Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987): A Reader

Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987):

Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1912. He moved to New York in the 1930s and was involved in pacifist groups and early civil rights protests. Combining non-violent resistance with organizational skills, he was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Though he was arrested several times for his own civil disobedience and open homosexuality, he continued to fight for equality. He died in New York City on August 24, 1987.

“The First Freedom Ride:” Bayard Rustin On His Work With CORE

FBI Records: Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin: Who Is This Man?

Obama Awards Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Peter Dreier

Demands of the March on Washington

Bayard Rustin, organizer of the March on Washington, was crucial to the movement, Steve Hendrix

Bayard Rustin: the gay black pacifist at the heart of the March on Washington, Gary Younge

Bayard Rustin: The Man Homophobia Almost Erased From History, Steven Thrasher

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

Who Designed the March on Washington?, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Bayard Rustin: Martin Luther King’s Views on Gay People

A violent path traveled by a nonviolent man

Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony

President Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to 16 people. The 2013 recipients were women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem; former President Bill Clinton; talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey; the late astronaut Sally Ride; for Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks; former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee; the late Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI); country music star Loretta Lynn; former Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN); cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman; chemist and environmental scientist Mario Molina; the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; basketball coach Dean Smith; civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian; and appellate judge Patricia Wald.

Listen 2 and Watch: #Ferguson #FergusonDecision #TamirRice

And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened…. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Other America” 14 March 1968

Elahe Izadi and Peter Holley report:

A rookie Cleveland police officer responding to a 911 call jumped out of a cruiser and within seconds shot and killed a 12-year-old boy wielding what later turned out to be a BB gun, according to surveillance video released by authorities Wednesday.

Video of the fatal Saturday shooting of Tamir Rice, 12, by officer Timothy Loehmann, 26, was made public at the request of Tamir’s family. “It is our belief that this situation could have been avoided and that Tamir should still be here with us. The video shows one thing distinctly: the police officers reacted quickly,” reads a statement from the family, who also called on the community to remain calm. [See video at beginning of the report.]

Later in the report, Izadi and Holley add:

The gun turned out to be an Airsoft gun. Authorities had said it resembled a semiautomatic handgun and lacked the orange safety marker intended to signal that it’s a fake.

“Shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20,” one of the officers radioed in. “Black hand gun.”

Stacey Patton’s In America, black children don’t get to be children calls our attention to a historical reality that illuminates the shooting of Tamir Rice:

In 1955, after 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten and killed by a group of white men, one of his killers said Till “looked like a man.” I’ve found this pattern in news accounts of lynchings of black boys and girls from 1880 to the early 1950s, in which witnesses and journalists fixated on the size of victims who ranged from 8 to 19 years old. These victims were accused of sexually assaulting white girls and women, stealing, slapping white babies, poisoning their employers, fighting with their white playmates, or protecting black girls from sexual assault at the hands of white men. Or they were lynched for no reason at all.

And from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” the abstract reads:

The social category “children” defines a group of individuals who are perceived to be distinct, with essential characteristics including innocence and the need for protection (Haslam, Rothschild, & Ernst, 2000). The present research examined whether Black boys are given the protections of childhood equally to their peers. We tested 3 hypotheses: (a) that Black boys are seen as less “childlike” than their White peers, (b) that the characteristics associated with childhood will be applied less when thinking specifically about Black boys relative to White boys, and (c) that these trends would be exacerbated in contexts where Black males are dehumanized by associating them (implicitly) with apes (Goff, Eberhardt, Williams, & Jackson, 2008). We expected, derivative of these 3 principal hypotheses, that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses across 4 studies using laboratory, field, and translational (mixed laboratory/field) methods. We find converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers. Further, our findings demonstrate that the Black/ape association predicted actual racial disparities in police violence toward children. These data represent the first attitude/behavior matching of its kind in a policing context. Taken together, this research suggests that dehumanization is a uniquely dangerous intergroup attitude, that intergroup perception of children is underexplored, and that both topics should be research priorities.

And thus, if you think “I don’t understand rioters,” or “I’m tired of all this about Ferguson,” or “Why does it always have to be about race,” please do the following: (i) do not say or write any of those thoughts, (ii) open your eyes and your ears, (iii) watch and listen with empathy and not with judgment, and then (iv) ask yourself what you can do to insure that no one feels again the genuine need to protest, a need bred in the toxic soil of powerlessness.

Listen. Watch.

Related

Happening Yesterday, Happened Tomorrow: Teaching the ongoing murders of black men, Renee Watson

Education in Black and White: Beware the Roadbuilders

On Children and Childhood

“They’re All Our Children”

Email to My Students: “the luxury of being thankful”

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Final Words of Advice”

“I am a writer, nothing more, nothing less,” begins Roxane Gay in the wake of a grand jury decision not to charge Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, adding, “In the face of injustice, I only have words and words can only do so much.”

On a much smaller scale, I too am a writer—and I am a teacher, Selves inextricable one from the other. My initial response to the grand jury’s inaction has been near paralysis, especially as a writer who mostly offers this blog; it seems appropriate that I shut up, take a moratorium and do as many have requested—listen.

Gay’s “I only have words and words can only do so much” haunts me, haunts me in the context of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words offered above—that tension between “indirect” and “direct” action.

Teaching and writing often feel merely “indirect”—symbolic, impotent, shouting down an empty well.

This is an awful feeling if, like me, you are compelled to be a writer-teacher, a teacher-writer.

Not as a conscious plan (in the way I am a poet), but typical of my twin compulsions to teach and to write, I finally landed at the keyboard this morning, composing to my three fall classes of students an email—such arrogance, such intrusion while these beautiful and wonderful young people slip away from college for a holiday, Thanksgiving.

Being a writer is the perpetual state of hyperawareness of one’s frailty and inadequacy combined with the relentless inevitable, sharing your words with a mostly anonymous audience. A writer’s writer, J.D. Salinger (flawed possibly to the inexcusable) has already captured how I offer my email below to the readers of this blog: “As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean” (dedication for Franny and Zooey).

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[Email to my students]

I do love you all. It is a very special thing to be given the task of teaching, to have students randomly assigned to your care, your responsibility.

Sometimes, that charge is more than I can handle, but I am only human (and aging, slipping into decrepitude, and thus, not as flawed in some ways as in my youth, but flawed in new and different ways).

Especially at Furman, and especially in our teens and 20s, it is easy to miss the world around us (I did mostly, and often, and well past then)—to empathize fully and genuinely with that world, those people unlike us.

So excuse this intrusion on your holiday … and do not feel obligated in any way to care about this now, or instead of turkey, or instead of just doing nothing, or instead of enjoying family or friends or someone you love … no one should deny you any of those things, and especially not me …

And now, teacher-Me: This essay is wonderfully written (what it says, yes, but how it is written, crafted):

Why We Won’t Wait, Robin D.G. Kelley

And here are some poems of mine pulled out of the rubble of this horrible thing we allow in the US, a callousness about the lives of (especially) young black men:

Four Poems: For Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin

I think, let us be thankful for we have many people and things that bring us happiness, but could we also find ways to insure that everyone has the opportunities to share the luxury of being thankful?

To you, then, accept as you wish a virtual side-hug, handshake, or your preferred virtual display of affection.

“They ask only opportunity”: Helen Keller and Those Who Will Not See

The evolution of my fully understanding formal education began when I was very young and learning moment by moment at the feet of my mother, who taught my sister and me to play canasta (a complicated two-deck card game related to rummy) and love Dr. Seuss well before we started first grade.

Of course, I thought I knew something about school after 16.5 years that culminated in my undergraduate degree, and then I began to teach. That led to another delusion about my understanding formal schooling—until I became a father.

By third grade, my daughter was teaching me lessons about school I had only come to understand at the edges. One of those lessons involved her class reading The Miracle Worker in their textbook. I watched my daughter being taught the passive radical myth (which I have connected with Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus; and also explored in the ways Pat Tillman’s life and death have been manipulated)—Keller reduced to a caricature of simplistic moral lessons aimed at feeding children in the U.S. the myths that deform (see Paulo Freire).

Helen Keller, however, was someone quite different—a true radical in thought and action. Below is an updated reposting of a blog from June 29, 2012, exploring the power in Keller’s voice, one marginalized, ignored, silenced.

Helen Keller could not attend the 1906 meeting of Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind. In a letter, Keller implored Mark Twain to speak on her behalf: “But, superfluous as all other appeals must seem after you and Mr. Choate have spoken, nevertheless, as I am a woman, I cannot be silent, and I ask you to read this letter, knowing that it will be lifted to eloquence by your kindly voice.”

In these words echo Keller’s ironic awareness of the invisibility of women who are silenced.

About the need for advocacy for the blind, Keller wrote in part:

To know what the blind man needs, you who can see must imagine what it would be not to see, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey’s end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what blindness means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction….The seeing man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man’s part and to receive the laborer’s guerdon. In an instant accident blinds him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently “dredging” the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities.

It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of the adult blind. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the sightless along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their eyes you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness [emphasis added]. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being.

This message of empathy and advocacy speaks beyond the turn of the twentieth century and beyond the challenges confronting the blind. In the twenty-first century, Americans are not fully human unless they are workers first. Without work, Americans struggle to have adequate and affordable health care, to feel basic dignity or security.

In the twenty-first century, people and children increasingly trapped in poverty are the targets of derision and marginalization as this country has maintained a war on the poor and not on poverty.

Those Who Will Not See: The Privileged

Let’s imagine, now, Keller’s words rewritten to address the advocacy needed for adults and children trapped in poverty:

To know what the poor person needs, you who are privileged must imagine what it would be not to privileged, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey’s end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what poverty means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction….The privileged man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man’s part and to receive the laborer’s guerdon. In an instant accident impoverishes him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently “dredging” the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities.

It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of people trapped in poverty. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the poor along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their opportunity you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being.

The U.S. is not a land of opportunity, but a land of privilege begetting privilege at the expense of the impoverished and the swelling working class and working poor. The privileged berate public institutions, such as universal public education, and the people who dedicate their lives to public service, such as the teachers in those schools.

The privileged rail against universal health care and day care because they were raised with both and maintain both regardless of their behavior.

The corporate consumer culture has tied all basic elements of human dignity—an income, retirement, health care, security—to employment rendering a hard day’s labor essentially a kind of twentieth-century wage-slavery.

American workers are shackled to their status as workers, a condition that benefits mostly the owners, the bosses, the privileged.

If American workers were provided the basic dignities of being human independent of their work, those workers would have autonomy—something historically afforded by unions and tenure (the anathemas of corporate consumerism)—they would have voice, they would have the authentic freedom and choice flippantly championed by the privileged.

Keller’s impassioned plea about the need for empathy at the foundation of advocacy speaks to the same empathy needed against the arrogance of privilege that has corrupted the American character and the American Dream.

“Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected,” mused Oscar Wilde.

America remains a shining possibility, but it is destined to remain only a possibility as long as those with power continue to lead but refuse to see that the true character of a country’s people is revealed each day among that country’s workers and the conditions of their labor.