Revolution #234, May 29, 2011
Question and Answer Session:
Cornel West and Carl Dix in Dialogue at UCLA
We wrote last week about the extraordinary event at UCLA on April 29, a dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix on the theme "In the Age of Obama… Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: What Future for Our Youth?" There was a sense if you were there that something very special was taking place—a liberating atmosphere that night which the audience could feel. They were being introduced to a new, radical and refreshing mix of ideas and ways to go at bringing a better world into being.
After the presentations there was a question and answer session. The audience had come with a sense of urgency about the future for our youth, and you could tell they were stimulated, challenged and inspired by what they heard. The questions they posed covered a range of issues.
Here we want to focus on a couple of important questions raised, and the responses from the speakers.
"Do you 'blatantly' support the freedom to marry for gays and lesbians, your brothers and sisters?"
This question was raised by a young man who began by explaining that he sleeps in his SUV because he doesn't believe in paying rent! His second question was, "Do you think it's fair when people in the gay community compare our struggle for equal rights with that of the Black folks?" [applause]
Both speakers responded to these questions with clarity and vision. Dr. West spoke first: "For myself, I certainly support the right of the gay brothers and lesbian sisters to come together. I believe mature love ought to take a number of different forms. If they choose to be married that's fine, but the important thing is I just hope they find love; that's the bottom line to me."
"Is it fair to compare the gay community's struggle for equal rights with that of Black people?"
Then West responded to the second question: "I think that every movement for freedom has so much to learn from the struggle of Black people for freedom. [applause] So much to learn. Because when you have experienced the depths of not just the structures of un-freedom, but when you've been taught to hate yourself and your body, and your hair texture and your skin color and your lips and your hips. [applause] You see what I mean? We're talking about something that is somatic. It's at the level of body and it's sonic, at the level of sound. We don't even like the sound of your name. You see, that's white supremacy at a deep level."
West then asked: "Now how is it that these people dealt with all of that and still produced a Louie Armstrong? [applause] How could they do all of that and produce the mothers and fathers who still bequeathed love to their children in the face of that kind of terrorism and hatred and so forth? Oh, the world has a lot to learn from Negroes; a whole lot to learn. [applause] So our gay brothers and lesbian sisters can learn from it."
Then West cautioned: "But we don't want to engage in what Albert Camus called the algebra of blood. You don't want to say, well my oppression is more than your oppression and your oppression is less than mine. It's distinctive and you try to deal with what is distinctive about it and learn from one another. I think Black brothers and sisters can learn something from gay brothers and lesbian sisters. When I speak at various gatherings of gay brothers and lesbian sisters, they tell me they got to deal with the wholesale rejection of their mothers and their fathers. See, I never had to deal with that. Mom and Dad never rejected me at that level. I don't know what that's like."
Carl Dix responded after West: "On the first part—gay people got the right to marry…to cut some folks off of that is just straight-up wrong."
Dix explained, as far as the analogy to the Black struggle, that he came from the perspective of the need to emancipate all of humanity. "In going at it that way, we have to see the linkages between all of the struggles against injustice, all of the struggles to uproot oppression. And we have to see taking the first big step in that in terms of making revolution and getting this system off the face of the earth." But he said there will also be the need "to continue to uproot oppression because everybody with backward thinking ain't gonna go away after the revolution. It's still gonna be out there and we gotta actually engage that and bring people up forward off of that."
Dix also picked up on West's point about the need to see the "particularity" of different struggles, by drawing on his own experience: "Look, I had some arguments with my parents over the stuff that I did.... And basically, it was about being a revolutionary. That was the thing they didn't like. Up to then they was actually pretty cool with me…. You know I got drafted into the army, I refused to go to Vietnam and they backed me up in that. They said that was the right thing to do and they agreed with that. [applause] That was important.
"But then when I came out of Leavenworth [prison] and said I was gonna be a revolutionary, my mother was like, 'Couldn't you get in trouble for doing that?' [laughter] And my father was like, 'I thought you was gonna go back to college and finish getting that degree….' But it wasn't a question of wholesale rejection 'cause we were able to struggle and get into that and at different points he could see what I was standing for. And then we had the same name, because I was a junior and every now and then I'd get in the papers and people would call him up and say, 'why did you say that?' And then he would play like it was him. [laughter] And he'd just roll with it. 'Well, I said that because it's true. Do you like what this system is doing?' [laughter] So we came together on that."
The last question of the night came from a high school student— "I decided it is time for us to let the youth speak. You been picking a lot of older people so I decided youth need a voice." (West responds, "There you go, there you go, there you go! That's it, that's it, that's it!") The mic didn't work so West went into the audience and held up his lapel mic while the youth spoke into it! "You been talking a lot about revolution. Talking is good to inform people, and all that… I want to know when and what is the next step to move toward transformative resistance." [applause]
Dix responded by describing the relationship between standing up to attacks and bringing forward the vision of the future and making that vision real. "When some folks associated with the movement for revolution started going out and patrolling the cops, on one level they were reacting, going out to where the cops are jacking people up, coming up there and saying, we're here to make sure you don't violate people's rights."
Dix said the patrols were also doing it as part of spreading that things don't have to be this way, that through revolution we could bring a whole different world into being. And he said they also spread points of discipline—how people should be acting—not just how they should be acting now, but acting in a way that would be in line with a whole different society where people didn't "dog" each other just because they might be from different countries. And they tell men, "don't dog women." [applause] They tell them things like that in these patrols.
Dix said they are being reactive and transformative and they are making that transformative vision real. He said a lot of young brothers in the projects and places like that "wouldn't talk to us" because they thought "y'all's revolution seems to be just talk. You got a newspaper, what is that gonna do?" But Dix said, "When they see people with that newspaper are also out there patrolling the cops, it starts to hit them that this is real now. This is hittin' right where I live because these cops are on me 24/7."
And some of the parents are getting with this because they're really concerned about what's being done to their kids but didn't know what they could do about it. They're watching out as they do their patrol. They're bringing food out to the patrollers. "So it's a way in which people begin to get together…it combines the reactive and the transformative and it makes the revolution real." [applause]
The youth was wearing a Cal (UC Berkeley) hat. West saw it and said, "I like that hat, because my brother went to Cal." Immediately you could hear boos from some of the UCLA students! West said, "I'm at UCLA but I'm from Sacramento and I like the East Bay [across the bay from San Francisco]. That's me." He paused, "But L.A.'s nice, don't get me wrong. But let's just keep it real!"
West emphasized the impact that individuals can make, using this youth—and his hat!—as an example. "People say 'there goes that brother wearing that Cal hat, who's got revolutionary spirit inside of him so everywhere he goes he has that revolutionary light that shines. That he cuts against the grain. He don't put up with hatred, bigotry. He don't put up with condescension and arrogance. He don't put up with no wealth, privilege that justifies putting poor and working people down.'"
West said he's not gay or lesbian but he shows up at the anti-homophobic thing because he stands for justice. He can't stand patriarchal violence—"No. I don't allow the sisters to be put down in this way. I stand for justice." That brother who wears that Cal hat, "he's got revolutionary witness."
Then West pointed to Carl Dix: "We see this brother. You say, 'Lord, I may not agree with everything he say 'cause he talking about revolution a whole lot and kinda scares me, you know.'" West said revolution is scareful, 'cause you gotta be ready to die. But the important thing is the transformative resistance begins to create a crescendo…with a kind of coming together taking place, where "we can have that kind of Egyptian-like moment, where the powers that be begin to really shake in their boots. Now, that's a hell of a moment. We got a long way to go but we don't know how long and we just don't know. Things are collapsing. But on the other hand the right wing is very powerful. And the fascist and crypto-fascist and reactionary fellow citizens, they organize because they got big money behind them. These pseudo-populist movements, the tea party folk and others, they got big money behind them. And yet at the same time we got brothers like yourself, wearing that Cal hat who rather throw down and be revolutionary at the best level, the best way. That's a sign of hope. That's a great sign of hope. I know it's getting late. Thank you all so much. Thank you all so very much." [Cheers, whistles and prolonged applause]
The audience didn't leave right away, surrounding the two speakers, shaking hands, taking pictures, asking them more questions. People were inspired and wanting more.
Moderators Darnell Hunt, Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies (far left), and Associate Vice Provost Charles Alexander (far right) with Cornel West and Carl Dix.
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