[This essay was originally published in 1980 as part of the book Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling. The essays from the book are available onlline >]


from an African-American Perspective

By Kalamu ya Salaam

The struggle to eradicate sexism and develop African-american women is, in our opinion, a key and critical aspect of our people's struggle for a better and more beautiful life.

Sexism is the systematic repression and exploitation of one group of people by another group of people based on the criterion of sex. Sexism, as institutionalized in America today, manifests itself as the social and material male domination of women.

Sexism, like capitalism and racism, is a pervasive evil that must be rooted out and eradicated through conscious, uncompromising and consistent struggle. But smashing sexism will not be easy.

First, we must fight against the myth that sexism is not a major problem in the African-american community. Second, we must deepen our theoretical and analytical understanding of sexism so that we can know precisely how to proceed.

Our purpose in this presentation is to offer an analysis and theory of the phenomenon of rape, one of the most blatant and violent forms of sexual oppression. Hopefully this presentation will inspire women to fight back, will inspire men to be self-critical, and will inspire each reader to reassess their own thoughts and actions with respect to woman/man relationships in general and the sexist practice of rape in particular.

The Need for a Radical Analysis

From an African-American Perspective

Throughout this country and particularly in the south, rape has been a controversial and emotion-drenched crime. Both the myths that surround rape as well as the societal responses to specific and alleged cases of rape have been fraught with ulterior motives which generally have done little if anything to assist the victim of rape, to rehabilitate (or even punish) the person who rapes, and to identify and remove the social causes and support mechanisms of rape.

Those who have heretofore addressed the issue of rape have generally done so from a narrow perspective which limits both analysis of. as well as proposed solutions to, the rape crisis. They have been divided by a culturally induced parochialism that causes one group to deny or depreciate the relevance and importance of another group's experiences and analysis.

Like the proverbial five blind people describing an elephant, groups with different orientations have latched onto different aspects of the rape problem and proclaimed their position the most important or relevant. However, just as an elephant is more than a tusk, trunk, torso, toenail or tail, rape is more than an excuse to lynch African-american men, a crime that happens to one out of twenty women in this country, an expression of macho manhood, a crime of violence, or an inherent and inevitable aspect of man/woman social relations in this society.

Without an analysis which starts with an assessment of the material and social reality of rape in its various manifestations, and then places those findings in a cultural and chronological context, there can be no overall coherent and relevant understanding and solution to the problem of rape.

Rape a Malignant in Our Community

Rape is rarely thought of as a major problem in the African-american community. But the statistics present a different picture. (At this point, it is important to note that statistics are skimpy and in many cases nonexistent on a detailed basis. There is still a great deal of data gathering to be done.)

Magaret 0. Hyde, writing in her book Speak Out On Rape!, reveals this most startling statistic:

large numbers of people believe that black men are more likely to attack white women than they are likely to attact black women. Many people believe that poor men typically attack rich women. Yet studies show that the rapist and his victim tend to be of the same race and class. According to the leading study by Menachem Amir, Patterns in Forcible Rape, 77 percent of all rapes have been committed by black men raping black women.

Before Amir's study in 1971 there was no major study of rape per se. Amir's pioneering study was based on reported rapes in Philadelphia. Other studies have collaborated that rape is primarily intra-racial and intra-class.

Susan Brownmiller, in her influential book Against Our Will, digs into Amir's study and into his background. Brownmiller then offers an analysis that puts the high incidence of Black men committing rape into a fuller perspective. Her analysis is based on the work of Marvin Wolfgang, the professor who taught Amir.

An understanding of the subculture of violence is critical to an understanding of the forcible rapist. "Social class, "wrote Wolfgang," looms large in all studies of violent crime." Wolfgang's theory, and I must oversimplify, is that within the dominant value system of our culture there exists a subculture formed of those from the lower classes, the poor, the disenfranchised, the black, whose values often run counter to those of the dominant culture, the people in charge. The dominant culture can operate within the laws of civility because it has little need to resort to violence to get what it wants. The subculture, thwarted, inarticulate and angry, is quick to resort to violence; indeed, violence and physical aggression become a common way of life. Particularly for young males.. .there is no getting around the fact that most of those who engage in antisocial, criminal violence (murder, assault, rape and robbery) come from the lower socioeconomic classes and contribute to crimes of violence in numbers disproportionate to their population ration in the census figures but not disproportionate to their position on the economic ladder.

Rape is a sexist crime of violence. It should not be surprising then that the general African-american community is plagued by high rates of rape.

But beyond BrownmilIer there is a more important truth. In the African-american community there seems, at first glance, to be more violence. But really that violence is puny when compared to the violence of the larger white community. Among our people, violence is primarily directed by one member of our community against another member of our community. Whereas, in the larger white society, violence is directed against other ethnic groups, against other nations and cultures, against different classes but rarely against each other; except, and not surprisingly so, among poor whites.

The violence of African-american men is deplored and fought against. The violence of white men is legitimized and celebrated.

White male violence is called big business, good government, law and order. Priests and ministers bless the violence of white men. Movies make heroes out of white macho men.

Yes, crimes of violence are high in the African-american community, but it is not because our people are violent by nature. In the absence of liberation theory. organization and practice, petty violence of self-aggrandizement often seems the only way to get ahead. But our petty violence pales in comparison to that of the majority of the whites who created and continue to perpetuate the American ideals. We've dropped no atomic bombs, we've never stolen whole continents, nor committed genocide against the Native American, nor enslaved millions of people. The truth is that violence, to quote Brother Rap Brown, is as American as "cherry pie."

All of America is violent, even though the violence of the dominant society is often disguised, externalized and legitimized. The violence of sexism, specifically rape, is, in its institutionalized forms, distinctly a phenomenon imposed on us by the dominant society.

The number of people annually killed in factory "accidents," many of them due to faulty equipment or unsafe working conditions, is a violence which rivals the infamous homicide rate in African-american communities. But, such violences are rarely compared because this would expose precisely where the violence originates and who benefits from the perpetuation of violence. Joe Brown is frustrated and confused when he shoots his best friend over an argument about a bottle of beer. J. P. Stevens is thoroughly clear and conscious when he creates the conditions which lead to death under his employ.

In the same way, the rich, generally are not thought of as rapists. Those statistics which do exist will show the rich as a small percentage of rapists, yet further investigation will reveal that the rich generally do not show up in crime statistics because the laws were made to protect them.

For example, if you are rich enough to get an excellent lawyer, you can be acquitted on most cases which go to court, and can generally get out of even having to go to court. -In capital offenses and other major cases, you can plea bargain for a lesser charge, get light and/or suspended sentences, and achieve a parole much quicker than the poor charged for the same crime.

This note of caution is necessary less we be mislead by the available statistics. While our concern is with the high rates of Black on Black rape, it is at the same time necessary that we place this concern into the proper context. Otherwise, we will fall head long into the racist mythology about rape, namely that African-american men are rapists by nature.

It is bur contention that the class and racist nature of America conspires to render white rapists invisible and simultaneously, shines the spotlight on African-american rapists.

Nevertheless, the greater violence of the white world which victimizes us can in no way be used to excuse or condone the violence we commit against each other, and particularly the sexist violence we African-american men wage against African-american women.

Rape: An American Way of Life

Ellen Bernstein and Brandy Rommel, writing in the October 1975 edition of Today's Health magazine, present an overview of the frequency of rape in America. "In 1973 there were 51,000 reported rapes in the United States - 1 every 10 minutes. While this represents a 55 percent increase in reported rapes since 1968, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), rape is still one of the most underreported crimes in the nation."

If it is true, and we firmly believe that it is, that rape is the most underreported crime in America, then one can easily imagine the pervasiveness of rape in the African-american community.

In America, both past and present, it has been the African-american woman who has been the leading victim of rape. During slavery the rape of the African-american woman by her master and other men (particularly if they were white) was both legal (or covertly condoned) and common. After slavery, the rape of the African-american woman is technically illegal but, in fact, as the statistics show, rape is an everyday occurrence that happens disproportionately to African-american women. The depressing truth is that the problems of African-american women have always been ignored by both our own community and the larger white society.

Brownmiller notes that while Fanon (in Black Skins, White Masks), for example, wrote extensively on woman/man relationships and specifically spoke of the rape of the white woman by the Black man, Fanon had literally nothing to say about the Black woman.

Purely and simply, this radical theorist of third-world liberation was a hater of women. With an arrogance rarely matched by other radical male writers, Fanon goes on, "Those who grant our conclusions on the psychosexuality of the white woman may ask what we have to say about the woman of color. I know nothing about her."

Tragically, in that respect, Fanon is not the only Black man who knows "nothing" about Black women. For the most part, the literature of the Black liberation movement speaks seldom of the particular concerns of Black women, or of the Black woman as a human being whose existence is not necessarily tied to that of a particular man. However, this is not something peculiar to the Black liberation movement, but rather is reflective of the general misogynism of western civilizations. Misogynism is often unconsciously mirrored and advocated by men and women of color in their attempts to be accepted by the west. Hence, we understand why Fanon makes such a statement in Black Skins. White Masks.

One of the most shameful aspects of the aftermaths of slavery is that we Black men have, for the most part, in practice if not in theory, internalized American sexism. As a result, we treat women as objects to possess rather than as co-equal human beings with whom we should share our lives, loves and struggles.

The African-american woman has been the least understood person In American history. It is no wonder then that the alarming high frequency of African-american women being raped can be so easily

ignored. The rape of African-american women is not seen as a major problem precisely because the victim is both Black and female in a racist and sexist society.

Rape: The Historical Context

Rape is a violent form of male domination of women. Initially, in the European tradition and before that in the Judeo-christian tradition, rape was defined primarily as a property crime, i.e. the stealing of one man's property by another man. This led to the "legal" position on rape which denied that a man could rape his wife because she was de jure (in law) "his property."

As western society developed into modern American society, rape began to be defined as "unlawful carnal knowledge (sexual intercourse) with a woman without her consent." The law did not, just as in earlier history, apply to man and wife. In most states, to prove rape (unless, of course, it was a Black rapist and a white victim) it was necessary to prove both that force had been used and that there was penetration of the vagina by the rapist using his penis.

Needless to say, this was difficult to prove and often led to the humiliation of many women who sought legal redress. Rape victims, having already suffered rape, were then further subjected to "legal humiliation" on the witness stand as the lawyer for the rapist would question the victim's sexual history, question the specifics of the "alleged rape," and often, perversely, charge that the victim of the rape through her own actions caused the whole incident to' happen. Although, there has been some reform of the law in the area of question which are permissible to ask of a rape victim in court, there is still a great deal of psychological warfare waged against the rape victim when she attempts to seek legal redress.

But, whether viewed as strictly a property crime or as sexual assault (force), in the final analysis, the reality of rape was, and generally continues to be, determined predominately by men who are either the "owner" (i.e. the husband) or the legal authorities (i.e. male judge and juries). In its historical context, rape is a crime which adversely effects women but which is generally adjudicated by men.

Although rape disproportionately affects African-american women, she is seldom thought of as the prime victim of rape. Yet the authorities and the sociology experts know this. They have statistics and interviews which give them the data base to make the correct determination about who is most affected by rape. Instead the rape issue is used as one more club to beat African-americans into submission.

The objective result of rape and the societal reactions to rape is that it is used as a means to keep African-american men and women terrorized. While it is important to note that all women are victimized by rape, it is critical to note how the reality of rape is manipulated when it comes to the African-american woman as victim and the African-american man as rapist.

As Nathan Hare and others have noted, the white woman hollers but it's the African-american woman who suffers the highest percentage of rape and the African-american man who is stereotypically pictured and prosecuted as the number one rapist. This is the reality which colors African-american responses to rape. Unfortunately, this reality has led too many of us to dismiss the realness of rape as a major issue.

Rape: A Sexual Crime of Coercion

Rape is any sexual intimacy forced on one person by another! This definition is sufficiently broad as to cover forced acts of a sexual nature which do not necessarily include sexual intercourse per se, and is sufficiently specific so as to provide a reliable index to determine when rape has actually occurred. While this definition admits the possibility of women raping men or raping other women, the conditions under which we live, determine that, in the vast majority of cases, we are dealing with men raping women.

In America today, rape is the most violent form of sexual imperialism, i.e. the act of rape is an act of denying women authority/autonomy or self-rule in the same way that political imperialism usurps the sovereignty of colonized nations and peoples.

Rape is a specific reflection of a social system. Depending on who the victim and who the rapist are, rape becomes a very precise expression of the ideologies of capitalism, racism and sexism. If rape is artificially divorced from this context than it can not be fully understood and dealt with.

In their book Against Rape, Andra Medea and Kathleen Thompson offer a culture-bound view of rape in America:

to talk about rape we are obviously going to have to talk about a lot of other things as well. We are going to have to talk about how men think of women in this society, how they therefore relate to them, and what they do to them. Correspondingly, we are going to have to talk about what women think about men. We are going to have to talk about what it is in our society that not only fails to prevent rape but actively, if covertly, encourages it.

Rape is not a special, isolated act. It is not an aberration, a deviation from the norms of sexual and social behavior in this country. Rape is simply at the end of the continuum of male-aggressive, female passive patterns, and an arbitrary line has been drawn to mark it off from the rest of such relationships.

In America women are seen and projected as sexual objects, objects which are pliable, mindless and almost of another species. Women as sexual objects may be bought (prostitution and marriage) or stole (rape). By extension, sex becomes a possession that men consume rather than a social relationship that women and men share. The objectification of women, the obliteration of women as human beings and their projection as sexual objects, is inextricably woven into the total fabric of American culture. This wrong is not a simple rip or tear which can be mended but rather is a defect which demands the development of another culture/another society in order to reestablish human relationships between women and men.

Upon even a cursory investigation of America it becomes clear that nearly every popular image of manhood includes "owning a woman, whether it be "the successful man with a good woman behind him" or the hollywood lover who "always gets his woman." The television commercials make clear both overtly and subliminally, and the billboards flash the message bigger than life, material acquisition means and includes acquiring women. Buy a new car, you get a woman. Buy a pack of cigarettes, you get a woman. Buy anything and a woman is thrown in. This is the image projected by advertising in America.

In this context, sex becomes something you buy directly or indirectly. Lacking the money or the desire to buy sex, sex then becomes something that men take from women. If at first the woman is reluctant, just apply a little forceful persuasion and everything will be all right. The point is that, due to the capitalist, racist and sexist basis of American society, every sexual contact between the average woman and man is, to one degree or another, heavily influenced, if not outright determined, by a male dominating and female degrading frame of reference.

The society at large encourages and condones macho behavior, a behavior which includes: 1. the active exploitation of women as sexual objects, 2. the institutionalizing of male chauvinism, and, 3. if the man is African-american, the attempt to deny that African-american women are significantly affected by the sexism of American men of all races. The society, also forces women to exhibit a passive behavior which includes: 1. their submission to the sexual objectification of a woman's body by capitalism, 2. submission to the sexual imperialism of sexism, and, 3. if the woman is African-american, the special oppression of racism which denies not only that a woman is equal to a man but also denies that an African-american woman is equal to any other woman.

In a society such as this one, rape becomes the rule rather than the exception. In this society, women are systematically , coerced against their wills to act Out a sexual behavior that completely denies them sexual self-determination, or, worse yet, their thinking is manipulated so that they seemingly voluntarily act out in sexist determined modes of behavior.

Rape: the Four Forms

Rape covers a broad range of activities. We have identified four broad categories of rape. They are 1. brutal rape, 2. bogart rape, 3. business rape and 4. bed rape.

When men talk about rape they generally only refer to one type, brutal rape. Brutal (or forcible) rape is the only rape universally recognized by law. But the three other types of rape are also rape in that sexual intimacy is forced on one human being by another. Understanding rape requires that we understand all forms of rape.

BRUTAL RAPE is an act of rape accomplished simply by the use of actual, threatened or implied physical force. It usually involves a rapist and a victim who either do not know each other at all or who have met only as passing acquaintances, although the rapist may and often does "stake Out" the prospective victim. This is the rape we read about in newspapers, hear about on the radio and watch reports of on television. Unlike, the other forms of rape, this act of rape is usually perceived to be rape from the perspective of both the rapist and the victim.

BOGART RAPE is an act of rape accomplished by persistent demands, physical pressure, threats of reprisals, and appeals to the maintenance of an on-going relationship. Examples of bogart rape include 1. "either give it up or start walking" said to a woman when parked at night five miles in the middle of nowhere, 2. men requiring that a woman be sexually submissive in order for her to "get and keep him." The latter is a devastatingly effective technique when you consider that there are many more "available women" than "available men.

Bogart rape usually involves a rapist and a victim who know each other. This type of rape generally takes place within the context of and as a normal part of woman/man relationships in america. In dating, most of we Black men will try a woman at least once and most women  expect to be tried. This is the sexist etiquette of dating.

BUSINESS RAPE is an act of rape accomplished by threat of the termination of employment, or the promise of employment, a raise, a better score on a test, a better grade in school, a promotion or some other form of material or social "compensation" or "payment." This type of rape takes place between the woman worker/student/applicant and her male employer/professor/supervisor.

This is a type of rape that is seldom specifically talked about between women and men because of a number of factors. Perhaps, chief among these factors are, one, the woman often needs the job/grade, and two, the woman is afraid to reveal the rape to the men she is close to as she knows that there is little they, or anyone, can do about it and revealing it would only hurt the men close to her. Besides, she could never prove it was rape as the rapist seldom physically threatened her. Yet, it is rape nonetheless.

The pervasiveness of business rape is most sharp and deep among African-american women in the lower economic stratum, many of whom are single and have children for whom they are the sole source of support. These women, in particular, have learned to take "approaches" and business rape attempts as a normal part and prerequisite of obtaining a diploma or employment in America.

BED RAPE is an act of rape accomplished by force and legitimized by the legal marriage contract. In this type of rape the force is rarely physical. Bed rape is the most subtle (and perhaps the most common) type of rape. Many married women, often being materially and emotionally dependent on their husbands to one degree or another, decide that it is easier to submit sexually than suffer the consequences of not submitting.

In this context, from the American perspective, the marriage contract is seen as a guarantee of sex on demand for the husband. Many women are unable to say no to their husbands without fear of some form of reprisal, so they grin, bear it, and fake sexual satisfaction. But often, not only don't such women enjoy the sexual encounter but, more importantly, they were either not prepared or did not want to engage in sex.

By far, it is social pressures brought to bear that makes bed rape a reality. Women feel forced to engage in sex, not because they enjoy it or desire it, or even because they fear a beating if they don't, but rather many women engage in sex with their husbands because they know that this is what the man wants and they have been taught to serve men.

Unsaid, in this form of rape, is the implied assessment of the woman's worth. Sex on demand is not only something that men want, but indeed, according to the norms of this society, sex on demand is what a husband is suppose to get. When he doesn't get it then something must be wrong with the woman. A woman's feelings of guilt, frustration and dependency thusly become the effective forms of coercion.

These forces are made maddeningly effective by the fact that the individual man does not have to do or say anything, indeed, does not have to even be aware that the sexist forces are at work on his wife when he demands sex. The society within which we are raised brings the pressures to bear. This pressure is constant and thorough. The whole of christian education on sunday, and American tradition on the

other six days have prepared women to passively accept this type of rape. In this context, revolt becomes an act which induces feelings of shame and guilt. Many women can not tell their husbands that they don't desire to have sex at a given time without feeling some degree of shame or guilt.

Added together, these four broad categories of rape cover an exceedingly wide range of sexual encounters between women and men in America.

Rape: Understanding the Victim and the Rapist

One of the worse aspects of the crime of rape is that it is a common and ordinary crime. As we have previously documented, rape happens to women everyday in America and, proportionate to the population, the majority of these women victims of rape are African-americans. They are the chief victims.

Because of our own acceptance, admittedly often unconscious, of sexism, few men attempt to understand the devastating impact of rape on the victim. Few men can appreciate how much the rape victim is dehumanized. Few men can comprehend the psychological terror and its long lasting aftermath of fear that accompanies the act of rape. For example, even male rape victims are often not as traumatized. No man has ever been left with the fear of pregnancy as the result of being raped.

Perhaps the crushing blow is the social stigma attached to the "victim" of rape by the society. A female victim of rape does not receive the same immediate concern, particularly if we were not close to the victim, as does a male victim of rape. The male victim is viewed as a person whose "essence," whose very being, i.e. his manhood, has been assaulted and breached. Some sexist go so far as to suggest that rape is worse when it is a male on male rape. Even in the context of rape victimization, women are treated less than equal.

A female victim of rape must often answer a long string of challenges to her womanhood and morality. We want to know the details, we want to know was it her fault, we want to know was it really rape or did she "tease" the man or lead him on, or perhaps she just got caught "doing it" and decided to scream rape. Too often it is assumed that there was something that the woman did or did not do that contributed to the rape taking place. In other words, a woman is seen as a consenting partner in her rape. Such thinking displays an incredible misunderstanding of the reality of rape.

Women do not rape themselves. Women do not like to be raped. Men rape women, and the majority of rape cases are not of the brutal, stranger in the dark, type. Rather, the majority of rape cases are perpetrated on women by men who know or are acquainted with their victims.

Frederic Storaska, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Prevention of Rape and Assualt (NOPRA), writing in his book, How to Say No to a Rapist - and Survive, based on his study and experience, makes this statement:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of the time rapists and their victims aren't even strangers. Over the years, I've found that in about 35 percent of the rape cases the woman was assaulted by her own date, in the dating environment. Very few rapes of this type are reported. Most women (or men) have an emotional stake of their own in portraying their dates as acceptable, even desirable, human beings. About 35 percent of the time the rapist is someone else you know - a friend, neighbor, boss, co-worker, relative, friend of a friend - in other words, someone you thought you could trust, someone you never dreamed presented any sort of a threat to you. Rape in these cases often goes unreported, too, for a variety of reasons, including the embarrassment of innocent parties, perhaps those through whom you know the rapist. Finally, about 30 percent of the time the rapist will be a total stranger, someone the woman didn't know at all, though he may have known who she was or seen her several times prior to the attack. More rapes of this type are reported to the police than of any other kind.

In collaboration with Storaska, Meda and Thompson find that, "If a woman is raped, according to statistics from the study by Menachim Amir and according to the results of our questionnaire, the chances are better than 50 percent that her attacker will be someone she knows,"

The point is that in the majority of the cases the victim of rape is a woman (or child) who the rapist knows. This combines with another factor to drive home the fact that rape is, at root a common occurrence in this society, an activity that the American society culturally condones and propagates. The other factor is that the average rapist is, by psychological standards, a "normal man."

The average man in America fits the profile of the rapist. Writing in the September 1971 issue of Ramparts, Susan Griffin, in her article entitled "RAPE: The All-American Crime," noted that "According to Amir's study of forcible rape, on a statistical average the man who has been convicted of rape was found to have a normal sexual personality, tended to be different from the normal, well-adjusted male only in having a greater tendency to express violence and rage.. Alan Taylor, a parole officer who has worked with rapists in the prison facilities at San Luis Obispo, California, stated the question in plainer language, 'Those men were the most normal men there. They had a lot of hang-ups, but they were the same hang-ups as men walking out on the street'."

The reality of the victim and the rapist is exactly the opposite of what most people believe. Most victims do not desire to be raped and did not do anything to bring it on. Most victims knew who raped them. Most rapists are, psychologically, normal men.

Perhaps, the worse aspect of rape in America is that it is not a crime of uncontrollable passion but rather a cruel and calculated domination of women. Medea and Thompson report that "In Patterns in Forcible Rape, Menachim Amir revealed that the majority of the rapes in his study were premeditated. Of all the rapes, single and group, 82.1 percent were wholly or partially planned in advance."

If we are to deal with rape, we must begin to understand that we are dealing with a phenomenon which is often planned on the part of the rapist, often resigned to on the part of the victim, and often covertly encouraged by this society at large.

Rape: Facing the Reality

We believe that there are two major reasons that men generally don't deal with rape except to commit the act. First, most men are not concerned with women as women and are only concerned about "their" women, i.e. "their" mother, wife, daughter, lover and sometimes their sister. Second, most men have either committed, attempted to commit or seriously considered committing an act of forcing sexual intimacy (i.e., rape) on a woman, and therefore, feel either callous, guilty or defensive on the subject of rape. By rape, we must remember, we mean sexual intimacy based on coercion.

Due to the sexism of the society within which we are raised and whose values we usually unconsciously adopt and practice, the vast majority of we men are backward in our social relationships with even those women who are close to us. We generally are making no active and consciously serious attempt to struggle against sexism which oppresses those "special individuals" whom we love, nor are we struggling to help "our women" develop themselves.

What most of us do is go along with the general view of women. We may treat "our women" a little better or nicer but beneath it all, most of us consider women lower than men, i.e. less intelligent, innately less politically advanced, less capable of making sound decisions and taking charge of situations. Of course, there are many women to point to as examples of this alleged inferiority of women to men, but the crucial question is, are women this way because of their nature as women or are women this way because of the nature of this society?

Our sexist view of women requires we men to praise women who fit our stereotypes and persecute those who do not. This leads us to slander strong women. Don't we say of strong women 'the broad/bitch trying to act like a man," "she too mannish/manly," "she must be a bulldyke," "she need a man?"

What is really happening is that a strong woman, just by being strong, contradicts our backward concept of women. Thusly, in the interest of maintaining our own backward views and in the interest of maintaining the over riding sexist social structure which is both the nurturing environment and rewarder of male chauvanism, we men beat down and/or deny and depreciate the "womaness" of strong women.

Given this American society. unless we men are consciously and actively fighting sexism, then without a doubt, at the very least we are unconsciously committed to being backward in our personal and political dealings with women!

This backwardness is a reflection of our own general sexism vis-a-vis all women and is in no way lessened by how we treat or feel about individual women to whom we are emotionally close.

It is this sexism which blinds us to the understanding of the cruelly of rape and other forms of male domination of women, and also causes us to consider rape a far away crime of isolated and infrequent incident until it happens to someone very close to us. For the most part we men seldom give rape a second thought and sometimes we even slyly smile inside, wondering, as we visualize the rape victim, was it "good."

Which brings us to the second cause for a general lack of concern among men about rape. Cold and extreme as it may sound, most men have been involved in a rape, an attempt at rape or the serious consideration of committing rape. Think a minute. Rape, as we define it, is forced sexual intimacy. The force could be physical pressure, emotional feelings of guilt, social reprisals or any number of other forms of coercion. Of course, we realize that to understand rape in this way means that we must painfully reevaluate our entire theory and practice of woman/man relationships, but that is the whole point. We must scrap the present sexist modes of woman/man relationships. They are despicable and must be changed.

To rape a woman, a man invariably must see that woman as less than human or at least less than his co-equal. Rape requires that a man become an oppressor, and in the case of we African-american men, rape means that we become not only oppressor but also traitor. We betray not only part but all of our people when we rape our women. But, as the statistics and continuing cases of rape attest, we men keep on raping our women.

Incredible as it may seem, many men rape women without considering what they are doing as an act of rape. Using either physical or social force and coercion to consummate sexual intimacy is so generally accepted in this society that most men are not even conscious of the fact that they often resort to the use of force in their interrelationships with women. Because of the extreme negative connotations associated with the word rape and the corresponding general acceptance of using force in everyday woman/man relationships, "rape" is reserved to describe the most violent forms of brutal rape, such as the knife at the throat of a stranger, but is not applied to the everyday, although more subtle but nonetheless coercive, uses of threats or intimidations to make women sexually submissive.

While we do not and would not suggest that all four types of rape employ the same degree of violence or have the same traumatic effect on their victims, certainly there are degrees and differences, but still the critical element remains, i.e. the coercive use of force in sexual relations.

One indication of the pervasiveness of the use of force is the many rationalizations of force that we men use to justify battering down a woman's resistance to our sexual advances: "you know you really want it," "you can't fight the feeling." To a man seeking sex, when a woman says "no" he interprets her answer to mean "she's playing hard to get." In other words, we believe that "she wants to, but she wants me to take it," i.e. be a man! Of course, we men usually rise to the challenge and force the woman to say "yes," force the woman to engage in sex.

After having consummated the sex act, no one can convince us that she meant no. Our successful use of force blinds us to the reality that we used force. Our chauvinistically inflated male egos blind us to the reality that women do not enjoy forced sex even though they may fake or pretend satisfaction and enjoyment. The subtleness and pervasiveness of the use of force not only blinds we men to the fact that we have just committed rape when we use force, but indeed, tragically, sexism also sometimes blinds some of our women to the fact that they have been raped. Many women, after years of sexist indoctrination, have learned to expect the use of force. Women in general don't even consider "ordinary sexual aggression" by men as unusual. Women expect sexual assaults.

We men must begin to understand that it is not the degree of violence employed, nor is it a question of whether or not the woman is a stranger that determines whether or not rape has taken place, but rather it is the use of force, whether consciously or unconsciously, that is the dividing line which determines the difference between consensual sexual intimacy and rape. When we men refuse to recognize as rape the various ways in which we force or coerce women to sexually submit to us; when we men deny, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, that rape is a serious problem which traumatically affects its victims; when we men deny that a man can rape "his" wife, reductively what we are doing is reinforcing the sexist practice of non-brutal forms of rape.

The bottom line on the rape question has, in fact, nothing to do with what men think about their relations to women. Regardless of what we men think, if a woman feels forced to submit and we have done nothing in practical terms to make clear that we will respect her right to say no without some form of reprisal, then we have raped that woman.

Rape is real. Rape is a dominate feature of woman/man relationships in America today. A correct appraisal of the entrenched pervasiveness of rape is a necessary first step toward eradicating rape.

It is also important to recognize that among the many reasons that men in general rape women and that African-american men specifically rape African-american women, two of the leading reasons are that 1. men can get away with raping women and 2. the rape/domination of women becomes a surrogate exercise in power and social control which are uniformly and without question denied to African-american men in the society at large.

Lynda L. Holmstrom and Ann W. Burgess writing in The Victim of Rape specify how the judicial system is skewed against African-american women:

Race of the victim makes a great difference. The conviction rate when the victim was white was 6 of 60(10%), compared to only 2 of 48 (4.2%) when the victim was non- white. The conviction rate was even lower when one looks at black female victims, only 1 of 43 cases (2.3%) led to a conviction for rape. The one case was that of a five-year old girl. Thus not one black adolescent or adult woman was able to take her case to the criminal justice system and have her definition of the situation sustained.

This was a study of Boston rape cases which made it to court and does not deal with the many cases which never go to court, and which, in fact, are seldom even reported. Punishment for rape is spotty and seldom at best, and in the cases where the victim is an African-american woman, punishment is virtually non-existent.

When this lack of social restraints is combined with a frustrated male seeking to exert himself, the resultant social situation is one which not only condones but indeed encourages African-american men to rape African-american women in order to maintain a macho-defined and depressingly counterproductive sense and definition of manhood.

Of course the white, male ruling class recognizes that it is in their own interest to allow rape to exist as a surrogate to access to real power, which power this white, male ruling class wishes to maintain in total. So, on the one hand, rape is a general palliative used to soothe over the frustrations of men who, because of race and/or class, are not allowed to be men as men are commonly defined in America. On the other hand, rape is the ultimate boogeyman in the racist nightmare. It is the ultimate theft of the white, male ruling class' property.

Thus, as Alison Edwards points out in her polemic pamphlet Rape, Racism, and the White Women's Movement: An Answer to Susan Brownmiller, "although the rape laws did not specify 'for blacks only'

that is what they meant. Out of 455 executions for rape in the last forty years, 405 have been of black men... .No white man has ever been executed for raping a black woman." So, while the white, male ruling class is not overly concerned with intra-racial rapes, or with white men raping African-american women, the mere mention or suggestion of an African-american man raping a white woman is met with a pavolian, frothing at the mouth response watered by the tumor racist glands of the white body-politic of America. It is not the sexual assault of a woman which is really at question in such cases, but rather the "black" theft of "white" property.

With all of these dynamics happening, it does not take a genius to figure out that the safest and most accessible manifestation of "macho" manhood available to African-american men is the sexual domination of African-american women. No understanding of rape in America is complete without an understanding of the racist and economic, as well as sexist, scenario that is being played out in the act of rape.

Understanding Rape

Understanding rape in total is not merely a case of sympathizing with a victim but rather is a necessary element of our liberation struggle. Understanding rape requires not crying with women who have been victimized but fighting men who rape women and helping to arm women with the theory and practice necessary to smash sexism and repulse rape. Above all, understanding rape requires that we men actively fight the theories and practices of sexism within a capitalist and racist society.

This means that we men must fight our own weaknesses, must fight those negative aspects of ourselves and other men which are reflections of sexist thoughts and practices. Understanding rape requires that we change our own thinking not only about women, but indeed, about our ownselves as men, about what defines manhood, about our social relationships. Understanding rape requires new and necessarily rectifying revolutionary behavior.

While few of we men will openly admit that we have raped, attempted to rape, or seriously considered raping a woman, at the same time very few of us have not tried at one time or another, in one form or another, to force or coerce a woman to submit to our sexual desires. Think about it, brothers. How many of us can honestly say that we have never forced or coerced, through using either physical or social pressure, or attempted to force or coerce a woman to submit to us sexually? Very few of us, very few

The fact that many men have been routinely involved in acts of sexual coercion (rape) makes it doubly difficult for we men to confront and understand rape. Most of we men will admit that rape is wrong and if pressed, many of us will admit, at least to ourselves if not to others, that we have forced or coerced a woman. But the probability is high, that few of us would admit that what we have done is rape, even though our actions effectively suppressed the sexual self-determination of those women whom we coerced.

Understanding rape requires not only that we understand how it affects a woman but also that we understand and deal with why we men commit and continue to commit acts of sexual coercion.

Within the context of American society, rape is, in the final analysis, purely and simply an act of male domination. Rape is a "force connection" (SeeBeyond Connections: Liberation In Love And Struggle, Dr. M. Ron Karenga, AHIDIANA Publications) that in most cases has nothing to do with establishing a consensual sexual relationship. Instead, rape has, as an inherent objective, the forcible consumption of a sexual object (the woman) by the master (the man). This forcible consumption requires the domination of women in order to turn them from active human beings into passive sexual objects.

Rape is an aggressive act intended to bring a woman completely under a man's control. Rape denies the woman any significant decision making powers within a social relationship.

Rape is wrong. Rape runs completely counter to what we are trying to achieve in building a better and more beautiful future for ourselves and generations to come. But rape is what we men do and will continue to do until we consciously understand rape and are organized to stop rape.

Rape: Organizing to Stop It

As for stopping rape, women can and should defend themselves and fight back, both physically and politically.

While individual women can and should learn self-defense and the use of weapons, the priority of self-defense work should be on organizing the communities in which women live and work. People must be recruited to be part of an anti-rape militia. The active intervention of politicized third parties is a most effective means of helping to stop rape - particularly brutal rape.

However, the political education of women and men on the issue of rape is of the utmost importance. Politically women must begin speaking out on the evils and realities of rape. Silence and shame must cease being the chief characteristic of the rape victim. We must share struggle. Women must speak to each other and to men. Women must link rape to the overall sexism of American society and show how the sexist link interlocks in the chain of capitalist and racist oppression and exploitation.

Not only must women fight back, indeed, until women revolt against sexism as a whole, business will continue as usual.

Nevertheless, in the overwhelming majority of cases, women do not rape women. No matter how much or how well women fight back, rape will not be completely eradicated as a social disease until men stop routinely raping women. This means that men must be organized to stop rape!

The organizing of men to fight sexism and end rape will essentially come about thorough the efforts of women struggling for their own self-determination. Men, as a whole, will not voluntarily give up the male dominant position in this society.

For some men, political persuasion and political education will be sufficient in organizing them to join the ranks of those struggling to smash sexism. Other men will require political action in the form of contact with women who refuse to be dominated and who can articulate, theoretically and where necessary, physically, their opposition to manifestations of sexism. This politicization process will surely also include contact with fellow men who are actively and willfully standing up as men in opposing male chauvinism and sexism.

The key element in stopping rape will be organizing all who can be organized to improve Black woman/man relationships. We must be both patient and persistent in our efforts to overturn an entrenched social system that is rooted in our past experiences, daily lives and future aspirations. This struggle will necessarily include intense self-criticism and unity-criticism-unity sessions which are free and frank in their exchanges and yet not vindictive or petty. Feelings will be hurt and egos damaged, but the struggle will make us stronger and make us better. Social struggles are never easy.


As long as male domination exists rape will exist.

This does not mean that rape is eternal, nor does it mean that until we change every man rape will continue to exist. This means instead that the eradication of rape will be a serious and protracted struggle that will involve much more than increasing so-called "police protection" for women. This means, also, that we are confident that we can transform ourselves and the society within which we live, struggle and die.

Rapists will not voluntarily stop raping women, but women revolting and men made conscious of their responsibility to fight sexism will collectively stop rape. Such women and men will stop all forms of exploitation and domination among themselves, and simultaneously attempt to stop others from exploiting and dominating anyone.

The first place to stop rape is, of course, at home and within our organizations. In the process of accomplishing that task, we will become physically and politically strong enough to challenge and change this capitalist, racist and sexist society.

Perhaps the analysis sounds harsh and extreme but look around. Is it not true that the state of relations between African-american women and men is at a depressing low point? Is it not true that sexism, as a social system and every day actuality, weighs very hard on the lives of African-american women?

If we concede that these are the conditions, then we should concurrently concede that drastic steps are needed to halt the deterioration of African-american female/male social relationships. A radical analysis, an analysis which goes to the root, is not afraid to expose wrongs, regardless of how near to us the wrongs may reside. We believe that through revolutionary practice we can transform our weaknesses into strengths and build to higher levels based on the strengths we already have and will acquire in the heat of the struggle to improve and beautify.

A revolutionary practice, which calls for and institutes the overturning of backward ideas and behavior and the establishment of progressive ideas and behavior, is what is needed.

Our purpose has been to call into question our present conditions and theoretical assumptions vis-a-vis male domination in the form of rape. This is, from our perspective, a prerequisite in preparation for the development of a new and necessary way of African-american women and men viewing and working with each other and other human beings.

We believe that fighting sexism and developing the productive and creative capacities of our women is a key link in our struggle of national liberation. We believe that rape is one of the main cogs in the sexist machine of male, white ruling class domination. We believe, and have attempted to prove, that rape is a particularly pressing problem in our communities that must be openly confronted.

Rape can be stopped. Sexism can be smashed. Some of us have vowed that we will fight it until it is finished. Won't you help us grasp a key link in our struggle?

*   *   *   *   *


No Ordinary Waterfall

(for Gwen Brooks)


may your words: coiled concise, darkly bright, ever flow never erode

nor recede but always be thought seed a growing green that feeds

the spirit thirst of us who sojourn in desert clime seeking

soil deep enough to support dense neo-african roots; gwen

love is you who blew syllabled breaths into politicized psyches,

exhaled stanzaed transmissions that raised our imaginations

buoyed us with the simple leverage of speech booted on the black

rock of conscious lyrics sung precise as talk drum heartbeats

rhythmically sounded by skilled hands rapping life cycles

reverberating off the scarred hides of our time


you are no ordinary waterfall but a sacred pouring sparkling

liquid clear as crystal joy tears in grand motherly eyes

surveying with knowing surprise the accomplishments

of progeny who yesterday were but babbling babes;

gwen, we are the scribes, wordsmiths and versifiers

you inspired, our rhymes succulent juice of precious fruit

grown ripe atop the griot height of mahogany poet trees

and watered by the elixired libation of our sagacious

queen mother humbly uttering a holistic incantation:

write as black as you be and be as black as all we

collected, resurrected, rightly rendered, remembered


—kalamu ya salaam 


Tom Dent




Dreams are not just what we imagine at night, nor simply mental movies we passively watch in our sleep. Dreams are really pieces of everything we’ve ever felt, every reaction to every idea that’s ever crossed our mind, not just our sacred ideals but also all the unmentionables our tongues never say, the secrets repeated over and over to no one but ourselves and as such, dreams can be disconcerting.


At night we are a bright forest of feelings clawing at whatever containers cage our desires, hacking away at the behavioral tethers that hold us accountable to social authorities. Dreaming is not only subversive, sometimes dreams also awaken us to our real and deepest feelings.


Dreaming of Tom, I saw myself crying. I was neither shocked nor embarrassed. As we say, quoting or paraphrasing a well known Richard Pryor routine, ‘what had happened was’ I was talking to someone and felt the presence of someone else off to the side. I turned my attention to see who it was.


Though I had never known him in his youth, I was sure. It was Tom, a young Tom. I turned back to the person with whom I had been conversing and started crying. I thought Tom was dead.


I remember just before I embarked to Germany for a second time, I went to Tom’s hospital bedside.


A few days later I was in Munich and found myself visiting Dachau concentration camp.


The austere, wooden buildings were clean. There was no lingering smell of death but hard and horrible memories hung in the air, especially by the barbed-wire fences on the perimeter. I inspected faded photographs, my myopic eyes pressed nearly nose-length away from the glass-enclosed exhibits, squinting to make a closer examination of the gaunt prisoners who were literally the walking dead.


Just a few days earlier I had forced myself not to turn away from looking at my friend laying sick in a hospital bed. I had had the horrible premonition that he was going to die while I was gone.


He did.


I never thought I would have dug Germany, been comfortable there, learned so much there. America had taught me to think of Germans as “whites,” not people. On race and other matters Tom had constantly and sharply interrogated me, albeit with great affection. Rather than say I told you so, when I responded talking about what I learned or how I unexpectedly enjoyed some new or foreign experience, Tom would just pithily reply, “good.”


I loved our conversations. When I visited, if he was hard at work on a piece of writing, he would tell me so and I would ask my question and leave, but usually he paused for me and patiently listened to me babble. After a while he would ask had I considered such and such, or read so and so, or he’d point to the overstuffed book shelves and tell me to check out some guy from Uganda or an old article in Freedomways.


Every dwelling Tom had was open to me, including a couple to which he gave me a key. In my sixth decade, as I turn corners in my life, my life has become one of Tom’s ancestral homes. Concepts he taught or exemplified in his own being are now resurrected in me. Is that what friends are for?


My intellectual and spiritual flesh has grown out of what I learned from him, from people he introduced to me, from ideas he shared with me, places we frequented together, like: driving deserted, country byways in the heat of the Mississippi night on our way to a poetry reading or for me to sit in on one of Tom’s classes in the oxymoronically named town of “West Point,” which was located on the northeast edge of the state; or conducting the business of planning what we wanted to write or get published while we sat in Levatas Seafood House, he with oysters, I with shrimp; or the soirees with Danny Barker on Sere Street, the old musician schooling our young heads—Tom was older than me but we were both youngsters compared to Danny, whose eyes literally twinkled as he dropped witty one-liners and well-polished griot tales of early New Orleans life and the formative years of jazz; or the many beautiful midnight blue nights soaking up the blues moan and being cut to the bone by the razor-sharp guitar of Walter Wolfman Washington; and weekday evenings crowded into The Glass House enjoying not only the buckjump music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band but also the entire ambiance, dancers, food, casual conversations, the guy at the door collecting dollars, the forty-year-old woman out-shaking the teenagers, all of that. Had Tom not taught me, had he not shared himself with me, given me access to the New Orleans treasures he had intimately mined, would I, could I have ever become who I am?


The old folks always asked: who your people—not just your blood family, but those whom you chose to love, to emulate, to run with and respect. The wise ones knew: your people are who you become, and if not become, they are the human forces that deeply influence your becoming.


Suddenly my emotional fog lifted. At that moment his absence overwhelmed me. I retched. The cathartic urge was irrepressible, except this nausea was not released through my mouth but rather through my eyes.


In my dream I wept, openly.


But crying was not what disturbed me. What really caused unease was a psychic jab that literally shocked open my eyes and propelled me out of bed.


For the first time in over a decade since his death, I recognized a reality I had neither fully realized nor acknowledged. I miss Tom terribly. Given our thirty year friendship and his mentorship, it should have been obvious, especially to me, but then most men are reluctant to publicly admit how much they miss another man.




 CONTACT _Con-3ACA0F1F1 \c \s \l —kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear


SOMETIMES/Blues For Sarah

(a meditation in 6/8)




sometimes we be talking but not sharing

all the thoughts we need to say/

need to hear

even as we mean and appreciate

every word we exchange



how typical and terrifying

for a Nanny spirited sistren to spend mature years

up to her ears in tears and fiscal vexations

the scratch simply insufficient to do more

than skim the surface of survival

but what if there was dust on your tracks?

what if you have enough money to meet the man?

what then? would it matter? would you be happy?

the immediate answer is yes! hell yessss!

but i think not

it is not money we miss most, sometimes

all of us are so alone

sometimes worriation starts with just a longing

to be wrapped in the home of another body who cares,

to go liquid and be drunk by a thirsty lover

who will be rejuvenated by the brewing,

to sing hip movements and the fine feathers

of squeezing nakednesses together,

to grow in a space where talk is silence

but communication is real, is live, is flashing

instantaneous music,

—black music, bright and beatific—to be a vibration

and become the shape of the flying piano keys cascading

masterfully up and down,

strong upthrusting drum notes,

cymbals shimmering,

rimshots skittering to the outer edges of giddiness

and a bass blowing huge in the dark,

sometimes to be music and be together and still,

between tunes, between sets, be right up under each other

doing all the things you are in unison


but no.

this is america.

we are black.

         and our music—even the fast tunes—

         is all blues...



sometimes, we try, we really try harder

to be sane amidst the chaos surrounding us

we skillfully host cultural programs,

we reluctantly go to the slave,

responsibly raise our children

and sometimes wait

for the phone to ring




as we choke on a chest full of songs

wishing only for an opportunity to join

a serious band



P.S. the money does make a difference

especially when all the gigs are one nighters,

it's just that, out music demands so much more

than merely solos




—kalamu ya salaam


Janelle Monáe - is she or isn't she?

discussion (mostly outright speculation) going round the internet re:janelle monáe. here's my two cents: i agree with malcolm—them who say, don't know, and them who know, don't say!

not much interested in questions about her sexuality but am interested in her image and where it be coming from. i think i have a clue. blade runner, the movie. i'm sure this is not her only reference, and may not even be a conscious reference but there are at least two major details that suggest to me, consciously or subconsciously, janelle is into blade runner

i know there are other references for "metropolis," but the hair-do and the android thingy are what seal the deal for me. for those not up on blade runner, it's a 1982 sci-fi movie by director ridley scott, featuring harrison ford, sean young, rutger hauer among a number of others. the movie is based on the novel do androids dream of electric sheep? by philip k. dick. blade runner is considered a classic and influential movie.

the story follows harrison's character who is trying to track down and terminate four rogue replicants (i.e. robots who look to be human). if you haven't seen the movie and you have any interest in sci-fi, utopia/dystopia, robots, or speculation about the future of urban human life, you should check out the film.

sean young plays a character called rachel, who intrigues harrison's character and with whom he eventually falls in love. their relationship revolves around the question of what is the real difference, if any, between humans and replicants and how can a person tell which is which. it's no big surprise to find out rachel is a replicant, albeit the newest (and secret) model. how this plays out in their relationship is the major build up in the movie. 

and here is the janelle reference for both the hair-do and her claim to be an android. "But I only date androids. Nothing like an android--they don't cheat on you." that's because androids don't change...

Sean Young ("Rachel")


i include a photo, so you can see what i'm talking about with the hair style. and if you view the movie and juxtapose that against the content of janelle's two albums, i think the influences will be obvious.  (you could even argue for references in terms of wardrobe style and dance style, particularly from the android character played by darryl hannah) but neither is necessary to enjoy the other, i.e. you can like the music without knowing about the movie, and vice versa, you can dig the movie and not have heard janelle's music. but, boy, it's a trip, when you put them together. 

and that's all i have to say...



photo by Alex Lear





people get married all the time. but not in congo square. eight o’clock in the morning — there is a softness about that time of day in place de congo, the sun has not yet risen past the trees, barely cleared the rooftops of nearby buildings. the birds have recently finished feeding and are chirping their contentment.


though this late may morning is early summer, the atmosphere is still pleasingly cool. instead of a breeze, the new day gently air-caresses like a lover alternately kissing and blowing unhurried exhales on intimate skin through partially parted lips. big, full smiling lips. laughing lips. tickling. lips. like that.


there are moments when romance is real. when every little thing really is alright. when people do lean close and be touching—admittedly rare but nonetheless simply beautiful.


i quietly draped my arm over nia’s shoulders and cozied close. whispered something, anything.


i wonder how many lovers danced together here during slavery times, here on this meeting ground just outside what was then the city proper, beyond the ramparts, the city’s earthen defense line, out on the plain next to the bend in the canal where the houmas and choctaws came to trade, and where our enslaved ancestors assembled to barter food and handicrafts, and to make music, sing and dance?


i wonder how many lovers met here, secretly in public—secretly because their “masters” didn’t know the full import of these assemblies, didn’t know the get togethers were also trysts. and in public because the community of captives all knew juba loved juline, were aware elise was dancing for cudjoe, and had no doubt that esmé with her brown eyes round as spanish coins cast shyly toward the ground was glowing in the spotlight of josé’s focused stare as her slow twirling kicked up bouquets of dust. how many black hearts have been entwined here?


who can know the specific answer? look. we are still meeting here without the consent of the authorities — we woke up, journeyed here howsoever we travel, and voila, requesting no permit, we gather a community of lovers. love needs no permission, and certainly black love requires no government approval.



true beauty is elegant, a curved exhilaration without an iota of wasted motion or excessive flash. moreover, in an african aesthetic, elegance includes rhythm.


a straight line is monotonous, rhythmless. rhythm is but another name for diversity in motion, and in form, diversity is the curve. hence there are no straight lines on a beautiful human body, every would-be straightness arcs, curves.


cassandra is all curves. even ric with his honed physique, his steel-cabled arms, rippled with veins and muscular development: curves.


senghor said, the negro abhors a straight line. i would add, so does nature, and i would rather be in tune with nature than with rational abstractions. even light bends under the influence of gravity.


moreover, beyond the arc and the lean, when dealing with the human, surface prettiness alone does not give you beauty. physical perfection without inner warmth is cold, and all real human beauty is warm, reflects the rush of blood, the healthy heat of a passionate body, a beating heart…


cassandra is covered shoulder to toe in a sheath of dusky sorrel material embroidered with a flowered pattern in deep violet. she is holding a bouquet of velvety orchids in what appears to be an invisible basket: the soft off-white blossoms with delicate purple highlights dangle in an arrangement shaped like a stunning cluster of semi-sweet concord grapes. sand’s toenails are lacquered a burgundy to match the purplish-red (or is it reddish-purple) of her form-fitting, backless dress.


ric stands on two feet but leans majestically like a pine tree seeking sunlight. he is wearing cream (shirt) and brown (slacks), and i mean “wearing” those colors, in fact, he is wearing them out. plus, his skin has the smooth darkness of a country midnight. he is smiling without moving his lips. the luster of his skin is smiling. i imagine his eyes are smiling, but i cannot see his pupils through his shades. even the men are admiring how beautiful ric is. the women look at him and hold their breath.


i bet you two centuries ago, in 1799, on some may day a cool black man stood next to the enchanting winsomeness of a saucer-eyed, dark brown erzulie and their community of friends gathered around them. and smiled deeply felt, seriously contented smiles just like we are smiling now.



the formal ceremony, such as it is, is extremely brief—not much was rendered to ceasar on that morning. carolyn jefferson administered the vows and signed the paper the state uses to hold one legally accountable. but the real signification of commitment came not from a mark on paper but from a leap over a rod.


sand’s friend vera had crafted a broom done up in french vanilla-colored raffia wrapped on the handle and outer straws spray painted dark purple (what a soothing combination). the matrimonial staff lay in the dust between pale, pale yellow candles. ric lights one, sand lights the other. they stand. hold hands. and jump.


why would educated individuals carry on a tradition from slavery?—only those who don’t believe in either ancestors or community would ask such a hopeless question. only those removed from the security of community would sneer at jumping the broom. to jump together is not a reminder of slavery, but rather a declaration of self-determination.



afterwards we all went over to ric&sand’s apartment. we set up tables on the sidewalk, chairs on the front porch, and played music inside the house—hard wood floors, shiny with hand applied wax, buffed to an eat-off-the-floor sheen. candles in every room, flickering, some of them scented. here the quiet has a presence you can not ignore, like a precocious child, grinning, hands behind the back: guess what i got, and she stands before you until you tickle her or until he flashes deep dimples and covers his mouth where his front teeth are missing. inside ric&sand’s shotgun apartment, the rooms were happy like that.


the walls were bare except for strategically placed photographs hung in carefully selected frames. one frame is green wood. there are two pictures. sand at two with a hat slanted jauntily on her head, and a boyish ric that looks just like mannish ric except the clothes are smaller and from an earlier era. but even then the angle of a budding lean is obvious.


there are trays of food on the tables prepared by a local african restaurant: plantain, a spinach dish called jama-jama, a coconut rice, and chicken on skewers with a red sauce on one table, fruit and drinks on the other. a gigantic multi-fruit cream tart in a white cardboard box (the pastry didn’t last beyond a quarter hour).


we started the reception with nuptial toasts (libationally, i poured a sip of my juice at the foot of a tree). then we read poems and afterwards toasted some more. sand’s friend vera impishly offers: here’s mud in your eye. we all laugh. most of us are black, but there are latinas here and a sprinkle of americanos who thankfully think of themselves as human rather than the aggressive/impossible purity of white.


if you passed us that morning, people lounging on the porch, sipping on juice or beer or wine or sucking the nectar from cold watermelon and chilled cantaloupe, if you had seen us you would have thought this was one of those impressionistic paintings of happy darkies deep in the south circa some idyllic antebellum era, except, we, of course, were culturally afro-centric, in love with life and each other, savoring the day and dreaming about nothing but a peace-filled future.


around three in the mid-afternoon, people begin drifting off, their spirits thoroughly rejuvenated, satiated and smiling. before leaving, we exchange hugs. everything beautiful deserves to be embraced.



so this is how we avoid insanity and suicide. we fly to love.


i had been thinking about ric&sand’s upcoming marriage as i drove around the city. that’s when an image gathered me into its center. you know how you will see something, know that the image is important but not be able to figure the specific meaning. this happened to me a day or so before the wedding. what i wrestled to understand then, is now so clear.


three green birds flew by. their feathered emeraldness disappearing into the sheltering palms that line elysian fields avenue. lime-colored bird feathers fusing with the camouflage of  drooping olive-dark tree leaves.


in urban climes free beauty is seldom seen. amid regimentation disguised as daily life, true beauty appears but briefly. we spend eight hours working, a hour in transit to and fro the yoke, another hour or so trying to cool out from the yoke, maybe two hours doing things we need to do for the house but can’t do cause we be at the yoke, and, of course, we spend at least six hours sleeping to get ready for, yep, the yoke. the yoke ain’t no joke. and we really think we are free?


actually, we are so harassed by being city dwellers in postmodern america that we can hardly be sure what we would be like if we were unyoked, what we would discover in the world. who knows how hip we would be if we were unyoked. at the reception i joke on the porch: if i was in charge, this (sweeping my eyes across the array of relaxing black folk, couples snuggled up, singles sipping red dog or nibbling on jama-jama), this would be what monday is like. well.


i have never before seen uncaged green birds flying through the blueness of crescent city skies. the rare wonder of such a sighting almost made me doubt myself. did i actually spy three pea green streaks threading through the plain of weekday? after all, i could have been delusional. optical illusions are far more common than the miracle of genuine beauty on the wing. maybe it was pigeons. maybe i was sun blinded. the day so bright, maybe my sun-stabbed eyeballs were incapable of clarity. maybe my perceptual acuity had been mutated into fantasy and silliness.


nah, i was there. clearly these creatures were flying. whatever they were. zip and gone. but that is the way of life in the urban jumble. anything original is rare. everything self-determined is even rarer than originality — and undoubtedly love and beauty had to be on the fly, dodging the black and white manacles of what this society pretends is the lassez faire of living color.


and why were there three little birds—not a couple, but a community of birds, free and green? actually the cluster of their existence is the answer to the question of the why of their existence. they were three because it takes a community to be free—one is a goner, and two won’t last long, it takes at least three to be free.



we will remember ric and sand’s wedding day—the first day we wore this couple as an amulet over our hearts. ric and sand’s first day becomes another jewel  on the necklace of black love.


people get married all the time, but rarely is there this much love quietly shared. these are the days we shall surely remember, the gauge we shall use to determine how good is whatever the next goodness we encounter.


thank you ric&sand, for a moment, for a morning when the universe was beautiful, and peace and love were more than a slogan optimistically signed at the end of a desperate love letter sent to someone far, far away.


—kalamu ya salaam 


photo by Alex Lear


haiku #58


black people believe

in god, & i believe in

black people, amen







haiku #93


may the life i lead

help others live, may my work

help beauty be born







haiku #96


our bodies teach us

take nourishment from the good

& shit out the rest







haiku #100


what we know limits

us, wisdom loves everything

not yet understood




—kalamu ya salaam




photo by Alex Lear


Sometimes when i hear

 thunder, i think of you 



your shuddering



shaking me


like embracing


summer thunder


          the lightening

          of your spent smile

          tenderly tattooed

          into the hollow

          of my neck


the feel of you

beneath the pulsing

rain of my rhythms —



          like waves



          than water


—kalamu ya salaam



Why I Don't Leave The Apartment

Until After Ten Some Mornings


i like to lay

in the curve

of your physique


you breathing

into the black

of my hair


the pressure

of thigh

to thigh


the beige softness

of your inner hand

slow moving



the tubular darkness

of my arousal



left arm reached

back massaging


the supple

flesh of your

lower back


for long minutes

quarter hours spent

with nothing


but skin

& pleasure

between us


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear


I Do Not Protest, I Resist



Like most writers, figuring out how to economically support myself is a major problem. I have worked as an editor, as an arts administrator, and as the co-owner of a public relations, marketing and advertising firm. I have freelanced on projects ranging from $10 record reviews to commissions from publishers. Economy necessity is a major influence on what I write.


I have written commercials whose messages I personally reject like a radio jingle for a Cajun meat-lovers pizza when I don't eat red meat. Of course, like many others, while I try to steer clear of  major contradictions, I have done my share of hack work.


Doing what one must in order to survive is one major way in which the status quo effectively shapes us. As a writer, money making options are surprisingly limited. We all know and face the wolf of survival. There is no news in that story.


But wolves run in packs, and survival is not the only predator. There is also our own desire to succeed—I remember reading about "the fickle bitch of success" and wondering why was success described as a "bitch." I have my own ideas, but that's a different discussion.


Success is a very complicated question. We can easily dismiss "selling out" our ideals for a dollar, but what we can't easily dismiss either in principle or in fact, is that we all want our work to reach the widest possible audience. On the contemporary literary scene, reaching a wide audience almost requires going through major publishers. Participation in the status quo makes strenuous demands of our art to conform to prevailing standards, one of which is that the only overtly political art worthy of the title art is "protest art".


Capitalism loves "protest art" because protest is the safety valve that dissipates opposition and can even be used to prove how liberal the system is. You know the line: "aren't you lucky to be living in a system where you have the right to protest?" Without denying the obvious and hard won political freedoms that exist in the USA, my position is that we must move from protest to resistance if we are to be effective in changing the status quo.


The real question is do we simply want "in" or do we want structural change? Most of us start off wanting in. It is natural to desire both acceptance by as well as success within the society into which one is born. But, in the immortal words of P-funk President George Clinton: "mind your wants because someone wants your mind." Those of us who by circumstance of birth are located on the outside of the status quo (whether based on ethnicity, gender or class), face an existential question which cuts to the heart: how will I define success and is acceptance by the status quo part of what I want in life?


While it is simple enough to answer in the abstract, in truth, i.e. the day to day living that we do, it's awfully lonely on the outside, psychologically taxing, and ultimately a very difficult position to maintain. Who wants to be marginalized as an artist and known to only a handful of people? Given the choice between having a book published by a mainstream publisher and not having one published by a mainstream publisher, most writers (regardless of identity) would choose to be published, especially when it seems that one is writing whatever it is one wants to write.


Without ever having to censor you formally—after a few years of rejection slips most writers will censor and change themselves—mainstream publishers shape contemporary literature by applying two criteria: 1. is it commercial, or 2. is it artistically important. Either will get you published at least once, although only the former will get you published twice, thrice and so forth.


Unless one is very, very clear about one's commitment to socially relevant writing, even the most revolutionary writer can become embittered after thirty or forty years of toiling in obscurity. As a forty-seven-year-old (this essay was written in 1994) African American writer, I know that if you do not publish with establishment publishers, be they commercial, academic or small independents, then you will have very little chance of achieving "success" as a writer.


I sat on an NEA panel considering audience develop applications. One grant listed Haki Madhubuti as one of the poets they wanted to present. I was the only person there who knew Madhubuti's work. I was expected to be conversant with the work of contemporary writers across the board. But how is it that a contemporary African American poet with over three million books in print who is also the head of Third World Press, one of this country's oldest Black publishing companies, was unknown to my colleagues? The answer is simple: Madhubuti is not published by the status quo. He started off self publishing, came of age in the 60s/70s Black Arts Movement and is one of the most widely read poets among African Americans but all of his books have been published by small, independent Black publishers.


Too often success is measured by acceptance within the status quo rather than by the quality of one's literary work. That is why we witness authors proclaimed as "major Black writers" when they have only published one or two books (albeit with major publishers) within a five year period. There is no surprise here. My assumption is that as long as the big house stands, "success" will continue to be measured by whether one gets to sleep in big house beds.


This brings me to the subject of protest art. The reason I do not believe in protest art is because I have no desire to bed down with the status quo nor do I have a desire to be legitimized by the status quo. Instead, my struggle is to change the status quo. For me protest art is not an option precisely because in reality protest art is simply a knock on the door of the big house.


There is a long tradition of African American protest art, especially in literature. As a genre, the slave narrative emerged as an integral part of the white led 19th century abolitionist movement. One major purpose of the slave narratives was to address Christian senses of charity and guilt—charity toward the less fortunate and guilt for the "sin" of supporting slavery.


But even at that time there was a major distinction to be made between abolitionist sentiments and charity work on the one hand, and, on the other hand, active participation in the armed struggle against slavery, which included participation in the illegal activity of the underground railroad and support of clandestine armed opposition. This meant fighting with the John Browns of that era or joining the throng of insurgents storming court rooms to "liberate" detained African Americans who had escaped from the south and were then ensnared in the web of the Northern criminal justice system which continued to recognize the "property rights" of Southern slave owners.


While the issues of today are no longer revolve around slavery, the distinction between protest and resistance, between charity and solidarity, remains the heart of the matter at hand. To protest is implicitly to accept the authority of the existing system and to appeal for a change of mind on the part of those in power and those who make up the body politic. To resist on the other hand is to fight against the system of authority while seeking to win over those who make up the body politic. "Winning over" is more than simply asking someone to change their mind, it is also convincing someone to change their way of living.


In the 50s and 60s a debate raged among Black intellectuals about "protest art". Ironically, one of the chief opponents of protest art was James Baldwin—"ironically" because over the years the bulk of Baldwin's essays, fiction and drama can be read as a "protest" against bigotry and inhumanity, as a plea to his fellow human beings to change their hearts, minds and lives.


When Baldwin started out he wanted to be "free" and to be accepted as the equal of any other human being. He did not want to be saddled with the "albatross" of racial (or sexual) themes as the defining factor of his work. Yet, as he lived, he changed and began to voluntarily take up these issues. I believe life changed him.


The reality is that we can not continue to live in America with the social deterioration, mean spiritedness, and crass materialism which is polluting our individual and collective lives. We are literally a nation of drug addicts (alcohol and tobacco chief among our drugs of choice, with over-the-counter pain killers and headache remedies running a close third). We are suffering horrendous rates of violence and disease. There is a widening economic gap at a time when many of our major urban centers teeter on the brink of implosion: aging physical infrastructures such as bridges, sewer systems, housing; corrupt political administration; and increasing ethnic conflict. Something has got to give.


My position is simple, we live in a period of transition. We can protest the current conditions and/or we can struggle to envision and create alternatives. We can plead for relief or we can work to inspire and incite our fellow citizens to resist. As artists, we have a choice to make. Indeed, there is always a choice to make.


Protest art always ends up being trendy precisely because the art necessarily struggles to be accepted by the very people the art should oppose. Ultimately, protest artists are, by definition, more interested in relating to the enemy than relating to the potential insurgents. This is why we have protest artists whose cutting edge work is rejected by neighborhood people.


Yes, neighborhood people have tastes which have been shaped by the consumer society. Yes, neighborhood people are parochial and not very deep intellectually. Yes, neighborhood people are unsophisticated when it comes to the arts. But the very purpose of resistance art is to confront and change every negative yes of submission into a powerful and positive no of resistance! Our job as committed artists is to raise consciousness by starting where our neighborhoods are and moving up from there.


Resistance art requires internalizing by an audience of the sufferers in order to be successful. The horrible truth is that every successful social struggle requires immense sacrifices, and the committed artist must also sacrifice—not simply suffer temporary poverty until one is discovered by the status quo, but sacrifice the potential wealth associated with a status quo career to work in solidarity with those who too often are born, live, struggle and die in anonymous poverty.


We think nothing of the millions of people in this society who live and die without ever achieving even one tenth of the material wealth that many of us take for granted. We think nothing of those who are literally maimed and deformed as a result of the military and economic war waged against peoples in far away lands in order to insure profit for American based billionaires. Somehow, while the vast majority of our fellow citizens are never recognized by name, we artists think it ignoble to live and die without being lauded in the New York Times.


But if we remember nothing else, we should remember this. Ultimately, the true "nobility of our humanity" will be judged not by the status quo but by the people of the future—the people who will look back on our age and wonder what in the world could we have had on our minds. Protest is not enough, we must resist.




—kalamu ya salaam