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« Selon la célèbre formule de Léon Trotsky, « Louis-Ferdinand Céline est entré dans la grande littérature comme d’autres pénètrent dans leur propre maison. » C’est avec cette même désinvolture qu’Oscar Zeta Acosta semble avoir griffonné deux romans autobiographiques. »
SESSHU FOSTER – extrait de la postface
Traduit de l’anglais (Etats-Unis) par Romain Guillou
Postface inédite de Sesshu Foster
360 pages // 20 euros
ISBN : 979-10-92159-04-2
Diffusion-distribution : Les Belles Lettres
Parution : 22 mai 2014
Leon Trotsky famously remarked, “Louis-Ferdinand Céline walked into great literature as other people walk into their own house.”
Like-wise, Brown Buffalo Oscar Zeta Acosta seems to have casually scribbled two autobiographical novels, Hunter S. Thompson style, that directly became Chicano classics in spite of—and in the face of—academic resistance to shaggy dog Gonzo storytelling. These books (Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, 1972, Revolt of the Cockroach People, 1973) bear their end-of-the-60s/ end-of-a-dream/ end-of-an-era/ time and place ostentatiously. They announced for all to hear, “it’s all over now, Baby Blue,” as the author sauntered out of sight, disappearing off the coast of Mazatlan, Mexico, by some accounts, in 1974.
Never to be seen again.
The books remain. Still shaggy, bruising and barreling down the road Brown Buffalo-style, still announcing the end of the dream, the end of the era, the never-ending but still approaching apocalyptic End. “When the music’s over, turn out the lights,” sang Jim Morrison and the Doors, writhing on the floor of the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard. Wasn’t that music over so many lifetimes ago? Who forgot to turn out the lights?
Hunter S. Thompson put Oscar Zeta Acosta in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (that other end-of-the-era, end-of-the-dream book), among others, and pissed off Zeta Acosta by characterizing him as a “300 pound Samoan.” Zeta Acosta threatened to sue, but then he disappeared. The rancorous spirit remained in the air, causing Thompson to try to exorcise the ghost in his May 1977 obituary for Zeta Acosta, “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” It was full of Hunter Thompson’s hyperbolic mythologizing: “Oscar was not into serious street-fighting, but he was hell on wheels in a bar brawl. Any combination of a 250 lb Mexican and LSD-25 is a potentially terminal menace for anything it can reach – but when the alleged Mexican is in fact a profoundly angry Chicano lawyer with no fear at all of anything that walks on less than three legs and a de facto suicidal conviction that he will die at the age of 33 – just like Jesus Christ – you have a serious piece of work on your hands. Especially if the bastard is already 33½ years old with a head full of Sandoz acid, a loaded .357 Magnum in his belt, a hatchet-wielding Chicano bodyguard on his elbow at all times, and a disconcerting habit of projectile vomiting geysers of pure blood off the front porch every 30 or 40 minutes, or whenever his malignant ulcer can’t handle any more raw tequila.”
But in 2005 Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were shot out of a cannon over the valley of Roaring Creek River at his Colorado ranch in 34 fireworks shells, after a blast of red, white and blue. Johnny Depp paid the $2 million fireworks bill. The smoke has long since dispersed over those gentrified Rockies—and probably some ghosts were exorcised—but still the books remain.
What about them?
Honesty counts for a lot. Emotional honesty, sometimes called soul, counts for so much because it’s the unspoken veracity that lends the heft of lived-in truth to a bunch of otherwise unremarkable or merely historical events—that vow of honesty that’s unannounced but kept nonetheless, that matters. It goes on mattering—goes on, after the music is over, after the lights go out, after the authors have left the stage and even after the ghosts come and go, flitting over the shoulders of people reminiscing or gossiping about who did what, who made a splash in the old days.
Oscar Zeta Acosta and Hunter S. Thompson collaborated on the adventures that their books are based on; as friends they were friends together: they wrote their books separately—after, in some sense—living the stories together. In his own books, Oscar Zeta Acosta seems unafraid to feel his feelings—even, or especially the thrill of fear, zipping through the body from throat to anus like a seam fraying apart. He’s baring his soul and bearing witness to the awful weirdness of the times. Anybody can see that, I think.
Even those who come along after those rugged, terrible, ragged years. You can still feel the street heat.
Yesterday I walked across the street to talk to someone who knew Oscar Zeta Acosta during those years, my neighbor, Carlos Montes. Carlos has been a revolutionary activist since the 1960s, a co-founder of the Chicano Brown Berets organization, and as Brown Berets “Minister of Information” Carlos was a leader in the 1968 walkouts where tens of thousands of Chicano students walked out of school and protested educational inequality. Because of these and other activities, Carlos has been a continual target of FBI and police harassment and arrest (see Ben Ehrenreich’s March 2012 Los Angeles Magazine article, “Never Stop Fighting” http://www.lamag.com/features/2012/03/01/never-stop-fighting-11).
Oscar Zeta Acosta was Carlos Montes’s attorney for several years, through 1970, and served as his counsel, fighting various indictments, in particular one for conspiracy to commit arson at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel speech of then-governor Ronald Reagan. Zeta Acosta, according to Carlos, told him that the evidence against Carlos was prejudicial to the cases of the five other defendants and for their sakes, that Carlos must flee and go underground. With his attorney counseling him to flee, Carlos disappeared from Los Angeles for seven years. During those years, Carlos skipped across the Mexican border (as Zeta Acosta would himself, later) and lived “on the lam,” living on the run. After some time, Carlos returned to the U.S., surreptitiously crossing at El Paso, Texas, where he lived under an assumed name, even while re-engaging in political organizing. Carlos returned to Los Angeles in 1977 to face charges (he was acquitted when it was proven that a police agent was involved in committing the arson). Oscar Zeta Acosta never returned.
Carlos Montes said:
The thing about Oscar was that his presence was very big, he was very big physically, but he was also very outspoken, very big in his personality. He was not your usual uptight lawyer. Young people idolized him, because he had a very big presence. Curly hair, kind of long, tie loose… You know, he was not only confrontational; he could get people to do things.
The first time we met him was at the Church of the Epiphany, where we used to meet at the episcopal church in Lincoln Heights, with Father Luce. That was where we met with the Brown Berets and Eliezer Risco (a Cuban who had worked with the United Farm Workers) who put out La Raza newspaper. The first time we met Zeta Acosta he showed up in a suit and tie and we made fun of him, calling him a ‘sell-out.’ “I’m not a sell-out!” he said. He gave us his card; it said, “Oscar Zeta Acosta,” you know, and underneath his name it said, “Chicano Lawyer,” and remember this was in 1968, and nobody did anything like that then. I mean, a lawyer? “Chicano Lawyer.” So he took off his tie and had a beer with us, and that’s how he won us over.
He might’ve been working with Maldef [the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund] then, at that point, I don’t know. Anyway, he left them to set up a private practice on his own, to pursue more controversial cases, that maybe Maldef didn’t want to pursue. Higher profile cases, police brutality cases, things like that.
I was a student at ELAC (East Los Angeles Community College) and that was where I was politicized. I was vice president of the student government, but at the same time I was working—I was always working. During the Watts riots, I was working as a janitor at Garfield High School and other schools. I used to listen to the other janitors, the black janitors who were from South Central talk about what was going on, arguing, you know, about the Watts riots and the Vietnam War, and this made a big impression on me, hearing them debate whether it was right for people to riot or use violence (“Burn them out, burn, baby, burn—loot those stores,” you know, versus, “No, that’s not right, you can’t be doing that,”) and seeing the Black Power Movement, the Black Panthers and such on TV. That influenced me politically.
In 1968, I remember one case at East L.A. College where we had a demonstration, we took the U.S. flag down and replaced it with the UFW flag. Luis Carrillo was arrested and called Zeta Acosta. He came right down and was very confrontational with the cops. He was very confrontational, not just in the street but in the court room. You know, some lawyers are very intimidated by the trappings of the court, they get timid in front of a judge. Oscar Zeta Acosta was not like that. He was very confrontational and would take it seriously and would take it all the way. All the way to trial or whichever way it would go. And he recruited Ralph Segura and other Chicano lawyers to represent the Chicano Movement. I mean, because to get a lawyer to represent you, that wasn’t easy. That’s one of the things that Zeta Acosta did do.
Zeta Acosta was my lawyer representing me in several cases over the years. He represented me and the Brown Berets against the charge of conspiracy to commit arson against Ronald Reagan, at the Biltmore Hotel downtown. That was the “Biltmore 6.” The L.A. Times smeared us—the headline was, “Rookie Cop Saves the Day,” when it was (undercover LAPD officer) Fernando Sumaya who bought the road flares that they found inside a linen closet at the Biltmore and who brought them into the hotel and who drove us there. They never explained how the other fires in secured areas of the building behind police security were started.
For example, in meetings with white lawyers on the legal team, Neil Herring and other lawyers from maybe the NLG (National Lawyers Guild), Oscar would say things others wouldn’t say. Like he’d bring up the fact that the grand jury that handed down the indictment was all white, and he’d tell them that they should confront that. In that way, he was also very confrontational. He yelled at the lawyers—he was adamant and insistent, saying they had to challenge the indictment, because it was discriminatory, being handed down by an all white jury. Finally he got them to go along with his strategy. When the judge ordered a hearing, Zeta Acosta subpoenaed the judges! So he got these old white judges and put them on the stand! He asked the judges, who do you nominate to be on the grand jury? Well, they nominated their friends, people they knew—so of course the grand juries were all white. The system was totally set up to discriminate against the Chicano community and Zeta Acosta wanted to confront that! He finally got one old judge to admit that he nominated one Mexican American. “Mister Gonzalez.” Mister Gonzalez? Who’s Mister Gonzalez? “How do you know him?” “I know him through my (private) tennis club.” It turns out Mr. Gonzalez was the famous pro tennis player, Pancho Gonzalez. Of course, he never served on the grand jury. But Zeta Acosta pushed the envelope—and he didn’t just push it, he burned it. Anyway, the motion was denied and the case went to trial.
In 1969, after La Nueva Vida rally at ELAC, where we were protesting to get them to teach Chicano Studies, the administration called the county sheriffs, who disrupted the rally and pushed students off the front steps of the school. Afterwards, driving home, I was a half mile from my house when the cops pulled me over to arrest me. Clearly we were targeted, as Brown Berets we were targeted, as Minister of Information of the Brown Berets I felt targeted, sure—by the PDID (Public Disorder Intelligence Division) of the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Dept.), and their Special Operations and Conspiracies Division, which, all they did was spy on people as part of the national repression at that time, the COINTEL program, you know about that? And in particular, two Chicano officers, Lee Ceballos of the PDID and a Sergeant Armas of the SOC, as Chicanos, you know, they had a personal bias against me, they took it personally. One time Sergeant Armas was seated next to me in court and he opened his jacket and leaned in such a way so I could I could see that he had his hand on his pistol. I mean, what the hell was that? They felt we were scum who made the whole community look bad. So, yes, I felt I was targeted, and I kept getting arrested—these cases were piling up against me. In fact, I remember one time I was in the county jail and I picked up the newspaper and that’s when I read that the Biltmore charges, conspiracy to commit arson, had been filed.
But getting back to Oscar and this arrest, these white cops arrested me they said for assault and battery of a police officer. And I said, what assault and battery of a police officer? They charged me with throwing a soda can, maybe an empty soda can at the police at the rally, because some cans and bottles had been thrown, apparently. If that was true, why didn’t they arrest me at the rally? But they arrested me, and not only did they arrest me, but they took the picket signs that I had in my car and they wrote insults on them, like “dirty Mexicans” or whatever, and they vandalized my car, they smashed the Chevrolet insignias on the vehicle, on the steering wheel, maybe because they look vaguely like the UFW eagle. I pled not guilty and at the preliminary hearing, Zeta Acosta came in carrying the picket signs, incensed, you know, complaining to the judge, throwing the signs on the table in the court room, saying that the arresting officers wrote these racial insults on the signs and tore up the car. The judge kept trying to tell Oscar, “This is not the appropriate time or place for such a complaint.” The judge would say things like, “If you want to file a complaint against the police, you have to file it with the police,” etc. But Zeta Acosta kept bringing it up. And when I saw Zeta Acosta throw the signs on the table, I was just thinking, “Go for it, bro!” What other attorney did that?
Of course he yelled at me too. Zeta Acosta’s strategy was always to fight it all, go to trial and fight it all the way. We got into a big confrontation, and he told me—I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, “you have to leave.” Because there was no evidence against the other five defendants (in the Biltmore case). Yeah, it was in a meeting with all the defendants—he yelled at me too, that we were all gonna burn because of me. The only evidence was against me, he said. So… He said it was my word against a police officer’s (Fernando Sumaya’s) and who was the jury going to believe? So I had to leave. And I did. I got married in January 1970, and the next weekend I was gone, out of the country, underground, living underground in Mexico and El Paso, and I didn’t come back to L.A. for seven years—until 1977.
because outer space is filled inside with black matter that they cannot locate
and inside the atom is nothing, except it’s like a wave or a particle or a string
but it’s nothing they can pin down, because it’s like the dog hit on the 110 freeway
so when you drive up to it you expect blood and guts strewn along the curved lanes
but traffic slows and actually it’s a rug, a carpet with the carpet liner shredded
and the fur of the carpet inside, as if the inside of a dog is fur, fur on the inside
because it may be that we are turning the universe inside out by posting images
on our eyeballs and Facebook, images of faces and zucchini, what’s inside a zucchini:
greenish flesh like worlds posted in recipes across the face of the world
as the mind of the world flashes across screens and Facebook and little hand-held
devices that young people press against their smiles and their young shinyness
so that the outside of everything is decorated with insides, everything shining
like screens, all the interior flatness and chockablock emptiness of humans chockablock
silly on the roadways, silly tilted sideways, wearing their tattoos inside out
they’re tattooing the celestial firmament of the hive mind with constellations of
Disney characters and Spiderman, because it fills the void with the void, it is
the void, the fur-lined animal inside its own cry, vast green heart of the world turned out
French translation thanks to Blandine Rinkel:
des vacances ondulées, et un juteux nouvel an 2014, année des semences urbaines et des particules sales,
parce que l’espace lointain est rempli de matière obscure qu’on ne peut localiser, et que l’intérieur de l’atome n’est rien, excepté quelque chose comme une vague ou une poussière ou une ficelle, mais ce n’est rien que l’on puisse punaiser, parce que c’est comme le chien pris de plein fouet sur l’autoroute 110, lorsque vous vous en approchez, vous vous attendez à voir du sang et des boyaux éparpillés le long des voies sinueuses, mais le trafic ralentit et il ne reste qu’un tapis de sol, un tapis avec la doublure du tapis en lambeaux, la fourrure du tapis à l’intérieur, comme si l’intérieur du chien était lui-même une fourrure, comme si ses poils étaient à l’intérieur peut-être, parce que nous renversons l’univers en postant les images de nos pupilles sur Facebook, en postant des images de visages et de courgettes, et voilà ce qu’il y a à l’intérieur d’une courgette : de la chair verdâtre comme autant d’univers postés à la face du monde sous formes de recettes, si bien que l’esprit du monde clignote sur les écrans et sur Facebook et que tous ces petits appareils, les jeune gens les pressent contre leurs sourires et leur timidité de telle façon que l’extérieur de toute chose est décoré avec de l’intérieur, tout brillant, comme des écrans – c’est toute la platitude intérieure et le vide compacté des humains, eux-même compactés bêtement sur les routes, portant leurs tatouages à l’envers et tatouant le firmament céleste d’un esprit grégaire, avec des constellations de personnage Disney et Spiderman, parce que ça remplit le vide avec du vide, parce que c’est le vide même, l’animal doublé de fourrure tapi dans son propre pleur, le vaste coeur vert du monde renversé
THE BOY held onto his father’s clothing as the train rolled around a bend. Everything looked dusted with gold. Black train tracks, flatcars on a siding, a low row of weather-beaten green houses with tar paper rooftops, the shadows of screened windows behind picket fences. He could see the city glinting on hillsides in the distance. Like some fabled city in an old country, temples roofed in gold. As the train slowed, his father jumped onto the gravel and in almost the same motion plucked his mother and the baby, his hand closing over the boy’s as he called for him to jump. The rocks hurt the boy’s feet and the sun was hot. The train blew by in a big noise for a long time and then faded away. “We’re home,” his father sighed as they walked toward unshaded boxcars down a dusty embankment. And the boy felt inside his stomach a warm lonely pain he thought must be love. A line of laundry fluttered from a boxcar to the fence.
City Terrace Field Manual
Racial Strategies for Social Control by the Ruling Elites
The Invention of the White Race
by JEFFREY B. PERRY
Theodore W. Allen’s two-volume The Invention of the White Race, republished by Verso Books in a New Expanded Edition, presents a full-scale challenge to what Allen refers to as “The Great White Assumption” – “the unquestioning, indeed unthinking acceptance of the ‘white’ identity of European-Americans of all classes as a natural attribute rather than a social construct.” Its thesis on the origin and nature of the “white race” contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history, one that challenges master narratives taught in the media and in schools, colleges, and universities. With its equalitarian motif and emphasis on class struggle it speaks to people today who strive for change worldwide.
Allen’s original 700-pages magnum opus, already recognized as a “classic” by scholars such as Audrey Smedley, Wilson J. Moses, Nell Painter, and Gerald Horne, included extensive notes and appendices based on his twenty-plus years of primary source research. The November 2012 Verso edition adds new front and back matter, expanded indexes, and internal study guides for use by individuals, classes, and study groups. Invention is a major contribution to our historical understanding, it is meant to stand the test of time, and it can be expected to grow in importance in the 21st century.
“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.”
That arresting statement, printed on the back cover of the first (1994) volume, reflected the fact that, after poring through 885 county-years of Virginia’s colonial records, Allen found “no instance of the official use of the word ‘white’ as a token of social status” prior to its appearance in a 1691 law. As he explained, “Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not ‘white.’” “White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades” that the word “would appear as a synonym for European-American.”
Allen was not merely speaking of word usage, however. His probing research led him to conclude – based on the commonality of experience and demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, the lack of a substantial intermediate buffer social control stratum, and the “indeterminate” status of African-Americans – that the “white race” was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.
It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis — the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later, civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also “disastrous” for European-American workers, whose class interests differed fundamentally from those of the ruling elite.
In Volume I Allen offers a critical examination of the two main lines of historiography on the slavery and racism debate: the psycho-cultural approach, which he strongly criticizes; and the socio-economic approach, which he seeks to free from certain apparent weaknesses. He then proceeds to develop a definition of racial oppression in terms of social control, a definition not based on “phenotype,” or classification by complexion. In the process, he offers compelling analogies between the oppression of the Irish in Ireland (under Anglo-Norman rule and under “Protestant Ascendancy”) and white supremacist oppression of African Americans and Indians.
Allen emphasizes that maximizing profit and maintaining social control are two priority tasks of the ruling class. He describes how racial oppression is one form of ruling class response to the problem of social control and national Invention_white_race_1-210oppression is another. The difference centers on whether the key component of the intermediate social control stratum are members of the oppressor group (racial oppression) or the oppressed group (national oppression).
With stunning international and domestic examples he shows how racial oppression (particularly in the form of religio-racial oppression) was developed and maintained by the phenotypically-similar British against the Irish Catholics in Ireland; how a phenotypically-similar Anglo bourgeoisie established national oppression in the Anglo-Caribbean and racial oppression in the continental Anglo-American plantation colonies; how racial oppression was transformed into national oppression due to ruling class social control needs in Ireland (while racial oppression was maintained in Ulster); how the same people who were victims of racial oppression in Ireland became “white American” defenders of racial oppression in the United States; and how in America racial oppression took the form of racial slavery, yet when racial slavery ended racial oppression remained and was re-constituted in new form.
In Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the “white race” in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the fact that England alone, of all the European colonizing powers, exported so many of its own surplus poor laboring population. He also pays particular attention to the process by which tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force in Virginia were reduced to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this reduction was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery.
Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was being fought out and he documents significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Most important is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when, in the final stages, “foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms” fought together demanding freedom from bondage.
It was in the period after Bacon’s Rebellion, in response to class struggle, that the “white race” was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred “white race” privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order “to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos,” it was not an “unthinking decision.” Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.
The key to understanding racial oppression, Allen argues, is in the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. In the case of racial oppression in Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon’s Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class “whites.” In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo- ruling elite, “mulattos” were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status. For Allen, this was the key to understanding the difference between Virginia’s ruling-class policy of “fixing a perpetual brand” on African-Americans, and the policy of the West Indian planters of formally recognizing the middle-class status “colored” descendant and other Afro-Caribbeans who earned special merit by their service to the regime. This difference, between racial oppression and national oppression, was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the West Indies there were “too few” poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were ‘’too many’’ to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.
The references to an “unthinking decision” and “too few” poor and laboring class Europeans are consistent with Allen’s repeated efforts to challenge what he considered to be the two main arguments that undermine and disarm the struggle against white supremacy in the working class: (1) the argument that white supremacism is innate, and (2) the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from “white race” privileges and that it is in their interest not to oppose them and not to oppose white supremacy. These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his influential, White Over Black. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan’s similarly influential, American Slavery, American Freedom, which maintains that, as racial slavery developed, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.” Allen’s work directly challenges both the “unthinking decision” contention of Jordan and the “too few free poor” contention of Morgan. Allen convincingly argues that the “white race” privileges conferred by the ruling class on European-Americans were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans; they were also against the class interest of European-American workers.
The Invention of the White Race is a compelling work that re-examines centuries of history. It also offers Allen’s glimpse of “the future in the distance.” When he completed Volume II sixteen years ago, the 78-years-old Allen, in words that resonate today, ended by describing “unmistakable signs of maturing social conflict” between “the common people” and “the Titans.” He suggested that “Perhaps, in the impending . . . struggle,” influenced by the “indelible stamp of the African-American civil rights struggle of the 1960s,” the “white-skin privileges may finally come to be seen and rejected by laboring-class European-Americans as the incubus that for three centuries has paralyzed their will in defense of their class interests vis-à-vis those of the ruling class.” It was with that prospect in mind, with its profound implications for radical social change, that the independent, working class intellectual/activist Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) concluded The Invention of the White Race.
Jeffrey B. Perry is an independent, working class scholar and author of “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press) . His website is http://www.jeffreybperry.net
the friend whose name i don’t remember paid my way to nicaragua 1984 on a reforestation brigade
the friend whose name i don’t remember stayed at my place a couple weeks and left a pile of dirty laundry
the friend whose name i don’t remember, finally stopped asking for money, finally stopped messages via third parties
called from the airport decades ago on the way somewhere else, last seen in a blue UN helmet in bosnia
last seen in a photograph in a box from the closet, last seen in the misty mountainside on a hike
friend whose name, navigated waters in chiapas in a log canoe, turned back at the border but we were already thru
name i don’t recall, she said she no longer sleeps with men, she’s not married any more
or the one who sent pictures of good-looking husband and baby playing with waterhose on a sunny green lawn, oklahoma city or tulsa
he came once to visit saying his daughter and her boyfriend both suffered ski accident in the alps and woke up with broken legs in the same hospital room
why didn’t i call them up and do stuff, do something on that connexion, so what if i get bored drinking and talking in bars
i heard she moved to texas following some guy, don’t know, he posted a picture of himself on FB shooting a machinegun
i do remember random peoples’ names, like billy balderrama, who i had heard became a local small time politician
i don’t know if that’s true, or that he died, was he really struck and killed by a car while trying to fix his tire?
who knows the truth, i remember other random names like city councilman mike hernandez
(last seen talking to ruben martinez in the art gallery at olvera street)
you remember his career was destroyed by heart attack and cocaine, but absurd not to remember other people important to me
i don’t remember her name, i was so impressed when we met at the stanford indian pow wow
she traveled with a kind of entourage of guys i felt i could’ve joined (maybe in some other life)
the friend whose name i don’t recall threw a blanket over me 3 AM when she found me asleep on her couch
her name i don’t recall ducked behind me when she thought she saw her boyfriend in the crowd
the name i don’t recall right now, what’s the point anyway, i sent dozens of letters and postcards never returned or replied
tears cried on my shoulder, calling in the middle of the night waking me up crying the university screwed her over
withdrew her funding in the middle of her MFA, back to bed my wife said who was it called, so long ago, 20 years later who were they
had to admit, i don’t remember, wake up in the morning—what was that call—don’t remember
the fish is the Soviet Union of rolling fields — the sunrise is the milk sap fig of my neighbor’s loneliness — the belly is the rotund nation of toys — the basil is the creamy Arctic flap of blue spruce — the salty finger is the Jen Hofer of friendly shade — the curve in the road is the unremitting Saturday of 2013 — the life of trees is the Doughnut Hole of remote understanding — the maroon stain is the common humanity of total moon — the desiccated pool is the real waterfall of nodding simple —
Saturday, January 18, 2014 5:00 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
Sat, Jan 18, 5:00 PM [ALOUD]
Co-presented with Red Hen Press and Poetry Society of America
A Tribute to Wanda Coleman
With Terrance Hayes, Douglas Kearney, Stephen Kessler, Ron Koertge, Laurel Ann Bogen, Charles Harper Webb, Michael Datcher, Suzanne Lummis, Sesshu Foster, Jack and Adelle Foley, Will Alexander, Cecilia Woloch, and Austin Straus.
Join us as we pay tribute to Los Angeles’ unofficial poet laureate, Wanda Coleman, with an evening of readings and shared memories. We will honor what she did for poetry and who she was in Los Angeles: a larger-than-life figure who for decades reminded us how to be our own most authentic selves, who made us remember histories of poetry and oppression and music. We will miss her, we will celebrate her, we will remember her. Musicial accompaniment provided by David Ornette Cherry.
Audience members will be invited to share a favorite line from one of her poems during this participatory program. Books and broadsides of Coleman’s poetry will be available for purchase compliments of the Library Store. There will be a public reception immediately following the program.
for further information see http://www.lfla.org/about/directions.php
Reservation Policy for Free Programs:
As most [ALOUD] at Central Library programs are free of charge, it is our policy to overbook. In the case of a FULL program your free reservation may not guarantee admission. We recommend arriving early.
Space permitting, unclaimed reservations will be released to standby patrons at 7 PM.
Cultural Programs / ALOUD / Ticket Information
Los Angeles Central Library
Locations and Hours
SUNDAY MEMORIAL FOR WANDA COLEMAN
Sunday, January 19, 2:00 PM
The Church in Ocean Park
235 Hill Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Join Austin Straus for a Memorial to his wife, friend and fellow poet.
There will be a pot luck, please bring your favorite dish. If you would like to know what to bring, or have other questions, please contact Carlye Archibeque, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parking information to follow in January.
American Sonnets 26
—for and after Michelle T. Clinton
kicks & jams & slams
too nice too sincere too there. but lovemonger—
without you this city is a pale rude fiction. your
womanly radiance kept all the all-knowing crowing. so
no way can i forget you though jealous dark hides you
cloaks you in a sentimental shape=changer’s sufferings. i
will not forget. you. sweetsistuh goodheart
candle-burner/ flame-keeper. gimme sommadat toast.
(my blood pressure runs low. deep hypotension)
ooohgo if you must. blow that escape hatch—rubyfruit
flee this sham world. yessum. your leavings a
dreamtrail of sweet snickerings
along this parched desert floor where deviltongues
ache for the magic rush of your angelgush
photograph by Lynell George
Q & A
—for Gil Cuadros
what do you say to the dead
when they beg your pardon after having stepped on your sore feet
their eyes reflecting an unexpected moistness
bones of hands tapping uneasily against
worm-whittled threads, rattling blackened silver
but aren’t you the one they expected? the one who
will flesh them out again?
the breath. the air. that future mentioned hastily
a few months before demise just outside
a hallway, was it? a door? yes, a theater—and
they were smiling into the champagne and so were you
what do you say when they urge you to hurry
before the paper, already yellowed, catches
mold. before their rapidly dimming shadows
become suggestions of shadow
hurry. before the sun intrudes like a brute paw
slicing through the melancholy.
what do you say to the dead when they tug at
your petulant sleeve, whisper gossip, confess marvelous
lusts, drip spittle on your freshly cleaned jacket
pull out a rotten tooth with its gold crown and lay
the treasure in your palm, extracting promise as if prayer
“soon,” is what you say when you can’t say. soon.
—from Bathwater Wine, by Wanda Coleman, 1998, Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press
Earlier today, I attended the funeral of Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi. I took no photos and my notes are smeared with rain. He was 14. He died in the hospital yesterday afternoon. He had been shot in the back with a single bullet in the Jalazun refugee camp, just outside Ramallah.According to his family, the shot was fired without warning from a watchtower at the Israeli military base at Beit-El, which borders the camp. There were no clashes with soldiers at the time, they said, and no one throwing stones. The IDF, Haaretz reported, “confirmed that it was conducting an operation near Jalazun at the time of the reported shooting.” I arrived in the camp just before the bier bearing his body made it to the mosque. He was tiny. His body was wrapped in a flag. A wreath of orange and yellow daisies rested on his torso. His face was bare and open to the sky. His cheeks were smooth. The pallbearers ran forward, the bier on their shoulders, and disappeared into the mosque. Most of the crowd—there were hundreds, maybe a thousand, I didn’t try to count—squeezed into the camp’s small central square, where, beside a stone memorial to Yasser Arafat, a group of men with masked faces pointed guns in the air. Behind them, other men stretched their arms above the crowd to take pictures of the gunmen with their cell phones. The prayers concluded and the gunmen fired round after round. While my attention was elsewhere, someone had pasted a poster bearing al-Ramahi’s image on the monument. It covered Arafat’s face. Only his hand was still visible, waving. The pallbearers carried the boy’s body out of the mosque again, the mourners following them through the camp’s narrow streets, forming a long and solemn chain up the hill towards the cemetery. Far in front of me, I could hear people shouting chants and the gunmen firing their guns, but the men around me walked in silence. Women looked on from windows, doorways, and rooftops, holding their faces, rubbing their eyes. The rain fell harder. In the cemetery at the top of the hill, men scurried from all directions between the graves, jogging through the rocks and the mud, converging in a far corner around al-Ramahi’s grave. In addition to al-Ramahi, two Palestinians were shot by Israeli soldiers in Hebron this week, in the back and in the stomach, and two were shot through the legs in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.