The following is an excerpt from an experimental broadsheet I published in 1992 to a few people. How many I don't recall, but probably those I hung with in the black New York literary / performance poetry circles. It's interesting to look at it now in context with what Cobb has become vis a vis the alternative to journalism, and the length and depth at which I could sustain a conversation about the African American experience, then and now.
It has been suggested that I do so introspection and as I ran across this, I thought it would be a good opportunity to consider and even talk about where I was then considering where I am now. This was all written 18 years ago. Wow.
September 1, 1992
This is the first issue of B.
As editor and current sole contributor I introduce B to you without a great deal of fanfare. The current objective of B. is to communicate it's existence as a continuum of communicative instruments which attempt to utilize a variety of media and movement in integrated expression of the African American experience as it occurs. The purpose of B in the long term is to serve as a reliable and permanent diversified primary source for current and future reference.
In my view the editorial style and physical limitations of what we call newspapers force researchers into particular ways of seeing things that lack the authenticity of the voice of people, African Americans, especially. The very manner in which newspapers and televised journalistic reports are assembled are biased to profess the false objectivity of journalists who themselves have become a very powerful class of Americans. This bias for me has become unendurable and I find it most annoying to parse through a multiplicity of papers to get at the truth. Having done so, the truth I arrive at seems much the product of oppositional cross-examination of institutions with much to hide. Yet often there are odd spots of writing I happen upon which ring with the flavor of authentic experience. It is this type of information that gives me the confidence that the world is indeed populated by human beings who can understand and explain it and do so out of genuine curiosity and love.
B intends to be full of authentic works of genuine intent centering at this point on African American contemporary experience. Much of the flavor of African American culture is lost and or destroyed by the positioning of journalistic efforts presenting a 'positive' or 'revolutionary' or even 'educational' stances. In addition to what I have already mentioned about 'objectivity' in the day to day chronicling of the experiences of us in the world, these tropes deaden the experience of reading into unidimensionality. B by its orientation and physical nature will seek to overcome such unidimensionality. By extension this loss of 'native intellect' and 'flavor' masks the strenuous efforts of journalists and editors to be disinterested. Yet it is precisely the interest which provokes people into being interested and that is what B seeks to capture at the source. Contributions to B are fairly free as B seeks to be what everyone who contributes wants. In Certainly this multimedia project will have it's own bias, but since I have stated it clearly (I hope) above, we can start cleanly.
One more note before I get into whatever comes next here. B is experimental. B belongs to its readers who are its contributors who are its editors. In short, B is a public journal of its readers - truly of the people and for the people. B seeks to be an extended editorial page which is constructed such that it becomes gradually intellectually liberating for its participants. Thus in some ways B can be seen as a club and all as equal members as they contribute. As editor I seek to structure B according to my own evolving sense of liberation pedagogy following the theory and works of Paulo Friere, bell hooks and Cornel West. These three intellectuals currently most convey formally to my knowledge the spirit of what I am personally attempting to meliorate through the many facets of B. nuff said.
If you all will indulge me, I present my contributions to the first issue of B.
What do I see when I walk through Harlem?
Carlos Fuentes wrote of Mexico that it is a land of happy children and sad old men. In Harlem's black energy runs along parallel lines but in the dimension of hope and power.
The children of Harlem all powerful youth are as vivid and loud as any. Their confidence and sturdiness is without rival. There is never any question as to who runs the streets. They are fresh, they run in posses. Everyone is down with someone and the group is a self-contained universe, a social unit with force and presence that obliterates all decorous conventions and pretense. This is as American youth should be. It is our expectation of the next generation that they express themselves with exuberance and self-worth, certainly not lost on any youth. Self worth! is the subtext of our educational system - failing as it does to invite anyone into the dubious meritocracy of academic scholarship - it's engineering of the expectations of success is without peer. The posse replicates and expands these concepts on its own terms.
Needless to say, the black posse is without formal recognition in America the church, America the workplace and America the society. We prefer unreconstructed rugged individualism. Despite the success of de facto socialism in America the incorporated with it's benefits, team sports, team management philosophies and public ownership the black posse's collectivism seems alien. It is complicated and accentuated by the very fact that the posse's self-dedication and integrity is a practically unbreakable unit of independent and self motivated Black Power. This dynamic is shared in the public consciousness. One feels better prepared to handle one black teenager entering a jewelry store than four, more capable correcting one Japanese tourist than four. When encountering a posse, it is almost impossible to direct conversation to one in particular though that is the predisposition. A posse speaks in a circle on the sidewalk, everyone faces everyone. America's hierarchical tradition of organization building and it's corollary social constructs fail in dealing with this kind of flat organization.
Does America conspire against the black posse? One might ask as well whether or not America conspires against building houses for families with eight children. At the fundamental stage of design, the presumption is not so much against the existence of such a unit as for preferring another kind. It's lazy, prejudiced and naive. The economics of the nuclear family are already well known yet they needn't be absolute. What is weird about the living arrangement of the characters in the American production of the "Three Men..." film series. Nothing in particular, but they are at odds with certain assumptions about 'socially correct' lives. So most definitely is the black posse.
Am I angry? Who doesn't get angry?
Do I feel a responsibility of a certain type when I walk through Harlem? My first responsibility is to remove the cloak of middle class conservatism which begs the question of reconstruction by external forces. In a true recognition of African-American diversity and achievement one is able to, even through the role-model process, garner an overabundance of existential support. This has been the province of predominating Negro elites in recent history. Now the agency is held primarily by the large state-employed and growing privately employed African-American bourgeois professionals which are by and large displacing the voice of preachers, teachers, doctors of the old-school talented tenth. The temptation to signify on the marginal empowerment over the statistically dysfunctional black masses and role-model for the young is great. (rarely does Harlem stand for exactly what it is rather than for what it symbolizes - and I believe the attraction towards the significance of its towards the bourgeois do-gooders has less to do with actuality than perceived potential). In the 80s we have seen great numbers trumpet economic advancement as the crucial differentiation. In a material sense, which we never seem to lack, this makes perfect sense. Yet for the most part only a very small percentage of the black population earns or is economically more well off by an order of magnitude or more than their intended beneficiaries.
This and That
As I was explaining to homeboy over my speakerphone, Terry McMillan could not have happened 20 years ago. Perhaps I am mistaken, certainly there were black writers getting published with talent and vision equal to that of Ms. McMillan, but the readership this time has changed. NYT bestseller list only requires so much, and now the hungry black public is all that. It seems to me that the age of Spike Lee, Public Enemy, Arsenio Hall and Terry McMillan is upon us. Media, unquestionably has been forced open to the willing black public. We are in there, marginally of course, creating a new style of media star - super star status of performers created by black populist movement forcing itself upon the private worlds of American publishing. The professional exploiters, working for bottom line capitalists remain the master manipulators. The opportunity soon comes for political counter revolution within the establishment as only the perversely otherworldly black stars can do as they ply their magic on the bottom lines of these businesses.
White liberals have been replaced by black liberals. Inspired by personal experience, they broker the terms of this experience into political rhetoric and press demands upon whatever establishments there be, more or less regularly.
There once was an ancient monastery to which the faithful peasants flocked weekly to confess their sins. The monks, having heard the confessions took upon themselves the burden of the people and forgave them. They would then retire to the monastery and whip themselves on their own backs for the sins of the peasants. One monk, however would always only flog his feet. His screams were the loudest. One day the head monk asked him, brother why do you flog your feet so? To which the monk replied. They itch goddammit! Draw your own moral.
I am returned from Los Angeles. I plainly saw the political pattern of institutional damage, even where Thrifty gutted their own headquarters and other stores - the scribble of black power on the standing walls looked as if it were hastily scrawled by furtive white gloved hands. But I speculate. What power my speculation has is etched in embers these days. It is so easy to recall the subtle and not so subtle slights I received at the establishments which have now been disemboweled by raging flames. It is as if for a few hours, the black collective in my part of town had access to the mind machine of the Krell which transformed mental desire into real power. The Krell had one warning. beware of monsters from the Id.
How will theory transform the monsters created in our nightmares by our abusive white fathers? Against whom will they be turned? When we grow to find these boogie men of our inferiority to be unreal will we hate? Is there an oedipal complication? Should we leave the house, tear it down and rebuild or simply evict our patriarchs? I try to punch holes in the walls of my room, I am not satisfied with the view from my windows. I knocked a secret trap door in the floor and carved out a chunk of ceiling. They are hidden from view. They suspect I've seen more. I do not say, but act that way. Yet I remain furtive. I am not yet complete and still afraid to go outside never to return. I haven't gotten the best in the refrigerator, I worry about hunger beyond the familiar borders.
This version of B was produced (mostly) in True Type Times New Roman in Microsoft Word for Windows on a Gateway 386 translated off a floppy to a Mac IIci converted there to the Mac version then printed on an HP IIIsi. I got my copies done free on an old Xerox 10 series machine and stuffed the envelopes myself. Needless to say it ain't all cheap. Just thought you'd like to know.
contributions are accepted. i haven't read all the details about copyright and all that, just tell me what you want me to do with your submissions. as usual the law applies despite our ignorance but be fearless anyway.