Today, in America, we are forced to examine who we are, where we are going, and what we may become. Fifty plus years ago Mr. Baldwin intoned that it was essential for Americans to free ourselves from the myths of America and try to find out what's really happening. After more than a half century of searching, perhaps in the nick of time, we may finally discover what must happen if we hope to survive. We feel powerless when leaders redefine torture to legitimize aggression, but if we intend to find truth, courage, and fidelity among these transgressions, we must take James Baldwin's observations to heart. He told us, "The intangible dreams of people can have a tangible effect on the world.... The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now."
In spite of such hopes, a simplistic reductionism typifies the rhetoric of the right-wing-mean-extreme in America. These pundits would have us accept situational ethics, devalue civil rights, and say common decency is old-hat. A left-wing extreme would have us believe that corruption reigns supreme, the body politic is diseased, and violent revolution is the only cure. Those who exist between these poles know truth is less simple and more essential.
Our dreams are not in vain and some traditions are worth saving. We need not surrender to amoral CEOs or violent thugs without a cause. We can find common ground in liberal values and conservative principles. We must return to the rule of law, preserve our resources and protect our security by embracing our neighbors with reconciliation and respect. In this vast middling-place we can be liberated from a surrender to fascism.
Those who hijacked the nation, disenfranchised our people, and upset the balance of power... seek to drive us backwards towards primitive colonialism. Baldwin observed that wherever colonialism is a fact, the indigenous culture begins to rot. This is proven with the sad decline of American tribal cultures and the brutality and squalor in the Palestinian-occupied territories, This disease now unfolds and festers in needless corporate wars in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. Among this ruin of cultures and nations emerges a subculture which is condemned to exist on the margin. And now, in America, as our leaders move to occupy and exploit other nations, we find ourselves suspended in amoral cultural chaos.
What will it take to forge a cultural synthesis to liberate us from the yokes of oppression and guilt? How can we move our social order to a point of reconciliation and creative regeneration? What will it take to reaffirm the legitimacy of our dreams, the efficacy of moral compunction, and the necessity of social conscience? How much further must we lower expectations before we wake up to face ourselves?
The answer is clear. Towering injustice and creeping colonialism must not be allowed to fester and stand. Destroyers of dreams conjure old corporate demons, but the polemics of an endless war on terror and orchestration of an ugly new anti-Semitism are simple fear-mongering used to hide aggression and exploitation. Today, not only the dispossessed and disinherited have been disenfranchised. Now victims include the too-silent majority of Americans who would rather not know the truth but find comfort and harbor in fanciful delusions and obfuscation.
We, who work and live in America, can no longer afford to ignore political realities. Our nation and our globe have been transformed and revitalized by a flowering of interconnected information technologies. Instead of retreating to the depravity of violent colonialism, we must embrace the powers redefining our future and culture. The corporate elites who betray our values in pursuit of the almighty dollar must be forced to recognize who they work for. Orwellian apologists, from Karl Rove to Barack Obama, are going to have to come come clean, face the music, and pay their dues. We can no longer afford to deny what Baldwin warned us against. Rather than inheriting a greater capacity for self-loathing and self-delusion, the facts on the ground and the evidence we see will force us to accept that neither the TV screen nor the local bar can free us from what ails us.
America has become Harlem transformed. We have seen the enemy, and he is us. As our nation devolves into a third-word ghetto of dreams deferred, we can save ourselves by finding the courage to remember who we are and live up to what we can be.
When some propose that ticking time bombs demand redefinitions of torture, this perpetual justification empties the heart of all feeling. "The emptier our hearts become, the greater will be our crimes. The country will not change until we re-examine ourselves and discover what freedom means. In the meantime, bitterness increases. Incompetence, pride, and folly allow the world to shrink around us. It is a terrible inexorable law, that one cannot deny the humanity of another, without diminishing ones own." (Baldwin)
These words speak directly to this generation and our current grief.
James Baldwin tried to reach beyond the liberation of Black America to a liberation of the entire nation. We need follow his example.
We must discard our illusions and face the discord and chaos. In Baldwin's America this chaos was blamed on outside agitators or communists. Today the scapegoats are redefined as terrorists. But we must face and begin to eliminate the sources of discontent in our own country or we will not have the capacity to secure a peaceful planet. One hopes these sentiments are not lost in the translation of fifty plus years, from a legacy of racism to a sad slide into macroeconomic betrayal and disaster.
Presumably the society in which we live is an expression ---in some way, of the majority will. But it is sometimes difficult to locate this majority. Vitriolic Southern mobs of the past or today's extremists... fill a moral vacuum. And people who form these mobs would likely be happy to find release from pain and ignorance, if someone would show the way. We need not surrender values and traditions to primal fear. We can look beyond myth to discover what divides us. We build walls to protect us from incommensurable terror, but must tear down those walls, face our fears, and build bridges together.
We can listen to our writers, who describe things which everyday people are too busy notice. James Baldwin told us the truth we could not bear to hear, that a country is only as strong as the people who make it up and the country turns into what they want it to become. I no longer believe we can afford to say that it is entirely out of our hands. Delusions notwithstanding, We made the world we live in, and we must to make it over.
Nobody Knows My Name is as vital today, as it was more than half a century ago.
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