I started this blog with a post entitled “Mama, I’m in Love With a Revolutionary.” I wrote this on the heels of completing George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, spellbound by the incisiveness of a man who hadn’t seen the night sky in a decade. From poignant images of standing his younger brother Jonathan up in a box during the first few months of his life, discourse on cowardice, to turning free labor into a job, the text elucidates what many witnessed in the narratives of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Assata Shakur, the revolutionary power of the black spirit—to create in a space established to destroy us as a people. The prison bars didn’t turn Jackson into an animal. It turned him into a scholar— and despite his ten-year prison sentence for allegedly stealing seventy dollars, his conviction did not turn him into a “criminal” either. Rather, his revolutionary task eludicated the inherent criminality of anti-blackness embodied in the pan-optican of the prison structure.
In hindsight, I suppose the book captivated me in the way it did because I never encountered a person, let alone a man like the George captured in his letters. It was almost a revisitation to watching Malcolm X speak from the archives as a child.
I suppose many extinguish the revolutionary flames within us for comfort or not to seem “weird.” Courage is not only not in abundance. It is what the media attacks in its frequent coverage on black murder and the spectacle made of blacks who choose to think beyond the bounds of anti-blackness.
Disappointing encounters that underscore comfort as a priority for too many ornament the past few months. It’s disappointing that depth is optional for some and an inconvenience for others.
I walked out of a dinner a few months ago when my company prompted my departure with the following: “You mean to tell me you don’t think Joe Biden and the democratic party has done anything for you?” I have also experienced the company of those who bring up their “light skin” every twenty minutes and who become notably defensive in the face of indifference. I previously encountered this behavior from men and women who reference what systemization conditions them to believe is their “superior” quality when faced with circumstances, or individuals, that make them feel inferior. I am not sure that there is a more pristine portrait of cognitive bondage than those who employ plantation politics for their black lives to “matter. “
Some may be more overtly well-read and astute than the average person, but they reveal their insecurities with competitiveness. A trait that demonstrates that their acquired knowledge isn’t for the good of the people, but a means to achieve social superiority.
There is also the indignation that follows those who become infuriated that celebrities, or white designated cultural topics, don’t define you. Be it not acknowledging Martin Lawrence’s 90’s sitcom as a cultural staple, or perceiving Tyler Perry as a portrait of black success, the systemized fury of blacks who set their goals and craft their humor by the forces that exist to destroy them will censure their own with a disdain they’ll never truly develop for their oppressors.
Then there are the persistent efforts of those to transition the revolutionary flames into an anti-black mutation. From those too scared to critique “the man” to those who cling to a neutered version of Hampton as a socialist and not a black panther, the efforts to “water down” she who does not see white supremacy as end game remains pervasive. These are easiest to spot, as their words admonish the curious revolutionary spirit to “tone it down” when they are not checking to and see if “your views have changed.”
Last but not least, there are the make believers—those who have convinced themselves that they are the Black Messiah. Sometimes blackness is what they found on the downward spiral that followed their attempts to acquire upward mobility. Other times, blackness is their path to individualism. Maybe they didn’t go as far as they wanted in school, so blackness is a way of assuming victory over what they perceive as a middle or upper-class blackness. Either way, who they are, what they say, reflects who and what they wish they were, not who they are, or who they’ll ever have the courage to be.
So to be in love with a revolutionary as a black woman/person who seeks to exist beyond reaction is to become enamored with he who will devote his life to the pursuit of what Huey Newton called revolutionary suicide.
This phrase, of course, does not mean literal suicide, but he (or she) who dares to live life in pursuit of charge rather than lying to himself that things have or will change. He (or she) who will not settle for “winning” at white supremacy, be it money, education, or status, because he knows it is a farce and that it takes much more bravery and tenacity to want more.
I do get it, though. I won’t judge what the system has made of my people. I will say, like Huey Newton, to live and attempt to do nothing is suicidal to me. I refuse to settle for the company of anyone who has to water me down in fear of who they might become alongside anyone who festers the revolutionary flames inside them.
In hindsight, I am confident that I didn’t know what it meant to be “revolutionary” at the time of my original post. Yet, is it my quest to engage all the ways it’s been defined and embodied and define and live it for myself that reveals the man of my dreams as tantamount to figures of black history.
To be clear, while Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and Huey Newton convey conspicuous portraits of the black renegade, they are not its only embodiments. Earl Little, Franz Fanon, Derrick Bell, Gil Noble, and the cultural griots, organizers, mentors, fathers, writers, and intellectuals of black communities and households daily also encapsulate the often forgotten revolutionary flames that plant[ed] countless mustard seeds of inspiration during, and after their lifetimes.
So now, when I say that I’m “in love with a revolutionary,” I know that means to be in love with my collective self, both when I close and open my eyes.
I suppose a significant component to the magic blackness imbues is that our history is what dreams are made of, dreams that the insurgent live to make a reality.