ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I am no longer a Christian. I do not believe in the redemptiveness

of suffering. Oh how they oppressed us with that one.  Under

Tarzan’s religious tutelage, suffering became such a great part of our

worldview that we were not happy unless we were unhappy.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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The Whole of Ourselves

By Kalamu ya Salaam


Our African identity, like all of life, is contradictory in nature. We have both great negatives and great positives that we must face. At certain periods of negritutinal reaction to racism and colonialism, we romanticize our positives. At other periods after fighting and sacrificing for so long, we wallow in the self indulgence of shams. Sham development. Sham socialism. Sham democracy. Sham capitalism. Sham nationalism.

What we must face and embrace is the whole of ourselves and not simply those parts which are acceptable to Tarzan or those parts which make us feel big like Tarzan.

Emulating Tarzan is easy, but what does that lead to but one or two junior European cities per country, with mayors and presidents who, on an international level, exhibit the same impotence as did traditional tribal chiefs who, when confronted by European military might, were forced to “negotiate” with, and eventually capitulate to, the kings and presidents, generals and mercenaries, merchants and bankers of Europe.

What we must do is extract the lessons of history from our historic encounters with Tarzan, and we must do so realistically rather than romantically.

Tarzan is a difficult character for us to deal with because we both hate and admire Tarzan. We want to expel him from our lives on the one hand and yet, on the other hand, the cumulative effect of our desires and fantasies is to recreate ourselves into an idealized Tarzan. Our national bourgeoisie, they are Tarzan. Most of our elected officials and nearly all of our heads of state, especially the dictators, they are Tarzan. Tarzan in Black face.

The rub is that Tarzan taught us that we were all Black but he also taught us that being Black was a bad thing. There are too many examples of our contradictions to even begin enumerating. Every African’s mirror contains at least one major contradiction, if  not more. But at least one.

Unfortunately for us, we African Americans have internalized the psychology of the oppressed. After fifteen generations or more of subservience, Black inferiority is all we know. A major corollary of our inferiority complex, is a high tolerance for suffering. Indeed, our tolerance of downpression verges on an addiction to suffering.

I am no longer a Christian. I do not believe in the redemptiveness of suffering. Oh how they oppressed us with that one.  Under Tarzan’s religious tutelage, suffering became such a great part of our worldview that we were not happy unless we were unhappy.

“Woe is me” became our daily bread.

“Deliver us from evil” we asked of Tarzan’s god while we looked forward to an almost certain lifetime of hell and fervently believed in a hoped for eternity in heaven.

“Deliver us from Tarzan” is what we should have said. But we were so good at suffering. And Christianity taught us that we were born to suffer. That “man is born of sin” and that Jesus will redeem us in heaven.

Meanwhile, down here on the ground, Tarzan rules. And when Tarzan is absent, Tarzan’s flunkies and trainees stand in for the master and rule. And when neither Tarzan nor his flunkies are present, Tarzan’s ideas rule and we create our own Tarzans as we await deliverance to arrive from outside ourselves.

Our deliverance as a people, however, cannot be given to us by others, nor passively accepted. Deliverance must be fought for and seized. Deliverance is a birthing process requiring hard labor, rupturing of the womb, and the flowing of blood if new life is to be created. Some of us have worked for deliverance for a long time, most of us have been awaiting deliverance for an equally long time. But, to date, howsoever long it has been, deliverance has not come.

How long has it been, 500 years? In all this time, for all his omnipotence, Tarzan has been unable to deliver us. Tarzan’s failure has taught us well. If we want to be delivered, we will have to deliver each other. Give birth to ourselves. The kingdom that we create in the here and now is the only kingdom we will ever enjoy in this life on earth.

And to kill Tarzan we must desire to be ourselves. A truly revolutionary behavior.


On the second morning in Accra, we were bussed to Drago’s Restaurant for a breakfast. We assumed that it would be a program of some sort. That assumption was a mistake. Not only was there no program, everyone didn’t even get to eat. But it did afford us the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the people attending PANAFEST whom we did not already know nor know of.

One of the people at our table recognized me and helped me remember him: Balozi Harvey. One of the early members of Maulana Karenga’s US Organization. Present at the founding of Kwanzaa. Present at the Black Power Conferences of the sixties. The Congress of Afrikan People. We began exchanging stories and reminiscences about people, places and events. Behind all we talked about was an assessment of our failure to make revolution in the United States and our hopes for Africa in the future.


Today, in the nineties, revolution is such a lonely word. Discredited. Rejected. Some even declare that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that we have reached a period which wishful thinking calls “the end of history.” Third World failures are sighted as evidence of the failure of revolution.

They talk. The spread of democracy. The coming of the superhighway. The world becoming a free market.

            They whistle past their own graveyards. It’s well past midnight.


            Make fun of Castro. Bring out monster portraits of Mao.


At the breakfast table someone asked for papaya. The waiter nodded. Returned a little later and said, “papaya finished.”

            That’s what the Republicans want us to believe. Revolution finished.

            That’s why “we’re” in Haiti. In Somalia. Thinking about Ruwanda. If-ing at Bosnia. Finished?

A man is confronted by his wife. This man, it seems, was a philanderer. He would runaround. Cheat on his wife. And lie to her. Constantly. Her friends told her. People she didn’t know, told her. At some point it became unbearable. She confronted him. He confessed his errors. Begged for another chance. She started to put him out but relented. Then one day she visited his office and caught him in a compromising position with his secretary. Before she could say a word he told her: “It’s not what you think.” She replied, “what do you mean, not what I think? I’m looking at you.” He loudly protested that she was wrong and concluded with this challenge, “who are you going to believe? Me! Or your lieing eyes!”

            Who are we going to believe? Our downpressors or our lieing eyes?

            Revolution, finished?

One of the colloquium participants, in a bold self critique, noted that apparently Nkrumah was wrong when he said “seek ye first the political kingdom and all things will be added thereto.” Political kingdoms absent economic revolution has proven to be bankrupt. Those of us forty and over, still alive, halfway sane, and with even a modicum of strength and stomach left for struggle, we know. The real deal is to figure out how to economically sustain and develop ourselves.

The real revolution is self development. What we used to call “Kujitegemea” — economic self reliance. Balozi runs the Harlem, New York based Third World Trade Institute. We talk about effecting trade and economic development in Africa.

Finished? We’ve hardly just begun. There are questions of the environment. Questions of affordable and appropriate technology. Questions of mass transit and urban development.

In the West there’s a mess. Every major urban center of the United States has problems. The really big ones have really big problems. In Brasil there are horrendous problems: in the Amazon, the lungs of the world are being burnt up and children are systematically slaughtered in Rio. Jamaica is Hollywood: the “wild, wild west” but with real bullets, real death and real destruction. Eastern Europe is a cauldron that no detente can hold together. The end of history? Who are we going to believe: the West or our lieing eyes?

The end of history? No. The end of his story? Yes. At last. Yeahhhh booooyyyyyeeeeee! It is really now our time to decide how to live our lives.


To try to figure out how to get it together and move forward. And part of moving forward must be leaving a bunch of our badness behind. Jettison the European model. Fanon told us oh so long ago. But we did not really understand. Now with Paris looking the way it does. With London, with New York, with Moscow, Berlin. With all of that being what it is, which is not us. No map for our space. What we are faced with finally is a fight within ourselves to determine which way forward. And that’s revolution.

Why should anyone want to recreate the United States, England or France? How could we. Whom could we enslave by the millions? Which continents would we kill the indigenous inhabitants, remove most of the accessible mineral wealth, colonize, industrialize, pollute and declare to have reached the end of history? We have only ourselves and the spaces we occupy. The Caribbean isles are too small to sustain us. The West to covetous of what they have built up to share. We have only that which is yet to be developed.

We have the dirt roads of Ghana. We have the hinterlands of Africa’s West Coast. We have war weary central Africa. And the industrial jewel of South Africa. We have ourselves. We have a future. But it will take a revolution to actualize our dreams.

A future for us requires a revolution in our lifetime. The real battle will be to overturn ourselves and become Black again, moving at our own pace, in our own space, in directions of our own choosing.

And this is what we wrestle with at a breakfast without a purpose. We had the breakfast because that is what one does at conferences. Maybe we needed something else. Maybe what we need is to stop.

Stop doing what has already been done. Create what does not now exist.

Stop emulating the end of history. Honor the lives of our ancestors. Make and build a space where their spirits can be blessed by the smiles of future generations, walking in rhythm, living in harmony, enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of a revolution that we accepted responsibility to wage.

A revolution is more than simply a change of mind. Revolution is conscious engagement with the forces of history, the discarding or overthrowing of a dominating social order and the institution of a new social order. Every revolution fights two phases. First, the struggle (generally violent) to gain control of the productive forces and defend oneself from outside control and/or domination. Second, the struggle for social reconstruction and instituting the new social system.

So far we have had no successful revolution of the second phase. From Haiti onward to independent Africa and the Caribbean, all of the revolutions which have succeeded in phase one have failed in phase two. In cases such as Mozambique or Grenada, phase two was aborted because they were not able to defend phase one against external aggression (Mozambique) or internal conflicts (Grenada). But the deal is to learn from, rather than be discouraged by, the mistakes and failures of our predecessors. Moreover, regardless of the outcome in the past, revolution is still what we need to built a secure future.

One reason we need revolution is Euro-supremacist imperialism has no intention of leaving us alone. We cannot simply withdraw into ourselves because they won’t let us.

Our oppressors and exploiters, our ex-masters and economic creditors, Western social engineers and scientists, dominate us even without their physical presence by actively seeking to incorporate us into the web of their influence either directly or through proxies and stand-ins. Without a revolution of our own making, we fight phase one and then simply end up with new masters trading places with old masters. The dominant and dominating systems staying in place, modified only in so much as necessary to accommodate the newly ascendant, and generally less competent, “native/petit bourgeois” ruling class.

Western dominance is not simply a matter of ideology but also of institutions and individual behavior. Dominance is structural and behavioral. This is why Black faces in high places do not necessarily raise the level of life for the majority. Whether as heads of state and government functionaries for newly independent countries or as mayors and legislators in Western countries, more often than not, this new ruling elite ends up being caretakers of crumbling and disintegrating societies which are dependent on aid from the West. A flag and military don’t make a country. Indeed, the maintenance of government bureaucracies and militaries often impoverish developing countries.

To be real, a revolution must be able to improve the quality of life for its people by bringing about positive change at all three levels: ideology, institutions and individual behavior. This then is why and what a revolution is. A revolution of two phases leading to real power to define, defend, develop and respect our lives.

Then, and only then, will we truly be able to know, taste, love, hold and procreate the whole of ourselves.

Source: Kalamu ya Salaam. Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa, But I Can — PanaFest 1994

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran ‘Julio’ Green

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Track List 1.  Congo Square (9:01) 2.  My Story, My Song (20:50) 3.  Danny Banjo (4:32) 4.  Miles Davis (10:26) 5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8.  Intro (3:59) 9.  The Whole History (3:14) 10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11.  Waving At Ra (1:40) 12.  Landing (1:21) 13.  Good Luck (:04)

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade

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Cape Coast Castle. A Collection of Poems By Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang

Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig

Dr Robert Lee passes on

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana

Dr. Robert Lee Interview

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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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What Orwell Didn’t Know

Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics

By Andras Szanto

Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thus—or has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s classic essay on propaganda (

Politics and the English Language

), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn’t—or couldn’t—know. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today’s politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

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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Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls

By Dorothy Sterling

Dorothy Sterling’s biography of Robert Smalls is Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958). In most history books, the contributions of Negroes during the Civil War and Reconstructions are ignored. Robert Smalls was one of the heroes who is rarely mentioned. He was a Negro slave who stole a ship from the Confederates, served on it with the Union Army with distinction, and finally served several terms in Congress.

All this was accomplished against the handicaps first of slavery, then of the prejudice of the Union Army, and finally of the Jim Crow laws, which eventually conquered him. Besides its value in contradicting the history book insinuation that the Negro was incapable of political enterprise and that the South was right in imposing Jim Crow laws, Captain of the Planter is an exciting adventure story. Captain Smalls’ escape from slavery and his battle exploits make interesting reading, and the style is fast moving.—Barbara Dodds

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It’s The Middle Class Stupid!

By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our government—including the White House—has gone wrong, and what voters can do about it. 

Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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 16 July 2012




Home  Kalamu ya Salaam Table   Transitional Writings on Africa  The African World

Related files:  Haile Gerima in Ghana   Criticisms of the Disapora  The Whole of Ourselves   The Forts and Castles of Ghana   What’s Your Name?  Once You’ve Been There 

Foreign Exchange   Myths About Black History   Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Randolph Visits Ghana