MLK and Black Identity – Dayvon Love on Reality Asserts Itself (2/2)

Baltimore activist Dayvon Love discusses King’s concept of the importance a developing a black identity that people can use to organize independent institutions

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And this is Reality Asserts Itself and the continuation of our interview with Dayvon Love, a young activist in Baltimore who is the director of policy and research for the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle here in the city, also ran for City Council in 2011, and is an outstanding debater and won all kinds of awards. And if you want to know which ones, watch part one. In fact, you really should watch part one anyway.

Thanks for joining us again, Dayvon.

DAYVON LOVE, DIRECTOR, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Appreciate it.

JAY: So we’re talking about–in part one we talked a little bit more about the influence of Martin Luther King’s ideas and life on you personally. Let’s talk a little bit more about today’s Baltimore, today’s America. And, you know, it’s a little bit of speculation on your part, but if Martin Luther King had lived and had seen everything that’s happened since those days and was here kind of working with you, what do you think he’d be saying? And what is the meaning of that–his life mean for you now as you organize?

LOVE: Well, the two works of his that kind of got my thinking on that question, the first is the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I think one of the things that began to happen after he was assassinated is that when people talk about racism, they talk about blatant, overt bigotry and not systemic institutional racism. And one of the things that he talks about in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, he talks a lot about white moderates, right, that I think today would be white liberals, that use causes that black folks face as ways to really promote an industry around, you know, the suffering of black folks without providing the necessary investments and the capacity-building and self-development of the communities most directly affected and hurt by issues of institutional racism. And so I would say that would be kind of one of the things he would say.

And then the other work, “Black Power Defined”, that he writes in 1967, where he talks about the importance of developing a notion of black identity that people can use to organize kind of independent institutions. And one of the things that he says in it, you know, he actually starts by comparing–you know, and it’s a classic thing of, you know, what does the word black mean in the dictionary, what does the word white mean in the dictionary.

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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word white. It’s always something pure, high, and clean.

But I want to get the language right tonight. I want to get the language so right that everybody here will cry out: Yes, I’m black! I’m proud of it! I’m black and beautiful!

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LOVE: And what he does is that he uses that to talk about the importance of emancipation being something that is guided by people who have a proper knowledge and understanding of themselves. You know.

And I think today what has happened, kind of the way that liberalism tends to work sometimes is sometimes it obscures the importance of people developing a sense of culture that can throw off the psychological effects of white supremacy and racism that I think sometimes can get ignored when people are just looking at the structures of oppression, not necessarily the internalized racism that it’s important to purge yourselves of, so we can have a healthy self-concept in order to lead the kind of movements that is necessary for a social transformation.

JAY: In talking about the significance of Martin Luther King’s achievements, the achievements of the civil rights movement and its weaknesses or failures, either whether they were historically limited ’cause that’s all that was possible at that time, or because of decisions that were made, Glen Ford and some others make an interesting point, I think, is that the civil rights movement, in breaking down some of the legislative reinforcement of essentially apartheid segregation, racism, its achievements were to open some doors. The weakness is, a lot of people that went through those new open doors were some of the best and the brightest, so it created a kind of a larger privileged black stratum in the country.

You made an interesting choice, to a large extent. You were–you know, won national debating awards. You could easily be somewhere like Harvard Law School and on your way into this elite. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. You’ve chosen to stay in the community as an organizer. But you’re–like, for example, if you got elected to City Council, most of your city council mates, colleagues there would be black, a black mayor. I mean, this is essentially a black-run city.

LOVE: Well, it depends on how you look at it.

JAY: Well, they’re black. You can’t say ’cause you don’t like what they do and who they represent they’re not black. They’re black. They are. So what do you make of that?

LOVE: Well let me address that.

JAY: Yeah, address it.

LOVE: Yeah. I think, well, a few things, and starting kind of with where I left off with King and “Black Power Defined”. You know, one of the things that happened is that many of the people that were–and these are many of my elders that have said this. This isn’t kind of an original thought. But many of the people that got those opportunities after the civil rights movement were folks that were so wedded to the idea of white superiority that they wanted to be in close proximity to white folks, because we had such a low self-concept of ourselves that we moved out of the really strong neighborhoods that we had to move into white neighborhoods so that we felt better about ourselves.

And I think that’s a part of the problem is that black–and a lot of people remarked during Jim Crow segregation that one of the benefits of segregation for black folks was that many of the prominent black folks lived in the communities where, you know, the working-class people were, and so there was much more interaction. People could walk outside and see, you know, Parren Mitchell, you know, who lived amongst the community, who was a U.S. congressperson. You know, these are things that don’t happen anymore.

And so I think what you find is is that once you’ve eviscerated the communal base that acts as kind of the framework of power for those folks that, you know, are representing us in Congress and so forth, once you eviscerate that community, then you have a lot of black elected officials that are connected to white power and white money.

JAY: You go to Africa, you will find the same people in countries that are entirely black, and they’re not trying to live in white neighborhoods. They’re just capitalists and they’re making money. And, you know, there used to be this phrase you are what you eat. Well, I think you are how you make your money. You are how you pay for your food, not so much what you eat of it.

LOVE: Yeah. Well, I mean, I would say IMF and WTO. I mean, that’s, you know, the structural adjustment loans that, again, are largely controlled by the West, you know, by, you know–.

JAY: And with some black elites–

LOVE: Who comply. Who comply.

JAY: –loving every minute of it, ’cause they’re bathing in money. I mean, if you took the entire–if you could recover the amount of money that black elites have stored in Switzerland and various offshore banks as they slice off pieces of the IMF and World Bank loans and various other kind of NGO stuff and shove in their pockets, and their pockets are sitting in bank accounts–in collusion with big Western banks, no doubt, total collusion–. But this isn’t just about, you know, self-identifying I want to be rich white. I mean, this is also just about I can make a lot of money here and I want to be rich and powerful.

So let’s have a fight about that.

LOVE: Yeah, let’s do that. I’m with it.

JAY: So Dayvon will come back and we will continue this series of Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

End

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