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Cultural lynching


KAMAU BRATHWAITE

Cultural lynching

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One does not – should not(?) – invite a person as guest into your house, ambush them upon an inappropriate issue, and then publicly berate them for not, in a way, accepting the ambush.

Yet this is what the experienced principal of the Garrison Secondary School, as host of Brass Tacks, did to me on Sunday, June 6, in a programme advertised as a Tribute To Kamau on my 80th birthday, me speaking on the telephone from New York.

I was speaking on the telephone from New York instead of being in Barbados where I wanted to be for this rare and unique occasion, because for the last three years, due to what I call the “cultural lynching” I am undergoing here, I have not been able to travel.

By “cultural lynching”, i mean an artistical/intellectual/spiritual/emotional version of the physical hanging/burning/castration of the thousands of black mostly men that took place here in the USA during the post-slavery period of “Reconstruction”.

The idea was to publicly and communally despoil black-people dignity and efforts to emerge from the “inferiority” that had been conferred on us – permanently it was hoped – during slavery.

Under lynching (and Willie Lynch is said to have been a Bajan planter), the black man’s body was like a burning flag flying at the half-mast of civilization.

One of the best known examples is the 14-yr-old Emmett Till who was castrated, beaten to a pulp and his body cast into the Tallahatchie River weighed down with a 70-pound cotton gin fan and barbed wire.

We remember him not only because he was so young and good-lookin (whistling, it is said, at a white female shopkeeper – though unlikely), but because his mother had the nerve to reveal his recovered body in its casket: an act of memory & defiance which triggered the civil war for civil rights and a nightmare image which you can revisit on the Internet these days.

Cultural lynching (Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson) is when dem teef yu culcha, blockade your expression, and disfigure yu spirit, which is what I’ve been undergoing in my NYU apartment here in New York for the past five years.

Thousands of items stolen from my archives & library, mainly my own work, both published and unpublished, and the work of Caribbean writers & artists – like my entire Rex Nettleford collection, for xample – from Mirror Mirror (1970) thru all his books on dance and the priceless NDTC performances brochures.

From the irreplaceable Braille edition of Rights Of Passage to my diaries and birth certificate and my copy of my mother’s will.In 2008, they lifted everything i had written and had been written on me that year, plus all my letters private, personal & professional to & from.

You can imagine the kind of foul-out this will have! Sparrow’s original Congo Man, the LP All my 700 photographs taken in Ghana and pre-1950 Bajan pics, some w/Karl Broodhagen Fifty years of field recordings (Richard Allsopp must be turning in his grave) My Gold Musgrave (Muscradle) Medal (2006) My Bims 60 years research & teaching notes.

The sheets & sheets of books still to be published inc my next two trilogies.The copies of brilliant student essays I’ve been keeping – all the things that show you who I am and wd have contributed to a cultural history of Barbados & the Caribbean, stolen by jealousy and envy and by the same mindset that organised the slave trade and teef my culture once before into plantation slavery and now again in New York City in the 21st century.

And you will notice that on Brass Tacks, Nobody ask why I wasn’t in Barbados for the celebration, because the hypocrisy & the fear of protest – to ask the question! – continues.

The wall of silence between you and the holocaust. And the “answer” is that whenever this apartment has to be left empty, there will be more unrecorded entry.

More loss of Caribbean and soul. So I had to be on the phone and you will understand, therefore, the context in which I received Mr Farley’s Q about my views on Lord Nelson… and my reply, had I been given enough time, would have been to say that I have no intention of culturally lynching him, no matter what is my own cultural orientation.

But there was no time, because even while I was developing my reply, Starcom was losing the feed to me and I was not able to take any more part in the programme until the very end, when I was brought back in for a “final comment”.

What I was able to tell Mr Farley, however, (and this is why it seems he writes his piece), is that my “opinion” as “afro-centric” poet (a description I not happy about) on whether Nelson should be moved or not, is irrelevant to a discussion of my poetry, since poetry is not a matter of “opinions”, but of a effort to find the words/language to xpress a personal sensibility and a communal cosmology out of which that “personal sensibility” comes.

So that to change your name from “George”, for instance, to “Bussa”, for instance, is only empty dressing unless you know what Bussa means and that the “decision” to move Nelson or not (and is a more serious issue than “opinion”) is political, defined as action resulting from the conversation/discussion between people & politicians, conducted, I remember saying, around a “round table” – i.e. on the basis of equality, equal respects.

What poetry (not opinion!) that emerges would emerge from this circle of people/politician. Any other “poetry” outside this circle, would be “personal opinion” and probably propaganda, with a-we indulging in our form of cultural lynching, and I hope that Mr Farley is not equating what he calls “Afro-centric” (what I would call “Afro-orientation”) w/propaganda.

Perhaps one day soon The Nation will allow me to speak more about “African orientation” and illustrate that poetry is poetry – and relevant! – under whatever name.

Let me in conclusion thank Starcom (Michael Brown, producer) for arranging this very special Brass Tacks in my honour and let me big-up all those who took part under Mr Farley’s energy, livication and enthusiasm, for an extraordinary & most appropriate & unforgettable birthday present – to have been able to share w/all those voices! many of whom are friends and dearly beloveds.

As people have written me, and I agree – one of the best Brass Tacks of its kind, of which we shd have many more.

KAMAU BRATHWAITE

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