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Roots of the n-word

While N-word dialogue has slackened following Saline County Commissioner Gile's use of it recently, the word still has great power. So, let's look inward at the N-word.

To reach a much deeper path to understanding, simply go to Ad Astra books, order Wendell Berry's book "The Hidden Wound," and read it. As Berry himself notes, it will be work. But you will be far better for it. In the interim, I offer my poor, feeble glimpse (inspired by Mr. Berry) into our "hidden wound."

Racism is not a racial problem. It is a cultural problem. An economic problem. An environmental problem. And most of all, a human problem.

The root of our "racism" is not racism. Rather, it is our desire to be superior to our condition. We whites brought Africans here for one reason: to exploit and dominate this New Earth. We discovered early on that living upon this sacred ground requires work. Hard work. Back-breaking work, at times.

Early on, we created a society which values 'beautiful people' who need not work. Picture old-time Plantation owners and Southern Belles. Fast forward to today. Whether buying vacation timeshares in order to make ourselves into leisure kings and queens once a year, or buying homes and cars we clearly cannot afford--or simply dreaming of it--we conjure a life vision devoid of drudgery. This remains the American Dream.

The back-side Janus-face of our forward-looking, hoped-for prosperity, however, is cast in a shadow of darkness. In our pride, we assigned hard work (deemed demeaning) to black Africans. We could only bring them here against their will, utilizing extreme force, by convincing ourselves they were inferior. By circular logic, they were inferior because they did the work--and they did the work because they were inferior. Thus did we become prisoners of our self-created fiction.

Separated from hard work and clear insight, we lost our connection to the land itself--a connection sustained by slaves we regarded as chattel. (Biblically, women were referred to as chattel. That status surfaces innumerably in tragedies such as the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse, death toll now nearing one thousand, where our "cheap, chic" clothes from Wal-mart and the Gap are made.)

Our lost earth-connections have caused us to create the term "nigger." A nigger was someone of inferior status, yet knowledgeable in the ways of the earthy world. Nigger street sense, however, escaped the effete sensibilities of masters in ivory towers. And it still creates a dynamic bond with fellow niggers, who get what the white mastuh has no clue about.

Thus a book well-read by the rebellious scholars of my generation was "The Student As Nigger." In an academic world controlled by administrative masters of various stripes, the metaphor was contagious and powerful. As a master text of 60's student movements, it challenged us to escape--or embrace--our niggerhood. We learned a lot about the world's realities in the process.

It approaches blasphemy to imply that those of us in the student movement encountered anything like the oppression visited upon our black brothers and sisters. But our awareness of nigger-ism, a sense of brotherhood with those "under the yoke," remains vital to this day. As the priorities of the powerful take ever-greater precedence over everyday citizens, we are now paying, and have perhaps always paid the price.

As blindingly stupid as it was for whites to enslave the black man, it took equal stupidity to fail the lessons of the indigenous about living in, on, and with this land. Our very structures, aimed at freedom, instead consigned us to our own prison. Elevating an assortment of minorities into a racially equitable distribution of college degrees and professional salaries has not elevated our understanding of the problem.

We could have kept our connection to the very ground we walk on.

But we did not.

Slavery came too easy, and we have been trying to shed its yoke ever since. If we completely accepted the black race's humanity, we would not accommodate an alien people--we would receive into ourselves a poignantly missing half of our own experience, vital and finally indispensable. We have so far denied that, at great cost to ourselves and everyone.

We are not able to 'set free' our red and black sisters and brothers, let alone any other fellow-creatures of whatever size, shape, or hue. Until we recognize in them their distinctive full strength and grace, we will not set anyone free--least of all ourselves.

Yes, the n-word holds power over us--but only because we have let it.

Begin Again: 150 Poets Reading Tour

WICHITA, Kan. - Beginning the first week in November, Kansas poets and those with ties to Kansas will begin a twenty-city reading tour to commemorate the publication of Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, published by Woodley Press.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Poet Laureate of Kansas, organized the book publication and the reading tour, and will attend several readings. This project, which celebrates the Kansas Sesquicentennial, started in April, National Poetry Month, with poets submitting work that related to Kansas.

Information about the twenty-city reading tour is available on the poet laureate web site. Two reading events, one at Eighth Day Books and one at Watermark Bookstore and Café, will kick off the tour in Wichita. A reading in Manhattan is set for Nov. 4, and one in Lawrence will take place on Nov. 6.

Bluegrass Is Coming

A moving moment that year came when McCutcheon, Tom Chapin, and others, with Linda Tilton signing, led the crowd in the grandstand in a rousing rendition of, "The Great Storm Is Over." Everyone in the crowd that night needed a chance to come together, without the bitterness of politics and hate, and sing as one voice.

WICHITA, Kan. - It's in the air along about the middle of August. Even though we're still in the heat of summer, and this particular summer has been brutally hot, an undercurrent signals sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Walnut Valley Festival, which has taken place in Winfield, thirty-five miles south of Wichita, on the third weekend in September for the past thirty-nine years. This coming Sept. 14-18, forty years of bluegrass will once again fill the Winfield air and double the population of the town for one weekend.

To the Winfield natives and those of us who have attended for most of those years, the Festival is just known as "Bluegrass," as in, "Are you going to Bluegrass this year?" Or people will ask, "Will I see you at Winfield this year?" We know what they mean and, yes, I will be there.

The Kansas Free Press is honored to occasionally publish illustrations created by our friend, Angelo Lopez, a regular contributor to KFP's sister publication, Everyday Citizen. Turn this page if you'd like to read Angelo's very interesting essay about his inspiration for drawing this cartoon.

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - I'm so glad this wild winter storm didn't come in over the weekend, as I was able to drive to the Salina Art Center on Sunday and take in Stephen Vitiello's exhibition, "Tall Grasses."

Stephen Vitiello is a composer, electronic musician, and "soundscape" artist. He is known for recording the sounds of a particular place and using those sounds in his compositions. One of his best known works is "The World Trade Center Recordings," made in 1999. Two years before the destruction of the World Trade Center, he recorded the sound of wind around the 91st story, with city traffic in the background. He has also used the sounds of bells, firecrackers, planes, insects, and barking dogs in other works.

For his Salina installation, Vitiello recorded sounds on a ranch west of Salina. Being a fan of the prairie, I was eager to hear what an artist of Vitiello's stature had done with Kansas's signature landscape.

symphony-children.jpgTOPEKA, Kan. - When Oliver Cromwell finally defeated Charles I of England in 1649, Cromwell ushered in a Puritan state. All theaters of the realm were closed, and Cromwell banned any gaming, card playing, or sports because he viewed them as immoral and a distraction from the important task of contemplating God. The people were to focus on leading a pure life to make their way to heaven.

The people quickly discovered just how bland, boring and unsatisfying a life without the arts were, and at the end of Cromwell's rule, the public was more than ready to restore the Stuart Monarchy and enjoy the theater again.

In the spirit of Oliver Cromwell, Governor Brownback has decided the arts are expendable in a time of state budget concerns. I can't help but wonder if behind this cost savings measure there isn't another motive. After all, the arts are infamous for promoting randy and immoral lifestyles as well as indoctrinating the public with dangerous liberal ideas therefore, how convenient to call for cutting the arts to save the Kansas budget.

Women's Equality DayMANHATTAN, Kan. - August 26th marked the 19th Amendment's 90th anniversary. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly, by a one-vote margin became the thirty-sixth state legislature to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee  Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the amendment's adoption.  Women finally had universal suffrage in the U.S.  The campaign to achieve this feat had taken 72 years to complete.

The campaign began in 1848, when Gerrit Smith was nominated as the Liberty Party's presidential candidate and included in his acceptance speech a demand for "universal suffrage in its broadest sense, females as well as males being entitled to vote."  A month later, on July 19-20, 1848, in upstate New York, the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights was hosted by Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; some 300 attended including Frederick Douglass, who stood up to speak in favor of women's suffrage to settle an inconclusive debate on the subject.

While women nationally did not get the vote until 1920, Kansas and it's progressive leaders gave women the right to vote in 1912.

WICHITA, Kan. - Poetry rocked the room at the Riverside Perk in Wichita, on a recent Sunday evening, and it will rock the whole outdoors again with readings and a human peace sign on Sept. 21 at Poetic Justice.

The Perk air conditioning went out just as poetry and peace lovers arrived, but that didn't stop the performance. People made their own brand of cool with poetry ranging from rap to rhyme to free verse.

The Peace and Social Justice Center and the Youth Peace Center sponsored the Poetry Slam. All ages came to the event, which launched the latest Youth Peace Group initiative, Poets for Peace, who plan to visit such locations as juvenile detention centers, youth organizations, and long-term care facilities engendering youth empowerment by teaching the benefits of self-expression and public speaking.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Manhattan's Monthly Film Series is please to announce that Kevin Willmott, Junction City native and professor of film at the University of Kansas, will be on hand to moderate the screening of his most recent film, The Only Good Indian, when it is screened on Tuesday July 6th, 6:30 pm, at the Manhattan Public Library Auditorium.

PhotobucketThe Only Good Indian was written and produced by Thomas L. Carmody and stars J. Kenneth Campbell, Wes Studi, and newcomer Winter Fox Frank.

Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teenage Native American boy (played by Winter Fox Frank) is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian "training" school to assimilate into White society. When he escapes to return to his family, Sam Franklin (played by Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Cherokee descent, is hired to find and return him to the institution. Franklin, a former Indian scout for the U. S. Army, has renounced his Native heritage and has adopted the White Man's way of life, believing it's the only way for Indians to survive. Along the way, a tragic incident spurs Franklin's longtime nemesis, the famous "Indian Fighter" Sheriff Henry McCoy (played by J. Kenneth Campbell), to pursue both Franklin and the boy.

WICHITA, Kan. - Dolores & the Picken' Fritter with Henry Harvey will kick off the afternoon's festivities at noon at the Peace Picnic this Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, at Riverside Park in Wichita.

The Peace Picnic, organized by the Peace and Social Center of South Central Kansas and People of Faith for Peace, both Wichita-based peace organizations, has been an annual event for several years. The picnic provides a time and place for people working for peace to meet, socialize, relax, and think about a peaceful world.

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