From the Perspective of 12 Years a Slave, Three Prominent African American Men
On 20 February 2016, one day before we would mourn the assassination of Brother Malcolm some fifty-one years ago, Stillwater Penitentiary, in honor of Black History Month, welcomed three of Minnesota's most prominent African American leaders. Bobby Champion Keith Ellison and Spike Moss took valuable time out of their busy schedules and spoke on the topic of how they became who they are today. An appropriate topic considering the month, and the current state of affairs Black men find themselves in today.
I think before I provide my opinion of each speech from the men of honor, I should include the fact per our overseers, the benevolent Department of Corrections, we were shown Twelve Years a Slave, and also Django. Of course I couldn't watch Django, but Twelve Years a Slave, I watched. After the movie I wondered if the kernel of truth in the movie was supposed to be: all white men aren't liars, or just wait on the white man because he's coming to save you. I think the hardest pill to swallow was watching a movie from within a failed system, and being subliminally told that a slave's belief in a system that makes the slave a slave will save him.
Boby Champion, a Minnesota Democratic State Senator and fabulous orator, spoke about the obstacles he faced in graduating from Macalester College. Senator Champion's speech took us on a journey of perseverance and fatherhood. He based his success on staying out of trouble, and singing gospel in his group he established. It was Senator Champion's belief that serving the community completed the healing circle. I thought that was noble, and believed he was sincere in his belief that he served his community through assistance in our incarceration. Yet, I felt as I sat there he didn't talk about criminal justice, and avoided what I had on my mind, the death of unarmed Black men.
Next to hit the floor was the University of Minnesota graduate, Keith Ellison, Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives, fresh off his endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders. U.S. House Rep. Ellison, with little talk of his life, stayed on topic with a Zinn-esque perspective on Black History. I can only speculate on the reason he didn't talk about his life. Perhaps if he had spoken on his profession as a defense attorney, in turn the defense and assistance in lengthy prison sentences for those in the gymnasium would have become the topic of conversation. Although House Rep. Ellison was not as energetic as Minnesota Senator Champion, his topic fit with the theme; however, I still wanted someone to speak about current relevant issues.
Finally, Spike Moss took the stage and he didn't disappoint. Within his Civil Rights history lesson he baptized the crowd in cultural appreciation, and pointed to the lack of cultural markers as one cause for black men losing their minds. At some point his message shifted form uplifting to victim-blaming Black Lives Matter, and African men for being complicit in the death of the black community.
I sat in my chair and tried to figure out where Moss had gone wrong. How did an event about the ascension of Black men, successful men, to relative success, turn into a selective history lesson on the Black community destruction being the sole responsibility of those who have destroyed? The connection between drugs and guns is forgotten. I didn't understand. It's true that Black men sold drugs, shot guns and murdered innocent people in the Black community. This is equivalent to white folks paying Black mercenaries to destroy the community in which Black mercenaries live; when the Panthers were imprisoned and murdered, the drug dealer was given the community under police protection. If Spike Moss is willing to accept the fact drugs were placed in our community, then why is he not willing to accept that guns were too?
Black people don't know a Black drug dealer who own cargo ships, and Black people don't know Black gunsmiths or a Black gun store owner. Moreover it's through the lens of these facts a capacity to destroy a city is severely minimized. The Uzi machine gun comes from Israel, yet in the 1990s it was the weapon of choice. How does it get to Los Angeles? The FBI and CIA are involved.
In defense of Spike Moss, because most, if not all of those persons in prison think he is a snitch for actively turning dealers and gang members in. It is only prison gossip and I have not verified it for the record, but in defense, not excuse of his "Negro of two minds position," I believe he's scared of the white man, and the unconscious mercenary Negro. I think his fear is justified. I am in prison with them, and from far off they resemble that thug that Jesse Jackson said "he was scared might run up behind him." But what must be understood, even a domesticated dog will bite his owner in the right conditions. Freud once said: "That which you fear, and are afraid of is that what you truly desire." In the case of Spike Moss, his double conscious mind actually inversed and he hates the thing he helped create; the incarcerated youth.
I am neither for Black Lives Matter, nor am I for Mr. Spike Moss, but believe they both represent positive activism, and have the betterment of Black people in mind, Therefore, I say "seize the time."
After the show I stopped House Rep. Keith Ellison and asked some of those relevant questions I thought the voiceless had a right to ask:
"Why did Hennipin County District Attorney Mike Freeman only charge the white boy who shot at the protesters with a single offense that at the end of the day will get dropped down to a misdemeanor offense? Because if that was some brothers, who done the same crime they'd be charged with a drive-by shooting, and reckless firing of a firearm in public place. They'd be charged not only with the victims that were shot, but with every potential victim, and every person in the area would have aiding and abetting charge. I know people right now in the gymnasium that Freeman charged and got a conviction with suspect evidence, and in the white boy's case Freeman gots the gun, witnesses, and him on Youtube."
I also told him: "It seems to me and a few of the brothers here that ever since Blacks started migrating from the south to northern cities, whites have saw fit to enact legislation, specifically to target our behavior and gave more time."
After listening to three of the most prominent African American men in Minnesota, it was hard not to feel like I was Platt Epps in Twelve Years a Slave. With a voiceover Malcolm X narrates from a speech he performed some fifty-one years prior, called "Message to the Grassroots." As my voice, Malcolm attempts to argue that African American men should not be dependent on the white man:
"And if someone comes to you right now and says, 'Let's separate,' you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. 'What you mean, separate? From America? This good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?' I mean, this is what you say. 'I ain’t left nothing in Africa,' that’s what you say. Why, you left your mind in Africa." (Malcolm X's speech "Message to the Grassroots," December 1963)