will be aired over and over again. The charismatic orator is forever frozen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that August day. No doubt it was a great and historic presentation, profoundly moving and full of dazzling poetry and inspiring images. But he was to give another address no less significant to a much smaller audience on April 4, 1967 in Riverside Church in New York. There King demonstrated his deep understanding of how the system works. He moved beyond a simple race analysis to include class and foreign policy issues. He forcefully denounced the war in Vietnam. He called the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and he deplored the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” Exactly one year later King was assassinated in Memphis where he had gone in solidarity with striking sanitation workers.
The singular voice of Malcolm X speaks today to more people than ever before. His autobiography continues to sell in great numbers. Millions have seen the Spike Lee movie. Malcolm endures as a powerful and inspirational figure. It's not hard to understand why. With his mesmerizing oratorical style and cadence it was Malcolm who redefined the discourse on race. He moved the discussion from notions of "prejudice" and "discrimination" to racism. It was Malcolm who articulated concepts like "community control" and "white power structure." It was Malcolm who made it clear that Blacks were the victims of a system of domination and exploitation that was not regional but national, not superficial but structural, not episodic but ongoing and intentional. His uncompromising critical analysis gave Malcolm his moral authority. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965, but as new generations discover him, his ideas live on.
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