Sunday, December 14, 2014

"HANDS UP - DON'T SHOOT" Young Protestors Surrender and Fight Simultaneously




As- Salaamu 'Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu (peace be unto you and the Mercy of Allah and His blessings)

Since the attack upon protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, the "hands up - don't shoot" gesture has become a symbol of national protest and defiance, especially amongst young people. This has generated different opinions in communities of Americans of African descent. The reason for this is not that there isn't wide-spread righteous indignation at the ongoing injustice of police brutality and use of excessive force resulting in the deaths of innocent, unarmed people, because there is that prevailing spirit in communities, nation-wide. What has generated the difference of opinion is the "hands-up" gesture itself.








On the Friday following the events at Ferguson, after Friday worship service at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (Harlem, New York), where I am the Imam, a number of worshippers joined me in an act of solidarity.




Our community elder, a Black American man, expressed reservation about this gesture, since the hands-up gesture is after all, one of  universal  surrender. Then a couple of weeks later at a support rally for Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the fiery veteran activist Pam Africa , expressed a similar view, suggesting that elders are dis-empowering  our youth by encouraging hands up, rather than say, a clenched fist of defiance. 


THE MAIN MEN - TOMMY SMITH (left) and John Carlos (right)
at the 1968 Olympics
MADIBA NELSON MANDELA
NOBODY COMPLAINED WHEN HE DID IT
ANGELA DAVIS BACK IN THE DAY
BLACK POWER IN THE WHITE HOUSE
OH, THE OPPOSITION HAD A FIT !
RIGHT ON, FIRST LADY MICHELLE !
BOTH STYLES OF DEFIANCE AT FERGUSON RALLY

I thought that  their views were well stated and valuable.

My own view is that  there is validity to this view, and that is why artists are so important in struggle. They clarify truths through the medium of their art. Thus, artists must be connected to such grassroots struggles (just think of the revolutionary visual art of the past. I have grown up with it as exemplified in the 1960s and 70s art from various struggles, and I would include the graffiti protest art of the 90s) Nowadays images jump out at hyper speed into public consciousness, and that is inevitable because of the technology. It has advantages and disadvantages during this time when spontaneous movements can be born and leap to national or global proportions almost overnight, through social media.

However, self-expressive gestures and other expressions by groups are inevitable. Over the years I have watched some of them with curiosity, like the unique version of the peace sign made with the fingers turned around, that we see in mostly but not exclusively Black and Latino communities. Its called a backwards peace sign and means different things to different people, as is the case with many symbols. 


Some have, incorrectly I believe, identified this gesture as a gang symbol. But its not that to my knowledge, but rather a demonstration of what the late John Ogbu, a Nigerian-American educator described as "cultural inversion".

Here's a quote from his paper "Understanding Cultural Diversity", available on line:

"Cultural inversion is the tendency of involuntary minorities to regard certain forms of behaviors, events, symbols and meanings as inappropriate for them because they are characteristic of White Americans. At the same time the minorities value other forms of behavior,events, symbols and meanings, as appropriate for themselves". 


Dr. Ogbu goes on to state that this principle lies at the center of a collective, oppositional identity, which Dr. Abdul-Hakim Sherman Jackson (Islam and the BlackAmerican: The Third Resurrection) identifies as that of a "protest people" rooted in a "cosmic 'no'.". Ogbu's paper is  brilliant and informative, and perfectly expressive of a perspective of  people that in my opinion, helps clarify the issue.

Holding this view, I immediately recognized what sister Iman Drammeh Nur (see her blog "Violence and the Power of Logo" for a different though not dis-agreeing view of the phenomena") has accurately described as a "sign of mock surrender". 




The hands-up gesture, is in my opinion, an expression of cultural inversion within a protest context. I would place it in the same category as "die-ins" and other such expression currently occurring. These are culturally inverted expressions, gesture, speech, etc. being wielded by mostly young people, even as they take to the streets in defiance of our oppression and oppressors - demonstrating, marching, raging, "spitting" lyrics, shouting, chanting etc. Its all an organic, spontaneous expression, just as useful as other expressions  of freedom of speech and verbal jihad.


MEMBERS OF ST LOUIS RAMS SHOWING INTEGRITY
LEBRON AND TEAMMATES DOING THE SAME
MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF NY
ON THEIR WAY TO  CONDUCT GOVERNMENT BUSINESS
KEEP IT REAL
So yes, while I understand those who hold a different view, I nonetheless see the entire matter in the light I have expressed above. Being an elder now myself, I'm willing to cut the young people some slack and let them do their thing in opposition to injustice, even as I once did and still do (look at the way that I'm dressed in the above picture. A young person made the garment for me and presented it to me as a gift). In other words, I'm feeling them . 

After allowing them their spontaneous expression, its then up to us "elders"  to perhaps guide the next generation to even more potent and lasting expressions of long term and lasting ideological utility,  in the ongoing struggle of Black Americans and others for freedom, justice and equality, civil, constitutional, and human rights, and sovereignty. Perhaps this can and should be done through elder artists mentoring the younger generation in the art of political expression through art. And Allah knows best.

GO TO FACEBOOK PAGE, MOSQUE OF ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD



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