Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Response Five: Question One

In analysis of the two texts, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter From Harlem” and the first chapter of Malcolm X’s autobiography, the manners of African Americans in resisting injustice and gaining power is not overt. In many cases examples would only conjure implied definitions. What is more clearly seen is the differences between southern injustices in the manner of explicit “Jim Crow” like oppression and that of the Northern oppression of African Americans in the form of a covert, socially manipulated degradation. It is inherently conclusive that in addressing the manners of injustices the coping manners of African Americans are addressed as well. This leads into an ultimate analysis Civil Rights resistance techniques, in the north and the south, and a conclusion as to possible alternatives.
         In examining “Jim Crow” law in the south in previous assignments and comparing its similarities and differences with the treatment of African Americans in the south, a quote comes to mind from “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter From Harlem.” “…It is not possible for anyone who has endured both to know which is ‘worse.’ I know Negroes who prefer the South and white Southerners [over white Northerns], because ‘at least there, you haven’t got to play any guessing games!’ ” (Baldwin 64). Irrevocably, author James Baldwin, explains how profound this is by quoting a man who says, “the spirit of the South is the spirit of America” (Baldwin 64). The manner of oppression here is implied as the difference between covert and overt.
Baldwin introduces us to his essay with a descriptive history of his neighborhood, a dilapidated project or as he states, “the turf” (Baldwin 55). This description of his home conjures a visual of the oppression that is embedded in Northern society. After “fighting on the right side of the Civil War” the North seemed to have acquired and left to waste the reaping of the fight, the Negro man (Baldwin 64). Baldwin describes the plight of the Northern Negro man as placed in projects, manipulated by their landlords, bereaved by a socially delineated status even when one attempted to join “the man” and work in the “white mans world” (Baldwin 57). The treatment of blacks by whites only creates a downwind spiral in which black “generations keep being born, [and] bitterness is increased by incompetence, pride and folly” (Baldwin 66).
         In contrast to Baldwin’s essay, a look at the first chapter of Malcolm X’s autobiography reveals the environment in the South. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Malcolm X tells the story of overt oppression and terrorizing of his family by Klansmen. “[One night], a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home…Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out…[warning her] that we had better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my father’s ‘spreading trouble’ among the ‘good’ Negroes of Omaha with the ‘back to Africa’ preachings of Marcus Garvey” (Malcolm 1).
Here it the oppression of African Americans takes a much more vocal position that is also conducive to violent measures. Malcolm’s family soon moves to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here we find the discussion of the African Americans condition in the North, as discussed by Baldwin, explicitly stated in examples from Malcolm’s own life. After the death of his father, by what is claimed to be a suicide, but in all likelihood was the result of some white supremacists, Malcolm’s family is slowly torn apart by the Welfare system. His story invokes the same ideological resent towards blacks when he confers the stories of his “white [looking]” mother who lost jobs when her “white” employers found out she was really black, and the constant presence of the Welfare system in their lives. Malcolm conveys resentment similar to the “Negro man” found in Baldwin’s essay, saying, “…I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight” (Malcolm 22). This succinctly summarizes the purpose of Malcolm’s essay and development of Malcolm’s attitude toward this stratification of society as well as conveying the environment for African Americans in the North.
While not explicitly stated, resistance to these forms of oppression are limited in discussion within both Baldwin’s and Malcolm’s writings. Assimilation retained the status quo and resistance only resulted in the occasional “[drop of a match] in the powder keg and everything blows up” (Baldwin 63).  Baldwin states in his essay that Northern oppression was “another, not-less-deadly variety” of Jim Crow (64).
In many ways this is stifling to the typical methods of the civil rights movement. Sit-ins and civil disobedience are not capable of revealing the manipulative tactics of a society that purported a new form of acting out racial prejudice. The “Negro man” is helpless in this circumstance, as his methods are launched as politically and culturally active statements. An alternative to these methods would be in changing the ideas of those who oppress. In the words of Baldwin, “the country will not change until it reexamines itself and discovers what it really means by freedom.” 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Research Topic: The Political Work of Art of Harvey Milk

What is art without visibility? How can it exude any meaning without the means to convey it? If darkness is the opposite of light and black the absence of color, then brightness is essential to art. Although merely a means perhaps, it is a necessity for purpose of the art. Thus I have decided to study and incorporate the ideas, as political pieces of art, of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual to be elected to public office, and the legacy of his life and political ideas and beliefs that have been expounded upon by the gay and lesbian community into political work of art in itself.
Milk’s political work centered around two ideas: gay rights and the exposing or in better words, the cliché “coming out of the closet”, of gay people. According to an article printed in the Gay and Lesbian Review Magazine, “…”Milk’s dream: visibility” (“If they know us…” by Andrew Holleran). His tactics, i.e. his political work of art, was tied to his belief that gays should be equal in the eyes of the government and in practice only a change in the social environment that countered this could change be achieved. Resistance to the gay movement came predominately from the Christian church and Anita Bryant, a leader within the movement. Those within these groups spent copious amounts of time denouncing gays as “thieves and prostitutes” whose goal was to undermine the structure of the nuclear family and the institution of marriage, conceded as a union between only a man and a woman (“If they know us…” by Andrew Holleran). At that time Proposition 6 was introduced. Proposition 6, if passed, would have kept teachers who were gay or lesbian from working in California public schools. This proposition was supported by the ideas of Anita Bryant and other groups who countered the gay movement. Ultimately, Proposition 6 did not pass and this was due mostly to the campaign and political acts of Milk.
Initially the idea for my research paper centered around the release date of a feature film titled “Milk,” which was two weeks before the vote for proposition 8, more adequately called the Californian Marriage Protection Act, which specifies that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Californian.” However in preliminary research, a more elaborate spectacle ascends into a sublime, yet ornately pragmatic spotlight: the “visible” component of Harvey Milks political campaign. The highlighted theme of my research essay and presentation will be the political work of art of visibility as purported by Harvey Milk and as seen in the latter works drawn from his life, such as the feature film “Milk” and other documentaries.
Primarily focusing on the objective nature of his political works, I intend to analyze his ideas, gay rights, and the means to achieve them, mainly that of visibility of gays in society, as a collective work of political art that is manifold in practice and encompasses both social and political ideology.
         Ultimately, my concession to the political work of arts of Harvey Milk is based on its objectiveness. Milk upheld values that affirmed a person’s value regardless of their sexual orientation, and he intended to truncate the process of change in the social attitude towards gay by showcasing gays as who they were: human beings. The objective nature of this act is both intellectual and invokes without first intention, the emotion that propels a movement forward. Gay rights may have been the ultimatum, but without the visible component of the movement, initiating collective and individual reinforcement as well as social presence, it could not have achieved its goal.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Response Three-"Wheres the Voice Coming From"

“Where is the Voice Coming From,” is a short story composed by Eudora Weltry following the thoughts of Byron De La Beckwith, the murderer of civil rights leader Medgar Evans. Within fictional prose, the thoughts of Byron De La Beckwith are exposed in an attempt to confront the reasons for his killing of Evans and the afterthoughts of his act. Before the murder took place, it is of importance to note the change in the political atmosphere towards the civil rights movement. A few hours before Edgar’s murder, President John F. Kennedy announces via television that congress is passing bills in support of the Civil Rights movement. His voice his heard across the nation exclaiming, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue… The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated” (Weltry 51). This lead in within the preface of Weltry’s story sets the stage for the man the readers are soon to meet. A man determined in his ways, but facing a changing climate from the civil rights movement
            “You can reach and turn it off. You don’t have to set and look at a black nigger face no longer than you want to, or listen to what you don’t want to hear. It’s still a free country” (Weltry 52). From the beginning of the story, the voice and intent of Beckwith rings ever so clear with this statement. In regards to the changing stance of politics in Washington towards the civil rights movement, Beckwith shows his way of dealing with it, with eyes closed toward the inevitable. This is the stance of the man facing the summit of controversy regarding the ways of his life. This controversy is uninvited, a change that he does not approve nor will allow to continue without protest.
In many ways it is possible to perceive a man who is quite unstable in the mind. But this is not the purpose of Weltry’s short story. As a source of the speculative nature of the events, Weltry proposes a different tone. It is the nature of change in society and in the individual. In the Deep South where this event took place historically and within the story, there is a socially divided society with white upper class oppressing blacks through segregation and social disposition. The ideas that prevailed in society were so strong that in many instances even blacks considered the oppression legitimate and their inequality normal. Its easy then to see that whites, such as Beckwith, would want to retain the status quo, for their position was much higher in social class and esteem.
            Weltry invites her audience to see the events of Evans’ murder from this perspective. Beckwith imagines himself not a hero of some counter-movement to the civil rights movement, but a protector of his own way of life and the way he believes things to be, decided by himself. The exchange in one ideology with another is a shift that exchanges blows to each other as the former leaves and the latter takes its place. This is easily seen in the chaos in and resistance to the civil rights movement. Beckwith constantly remarks throughout the short story about how everything is hot and growing hotter, a metaphor for how change was effecting him. “And it’s so hot. It looks like the town’s is on fire already, whichever way you turn…I was already tired of seeing a hundred cops getting us white people nowhere” (Weltry 56). The wave of change has conceived not just a disapproval of the way things are going, but also lack of faith in the government for dealing with the civil rights movement.
“I done what I done for my own pure-D satisfaction” (Weltry 53).  In the end Beckwith is apathetic towards the outcome, merely contented by the consolation of his act upon his ideas and views. “On the TV and in the Papers, they don’t know but half of it. They know who Roland Summers was without knowing who I am. His face was in front of the public before I got rid of him, and after I got rid of him there it is again—the same picture. And none of me” (Weltry 55). Although it is hard to empathize with Beckwith, an understanding of the conflict at the root of his action is gained through Weltry’s story.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Post Two: Question Two

In chapter one of “The Art of Protest” by T.V. Reed, we are introduced to the concept of music’s involvement in the Civil Right’s Movement. In the opening remarks on the subject Reed says, “While many black cultural forms contributed to the civil rights movement, most participants and most analysts agree that music was the key force in shaping, spreading, and sustaining the movement’s culture and through culture its politics” (Reed 13). Also contained within Reed’s chapter is an introduction to the decentralized aspect of the civil rights movement in contrast to the “myth” of centralized efforts of the civil rights movement (Reed 12). This leads into the explanations of the effects of music in the civil rights movement. According to Reed, “no greater cultural force played a greater role at all levels of struggle than what became known as the “freedom songs’.” In essence, Reed argues that the sustaining and unifying abilities of music were critical to the organization of the movement into more cohesive groups that were potent in protest and ultimately in enacting change. “Singing proved to have wide appeal across class, regional, generational, gender, and other wide differences” (Reed 13).
            Music therefore is a cultural force that brings people together and unifies them in a political or ideological cause and thus an integral part to the civil rights movement. Within the civil rights movement, music was used in several ways. As mentioned before, the cohesive factor of music was integral to the movement. In other ways music helped bring out leaders in a group and encouraging others to join the crusade. Contained within the many “freedom songs” of the civil rights movement was the ideological and political message contained in the words of the song. This was of great importance in conveying to blacks and their communities the message and meaning of the movement and why they should take part. Reed goes further in explaining the importance of music by stating; “it was also the perfect tool for organizing communities that were for the most part deeply rooted in oral cultural tradition” (Reed13).
            Music readily conveys the aspects that Reed argues were vital in the civil rights movement. Music moves people as if it were itself alive. When meaning is conveyed alongside the compelling sounds of music, a much more effective delivery of that meaning is achieved. This is what happened with the use of music during the Civil Rights movement in the cases of sit-downs, boycotts, and jailing of protesters. In many ways this mode of communication can deliver the thoughts and ideas of any ideological movement. Many songs are sung in war as a way of motivating soldiers as they go off to battle. Songs such as John Browns Body, were sung by Union soldiers during the Civil War and conveyed the ideas they were fighting for and unity in achieving victory. Similarly, many songs were composed in the 1960s in protest of the war in Vietnam. Personally, I have come across many different uses of music. Growing up in a traditional Christian family, I have come to listen to a lot of music pertaining to the values, ideals, and messages of the composers, most of which held Judeo-Christian values like my family. Growing up, I found music, which gave me a sense of belonging. I tended to listen to groups that were listened especially by my friends as a sort of way of creating a community and a sense of commonality. Essential things when one needs to be organize and mobilize people toward a goal such as the civil rights movement. At other times I have found the lyrics of other musical acts, such as Anti-flag, a band that attacks the politics of America and believes that capitalism is evil, of insight and potency in conveying ideas to its listeners. At the end of the day, music is the means to an end, according to the appropriator.