Sunday, January 27, 2013

James Cone on Liberals

I couldn't help but sit back in my seat and pause for a moment when I read these powerful words. I haven't read anything this striking in months.
The liberal, then, is one who sees 'both sides' of the issue and shies away from 'extremism' in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict. Therefore, when he sees blacks engaging in civil disobedience and demanding 'Freedom Now,' he is disturbed. Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy the rights and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the 'Negro.' He wants change without risk, victory without blood
The liberal white man is a strange creature; he verbalizes the right things. He intellectualizes on the racial problem beautifully. He roundly denounces racists, conservatives, and the moderately liberal. Sometimes, in rare moments and behind closed doors, he will even defend Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael. Or he may go so far as to make the statement: 'I will let my daughter marry one,' and this is supposed to be the absolute evidence that he is raceless. 
But he is still white to the very core of his being. What he fails to realize is that there is no place for him in this war of survival. Blacks do not want his patronizing, condescending words of sympathy. They do not need his concern, his 'love,' his money. It is that which dehumanizes; it is that which enslaves. Freedom is what happens to a man on the inside; it is what happens to a man's being. It has nothing to do with voting, marching, picketing, or rioting - though all may be manifestations of it. No man can give me freedom or 'help' me get it. A man is free when he can determine the style of his existence in an absurd world; a man is free when he sees himself for what he is and not as others define him. He is free when he determines the limites of his existence. And in this sense Sartre is right: 'Man is freedom'; or, better yet, man 'is condemned to be free.' A man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men. No one can 'give' or 'help get' freedom in that sense. 
In this picture the liberal can find no place. His favorite question when backed against the wall is "What can I do?" One is tempted to reply, like Malcolm X did to the white girl who asked the same question, "Nothing." What the liberal really means is, 'What can I do and still receive the same privileges as other whites and - this is the key - be liked by Negroes?' Indeed the only answer is "Nothing." However, there are place in the Black Power picture for "radicals," that is, for men, white or black, who are prepared to risk life for freedom. There are places for the John Browns, men who hate evil and refuse to tolerate it anywhere."
- James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 28.

Cone's words about what accounts for true radicals reminds me of a clip I saw a few days ago of Cornel West on Bill Maher where another panelist accused him of offering mere "beautiful soundbites" in his rejection of American corporate greed. West nearly jumped over the table when he replied, "It is not a soundbite when I give my life for it!"


Jeremy said...

This is a great reminder. Thanks for posting this.
I have read it so many times, but need to keep reading it over and over as a reminder of my own vocation as a liberal social ethicist critiquing liberalism from within. Thanks!
PhD Student, Union Theological Seminary

Sean Christopher said...

This is also said really well by Gil Scott Heron:

Poem here says, Comment #1 uh Comment #2 is dynamite but Comment #1 is the one we decided to use here this evening because it makes a comment if you listen closely on what is now being advertised in East Harlem as the Rainbow Conspiracy a combination of the Students For A Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords and this is my particular comment about that conspiracy, Comment #1.

The time is in the street you know, us living as we do upside down. And the new word to have is revolution. People don't even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel because God's hole card has been thoroughly peeked. And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey. The youngsters who were programmed to continue fucking up woke up one night digging Paul Revere and Nat Turner as the good guys. America stripped for bed and we had not all yet closed our eyes. The signs of Truth were tattooed across her often-entered vagina. We learned to our amazement untold tale of scandal. Two long centuries buried in the musty vault, hosed down daily with a gagging perfume. America was a bastard the illegitimate daughter of the mother country whose legs were then spread around the world and a rapist known as freedom, free doom. Democracy, liberty, and justice were revolutionary code names that preceded the bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling in the mother country's crotch and behold a baby girl was born, nurtured by slave holders and whitey racists it grew and grew and grew screwing indiscriminately like mother like daughter everything unplagued by her madame mother. The present mocks us, good Black people with keen memories set fire to the bastards who ask us in a whisper to melt and integrate. Young, very young, teeny bopping revolt on weekend young dig by proxy what a mental ass kicking they receive through institutionalized everything and vomit up slogans to stay out of Vietnam. They seek to hide their relationship with the world's prostitute, alienating themselves from everything except dirt and money with long hair, grime, and dope to camo-hide the things that cannot be hidden. They become runaway children to walk the streets downtown with everyday Black people sitting on the curb crying because we know that they will go back home with a clear conscience and a college degree. The irony of it all, of course, is when a pale face SDS motherfucker dares look hurt when I tell him to go find his own revolution. He wonders why I tell him that America's revolution will not be the melting pot but the toilet bowl. He is fighting for legalized smoke, a lower voting age, less lip from his generation gap and fucking in the street. Where is my parallel to that? All I want is a good home and a wife and a children and some food to feed them every night. Back goes pale face to basics. Does Little Orphan Annie have a natural? Do Sluggos kings make him a refugee from Mandingo? What does Webster say about soul? I say you silly chipe motherfucker, your great grandfather tied a ball and chain to my balls and bounced me through a cotton field while I lived in an unflushable toilet bowl and now you want me to help you overthrow what? The only Truth that can be delivered to a four year revolutionary with a hole card i.e. skin is this: fuck up what you can in the name of Piggy Wallace, Dickless Nixon, and Spiro Agnew. Leave brother Cleaver and Brother Malcolm alone please. After all is said and done build a new route to China if they'll have you.

Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?

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