Tag Archives: racism

Let the Poets Speak – Harry Targ

This post is taken from Harry Targ‘s blog Diary of a Heartland Radical, and more specifically his recent post “Let the Poets Speak.” I first met Targ, a Purdue professor, at his on-campus screening of the documentary, Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound.  Although I don’t know him very well, his work is truly inspirational, and I strongly encourage you to check out his blog and his on-campus events!

In “Let the Poets Speak” Targ uses the poetry of Woody Guthrie, Carl Sandburg, Meridel Le Sueur, and Langston Hughes – poets who “described so well the nature of the empire in which we live and the need for resistance against it.”  Their words provide both wisdom and hope for political change.


Harry Targ

Oil Spills as the Gulf of Mexico is Destroyed
-Judge with BP Stock Rules Against Government Regulation
-Several States Contemplate Arizona-Like Laws to Install Police Repression Against People of Color
-Millionaire Politicians Vote to Cut Off Benefits to the Jobless
-Media Ignores Massive Detroit Mobilization Against Poverty and War
-Media Continues to Advertise “Tea-Party” and Sarah Palin Without Ever Addressing Capitalism

(fantasy headlines by the author, morning June 26)

Meridel Le Sueur, the socialist/feminist poet, novelist, and chronicler of the Great Depression and beyond wrote with power about twentieth century America in a way that could have been written this week.

None of my sons or grandsons took up guns against you.

And all the time the predators were poisoning the humus, polluting
the water, the hooves of empire passing over us all. White
hunters were aiming down the gunsights; villages wrecked,
mine and yours. Defoliated trees, gnawed earth, blasted embryos.

We also live in a captive country, in the belly of the shark.
The horrible faces of our predators, gloating, leering,
the bloody Ford and Rockefeller and Kissinger presiding over
the violation of Asia (Meridel Le Sueur)

Langston Hughes, African American poet, captured United States history powerfully in the words of class and race

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
(Langston Hughes)

And balladeer Woody Guthrie wrote verses, often unsung, for the unofficial American anthem, “This Land is Your Land?”

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me? (Woody Guthrie)

Carl Sandburg, poet, biographer of Abraham Lincoln, and children’s author, reminded us of who has made history and ironically created the exploitation of the producing class.

I am the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me
and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons
and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing.
Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out
and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes
me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

Poets usually are driven by a vision of a better world. For Langston Hughes:

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

And for Woody Guthrie:

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

And finally poets offer the hope of resistance and change:

How can we touch each other, my sisters?
How can we hear each other over the criminal space?
How can we touch each other over the agony of bloody roses?
I always feel you near, your sorrow like a wind in the
great legend of your resistance, your strong and delicate strength.

It was the bumble bee and the butterfly who survived, not the dinosaur.
(Meridel Le Sueur)

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me. (Woody Guthrie)

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to
remember. Then–I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the
lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year,
who played me for a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the
world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his
voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then. (Carl Sandburg)

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again! (Langston Hughes)

Selections from the following poems:

Meridel Le Sueur, “Doan Ket,” http://workingwomen.wikispaces.com/lesueur

Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/83

Woody Guthrie, “This Land is Your Land?”

Carl Sandburg, “I Am the People, the Mob,”


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NPR – Ban on Race-Based Team Names

This article was written by Brian Bull for NPR.  Listen/read the story here.

School team nicknames like the Chieftains and Braves may soon be a thing of the past in Wisconsin, where a new law allows the state to ban race-based mascots and logos. If a complaint is upheld, school districts face fines of up to $1,000 a day.  A provision in the law says schools with mascots specifically named after a federally recognized tribe could keep it, if they have that tribe’s permission.

This is a Jay Rosenstein documentary on the use of native images as mascots in American sports. "In Whose Honor?" examines the issues of racism, stereotypes, and the powerful effects of mass-media imagery. It captures the passion and resolve articulated by both sides of this contemporary controversy, and also shows the extent to which one community, that of Champaign, Illinois, will go to defend and justify its mascot. Click to watch a short clip.

It’s been 42 years since the National Congress of American Indians challenged the use of Native American mascots. Today, an estimated 900 high schools and colleges still use Native American names and images for sports teams. And of course, there are the professional teams — the Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins, among others.

For decades, Native American civil rights groups have called on these teams to change their names. They’ve had little success. But Dave Czesniuk, of the Boston-based group Sport in Society, thinks the Wisconsin law may turn out to be a game-changer.

“I think what’s going on in Wisconsin is exciting, and it’s a true sign of real change,” he says. “You know, social responsibility is on the rise, even in the ranks of professional sports and the corporate level.”

Czesniuk says attitudes have changed since the 1970s, when an estimated 3,000 schools and colleges had Indian mascots. He says the key to making the case is teaching team officials and fans how they perpetuate stereotypes and hurt some Native Americans.

Check out the video clip from the documentary, In Whose Honor? above to learn a little more about this debate.

These links are from the documentary’s website:

Links to other mascot resources:

Links to other American Indian video resources:

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A Classroom Divided

“Oh Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

After Martin Luther King Jr.’s death April 4, 1968, elementary school teacher Jane Elliot created an exercise for her students to learn discrimination.  With no formal training in psychology, she created the famous “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise, first done with grade school children in the 1960s, and which later became the basis for her career in diversity training and critical pedagogy.

In the all-white, all-Christian town of Riceville, Iowa, Elliot created an exercise in which students would discriminate against other students based on eye color.  The “blue eye/brown eye” exercise, as shown in the video, pitted blue-eyed children against brown-eyed children.

Elliot’s experiences with the exercises were turned into a documentary and book, The Eye of the Storm.  14 years later the children participating in the experiment watch the original video.  What’s most interesting is how, although the children spent less than a week being discriminated against, how traumatized and positively changed they were due to this experience.

The video, a segment of PBS Frontline, also includes a diversity training session with adults(who work at a prison) using the same principles.

To learn more about Jane Elliot and her “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise, you can check out her website here, or her Wikipedia page here.


From Wikipedia:

Elliott was invited to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.  At the commercial break, audience reaction to her was instant as hundreds of calls came into the show’s switchboard, most of the reaction was negative.) The most often-quoted letter states “How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children.”

The exercise and the publicity that it was getting did not make her popular with her neighbors. When Elliott walked into the teacher’s lounge the day after being on the Johnny Carson show, several teachers walked out. Her children were taunted and/or assaulted by other children. Her family was shunned, forcing her father into bankruptcy as her parents’ store was boycotted. All of this convinced Elliott of the need for her exercise. She felt that it would be wrong to do nothing and the people’s lack of understanding and fear of change allows racism to exist and grow.

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Do I Look Illegal?

I haven’t posted anything yet about the new immigration bill because I’m still at a loss for words.  I’ve got some words for Arizona now.

May 1 to May 8 Facebook members can participate by posting the question “Do I look illegal?” as their status to protest Arizona’s new immigration bill.  The law requires the police “when practicable” to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization.  It also allows the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents and allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.  And most importantly, the law sanctions racial profiling.  When Governor Jan Brewer was asked what an illegal immigrant looked like, she replied, “I don’t know.” (See video below)

The Facebook event encourages participants to, “wear shirts, buttons or hold signs saying, “Do I look ‘illegal’? and take pictures to send to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona.”

Her mailing address is:
Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

I know what I’m going to be doing next week.

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“Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black” – Tim Wise

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure – the ones who are driving the action – we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose…   Read the rest here.

Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the U.S. Wise has spoken in 48 states, on over 400 college campuses, and to community groups around the nation. Wise has provided anti-racism training to teachers nationwide, and has trained physicians and medical industry professionals on how to combat racial inequities in health care. His latest book is called Between Barack and a Hard Place.


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NPR story – A ‘Recovering Skinhead’ On Leaving Hatred Behind

April 7, 2010 – As a teenager, Frank Meeink was one of the most well-known skinhead gang members in the country. He had his own public access talk show, called The Reich, he appeared on Nightline and other media outlets as a spokesman for neo-Nazi topics, and he regularly recruited members of his South Philadelphia neighborhood to join his skinhead gang.

This is the most inspiring story I’ve heard in a while.  If you have about 20 minutes you should totally listen to the interview – it made me teary-eyed.

Click on the book cover to take you to the NPR story

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When Students Ignited A Change In Racial Politics – NPR

This week NPR had a really great segment on SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Due to history classes not covering anything controversial and our parents not teaching us, our generation has no historical memory about the battles waged for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, etc. – and, in the words of Ruth Rosen, “the revolution is far from over.”

Listen to the story here.

Jim Bourdier/AP Lawrence Guyot, an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, pictured in 1963. He had removed his shirt to show newsmen where he said he was beaten by police. Guyot had been arrested for participating in a civil rights demonstration in the Greenwood, Miss., area.


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