It Was Mother

It Was I

It Was I
Wayras Olivier

IWAS A TEENAGER when I bought Kill at Will and By Any Means Necessary. It was a purchase spurred by a false belief that the two photographs on the album covers were equal. On the latter, you could see rapper KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions holding an assault rifle whilst through the blinds of his city apartment he peers, in similitude to that imperishable photo of Malcolm X, on guard. On the former, rapper, Ice Cube, offers up to the camera his handgun—to the person who’d be purchasing his album, in other words. You could easily let it slip past you: capriciously anti-social at best, Kill at Will, campaigns for meaningless violence, whilst, decisive self-defense is absolutely endorsed by the other.

In 1909, the British, grouping various colonies together, finalized the South Africa Act. Nearly three-quarters of a century earlier, they had abolished slavery. Having divested themselves of the Dutch, they were now finalizing the border of what would become Africa’s southernmost country, in 1910. Political bodies, the National Party and the African National Congress (ANC), soon form. Blacks, being the portable property of Afrikaners, formed the second party to resist being moved around by the first.

Had one been in America some 70 years earlier, in 1838, one might have seen a young lawyer from Kentucky orating the Lyceum Address. To a crowd in Chicago, Lincoln argued he foresaw but profitless residuals from slavery. Against that, the confederates in Savannah, Georgia, would hear crank Alexander Stephens deliver the Cornerstone Speech in 1861: his racist encomium about the divine right of whites to preside over Blacks, right before the Civil War.

Pass laws in South Africa, put in place as early as the 1700s when the Dutch & East India Companies had trade routes around the Cape, dictated which areas Blacks were permitted to circulate. By the 1950s, a stricter National Party brought in the Group Areas Act, Bantu Education Act, and Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, which fully exteriorized apartheid. Protesting this, the NAC took, one might say, the Ghandian approach of non-violence.

Despite Reconstruction, the southern US states did not entirely conform to the era. Freedmen’s citizenship and suffrage, which Amendments 14 and 15 granted, were burked by Black laws. Invoked after the Civil War, these—similar to South Africa’s Pass laws—restricted the ostensible freedman’s mobility. Black laws also made voting needlessly tortuous by first subjecting Blacks to literacy tests. There was also the matter of hate groups. There were civil rights acts, one in 1871, to professedly protect Blacks from the KKK, followed by one in 1875, which gave Blacks equal access to public facilities.

The Year of Africa, said to be 1960, saw the greatest number of states decolonized, save for South Africa. The country instead continued to ratify laws that insulated itself from political reprieve and incrimination: the Unlawful Organizations Act outlawed the ANC whilst the Indemnity Act ensured government impunity for the Sharpeville Massacre. Had one been in Rovina, Johannesburg, in 1964, one might have seen a middle-aged Nelson Mandela, the once-practicing lawyer, situated at his own trial, orating the “I Am Prepared to Die” speech.

The Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C. was being unveiled—where Frederick Douglass spoke somewhat critically, albeit briefly, of Lincoln’s willingness to be initially on both sides of the slavery issue—and a year later the Compromise of 1877 took place. Between Tilden and Hayes, both running for president, a compromise was made when uncontestable electoral votes kept the result of the election in limbo. Democrat Tilden would give a concession speech in exchange for Republican Hayes pulling his would-be Union troops out of the South, a denouement, in effect, for the Reconstruction Era, most oversoon.

Communism (its definition broadened by the South African government), included any writing or action that frustrated apartheid. Thus, Mandela was being sentenced to life under the Suppression of Communism Act for endowing (after the Sharpeville Massacre), the uMkhonto we Sizwe—an ANC splinter group—whose protests against the National Party had turned, shall one say, militaristic.

In America, suspected fellow travelers were put on notice, hole-and-corner by COINTELPRO. After his Letter from a Birmingham Jail began to spread, the Baptist Minister from Georgia, himself having read COINTELPRO’s thuggish letter that suggested he best off himself, resolved to forge on, and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As courageous an act a mortal could perform, one that would be followed in 1965. King also believed, as it happens, that “the group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.” (Contra to the “Black Village” concept by Black Lives Matter which consists of “our” children—the word “your” noticeably eliminated, being raised collectively in so far as “mothers, parents and children are comfortable,” to shake “the Western-prescribed” notion of family cohesion.)

By 1973, Steve Biko was no longer permitted to gather in a room with more than one person at a time. Freedom of movement and association, assembly and—for that matter, speech—all of which the National Party restricted via banning orders, immured men and women whose ideas fomented change. Biko had founded the Black consciousness movement whilst writing under the pseudonym Frank Talk; in We Blacks, a piece partly about Blacks not involving themselves in ‘“white-hatred,” as it is “negative, though understandable,” and possibly “disastrous for Black and white alike.” And, how “Black people read the Bible with a gullibility that is shocking,” before advocating that Blacks interpret “Jesus as a fighting God,” whose reaction to seeing moneylenders indeed “merited a violent reaction from Him.”

Around the time Jim Crow was undone by the Civil Rights Act, a graduate from the University of Mississippi named James Meredith led a decent-sized march between two contiguous southern states. He suffered, in the process of exciting more Blacks to vote, a sniper’s bullet. (Later coming close himself to being politically undone for his brief association with one Jesse Helms.) The Great Migration, meanwhile, was nearing its end, too. Just as millions of freedmen had decamped from the South to circumvent strident Black laws, Caucasians egressed from areas that were becoming less segregated. This “White flight,” caused, in part, policies for bussing and demands for charter schools decades later. And so emerged an urgent debate about intentions and their results: were Blacks, at large, without having school choice being better educated?

Biko, whilst being purposely ambulanced to the furthest possible hospital—some 700 miles from the prison where he had been tortured and mutilated by state police, died in 1977. By the mid-1980s, Winnie Mandela, under whose wolfish go-ahead native South Africans carried out Necklacing on their own people, was disavowed by the ANC. Hula-hooped around the neck of a Black man or woman, a petrol-soaked tire packed with kindling is ignited. Molten rubber sears the skin of the supposed ‘police informant,’ but not before they first cry then die of slow asphyxiation.

US Secretary of Labor’s Moynihan Report, arguing that unemployment numbers against those registering for welfare did not correlate in 1965, meant that the Black nuclear family was disbanding, an unintended consequence of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Additionally, two sociologists from Stanford, Richard Cloward and Frances Piven, had a bright idea. Writing about ending poverty, they deduced that if an economic catastrophe could be induced by overextending the welfare system, the government would be forced to abolish welfare, swapping universal basic income in its place: the Cloward-Piven Strategy of 1966.

In contrast to the lucidity and profundity of MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail was Soul on Ice, a roiled missive from Folsom State Prison by Eldridge Cleaver, who later founded the Black Liberation Army (BLA) after his release. By chance, Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh were both launched from their mothers on the same date. Three irrepressible white women, possessed by said coincidence, chose the date to name their ugly decadent baby: the May 19th Communist Organization, a US terrorist group which later BLA members matriculated into. United, they became rabid demagogues, killing cops and setting off bombs. Ultra-textbook tantrums.

US Congress, in negotiating the release of Mandela, pushed embargoes: the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, thinking it would prompt the National Party to agree. At the beginning of the decade, Reagan disagreed, thinking South Africa would not end apartheid simply because of economic sanctions. He believed—as did Margaret Thatcher—that any sanctions would only distress the oppressed Blacks. Thus, he sought instead a policy structure that would become the setup for the later failed Constructive Engagement.

Photographs. One from South Vietnam: captured in the summer of 1972, of nine-year-old Phan Phúc, escaping from an air strike—naked, crying, her back seared with napalm. Equally upsetting: one Hector Pieterson, a dead thirteen-year-old boy in the arms of a protestor after being shot by Afrikaner police during the Soweto uprising, summer 1976: an image, advancing outrage. Both, entirely black and white.