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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Killens, John Oliver
Editorial comment: the black writer and the revolution,   pp. 395-[400] PDF (6.0 MB)

Page 397

part of the Twentieth Century." Question
number two: How will black folk, and
specifically black writers, meet this
challenge? What kind of a world are we
going to make? And how do we go
about it?
Yes, DuBois was a great prophet, but who
would listen to a black prophet in that
far-off era in the good old days of
endless frontier and glorious empire, when
Western man thought we would rule the
roost forever, or, at the very least, for
another thousand years? Who could bring
themselves to believe that the literature
of black men could have social relevance.
Who could believe that black men could
have vision.
In those days the "relevant" literature was
filled with characters who were "free,
white and twenty one," which was
tantamount to possessing all the keys to the
kingdom. It was a time when figures like
that great apologist for colonialism,
Rudyard Kipling, wrote:
Take up the white man's burden
Send forth the best ye breed.
Go bind your sons in exile
To serve your captive's need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild -
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half child.
It was a time when literature was filled with
burning incense to the "noble savage,"
personified in the likes of Uncle Tom and
Aunt Jemima and good old Gunga Din.
Dear old Gunga Din who "despite 'is dirty
'ide, 'e was white all white inside, as
'e went to fetch the water under fire."
In the Hollywood version, good old white
inside Gunga blew the trumpet for the
British against his own people, and just
how whiter inside could a noble savage be?
Notwithstanding, the prophecy of the black
prophet has come to pass. Observe how
the world has changed since the Second
World Wide Madness. Look at the United
Nations, that organization that started
out as a Gentlemen's Agreement, an
exclusive club of Great White Fathers,
paternalistic trustees of three quarters of
the world. Look at it today, this despite
the words of the Last of the Great Anglo
Saxons (I mean, of course, Sir Winston
Churchill), who proclaimed to one and all,
that he had not taken over the reins of
Her Brittanic Majesty's Government to
administer over the dissolution of the
British Empire. Recall that little island's
arrogant boast, that the sun never set on
the British Empire. But Sir Winston
notwithstanding, the sun does set on the
empire of that foggy little island separated
from the rest of Europe by the English
Channel. The British Empire is dissolving.
Queen Elizabeth is the last of the Great
White Mothers.
And so we see, the world does move,
inquisitions notwithstanding. And the
question is: where do black writers wish to
take the world, at this moment in time and
space? What kind of trip are we preparing?
How do we turn the people on? What
do black writers have to say to students,
their wonderful faces flushed with the
fever of rebellion? We say: join the
revolution! Make the revolution! You
can be rebels with a cause. A rebel-with-a
cause plus a program equals a revolutionary.
Western man has used language, words, as a
powerful weapon to enslave the rest of
mankind, and now we black writers must
use our language, Afro-Americanese, to
redefine ourselves. We black folk are a
colony on the mainland. I have heard
colored musicians themselves say, "I don't
play jazz, spirituals, rhythm and blues
and that kind of stuff. I play serious
music." I'm saying, these brothers have
been had. The language has enslaved them
just as it has enslaved, on one level or
another, every black brother and sister
in this nation. One of the black writer's
tasks is to decolonize the language.
"Good hair" and "high yaller" and "a nigger
ain't shit" will have no place in Afro-
Americanese one of these days, and soon,
if the black writer does his job.
As a black writer, I have a vision of black
people all over this nation beginning a
pilgrimage back home to their Black
Consciousness. Come on home! Come on
home from wherever you are! Brothers
and sisters, come on home! Black artists
must proclaim Homecoming Week for
fifty-two weeks in every year. And now
I take the position that all black men want
to be free, even Uncle Tom and Aunt
Jemima and good old Gunga Din. It's
time for Homecoming Week to be also
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