Voices and Soul


by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

I'm going to do something a little different in Voices and Soul for today's edition of Week in Review. Rather than a poem, I am presenting a little prose piece I wrote a few years ago. It has everything to do though, with Voice and Soul.

It is of a dystopian world that, in fact, may not be so dystopian afterall.

Ray Bradbury wrote, "I don't describe the future. I am trying to prevent it."

So then, think of a city in any nation, in any part of the world. Think of a cab driver, a man of color; but maybe in Kabul or Philadelphia. He had a small radio show and he had opinions. Or he was a cab driver who simply drove a cab and had no interest in nations or politics, but just the interest in simply surviving in a feudalistic morass, maybe in Kabul, or maybe in Philadelphia.

Yet, by simple twists of a random universe, he falls into a Kafkaian Bastille run by The Hudson Bay Company, or United Sugar, or Blackwater.

Now think of a prison; in Kabul, or Belarus, or Syria, or Guantanamo, or Folsom, or Pelican Bay.

This is not a description. This is hopefully, a prevention.

I Have No Mouth
“Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.”

-- Harlan Ellison
“I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream”

“Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr”

From the Cornish, “the tongueless man gets his land took.”

--Tony Harrison
“National Trust”

I had to, don’t you see? You’d do the same if you were in my place, and a lot sooner too! I’d tell you if I could, but as you can see, one of the conditions of my release is that my mouth has been surgically removed.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take standing for hours, I couldn't take the threats of beatings. Oh, they beat me, for sure. Early on the beatings were constant, so much that you expected them, so a mere threat was enough for some of us to literally piss our pants. I couldn’t take being forced awake after just a few seconds of sleep in seventy hours? Or was it a hundred? Did I sleep only an hour ago?

Don’t you see? This is what they have done to a man! I have lost all sense of time; a minute is a year and a year is a mere minute! Damn! Why won’t you listen to me? I’m blinking my eyes in Morse Code! If you would just listen, you’d see that I am talking to you!

The first time they let me see the sky was after five months of darkness! They let me see the full moon, I only know this now, but at the time I thought it was the sun at noon! It was that bright and blinding and painful. Now, they never turn off the lights.

There are so many things I want to tell you, I want to tell you about the years of abuse, I want to tell you how they break a man to confess to killing God, how they can make you confess to crimes committed twenty years ago, seventy years ago, by ancestors you never knew. I want to tell you about why I chose to have my mouth removed so I could go home.

In fact, I planned this long ago. That’s why I taught myself Morse code. I started to teach myself sign language, but I was caught and isolated for another year and a half, or was it longer? Damn it! This is what they do! I see now on all the legal documents they have laid before me, how long I was isolated at different times during my imprisonment. A year one time then out for four months, isolated for two years and then out for only three weeks, then another year long isolation.

It went on and on and on like that. So I taught myself how to blink my eyes in Morse code because I knew they would remove my mouth! I know they are fighting a war and wars are messy. I knew I had a story to tell and I would tell it, no matter what! If you would just look and listen, I’d tell you one.

In fact, I was not even a soldier. I only drove some soldiers to an airport in my cab! I even had the paperwork to prove it! It was that paperwork that convicted me, I see. Look here, the new laws they passed said I helped those soldiers by simply driving them to the airport.

Why won’t you listen to me? It’s so obvious! Look! Dot, dash, dot! Damn it, and all that follows! Someone has to know Morse code, here! Why won’t you listen to me? I’m looking right at you! Listen!

“Hey Sarge,” the young reservist called to the military contractor, “look at that one there.”

“Yeah,” the military contractor, replied, “that one just got out of iso this morning and is being prepped for another cycle in a day and a half.”

“But Sarge?” the young reservist asked, “what’s with his face?”

“That was one of the earlier ones we picked up,” the military contractor informed, “the worst of the worse. After a while these little mama’s boys admitted to anything we wanted, which proved that they were capable of anything. But we also got tired of hearing day after day how they did this or they did that just so’s they can go home to their mamas. So we had one of our plastic surgeon contractors do a number on these slime ball’s mouths!”

“But what’s up with the eyes?”

“Oh, that!” the military contractor laughed, “one of our company’s division vice presidents for procurement made that call. Since we were moving these slime balls from one prison to another and we didn’t want them to know where they were; and also since all of them would be in isolation, it was decided it was more cost effective to just sew their eyes shut. Some of them don’t even know, they look around just like they can see, just like that one!”

“When does this one go back to iso?” the young reservist was looking at the prisoner’s chart.

“A day and a half.” The military contractor replied.

© 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

                                   News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
A heated argument between two giants. Race Talk: Al Sharpton, Cornel West: Why Their Fight Is Good for Black America
Neither West nor Sharpton is the type to back down from their beliefs, and both were insistent upon making their points.

The focal point of the argument was none other than President Barack Obama.  West and his allies seem to feel that President Obama has left the black community at the doorstep of equality, while Rev. Sharpton is adamant in supporting the president’s bid for reelection.  Both men make valid points, for neither of their views can be readily dismissed.

Professor West seems to be hoping for a better America.  That would be a country where African Americans don’t simply vote for Democratic presidential candidates solely because they are not as bad as the Republicans.  He hopes for a country where the suffering of black people does not continue to be ignored by those we’ve supported with our hearts and souls.  Black men are incarcerated more in the United States today than during the height of apartheid in South Africa, our unemployment rates have regularly exceeded 15 percent, and our underfunded schools are sending kids into the world without the ability to compete.  West is right to vent his frustration.
Rev. Sharpton appears to be working as a political pragmatist.  He fully understands that not taking a stand for President Obama in the next election means that the Republicans are going to take over.  He also reminds black Americans that President Obama can’t do everything on his own.  On the other hand, Shaprton’s alliance with President Obama makes some critics wonder if the relationship benefits the entire black community or just Sharpton and Obama.

Clearly, having access to the White House can be a very good thing for the black community.  Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held the ear of President John F. Kennedy, who probably cared less for the black community than President Obama.  All the while, outside agitators like Cornel West are incredibly important when it comes to keeping all parties honest in their relationships.  Knowing that Cornel West and others stand watching at all times reminds both Sharpton and Obama that the community is analyzing the relationship to see if it actually bears fruit.  President Obama is quickly learning that the black community is not satisfied with public appearances and Motown celebrations.  More and more black folks are seeking a clear return on their political investment.

While pundits and politicians from both parties celebrate averting a potentially disastrous government shutdown—a much bigger issue has been lost in the debate over the federal budget: the way in which race has for generations deeply shaped our discussion over the size and cost of government. Color Lines The Long Racial History of the Tea Party’s Deficit Trojan Horse
A New York Times editorial declared last weekend that, “It’s Not Really About Spending”, but rather the Republican Party’s social agenda. While partly true, the focus on abortion, the environment or even the deficit misses the long racial legacy behind the current debate. This is not simply a debate about the budget, but rather an all-out fight around the purpose and power of the federal government—and we’d do well to remember the history that still informs that fight. Simply put, we can draw a straight line from the Confederacy, to the Dixiecrats, to today’s tea party Republicans.

Concern over the size of the federal government has been a rhetorical Trojan Horse for conservatives for centuries. The origins of the American right’s hostility to the national government can be found in our young republic’s conflict over the institution of racialized slavery. The debate over whether slavery could exist or expand was the defining conflict in American politics from the founding, and its legacy has continued to shape our political discourse ever since.

Supporters of slavery, rooted in the plantation South, sought to defend the wealth their brutality created by limiting the power of the federal government. This gave birth to the euphemistic demand of “states’ rights” that would remain a dominant part of national politics all the way through the 20th century. The federal government, they argued, should have limited authority to regulate the South’s peculiar institution. It took a bloody Civil War to resolve the issue.

Still reeling from the war and harboring strong resentment at the national government’s efforts to empower formerly enslaved people during Reconstruction, the defeated Confederate states never abandoned their Trojan Horse argument about the power and purpose of the federal government. With the tragic end of Reconstruction, “states’ rights” continued as the primary political ideology through which Southern power brokers advanced arguments for racial exploitation.

From Jim Crow all the way through to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, “states’ rights” and its twin sister “limited federal government” remained the rallying cry among conservatives. Reagan famously launched his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964, explicitly lauding his belief in “states’ rights.” And lest we forget, it wasn’t that long ago (2002) that former GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott praised the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidacy of Strom Thurmond. “I want to say this about my state,” Lott declared. “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.” Remember what the Dixiecrats stood for: limiting federal government and its encroachment on the Southern system of racial exploitation.

For those familiar with the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s, the mural is a glowing treasure left over from an important era. Boston Globe: Artist behind iconic Roxbury mural is keeping the faith.
Many Roxbury residents may have passed by the “Africa is the Beginning” mural on the side of the YMCA building on Warren Street with barely more than a curious stare.

But to those familiar with the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s, the mural is a glowing treasure left over from an important era -- one of the last vestiges of a movement that gave Roxbury a place in black American history.

The mural was painted by artist, poet and musician Gary Rickson in 1969, and was repainted by him in 2002, when the YMCA was remodeled. This month, Rickson, a pioneer of the Black Arts Movement, will return to the neighborhood to give a firsthand account of his experiences, in the hopes of motivating young artists, while also opening up lines of communication about black history and culture.

A discussion with Rickson will be led by Barry Gaither, director of the Boston-based National Center of Afro-American Artists, on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Haley House Bakery Café, 12 Dade St., Dudley Square. The event is free and open to the public.

Rickson said the climate for black artists has changed in the last 40 years.

“We were very well-educated, but it seems like the more communication outlets we have, the more people go into darkness,” Rickson said in an interview. “Nothing is going down today like it was then. We have a lot of paintings, and the ones that are for the people need to go on murals and in prints and on the Internet. We are making history now, [but] we’re not passing it around like we used to.”

                                     (Alexandra Legend Siegel photo for boston.com)

The most diverse network NPR: If You're Looking For A Little Diversity On Television, Try HGTV
Neda Ulaby reports on Wednesday's Morning Edition that there's a surprising channel where you can see Latino, Asian, or African-American people, as well as gays and lesbians, in significantly larger numbers than in much of the rest of broadcast and cable television.

That channel is HGTV — from Home And Garden Television — which features people of color as hosts and homeowners, as well as designers and retailers. Neda considers an episode of House Hunters, for instance, that featured a black couple where one was a tech consultant and one was a government nuclear inspector. The president of HGTV makes clear that the diversity of participants — not only the homeowners, but the design professionals and other consultants — is entirely intentional, and has resulted in an overall increase in its audience and an even bigger increase in its minority audiences.

It's easy to write off inexpensive basic-cable shows as largely time-swallowing placeholders, but according to some of the folks quoted in Neda's story, there can be big payoffs from remembering to make them a little bit more inclusive.

<<<< NPR Media Player >>>>>

My only take on this is I have a funny feeling DC will soon get a vote in congress. Washington Post: Despite census data showing that blacks are no longer the majority of District residents, the public face of Washington is still largely African American. But will it stay that way?
Tony Puesan felt very much the pioneer when he opened his jazz club on 14th Street NW in 1993. On an avenue of boarded-up storefronts, a desolate reminder of the devastation wrought by the city's 1968 race riots, the low rents were more than justified by the high crime rate. But Puesan saw a chance to bridge Washington's racial divide. And he did, attracting a satisfying blend of blacks, whites and others to hear live music.

Now Puesan's nightspot, the HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues, has moved to H Street NE. Once again, the lure was finding the racial mix that the influx of whites has made increasingly rare along the 14th Street corridor. On H Street, Puesan is confident he can not only keep the District's jazz scene alive but also demonstrate that even as its demographics change, Washington still defines itself culturally and politically through its African-American heritage.

"When we first opened, the majority was African American," said Puesan. "But 15 years ago, the mix changed." The block that once housed HR-57, the Afro-American newspaper and a black-owned beauty salon is now home to a high-end audio showroom and a sleek, minimalist Thai eatery.

"Cities evolve, the affluent come in and people shift around," said Puesan, 49, who is black and grew up in Adams Morgan. "But this city's culture is still solidly African American, and that's not changing."

When new census data revealed last month that blacks are probably no longer a majority in Washington -- a status they had held since shortly after World War II -- some residents read that as confirmation that the District's black identity is slipping away. From politicians to talk-show callers, in diners and schoolyards, many Washingtonians -- and especially black residents who have spent all their lives in the city -- took the census numbers as proof that the District is turning into one more majority-white city.

But in politics, business, culture and sports, the public face of Washington is still largely African American, and there's considerable evidence that it may stay that way for a long time to come.

Still a death sentence. Race Talk Deportations to Haiti
This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency formalized its Haitian deportation policy. ICE claims it will consider medical and humanitarian factors when deciding whether to deport someone to Haiti. Yet, the policy will still lead to deportations, as early as next week, of individuals like “Fred,” a 20-year-old born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, whose entire family lives in the U.S. Before being deported in January he had never before set foot in Haiti, but was permanently expelled from the U.S. for attempting to sell $20 of cocaine to an undercover cop.  And as the U.S. government knows, deportations to Haiti amount to a death sentence for deportees.

The massive earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 left nearly 300,000 Haitians dead and over 1.2 million more displaced and homeless.  Overnight, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was catapulted into a crisis of unthinkable proportions. Basic sanitation, adequate food, potable water, and shelter were absent.  Recognizing a crisis, the U.S. government halted deportations to Haiti on humanitarian grounds.  In the year since, the crisis in Haiti has gone from bad to worse: a cholera epidemic rages throughout the country, the Haitian government is deeply compromised, and sexual assaults and forced evictions are well-documented in the tent camps. The situation is particularly bad in Haitian detention centers—where deportees are locked up and where cholera has already claimed approximately 60 lives.

In December 2010, the U.S. government announced it was resuming deportations of Haitian nationals with criminal convictions and then secretly rounded up a few hundred Haitians and placed them in immigration detention jails. We implored our government to reverse course. We warned that deportees would be detained in filthy jails and exposed to disease and abuse upon arrival in Haiti (standard practice prior to the earthquake).
We turned to the international community.  We filed an emergency petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a human rights body in the Organization of American States. In February 2011, the IACHR recognized the potential human rights violations and urged the U.S. government not to deport Haitians, particularly those who are ill or have significant family ties in the U.S.  Similarly, the United Nations Independent Expert on Haiti asked all countries to “refrain from expelling Haitians and continue to provide decent temporary arrangements for their protection on humanitarian grounds.”


[] Martin Luther King III: Labor Has Unique Opportunity to Rebuild by James Parks

[] What Caused the Civil War: or, How to argue with a Confederate apologist by psychbob

[] Donald Trump's Dive into Right-Wing Cynicism: Why the GOP might be worried by TheLandstander


Have a seat on the Porch, there's plenty of room and chairs for everyone! Help yourself to refreshments. We might be a little late to greet you. But enjoy yourselves until we do!

Originally posted to Black Kos on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 01:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community.

Your Email has been sent.