Last night, we went to the sneak preview of James Baldwin’s, “I Am Not Your Negro”.
CA: I will admit I did not know what to expect. As the credits rolled I saw “Port au Prince, Haiti”. That piqued my curiosity once I got home. I learned from the YouTubes that the director, Raoul Peck is Haitian. Yes! Ayibobo! Ok I’m done, lol.
KB: I didn’t know what to expect either. But you know what’s funny? How we both connected culturally, because you know at the end of the movie when the last song began playing, Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” with an intro from what sounded like Buju Banton… but is really reggae artist Assassin, I wasn’t leaving until I could figure out who that was. I was like, wait, is that Caribbean culture? Girl, culture is everything.
CA: Absolutely! And feeling like we can never divorce our culture from our politics as we debated earlier this morning. We may want to, but it ain’t easy.
KB: Which is so much of what I got from Baldwin, that his politics, his art, his culture, none of it could be separated from one another. I know I left the movie with a knot in my stomach. Shit, the knot is still here now, the morning after.
CA: For you a knot and for me kind of a haze. I left feeling like what do I really know and understand about being politically engaged. I give myself credit for showing up at a voting booth; that isn’t it. That’s lightwork.
KB: And I left feeling like, I don’t know enough. I’m not doing enough. I am not living up to my ancestors desires. You know that tee shirt that says, “I am my ancestors wildest dreams”… I didn’t feel like that after watching Baldwin illustrate the details of the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. King…I felt like, me personally, I am not living up to their legacy. I don’t know enough and am not doing enough for my people’s liberation.
CA: The footage where politicians and other white folks speak about the “progress of the Negro” is I think part of where we come in generationally because I know that my Haitian parents were among those they were referring to in a sense. My parents came here to realize a progress too and so, in a way, I am my grandmother’s dream come true because she had little formal education. But even still, I know that I can do more than what I have done.
KB: Gosh, that’s such a good point. I’m sure my grandparents and great-grandparents are proud of me….well maybe not on my dad’s side. On his side, I come from a long line of what I will call revolutionaries, but others might call hard-headed ignorant men who refused to fall in line with the system. There aren’t many named streets in Antigua. There’s one in Freeman’s Village named “Brann’s Hamlet.” All I can say is that some seriously revolutionary shit happened there. On my dad’s side, there’s a “burn this mother down” energy that I think sits deep down in my heart, my soul. So if I’m not burning shit down, I’m not doing anything. “I Am Not Your Negro” has me questioning how am I burning shit down? Or have I become complacent, wooed by the master through degrees, access and supposed economic success and traded in the future of my people for that?
CA: That’s a lot. Ummm, so the reflection and self-examination is necessary for sure. I temper my own to a degree, because I want to avoid analysis paralysis for us all. So what I also learned and continue to learn from Baldwin in this film and through his works is that we move through this work in the context we find ourselves in, while drawing strength and lessons from those who fought before us and for us.
KB: As I cried throughout the film, I kept on asking, how do we put Baldwin in the hands of our young people? How do they get access to him, and get to claim him for themselves? How do our students get access to Baldwin, Evers, X, and King in real authentic ways, so that they have a multi-faceted blueprint for ways they can move through this world? Knowledge really is power and I thought about how knowledge and ownership in the most loving sense of the word would ground and support our students, our people, as we move through and change this world.
CA: We say those names and we make them as vivid, heroic, important and necessary to their existence as names like Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson or Columbus. Very much like the work you are doing in Detroit, that is where we start. I believe we overcomplicate the matter when it comes to our children.
KB: Ase, Sis. I want our young people to have ownership over them like they have over J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z and Nas. (Sidebar: Another time we will discuss how male centric this conversation is and I say this with a wince because I am ALWAYS male centric. I am so glad you balance me out with our very many Sheros.) I love how you mentioned Detroit because last night I kept on thinking when I return in February, I want to take the District team to watch it. I want to have this experience with them. So at the end of all this, our conclusion is, we need to see this film again. Because clearly, one time is NOT ENOUGH.
CA: Yes, I so agree. I know I will want to see it again in February because there is so much to unpack and discuss. Taking your team is an excellent idea and I know our CREAD community will want to do the same. Round up your truth-seeking posse and go see it folks!
KB: Word. And then, once you’ve seen it and internalized it, we all need to ensure we ACT, we do something, anything, that honors Baldwin and ensure he is ours forever.
In solidarity and love…
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