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Saturday, April 23, 2005


Jonathan David Jackson

You know, Benjamin, it seems to me that this story is also about a knee-jerk, centuries-old fear of BLACK RAGE or the presumption of BLACK RAGE.

I'm currently teaching a course in INTRODUCTION TO AFRICANA STUDIES and the white students (the class is mostly white) will accept nothing less than cool, detached rhetoric. We are now moving into a unit on racism, slavery and political economy. I produce commentaries that explain elements of my pedagogy. This shows them the design behind my performative pedagogy. I want them to get a radical, bird's eye view of a teaching practice in motion.

However, these commentaries also give me a chance to formally address matters that arise in lecture/discussions and video screenings.

Here's what my latest commentary on the role of BLACK RAGE said (and I often think of the role of beligerence and biting nastiness in our developmental process when we are not being listened as children or as adults):


Two classes ago in a lecture/discussion in the spring 2005 AFR 200 course I pointed out that, as Peter Kolchin (author of AMERICAN SLAVERY) points out, most of the "founding fathers" were slave owners.

I then pointed out that even a few black American scholars, judges and attorneys seem to have overlooked the stinging hypocrisy of the "original framers" of our nation. To postulate an originalist view of the constitution—or to postulate that we consider law and social value according to the mores present when the constitution was written by the primarily British American male slave holders who wrote it—is to tacitly, if not explicitly, endorse the well-documented racism and sexism of the so called "founding fathers."

I also argued that we do much worse when we make veiled excuses—however well intentioned we may think we are being—and utter things like "but it was just the way it was back then." Such comments are indeed excuses and I reminded the class that abolitionists and early feminists were doing work at the same time that the “founding fathers” were reaping the benefits of slavery too.

I then went back to the issue of Clarence Thomas and deliberately slipped into black American street vernacular to underscore that social and political outrage cannot be divorced from cool, scholarly understanding. We need both and my aim was to get you to re-think the manner in which I began the discussion: cool, detached argumentation is not the only mode of rhetoric that we will need to get us through this challenging unit on racism, slavery and political economy.

Using a form of ironic commentary called “signifying” practiced in black American street culture, I postulated that the best way to understand Justice Thomas would be to identify him as the establishment's "pet"—or the "dawg" of power. He was a dawg in his adherence to originalist interpretations and his well-documented sexual harassment. (Dawg, as I said in class, often has a double reference: pet and sexual freak in black street parlance.) I said that Justice Thomas was so much of a “dawg” or pet of power, that he even does not need a leash; he comes inside the house of power when called.

During that class and another, two white students in the class (and I do realize that you are far more than just white students and that you have varied identities and even that you may not be comfortable with identifying as white) voiced concerns about “black anger” and the need for cool detached rhetoric.

I want you to all know that sometimes whites and blacks need to take the time to study and actually listen to some black Americans’ outrage as well as our cool detached scholarly rhetoric.

One of the reasons why many black Americans are still angry about American slavery is that most people in America do not know that the founding fathers themselves were slaveholding bigots and hypocrites (yes, I do use these words on purpose) despite the “founding fathers” many wonderful ideas. So deep is the extent of black shame and white guilt that we often cloak ideas that need to be addressed and diminish the ongoing legacy of slavery. Yes, I do mean BLACK SHAME and WHITE GUILT. Both are problems.

You must also not view Professor Manning Marable’s book How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America as an angry screed. It is NOT such a book. However, he is unsparing in his documentation of capitalist injustice and he does not try to sugarcoat his ideas to make either blacks or whites “feel good.” Sometimes we must feel bad to understand the reality of injustice and then actually work to do something about it.

We need to use ALL of the rhetorical tools available to draw awareness to these problems and questions—cool rhetoric AND hot rage—and we need to employ them often and sometimes at the same time. We cannot become robots bent only on making people feel comfortable about issues of injustice.

This is why I use MANY teaching tools:

o cool argumentation and counter argumentation
o street vernacular
o gestural examples
o in-class writing exercises
o open book exercises to get you to practice argumentation
o open discussions to gather personal as well as scholarly views
o and lots of discussion of key passages of text that involve reading the passages aloud in class

One matter that I left out was a proper definition of the “Constitution in Exile” debate.

The following link is to an article by Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University that addresses the “Constitution in Exile” debate:

The Unregulated Offensive
New York Times Magazine, April 17, 2005



Ben G.

If you're interested, Jonathan, you should consider guest posting over here sometime. Your comments deserve more air.

Jonathan David Jackson

Ben, I'm so honored to be in your life. Your blog entries are *hot*. Happy anniversary, by the way. The blog is far better than any I visit without exaggeration and far deeper and more varied than imagined over a year ago. I remember that striking post from your dear mother's home. I remember it well.

Passover makes me think of the black slave experience in contemporary Sudan. Thursday evening I met a terrific man named Simon Deng who works for a group called iAbolish [www.iabolish.com] (I actually introduced Mr. Deng before he spoke to the Amnesty International club here on campus). Mr. Deng (a former enslaved child in Sudan) spoke to me about Arab slavers who are still killing and enslaving black Africans today. This is form of genocide in the lush jungles of Southern Sudan is equally as disgusting as the problems of mass murder in the desert of Darfur. Mr. Deng was taken as a boy from his village of Tonga in Southern Sudan and brutally enslaved and scarred on all levels before he escaped with the aid of an international buy-back force of anti-slavers.

I have often thought of what it means to be a independent American voter who rejects all parties (and therefore often cannot vote in primaries and other such twisted affairs) and a socialist (for lack of a better word) but the more I learn about the virulent permutations of capitalism, the more I strengthen my intellectual and sociopolitical resolve.

THAT is why your posts on the election fraud are so important to me because that willful debacle equals $-fiending. Many of the guns used to gather slaves in Southern Sudan are German-made and this equals $-fiending. The UN fails to intervene in Sudanese slavery because of pressure by the Arab oil magnets and this equals $-fiending. Condi Rice is pet of power who goes inside the big house, unleashed, when she is called and that is an example of $-fiending too. But I digress, forgive me.

Passover made me think of this world problem.

I am with you in recognition of this crucial, crucial time of Jewish observance.

Ben G.

Jonathan, Thank you for taking the meanings and themes of Passover into such specific and current and personal dimensions. This is exactly what one is supposed to do in the celebration of Passover.

As you may know, the heart of the Passover ritual meal (seder) is the process of telling the Passover story and interpreting it in response to the Four Questions of the youngest child who is present at the table.

After the rehearsal of Rabinnic interpretations of the story God's liberation of the Hebrew slaves, we say the following: "In every generation one must look upon one's self as if one personally had come out from Egypt." And at the beginning of the telling and interpretation we remind ourselves that

even were we all wise, all men and women of understanding, and even if we were all old and well learned in the Torah, it would still be our duty to tell the story of the departure from Egypt. And the more one expounds on the telling of the departure from Egypt, the more one is to be praised.
It seems to me that you understand the hermeneutic process of Passover very well...


Invite me to your cool, detached class, and I will assure you,that when I am finished they will never be the same or look at America again with naivie eyes.

I have 300 original newspaper articles on lynching, some with the actual photo of the burned and tortured body. I have students embrace the articles throughout my lectures, then name the victims in a circle at the end.

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