“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions”. Gloria Neale Hurston.
I, too, am an invisible man. And it doesn’t feel good.
In 1952, African American writer Ralph Ellison wrote the critically acclaimed book “Invisible Man”. The seminal book addressed many of the social and intellectual issues faced by African Americans in the early twentieth century, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.
Mr. Ellison described himself as an invisible man because he believed the world to be filled with blind men who could not see him for who he was. He spoke about the pain and feeling of helplessness he got from being socially or racially invisible.
Today, in 2020, more than 70 years after “Invisible Man”, I feel I am suffering a similar fate.
I have made it known throughout my writings that I was highly influenced by the so-called “Black Protest Writers” of the 60s and 70s.
Unknown to today’s generation of mostly non-readers, those intellectually brilliant and brave men and women of that era gave hope and courage to a generation of Blacks, who, heretofore, had been afraid to boldly challenge the system of white oppression and injustice.
Many of those writers and activists of the era, especially some belonging to the Black Panther Party, were hunted down like dogs and murdered in their homes, or hounded through sham legal proceedings or political persecutions that was aimed at eliminating them from the movement for black equality.
Few of those writers and activists, with the notable exception of Angela Davis and Elaine Brown (former Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party and 2008 Green Party candidate), remain alive and viable today.
The writings and activism of many of those people, such as Haki R. Madhubuti (formerly Don Lee), Huey P. Newton, Amiri Baraka, Dick Gregory, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Eldridge Cleaver, Richard Wright, Bobby Seale, Ntozake Shange, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, and a host of others too innumerable to name, ushered in a new era of protest and activism not seen during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement.
Now, they’re all but forgotten, as are many of the courageous and intellectual black writers and activists of that era. Those writers and activists gave their all, sacrificed wealth and economic security, and risked their personal safety to speak out against a system that debased and humiliated them, and people like them.
Whether they were advocating for going back to Africa, building our own communities, fighting the “Pig” (police), or feeding and educating our own, this special group was offering different and diverse plans and strategies for black liberation. But, most of all they were showing that when given the opportunity Blacks could do more than pick cotton, clean houses, serve as porters , or wait on white folks.
This period of black intellectualism has never been surpassed, and most likely will never occur again.
Now, we have a host of black intellectuals with degrees from fancy white schools who are obliged to honor their benefactors by avoiding being “too black”, “too radical”, or “too outspoken”. Without one of these valued degrees, smart black folks with courage, commitment, or just plain “mother wit” are denied seats of power, not only within white institutions, but the black bourgeois set as well.
Of course, historian Carter G. Woodson warned us of this in his clairvoyant and provocative tome, “The Mis-Education of the Negro”, first published in 1933.
Dr. Woodson called African American leaders of the period “misleaders”. He described the chains around our minds and provided strategies for their removal. He believed white supremacy could be conquered with Africentricity. Self-hatred could be replaced with self-love. He believed that African people had to immerse themselves in their own history and culture in order to succeed as a race.
The Black Protest era was all about change of the black mindset.
According to writer Chris May, “In the struggle for racial equality in the U.S., the mid 1960s were a turning point. The Civil Rights era, 1955-65 had produced legislation against segregation, but everyday institutional racism continued to blight African American life, as did economic deprivation. The Black Nationalist era, 1965-75, was less pacifistic than the one which it succeeded.”
Anthems like “Fight the Power”, “Black Pride”, “Black Love”, “Black and Proud”, and “Power to the People” were in vogue during this era. They were more than mere slogans. They were a way of life.
Growing up in the racist south during the 70s I needed all the hope and change I could muster. Without those strong and brave voices I would never have dreamed I could become a writer and influence people with my words.
Today, I can unequivocally say it was the Black Protest Era, along with learning of the horrific murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, that set the course of my life, and made me determined to speak my piece… whatever the cost.
And it has cost me dearly…. The loss of fame and stature. The loss of economic opportunities. The loss of family and friends. The loss of loves.
But still I soldier on.
That’s a question I often struggle with myself.
Why sacrifice life and career to try and educate Black people to their true past and potential? Why give all to a “race” of people who seem to have lost their way, and seem unwilling to put in the work to rediscover themselves, and live up to the greatness of their ancestors?
Ancestors, who from slavery in America and far before, showed their mettle by outlasting invasions, colonialism, slavery and racism.
My disappointment isn’t as much with Whites, who have been programmed for centuries, if not millenniums, to oppress and discriminate against people of color, but my own people.
I’m talking about the Black people who’ve refused to support me in this effort.
I’m talking about the black people who’ve refused to buy my book, “The Clan of Southern Man”, a book which traces the history of our people all the way back to the beginning of the human line. A book which highlight the contributions of our valuable black women to the survival and progress of the human species. A book that uses the very latest scientific evidence (that’s science folks) to prove our ancestors gave modern people many of the systems, processes, and tools that helped to advance the human line.
A book that took me twenty years to research and write.
That’s not important?
Have we fallen off that much?
Is reading no longer fundamental?
Is knowledge of self no longer important?
I’m talking about the black press that has mainly censored me by refusing to publish much of my work. And in some instances, refusing to pay me when they did.
I’m talking about the black leaders, celebrities, politicians, intellectuals and academicians who have ignored my many entreaties for their aid in getting out my message.
I could belabor you with dozens, if not hundreds, of failed attempts to engage some of these people in this fight.
What has been my reward? Form letters and refusals. Turndowns and disappointments. Disrespect and disillusionment.
Has the cult of materialism overwhelmed the conviction of spiritualism that guided our ancestors through trials and travails that would have broken other peoples?
Have we lost our sense of community?
Or have we simply been mis-served by our leaders?
Have we become wholesale buyers of the me-generation? The every-man-for-himself posse? The self-over-community mantra that seems to permeate our society today?
Have we given up on ourselves?
Throughout my life I’ve always supported black people. Supported black businesses. Supported black organizations. Supported black charities. Bought black books and magazines. Bought black records and attended black concerts. Supported black newspapers. Hired black people in my profession of restaurant and retail management. Mentored black children. Tried to serve as a role model for my younger siblings and my many nieces and nephews.
Why am I not feeling the love?