Black man descending: On Mike Tyson

Black man descending: On Mike Tyson


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But Mike Tyson is not the first Black man or woman who has descended

from the Mount Olympus of our dreams into a hell of their own making.



Black Man Descending

On Mike Tyson and the Power to Love!

By Amin Sharif


Since his recent loss to Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson haters seem to be coming out of the walls and from under every rock. And even many of Mike’s admirers, who have always been few, seem also to have lost much of their enthusiasm for the young ex-champion. All and sundry seem ready to consign Mike to the trash heap. All but those, that is, who really love Mike. And there are those of us out there who do love Mike.

Why, you may ask, should anyone love Mike Tyson? Mike is a convicted criminal. He is the monster who bit off the ear of the most revered boxer of this generation–Evander Holyfield. He is the mad man who ranted about eating Lewis’ children. Mike is exactly the kind of young black man that always seems to be an embarrassment to himself and other Black men. He is a , once and past, hero fallen into a hell of his own making. And most of the world would gladly leave him there.

Fallen heroes are the hardest of humans to love. Having ascended the Mount Olympus of our dreams, heroes are expected to live always upon the rarefied heights of our expectations, surrounded by the lofty clouds of our yearnings. If their feet should ever touch the earth of our existence, then they are useless to us. We feel betrayed by them. And as with any betrayer, we come to hate them. So we have come to hate Mike Tyson.

But Mike Tyson is not the first Black man or woman who has descended from the Mount Olympus of our dreams into a hell of their own making. Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday both spent time in the netherworld. Both betrayed their talent and our love but we did not feel betrayed by them. And we did not come to hate them. Why? Was it because theirs was a more romantic descent into hell? Certainly, history has painted their descent with the gray blue smoke of night clubs and the yellow glow of the bathroom lights where they took their fixes. Yet, as romantic as their lives were, both Bird and Billie wound up dead.

We may feel betrayed by Mike Tyson because his was not a pretty, not a romantic descent into hell. His heroism is not made of the stuff of artistic genius such as that possessed by Bird or Lady Day. Indeed, the only music that fills Mike’s life is the dirge of the unjustified as they march through Hades. Mike ascended to Mount Olympus by actions of brutality. He was the divine punisher. The hellish torturer of all who came near him. And as long as Mike served this, and only this role for us, he was our hero. Did we stop to think what we were making of Mike Tyson? Did we grieve when the only source of love in Mike’s life was taken from him? Did we try to make something more of this suffering manchild than a gladiator or a monster?

Are we any better than the Roman citizens who praised their Empire as the most advanced on earth and yet fed Christians and others to the lions?If we are truthful, we must admit that our love for Mike was planted deep in the soil of our own disregard for his humanity. And if humanity is taken away from any manchild, can we expect anything better than what we have in Mike now?

This is why we all must try to love Mike, now. If it was our disregard that sent Mike to hell in the first place, than it must be our love for him, not as a monster, but as a human being that must save him. Having said this, others will say that we have no responsibility to do anything for Mike. He is, after all, a grown man. Mike is responsible for himself. Besides, they say, if Mike wants help, let him ask for it.

To hush these voices, one only need ask who among us is truly responsible for himself in our modern society. Humanity is more connected now than it has ever been before. And it is our connection to one another that has allowed human society to prevail against its less generous and sometimes most evil impulses. To watch any human descend into hell and not try to stop them is an act of barbarism. Such acts of indifference only then turn us into the monster that we declare Mike Tyson to be.

In the great chronicle of jazz shown on PBS, there is a most compelling scene. Bird, a few days before his death, goes to Dizzy Gillespie, his close friend, and asks him to save him from his coming destruction. “Save me, Diz,” Parker asks his friend over and over. Diz said that Bird’s request was so devastating that he did not know what to do. Some will say that Diz should have done something to save Bird. However, the fact was that Bird had already worn himself out. Bird waited too late to ask for help.

The devastation that Diz felt was one rooted in the knowledge that his friend already had both legs in the grave. If we wait until Mike asks for our love, it may be too late for it to be of any use to him. We need to let Mike know now that he is still a redeemable human being. Who knows what such an outpouring will do for Mike? It might even save his life. And saving each other from our own worse self is what love does best. I, for one, believe Mike deserves a chance to rise from the hell that he and we have placed him in.

Mike’s history need not be another Black man’s descent into the netherworld. But, if we turn our back on him and Mike’s rage turns to self-destruction as it certainly must and will, then who is the real monster stalking the world–him or us?


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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 27 December 2011




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