Forum Post: When Writing Becomes Transformative Nonviolent Direct Action: ESCAPING the LIE AND THE TRAP OF OUR HISTORY
Posted 5 years ago on Jan. 15, 2013, 6:04 a.m. EST by therising
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Frovikleka reminded me of something important this morning. You really do stay young if you remain open to new ideas.
As I considered this, it occurred to me that you also stay young when you stay present and react spontaneously to things in this moment with an open heart and truly LISTEN, instead of speaking (however thoughtfully) from a reactionary programmed position that feels free but is really just the product of unchallenged assumptions we absorbed from somewhere else.
The legendary author James Baldwin once said, "A man is not a man until he can face and use his experience." Baldwin was a small man in stature but a literary giant whose essay "The Fire Next Time" so rattled the cage of the powerful that, upon reading it, the White House summoned him to a meeting of the minds with a dozen other luminaries to discuss civil rights issues... To defend the speed of change which Baldwin had publicly and powerfully assailed.
I have nothing but oraise for the courage of the Kennedy's and other brave souls in the white community who took a stand against longstanding injustice. And Baldwin applauded their sacrifice as well. But he refused to stop there. At the meeting arranged by the White House, Baldwin lovingly yet forcefully scolded Kennedy in the meeting, refusing to agree to Kennedy's plea that he and his brother were moving slow on civil rights because this was a hard transition for the American public to make and there was nothing more they could do than keep pushing at the barriers as they had been with all their might.
Baldwin was of course thankful for the courage the Kennedy's had shown but he refused to agree to stop critiquing them. He refused to agree that what had been done was enough. After all, he said, (my words here but his general meaning) I refuse to accept that a power that has had its foot on my people's neck for so long has any right to take its time removing that foot. Real people are on the ground suffering right now and I will not rest until the boot of oppression no longer crushes their windpipe. Baldwin refused to praise slow progress and refused to "see the wisdom of slow progress."
At first when I read what he said, I thought "How dare he. Does he know that the Kennedy's have stuck their necks way out and worked their asses off at great peril to achieve the advances they had helped secure by that point?". I had the same strong reaction to Baldwin's words as Bobby Kennedy did that caused him to hastily arrange a meeting with the author of an essay(!) and a dozen other great minds. But then it hit me: Baldwin wasn't being irrational. He saw clearly what the Kennedy's and others were up against with so many ignorant folks out there fearing the end of their world if a "negro" went to college. But Baldwin wasn't really scolding Kennedy. He was refusing to accept the slow progress of a PEOPLE who NEVER HAD THE RIGHT TO HAVE THEIR FOOT ON PEOPLE'S NECK IN THE FIRST PLACE. He refused to excuse their ignorance as an excuse for slow progress. After all, for centuries, real people had died real and painful deaths due to this ignorance.
Baldwin's insistance infuriated Kennedy. . . And we should be just as insistent and impatient. It just so happens that when Baldwin simply WROTE about it with his gifted prose, it rattled the cages of authority. Magnificent.
* All this came from Baldwin challenging every assumption he ever had and finally thinking for himself, "stepping out of the lie and the trap of his history" as he put it.
He beautifully noted that he "saw some young white men and women come to freedom on that same road" and that "they said to me exactly what I had always wanted to say to them. That they could step out of the lie and the trap lf their history and be, just be. Their being recalled to life was a beautiful thing to behold."
What a discovery, to realize this at the age of 18 or 80. It truthfully doesn't matter in the end at what age we discover it as long as at some point our "dungeon shakes" (as Baldwin out it) and we step out of that lie and trap of our history, face and use our experience, test all our assumptions and those of others and become out OWN PEOPLE instead of a conglomeration of "attitudes".
If you ever get time to pick up Baldwin's essay the Fire Next Time or Nothing Personal, check them out. Extraordinary. They shook my dungeon when I was 19 and I've never been the same since! :). Baldwin's novels "Another Country" and "No Name in the Street" are incredibly powerful and moving as well. He's not just writing in his fiction and nonfiction about civil rights and the lives of those who struggle for freedom, he writes about what it is to be human.
And by the way, he writes so beautifully that sometimes you just put down the book after reading a paragraph and smile in amazement. It's authentic and from the heart and it therefore resonates with your own heart and soul.
Your dungeons shake. You laugh. You weep. And you find yourself alive in this world in all its vivid splendor. Isn't about time that all our dungeons shook? Isn't it about time that we Americans step out of the lie and the trap of our history and think for ourselves?