I believe that we should read only those books that bite and sting us. If a book we are reading does not rouse us with a blow to the head, then why read it? Because it will make us happy, you tell me? My God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy, we could, if necessary, write ourselves. What we need are books that affect us like some really grievous misfortune, like the death of one whom we loved more than ourselves, as if we were banished to distant forests away from everybody, like a suicide, a book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. —Franz Kafka
As Kafka advises in the quote above (which one of my graduate students gave me last year), the end-goal of the Message to the People is not to make people agree with me, or happy or comfortable. The real purpose is to force them to think! If it doesn’t do that, I haven’t done my job.
I was moderately successful last month. You must understand that I chose to write for LEO (and stay loyal to it) because I sincerely believe it has the most intelligent readership in the city. While I pride myself on being smart and provocative, LEO’s readers are just as smart and make me think a lot, too. They sent me a lot of very insightful and thought-provoking notes last month. From across the ideological spectrum, they were in top form.
One reader wrote a particularly passionate and troubling missive. In one passage he wrote, “Over time I have seen an incredible rise in violent crime, especially crime involving children, be it shot in a crossfire during a rival gang fight or cold-blooded murder, it makes me nervous. It seems that a lot of these victims and offenders are black. There was even the drive-by during a funeral — that, I thought, was going way too far!”
This brother made me reflect — “Way too far.” He was right. Some of this has gone way too far and it simply cannot be defended. So, I will close this Message with a few quick points (off the long list in my head), which I hope will prompt more thought and a little action.
1) America has structural problems with regards to race, but I agree — all black violence cannot be blamed on these problems. We must continuously work to balance the playing field, but we can’t expect everyone to play. We can’t save everybody. That’s a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.
2) We must feverishly work against madness such as the Stop Snitchin’ campaign and its advocates. We cannot ignore, excuse or protect criminals among our people. We must take them to task. I understand the tension between police and black communities. Much of it is warranted. We need to work to improve that situation. But if I have to choose between white police and the black drug dealer, gangbanger, purse snatcher, rapist, pimp, hustler, murderer or baby killer — I’m choosing the police every damn time. If turning these people in makes us snitches, then we should manufacture new T-shirts that read “I’m A Snitch — Malcontents Beware!” and wear them proudly.
3) We must work to understand the extensive impact of pop culture — especially the current degenerative, dominant brand of hip hop, and resist it. This point deserves an entire Message, which is forthcoming. But suffice it to say right now that we cannot continue to sit idly while attempts are made to produce something positive by shooting it through such a tainted filter.
4) Finally, we need to be proactive and not reactive. We must do something different. I believe this starts with us trying to get at the root(s) of the problem, starting with research. This is the impetus for the Department of Pan-African Studies constructing the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice in Black Communities this upcoming school year. It will have a 10-year research plan exploring issues ranging from education to disproportionate incarceration to culture.
This isn’t exhaustive — it’s just a start. The problem is definitely an elephant. We need all the help we can get in taking a few bites out of it. Hope you’re hungry!
Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at [email protected]