William M. Johnson
"WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM CANNOT REST*
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[Col. Writ. 11/2/05] Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal
There is something eerily unsettling about the national outpouring of
mourning for the late civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks. The flood of
official faces -- those of politicians, makes me uneasy.
To look at the pinched faces of this parade of rednecks, many of them
staunch conservatives, who have made their careers off of scuttling the
hopes and dreams of Blacks, give their 'respects' at the bier of Rosa
Parks gives a whole new meaning to 'crocodile tears'. Many of them
didn't support civil rights in their youth, ran political campaigns on
barely disguised themes that exploited white fears, helped to
gerrymander whiter legislative districts, and once in power, pushed for
more and more prisons -- but now they march before the body of Rosa
Parks, as if they've supported her dreams and goals all of their lives!
It looks like the latest low in photo ops.
Right-wing warriors, who've helped erect and sustain this new era of
neo-segregation, 'honoring' a woman who fought their ideas all of her life!
I say neo-segregation simply because while legal barriers have been
erased since the old days, segregation *by class* still exists today,
and can be seen in any urban elementary, middle, or high school in
America. In many of these schools, 'education' is but a prompter for
prison, and students learn, if anything at all, how much they are
loathed by the society they're supposed to join if they are lucky enough
School districts reflect housing patterns that are often equally as race
and class segregated as are schools. Legal barriers may be no more, but
barriers remain, as real as steel.
Sociologists teach us that while the Civil Rights Movement led to the
development and emergence of a Black middle class, it left millions of
others out in the cold, drowning in urban pits where this so-called
'revolution' passed them by. Indeed, while average incomes, home
ownership, and educational attainments between whites and Blacks remain
largely unchanged since the '60s, a gulf has grown between the Black
middle class and the Black poor.
Rosa Parks, perhaps unwittingly, came to symbolize that distance in her
later years when she filed suit against the hip-hop group OutKast, for
the irreverent references to her in the title and an offhand lyric of a
recent song. Their line, ('Awwww, shucks--hush that fuss, everybody git
to the back of the bus!'), as well as their very name (OutKast) was a
reflection of their alienation, and the growing distance between
generation, class, and culture.
There are millions of Black young adults who grew up hearing about a
"freedom" that was foreign to their experience. "Civil rights" was a
grainy black and white filmstrip that they suffered through in school
during February (if they went to school) or saw on TV.
As far as *this* society is concerned, they *are* outcasts.
Growing up in dire poverty, they *know* they aren't free. For, as writer
Zora Neale Hurston wrote, "There is something about poverty that smells
like death. Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry
season..." That's what millions of them know. For them, "freedom" and
"civil rights" are just words they may've heard from their grandmother.
"Rosa Parks" is just a name. The grim and ugly struggle for survival in
an era of de-industrialization, has pushed far too many black youth into
the drug economy, where the promise of wealth is both hyped and heralded
by both the music and movie industries.
A current hip-hop track, based upon the New York-based movie, "Paid in
Full", performed by artists Akon and Young Jeezy, have a line that
speaks volumes of the different world reflected in the Def Jam single,
"Sole Survivor". A gruff-voiced rapper named Jeezy intones: "At night I
can't sleep/ We livin' in hell;/ First they give us the work/ then they
throw us in jail."
Symbols, even ones as splendid as Rosa Parks, are appropriated by
politicians, who ignore her essence. Meanwhile, millions of Black and
white youth, dance to a different beat; still at the back of the bus.
Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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