Whatever happened to the art of the question? Whatever happened to why? These past two days have been very hectic, leaving me little time to write...
I have a series of blogs on the racist roots of the modern neoconservative movement half done. Those I will post next week... stayed tuned.
* * *
-=[ Freeman ]=-
... Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
-- Langston Hughes, A Dream Deferred
My father’s best friend for a long time was a man named Freeman. Freemeng (as my Puerto Rican relatives pronounced his name) was an African American man from an upper middle class family. He was what we would call back then a bohemian -- a free spirit/ thinker. I often wonder if Freeman was his real name, or if he chose that name for himself. Or maybe his parents chose to name him so in order to emphasize the inherent right to freedom we all are entitled to as human beings. I never knew...
I did know he was a nice man, always kind and gentle. He and my father would engage in deep topics. Everything from Marxism to Castro, education to jazz -- nothing was beyond their reach. My music teacher, Mr. White, often joined them. Shoot, the poet Allen Ginsberg lived in our building, but I think my mother didn’t like him because he had a penchant for walking around naked Howling his poetry. LOL!
Sometimes my mother, not having enough to feed them, would feed them pegao. Pegao (literally meaning, “stuck”) is the rice that -- yup! -- gets stuck to the bottom of the pot. It more financially stable homes, pegao was usually thrown away. For Nuyoricans, it was part of our staple -- nothing was thrown out! Feeling somewhat embarrassed at not having enough, my mother would tell Freeman and Mr. White that it was Puerto Rican fried rice and they loved it! It got so they wouldn’t eat my mother’s real rice -- they would insist on the pegao. LOL!
I would learn a lot from these men even as a little boy, as I would sit on my fathers lap with my ear to his chest, so that I could feel the vibrations of his voice through my ear. This was the 60s and everything was fodder for questioning. Blacks and Latino/as were asserting themselves, challenging the racist status quo; women were questioning gender roles, gays and lesbians were beginning to implement the strategies learned from the civil rights movement and using it for their own cause; an unpopular war fought under false pretext was raging -- it was a heady time. Our ramshackle apartment was always filled with thinkers, artists, activists, my elementary school teachers, and all kinds of characters.
Yes, I am a radical progressive. I am left of anyone you know... those days, and men like Freeman and my father, shaped my worldview. Here’s something I learned from Freeman. And perhaps this explains why he was called Freeman...
The history of black Americans and other people of color is often presented in contrast to general (white) American history. Blacks are too often portrayed as passive victims in an otherwise brilliant display of democracy and American expertise.
Slavery, Jim Crow, and racism are issues that beg to be swept under a rug in
It was Freeman’s point that this compulsion to deny or marginalize the black American experience did harm to everyone in our society. To begin with, he explained, the black American experience was not an aberration. American Indians were slaughtered for their lands. Landless citizens (even white ones) along with all women were denied the right to vote for many years. Homosexuality is still a black mark against many of our citizens.
Freeman taught that the black American experience is the history of
I think if Freeman were alive today he would say that white Americans are learning today what the black race learned long ago the hard way: not to believe the corporate hype. People of color have been hearing those lies for hundreds of years. We take the media with a pinch of salt, and we know that many of our social institutions serve the more fortunate. We know the word retirement means getting old means you’re going to get tired of trying to make ends meet.
After World War II ended, there descended an extended period of prosperity for the middle class. Poor people and people of color suffered more because there were few opportunities for us to rise above the level of manual labor. And so we were forced to keep the historical memories of survival alive while others got along with a newfound confidence in the value of the dollar and the fact of perpetual labor. While others looked forward to comfortable retirement and brighter tomorrows, the ghettos were busy studying survival and revolution.
These studies can benefit almost everyone today. At least I believe that’s what Freeman would say.