Malcolm X opens his Message To the Grassroots speech in a heterogenous room in Detroit, 1964. A year before his assassination in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom:
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a serious problem.
Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious
problem. ... America's problem is us. ... She (my emphasis) doesn't want us here.
A live cut of that speech opens the 1989 hip-hop classic, "Self -Destruction". The song, including bars from MC Lyte, Chuck D, Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D (d. 2011), Miss Melodie (d. 2014), Kool Moe Dee, Flava Flav (living-dead) was a product of KRS-One's Stop the Violence Movement. The song represented a powerful coming together, agreement over the presence of a problem. Something was amiss, we were watching our brothers and sisters suffer, and we wanted solution.
The video is perfection, reflecting the time: herring bones, asymmetrical ash blond perms, leather LV sweatsuits, African medallions, and a seemingly appropriate response to what appeared to be a devolving condition in black communities throughout the nation. All of us did the best we could with the information we had. We knew something had changed and we wanted it to stop, we wanted the jobless dope dealers and growing crack addicted population to "Just Say No" --echoing the sentiment coming out of the White House and the mural on the wall behind Heavy D as Crack and high powered weapons had entered our communities. The video's tone is reflective yet, condemnatory. It is moralizing. It is also historically asymmetrical. An extension of the inaccuracies fed us by a white supremacist media, informed by white supremacist academics and policy makers who had convinced us that our problems were rooted in our inability to mimic the lie of American spiritual uprightness. American spiritual uprightness is a lie. That is clear. And the jobless dope dealer was just as American as those gunslinging fur, oil and slave traders who not only plundered and raped this land from under the Native peoples here, but raped, murdered and plotted their way through their relationships with indigenous people across the globe. White men, working their very black magic, initiated crack into our communities and blamed us for what it did to us.
We bought the gaslight in the 1980s and 90s. Malcolm X, a religious convert, bought it before then. Booker T Washington and hundreds of others of us, as well as our leadership bought it before then. Now, I do not disagree that America has/had a serious problem; but, I do disagree that America doesn't want us here. Without us, America has no idea who she is. White America needs a nightmare shadow to reflect its dream of whiteness back unto itself. That nightmare is the nigger. And the nigger of the American imagination is the most profound lie in history. Innocuous whiteness is a profound lie times two. As long as America refuses to face itself, apologize, remit owed dues and repent, that nigger lie will surface, resurface like water beneath oil, through slips of the mind and tongue. But Bill Maher didn't really slip. He slipped up.
Maher's not easy to figure:
Twin Towers fell and he lost his late night show because he questioned American foreign policy. He's an atheist. He's anti-Christian but more anti-Muslim. He's white. He loves Nas and has described hip hop artists as Shakespearean poets. He advocates for pot and once argued that referring to Obama as "Kenyan" was white code "nigger". (That didn't make big news.)
A white man with a thing for black women dressed as porn stars (including rap world's infamous, Superheat). A white man with a fetish.
A white man focused on the dimly lit areas of everyone else's psyches while avoiding, yet speaking his own his own. Time, hubris and opportunity have their way with us all.
And Bill Maher is a complicated product of the country that raised him.
He's spoke as a white man who believes in his own righteousness and the freedom to express that as he pleases. His jokingly referring to himself as a "house nigga" is an expression of his wealthy white male arrogance coupled with a lingering American fetishizing of blackness. It says so much. The black man, he wishes to be. The black woman he wishes to own, in all sorts of white ways.
Black folks know it. White folks tell and act out every lie they can to avoid it. Every unexamined truth contained in one's unconscious extends itself into the wider world harming anyone threatening the illumination of that truth. To paraphrase James Baldwin, until America faces it's own carnality, it will never be free. America projects its own shadow self upon the so-called nigger. And black folk are not that. We now have no confusion about that.