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Emancipatory Journalism

Why I Wrote “THE INVISIBLE SHADOW AND THE HIGH-TOP FADE: The Mortal Cells of America’s Political Prisoners, Freedom’s Untouchables,” A Book-Length Essay

Shadow/Fade is a book-length essay about the 2022 meaning of our aging political prisoners. It’s a personal, polemical work with literary pretensions in the tradition of James Baldwin, Kevin Powell and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A first-person act of remembering on 2021 Memorial Day seemed appropriate as both the first George Floyd anniversary and the Tulsa massacre commemoration approached. The book is a meditation on the consequences of anti-imperialist actions undertaken by those young and burnt of skin who deliberately chose to be the freest people possible. Shadow/Fade explores the idea that because of those consequences, one group is left behind bars while the second, loved ones frozen in wait, visit and organize repeatedly until their particular “Free (fill-in-name)” movement, successful or not, becomes a memorial for the aged. Both groups get to silently watch how, consciously or not, too many African-Americans have relinquished control over developing their own socio-political ideas the way Coates argues in Between The World and Me that they don’t have control of their own bodies.

I thought it was high time that ideas surrounding the Black Radical Tradition–now the subjects of at least 100 scholarly and coffee-table books now, with more coming–get an attempted (Black nationalist) literary treatment. This topic seemed to fit the bill well. And since the American History public school classroom increasingly pops up in my January 2022 Google News feed as the current political-social battleground in the nation’s domestic political arena, I decided now was the time to contribute by lobbing my kind of journo-literary grenade into the publicly-proud white-nationalist Zeitgeist. I attempt to analyze and quote the pundit-forbidden and politically almost-forgotten, many of whom don’t have the very-well-oiled and -connected, PR-savvy, rapid-response machine of Mumia, Inc. As a chronic book reviewer, I also thought it important to remember now-obsolete, pre-World Wide Web reference books about these prisoners because of the committed activists who lovingly and unselfishly crafted and published them. These compilers seemed as historically invisible as the inmates themselves. So two of these reference books became the essay’s historical talismans.

By the way, Shadow/Fade marks the first time I’m publicly recalling my staff days at the National NAACP under Ben Chavis’ stormy mid-1990s tenure. Was that pre-“Me Too” debacle the last gasp of Boomer Radical activists trying to go suit-and-tie legit–to force elite liberal social-change structures to embrace a Black Power agenda? Perhaps. Back then, the leader of the National NAACP was a very prominent, important, well-known Movement newsmaker and agenda-setter to both Black communities and the white liberal elite alike. That now-established Con Funk Shun junction, partly defined by “national” Black (male-only!) leaders such as Louis Farrakhan, Marc Morial, Jesse Jackson Sr., Benjamin Hooks, Chavis and Kweisi Mfume, is definitely history now, that Movement hairline receding long ago. Today, the NAACP is just another national nonprofit, complete with revolving-door, ideologically well-behaved presidents/CEOs among the new X or Y gen, neo-Black-liberal crowd.

This was a weird project because I normally write with immediate publication in mind. With no future path projected, this one was designed for indefinite inbox rotation because it only demanded an unconditional release from my brain’s recesses. When I expunged it and it began to exist on its own, my goal was to hide it until I got an offer for bound hard-type. But I’m letting it go now because I got tired of holding onto it while updating it with more PP death-dates. I last updated this work yesterday (Monday, January 31). Time to load, lock, point, abandon and exhale.

I always wanted to know what it was like to write one of these kinds of books. It’s both harder and easier than I thought, but I found that the key is to hit the themes very well. Success might have eluded me here but not for the lack of a serious attempt. It’s an interesting form because you have to be narcissistic enough to believe your particular prism is interesting enough to wrap a sustained, public work of literature around. Sadly, I passed that test with flying red-black-and-green colors! 😉

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