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Globalizing the South
Rudolph Lewis

I hope I am not being cynical; at least, it is not my intent. What I seek is a realistic appraisal. What I want is a rhetoric that is not merely a talking to the choir. If you're going to have a " black psyche" it seems to me a critical mass is necessary. All is not necessary. The cultural examples of the negative impact of Christian myths and the commercial influence of hair and body styles on blacks worldwide are indeed representative of a critical mass.

That is, if there is such a thing as a "black psyche", or a "white psyche" it is a psychology of fragmentation (shattered identity), not resulting from a medical condition but rather from an ethical one, primarily, the valuation of property over humanity. And that modern valuation results from a great illiteracy in the black world as well as in the industrialized, technological white West. Our best minds have not had an adequate reading, if at all. If they have indeed been read, they have not been updated for changed circumstances.

I recommend Richard Wright’s White Man, Listen! His essay “The Literature of the Negro in the United States” is worthwhile rereading. He says the “Negro” once had a “simple, organic way of life” or “entity.” Maybe for that tribal person, there was such a thing we could call “psyche” in the sense of wholeness. But we are not at one with our culture. He speaks further of “stratification” and “atomization,” the development of numerous “personality types.”

There is a “strident individualism” that makes a "unified black psyche" or a “unified white psyche" for an impossibility, for we are at war within, without—with others, as well as the imposed “we.” The "we" becomes difficult to situate. Whether Killens was aware of Wright's essay, I’m uncertain. If he had, he ignored it, in speaking of a racial “psyche” and its implications for post-60s realities.

That is, the people (black and white) are severely programmed for the corporate interests of others and so overpowered they do not know what to think—they are “racial” zombies. Satellite TV, the internet (and other media hooked up globally) and globalism make this programming even more of a possibility and a dangerous threat. And not knowing how to think and valuate, individuals and peoples look out for self-interest (individual interest), which has become the new first law of survival. Community everywhere has broken down under a militarized siege from a hostile without, by a commercial full court press.

I'm really thinking out loud, questioning. What? How we got into this racial mess we find ourselves in today. Killens (in 1965) says we will no longer “look through white eyes.” Well, it’s more than forty years later: my examples note that we are indeed still looking through "white eyes." And these eyes have to do with bourgeois corporate ethics more than race, with what is valued more than the color of the skin. And maybe more than ever, we are looking through “white eyes” that value property over human dignity.

Chenweizu points out such a crass expression of this "white-eyed" valuation in his recent article USAfrica A Mortal Danger:

Back in 1962, as he flagged off his troops to the war front against the Black Africans in South Sudan, the Arab Sudanese General Hassan Beshir Nasr declared: “We don’t want these black slaves . . . what we want is their land.”

Or we can cite from the recent story "African Maids Face Abuse in Lebanon":

“Amira is 25 years old. She comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘One time, Madame found dust on the furniture. She told me that the house was dirty like my skin.’ For four years Amira has been confined to the apartment of her employers—only leaving to take out the trash. She came to Lebanon as a domestic worker on a six-year contract due to ongoing conflict in her country. Awakened daily at 5.30 am, she is subjected to 18 hours of back-breaking labour without time off.

You do not have the have a white skin to valuate "immorally" or "decadently." What happened to that determined "we" of which Killens speaks? Maybe the complexity of the "White Problem" was much more complex than Killens could imagine or dared to imagine openly in his time. And he thus did not weigh the “psyche” problem rightly for us now.

A friend suggested oppressive systems can adapt to militancy, to the aggression of those they wish to oppress, saying the Germans have a term for that process, Verharmlosung." Albert Murray suggests similarly in his Omni-Americans. Murray says that corporations have special departments to deal with such militancy. My further question is: How then do we respond to such adaptations? For it seems to me Gabriel's pardoning at the request of the NAACP is such an adaptation.

I understand the "advanced thought of that time" concept. What I seek is an "advance thought" of our time, being cognizant of the shortcomings of the "advanced thought of that time." But I admire Killens. The "fault of his time" is not singularly his. We must point the fault out, nevertheless, in order to avoid that kind of fault in our time. To admire Killens we need not sustain his faults.

I see no value or advantage in posing the existence of racial psychologies or racial psychosis. I do not think racial oppression results from a medical malady. That is what Marvin X is now arguing in his latest book. I would rather approach the nature of American racial oppression from another angle than that. It seems to me that even a Marxist or a neo-Marxist interpretation is exceedingly more beneficial than these medical or pseudo-medical analyses.

But I am not even certain that a Marxist interpretation is necessary. Killens' ethical view of the American dilemma is sufficient for me. Here is what he says:

"We, as a people, at this moment in the twentieth century, must determine once and for all which shall have primacy in our land, the sanctity of private property or the dignity of man. This is the question colored peoples all over the world are posing for the 20th century. This is the truer, deeper meaning of the Negro Revolt. The Negro is the conscience of the Western world. There can be no American morality without affirmation of black human dignity. There can be only immorality and decadence" ("DownSouth, UpSouth").

Killens is at his best in this essay. Black people in America know what it means to be classified and treated as "real estate," as property. And they know it with a greater depth beyond such abstractions people now glibly call "slavery.”

In “DownSouth,UpSouth” Killens avoids the more racialist rhetoric of his essay "Black Psyche," which goes too far into racialist esoterics, and you seem to even go farther in that direction with your expressions of "white social psychology" and the "psychotic nature of this culture" in trying to sustain Killens racialist rhetoric. But Killens says elsewhere rightly that all of America is the South. Well, we can say now that the entire globe has become the South.

Rudolph Lewis is founder and editor of ChickenBones: A Journal (




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