Sunday, 12 August 2012

L E Scott. Respect.


there are still those
who carry stones in their pockets
all witches are not dead

L E Scott
from Speaking in Tongues

L E Scott is a Wellington-based jazz poet, performer, prose writer and reviewer. He was born in Cordele, Georgia, in 1947. While still a teenager, he moved with his family to Trenton, New Jersey, which is where he attended high school. After graduating, he was drafted into the United States Army and spent a year in Vietnam as an infantryman (1967-68). After discharge, he attended Trenton State College, then left the United States to travel in Europe, West Africa and Australia. He came to New Zealand in 1976.

His first collection, The Coming of Lewis E. Scott (1972) was published in the USA. This Bitter Earth (1978) was his first New Zealand-published book. In addition to his thirteen books of poetry, Scott has published two collections of fiction, Songs for My Father (1983) and Black Family Letters from Boston (1994).

L E Scott has also edited three anthologies: Each Other's Dreams - Contemporary Black American Writing (1982); King's Cross Pub Poets (1985); and Wiimpatjai Bulku Pipinja - Black Fella's Message - Aborigine Writers (1986).

His work appears in numerous anthologies and journals in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, including all of New Zealand's major literary magazines. He is also extensively published in New Zealand and abroad as a book reviewer.

I reprint the piece of writing below because I think it follows so well from my previous post.

From Earth Colours by L E Scott

South Africa Election Day
                                     For those who have died
Truly, Black people must be God's first-born, for we are asked to forgive a multitude of white sins visited upon us and at the same time carry on the belief that humankind's humanity somehow rests in the act of our forgiveness. So many Black people on the face of this earth have died for no other reason than that they were not white.

Truly, Black people must be God's first-born, for in the midst of so much hate and deprivation, not only have we been asked to strive but to forgive as we have buried so many Steve Bikos and Dr. Kings. What a wondrous gift and burden God has bestowed upon us, that in our hands so much responsibility rests while those who have claimed this very position have boot-marched over it.

Truly, Black people must be God's first-born, for we have been asked to toil and plant the seeds and yet have been denied a full taste of the harvest. And as we have brought this food to the tables of others, we have been asked to do so with a subservient and humble smile. We have been asked to breastfeed the very ones who for so long carried on the mantle of our oppression. Even as we have been murdered we have been charged with being the beasts among humanity.

Truly, Black people must be God's first-born, for we have been through the fires of Sharpeville, Mississippi, Soweto, Robin Island and Alabama and now the jailers of those places are asking those who have been so unfairly jailed not to seek revenge or retribution.

Truly, Black people must be God's first-born, for having survived with a belief far transcending the fear of God, and against all the odds, the burden of forgiveness has now been added to the weight we have carried. Let this be the warning to the second-born. Let this be the last time.

Truly, Black people must be God's first-born and as James Baldwin said, speaking of the second-born: "It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent ..."


  1. Wonderful piece. And it's so much sharper now that colonialism - not just neo-economic imperialism - is back in full force across Africa and West Asia, with "mandates" and the rest of it.

    1. I am not surprised that you like his writing, so often your own is just as insightful. Neither you nor L E Scott stoop to taking prisoners. You say it like it is. The rest of us need to listen.

  2. Interestring piece Iri. I remember when I was an undergraduate doing a Cultural Geography course 30-odd years ago being told that traditionally in Ethiopia 3 basic colours of human beings were recognised - Red (that is white European) Black (all of sub Saharan Africa) and White....that is them, the Ethiopeans themselves. Skin colour and racial characteristics are complex social and cultural phenomena. I think the history of transatlantic slavery raises many such questions and cannot be simply reduced to black and white issues. Imperialism has never gone away,a form of global fascism is evident in geopolitical globalism, but these old racial divisions do not any longer apply to it. It must be acknowledged that imperialism in Africa today is being championed by Barack Obama and that fascism like everything else evolves and changes. The Anglo-American empire is a rainbow alliance of neo-fascist fellow-travellers from many different ethnic backgrounds, it is not the racist supremicism it was in the 20th century, or in its 19th century roots in eugenics and notions of Aryan superiority.
    The present is a complex situation, but so was the past.
    Personally I can't see any neat division between the races in the way Mr Scott defines history above. In my view the struggle is now and has always been ideological in which there are are no 'natural' friends nor enemies and every hypothesis has its own 'black swans'to deal with, to use Karl Popper's famous term.
    There are I think a number of competing historiographies that developed during the last century and together these have contributed to notions of post-modernity. These include the feminist movement, racial equality movements, gay rights movements, most forms of late 20th century anarchism and the peace movement as well as various hybrids of these in the current anti-globalization movement.
    Complexity reigns, but I think when we scratch the surface of history it always did and the dividing line between heroes and villians is entirelty situational and contingent upon where we stand. American slavery for example is a massively complex subject in its own right which often airbrushes the existence of non-black indentured labour out of the picture all together as it does the role of the Chinese for example in creating modern America. All fascinating stuff Iri, thanks for posting this thought provoking blog.

    1. I think that those of us who are white need to be very wary about how we see racism. We are rarely (usually never) the recipient of abuse for our supposed skin colour, we have rarely found ourselves in a situation where we were completely denied opportunity or the normal freedoms that others in our societies enjoy. And here I am thinking about situations like Apartheid which existed officially in South Africa but unofficially in many other countries.

      I will never forget being in a chatroom one time with three other Kiwi women when two more Kiwis came in, one a woman we knew, the other a young male friend. We women all greeted each other with "kia ora" and the young bloke (assuming we three were all Maori because we spoke a Maori word) abused the heck out of us, apparently for existing and because he was "forced' to share space with us. the abuse was actually quite horrific and all because of the supposed colour of our skin, because of our supposed race. It was quite an experience but as some Maori people have talked to me since about, something that can happen to them, quite randomly, and in various different forms of course.

      I do actually agree that there are no neat divisions nor should there be. We are all people. There are people with Maori whakapapa who are whiter looking than me. In Aotearoa you cannot always know who is tangatawhenua and who is not.

  3. Pity you can't do spell checks here, typos rule ...I hate them, but other than deleting posts and re-editing them I can't see any way out...

    1. Oddly I do have a spell checker on the blog and on comments. I keep having to add Maori words to my dictionary.

  4. As synchronicity would have it I have just come across this article Iri:-

  5. Interesting article. I would take issue with it in some respects. Firstly I do agree that Race/Ethnicity are social constructs and that we are, after all, all human. But I would argue that just because something is a social construct does not make the notion less powerful. In a colonised country like mine (and Australia and the US, South Africa in the past, etc) it is the dominant (white) culture who has set the rules, the checks and balances, and the controls, and those rules etc serve to benefit the dominant culture always. It is our culture imposed on other people who were tangatawhenua/indigenous/first nations and from the time of colonisation the rules were first and foremost about separating those people from their land. That drive has been extremely successful in all instances.

    These days, in Aotearoa, culture is claimed by self identifying and, for Maori, a proven whakapapa back to Maori ancestry. I think that way is much better than people arguing about percentages quite frankly.

  6. Actually I have experienced racism in the Middle East, so it is not entirely unknown to whites, it depends upon where you are. I have also experienced prejudice based upon race, class and gender closer to home. England has always been a multi-ethnic country from its inception(unlike Scotland, Wales or Ireland)...the first known black people in England appear to have arrived with the Romans during the first century AD, although written records show that black men and women have lived in England in small numbers since at least the 12th century,it was the empire of course that caused their numbers to swell exponentially in the 17th and 18th centuries. I grew up in a multi-ethnic area in Birmingham in my reception class at school before I was 5 there were children of African-Caribbean, Polish, French and Irish parents. By the time I went to junior school aged 11 these had been joined by kids from the Indian sucbontinent. Our next door neighbours one side were Belgian and the other side West Indian.... when I was 12 my friends and playmates (drawn from a area of no more than half a mile from my house) originated in India, Kenya, Jamaica, Ireland, Poland, Iran (they still called it Persia), Pakistan and also Walloons from was a complete united nations in the two areas of Birnmingham where I lived as a child. Nothing has changed there....Birmingham has the smallest white British population by percentage of any of the major British cities.

    In 2007, it was estimated 33.3% of its population was non-white, whereas London, commonly seen as the most diverse of British cities was 30.4% non-white. This is compared to Liverpool for example which was only 7.7% non-white.

    So having been born and then growing up in a racially diverse city (indeed in its most multi-cultural districts)and also having travelled and for a few years lived in non-white countries since, I do not subscribe to the idea that racism is a exclusively white issue, or that white people have the monopoly on prejudice, bigotry and lets face it pure stupidity. This is not of course to deny the existence of either white racists or instituional racism. The latter like class, sexuality, gender, disability etc are all barriers to social integration and British imperialism was of course a racist and a class based project, but as with the very concept of race itself I think, racism is a complex phenomenon and prejudice is a more or less a universal, cross cultural attitude of some people/groups at some times in their cultural and social history, whoever they are and wherever they come from. That's how I see it anyway Iri, sorry for 'going on'about it :-)

    1. Racism does seem to be the human condition. In the last couple centuries the onus seems more on whites than other races because of industrialization and trade power and the after-implosions of colonialism. But I haven't travelled anywhere myself to experience it personally.