Feb, 27, 2009Posted by giemmevi
This blog came primarily into being because I wanted to publish portions of my research on the black activist Stokely Carmichael and his rhetoric of Black Power.
I have always been fascinated by the strategic use of language and when I stumbled upon the following passage of Joshua Meyrowitz’s “No sense of Place” I decided to dedicate my attention to Carmichael’s rhetorical style.
“When Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael found himself attracting media attention in the late 1960s, for example, his access to a larger social platform turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing. In the shared arenas of television and radio, he found himself facing at least two distinct audiences simultaneously: his primary audience of blacks, and an “eavesdropping” audience of whites. In personal (unmediated) appearances, he had been able to present two completely diffrent talks on Black Power to black and white audiences, respectively. But in the combined forums of electronic media, he had to decide whether to use a white or black rhetorical style and text. If he used a white style, he would alienate his primary audience and defeat his goals of giving blacks a new sense of pride and self-respect. Yet if he used a black rhetorical style, he would alienate whites, including many liberals who supported integration. With no clear solution, and unable to devise a composite genre, Carmichael decided to use a black style in his mediated speeches. While he sparked the fire of his primary audience, he also filled his secondary audience with hatred and fear and brought on the wrath of the white power structure”.
In my dissertation I analyzed and compared two speeches of the black activist, one addressed to a primarily black audience, the other one to a primarily white audience. My principal intention was to examine the distinctive characteristics of what the sociologistJoshua Meyrowitz referred to respectively as Carmichael’s black rhetorical style and white rhetorical style.
In order to support my analyses/interpretations of Carmichael’s critical discourses towards the United States I had to investigate in various directions, since the black activist not only accused the American social and political system for being permeated by racism, but stressed that even the nation’s cultural expressions upheld ‘white supremacy’.
In my next posts I will first of all introduce my readers to the person Stokely Carmichael and will successively concentrate on his political views before venturing on his public speeches.
Continuation of text ⇒ Stokely Carmichael – Part 2: Carmichael’s Youth, from Port of Spain to New York City
Mar, 1, 2009Posted by
Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born in Trinidad in 1941. Since his mother Mabel Florence Charles Carmichael and his father Adolphus Carmichael both left Trinidad for the United States in search of work (respectively in 1944 and 1946) the young Stokely grew up at his grandmother’s house at Port of Spain. When in 1952 his parents were economically more secure Stokely was allowed to join his parents in Harlem, NY.
The first days in New York had a strong impact on Carmichael. Although a black community, Harlem displayed a visible contrast compared with Port of Spain, a contrast which bewildered the young boy: white people were in charge of the community, they held control. Policemen, teachers, merchants, entrepreneurs were all white. In contrast, in Trinidad, being 96% of the population black, it was natural to see black people holding crucial positions, such as policemen, teachers, attorneys, even if Trinidad was actually controlled by white colonists.
Thus, what seemed less evident to Carmichael in Trinidad, he was able to perceive taking a glance at the streets of New York: the black people‘s status of second-class citizens in the United States, more generally the black man’s subjugation to “The Man”. Conscious of this matter of fact, Stokely Carmichael’s parents had a deep distrust toward white people.
Notwithstanding, “by back-breaking, around-the-clock-work, Carmichael’s parents (his father was a carpenter and his mother was a maid) succeeded in buying a house in a good [...] Bronx neighborhood.” The family moved to Morris Park, East Bronx, a predominantly white neighborhood (inhabited by Italians, Jews and Irish).
As an immigrant from the West Indies, and therefore a non-native American citizen, Carmichael “had to do all the bad things to prove his point”. In order to not become an outsider the adolescent became the only black member of the juvenile gang “Morris Park Dukes”. Due to his intelligence and cleverness he soon became a “specialist in stealing hubcaps and car radios”.
Continuation of text ⇒ Stokely Carmichael – Part 3: The Years at Bronx Science
Mar, 5, 2009Posted by
Continuation of “Stokely Carmichael’s Youth – From Port of Spain to New York City”.
… In 1956 Stokely Carmichael broke with the past. Being an “[...] intellectually precocious child, he [had] found American education a breeze compared with the British-based rigors he’d experienced in the Trinidadian school system”. Passing a tough entrance test he was admitted to the elitist Bronx High School of Science. Here Stokely soon had to find out that his intellectual background could not compete with that of his fellow students. In his biography Carmichael reports that “[his] parents never finished school, we had no intellectual background. All these students’ fathers had been at Harvard, Yale, doctors, dentists, PHDs. They had what I didn’t have”. As opposed to the others at Bronx Science, Stokely did not know anything about Karl Marx nor was he familiar with notions such as “dialectical materialism“. Competition was tough and Stokely thought about quitting school during his freshman year, but his parents, especially his mother, believing firmly in the american dream “wouldn’t accept it though. She wanted me to go to Science and she would have it no other way. No questions asked. ‘Remember one thing,’ she would say, ‘they’re white, they’ll make it. You won’t unless you’re on the top‘“.
Carmichael listened to his parents and started to read voraciously all the books his fellow students had already read and were discussing during lunch break: in this way he became familiar with Marx and got to know Darwin’s theories and Camus’ philosophy. Stokely “tried to develop [his] own [intellectual background] just beginning to read as quickly as [he] could, anything that anybody mentioned”.
With the new school Carmichael’s interest and friends changed. His Morris Park buddies stemming from the white working-class were exchanged with new friends from the white upper middle-class. These guys were about to attend elitÉ universities such as Harvard, Columbia or Brandeis. Among them was the son of Eugene Dennis who introduced him to New York’s left-wing social world and consequently to the European revolutinary theories, this is how Stokely recalled the impact:
For the first time I encountered a systematic radical analysis, a critical context and vocabulary that explained and made sense of history. It explained the inequities and injustice I’d long been conscious of in the society around me and prescribed (even predicted) revolutionary solutions.
Nevertheless, Stokely Carmichael never joined any socialist organization because American socialism did not ascribe importance to the solution of the black problem inside the American society, quite the contrary, “[...] they didn’t want any discussion of black nationalism“. Ivanhoe Donaldson, another young New Yorker and fellow SNCC activist, underlined Carmichael’s point clarifying the reason why the socialist organizations were not able to attract black people:
“Race drove us first. We recognized class but placed it differently. Everybody in our generation did. Even the white folks in SNCC had a little bit of black nationalism in them”.
Mar, 10, 2009Posted by
… On the streets of Harlem, more precisely on 125th street, Stokely Carmichael found what was missing in the white leftist world: a dynamic oratory concerning black nationalism and America’s racial problem. Both issues were addressed extensively by Harlem’s “stepladder speakers”, brilliant orators, who instructed their listeners on the history of black resistance and, more importantly, on the methods that needed to be adopted in the future.
To give my readers an idea of the Harlem Stepladder Speakers I uploaded an excerpt of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”, in which the camera swings from Malcolm X addressing a Harlem street crowd to two Stepladder Speakers.
Listening to the stepladder speakers Carmichael began to understand the enormous power of their rhetorical style, which he tried to absorb. In his biography Carmichael reports that “important elements of [his] adult speaking style-the techniques of public speaking in the dramatic African tradition of the spoken word, can be traced to these street corner orators of Harlem. To them and the Baptist preachers of the rural South”.
Moreover, the stepladder speakers with their black nationalist theories convinced Stokely Carmichael that the communists/socialists that supported black people inciting them to begin the “civil rights revolution” did so only because they needed an atmosphere of chaos in order to raise a systemic revolution.