Tuesday 19 April 2011

Manning Marable RIP

As many will be aware, Manning Marable, the author of `W E B DU Bois : Black Radical Democrat`  died recently at the age of 60.

Mr Marable, a noted US academic and campaigner on social issues, had many books and articles to his name. In the UK he had links with the Institute of Race Relations and their periodical Race and Class whilst in the US he was connected with a group known as the Movement for a Democratic Society and took a particular interest in it`s student branch, Students for a Democratic Society. Many of his works and particularly the titles he chose reflected an ongoing pre-occupation with the life of W E B Du Bois and, I suspect, a desire to continue that tradition ( one of his books was entitled `The Crisis of Color and Democracy` and his syndicated column was called `Along the Colour Line`).

Needless to say, I have a much-treasured copy of Black Radical Democrat in my own collection !

I will leave it to others to discuss his career and related activities in greater depth.

Instead, I would like to quote from one of his works, `Black America : Multicultural Democracy in the Age of Clarence Thomas and David Duke`, published in 1992 by Open Media in the Open Magazine Pamphlet Series (Number 16 in that series).

That pamphlet is necessarily dated and in my personal view is in some respects flawed, though certainly well worth a read. I have chosen this particular quote because, while it certainly reflects the author`s politics and to a certain extent his background in academia, it also reflects a deep-seated compassion and commitment that other self-styled radicals would do well to emulate. Dig beyond the slightly dated language and one finds a depth of experience and, in my estimation, an inner strength which seems to me to be wholly admirable. Without wanting to over-egg the pudding, notice how the passage in question comes to life when he draws on his own experiences. I mention all this in advance as I want to give Manning Marable himself the last word ;

"It is unfortunately true that people who are victimized by one form of prejudice or social intolerance sometimes fail to appreciate the oppression of other victims. There are blacks who are unfortunately anti-Semitic, and Jews who are racist ; there are white women who are racist and oppressive to sisters of colour ; there are Latinos who are homophobic and oppressive to gays and lesbians ; there are people of colour who are insensitive to whites who are physically challenged.

Yet for many of us, the experience of oppression gives us some insights into the pain and discrimination of others. I am a scholar of the civil rights movement, and I write about lynching, political franchisement and Jim Crow. But I also lived through this experience. I personally know what it`s like to go to the back of the bus. I know what it is like not to be served at a restaurant. I know what it`s like not to be permitted to sit inside a heated bus terminal, but to be forced to stand outside in the cold. I know what it is like not to be permitted to try on a cap or pair of pants because you are black. When you experience this you can never forget it.   

And I believe that the experience of oppression, if properly understood, can be universalized. Because I have felt the pain of oppression, I can understand and feel the pain of my sisters, victimized by violence, harassment, and sexist discrimination. I can understand the anger of my Jewish sisters and brothers who must confront the hatred and bigotry of the anti-Semite. I can express my sympathy and support for lesbians and gays who experience discrimination because of their sexual preferences."

I had intended to leave it at that, but on reflection, I will close with the words Manning Marable used in the closing paragraphs of `Black America : Muliticultural Democracy...` ;

"If we can believe in the vision of a dynamic democracy in which all human beings...coming (sic) to terms with each other, we can perhaps begin to achieve Martin Luther King`s vision when he said `we shall overcome`."