There are lessons that readers of all races can learn from the words of this Black writer, who calls for self-determination for his people — which, ultimately, means their own society.
by Lawrence Neal (pictured)
THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUESTION confronting me is the psychological and physical survival of the Black man in America. I believe that it is impossible for me to separate myself from the collective survival of my people. Most of our problems, whether we wish to accept this or not, are group problems. Further, they are basically the results of centuries of a unique kind of oppression. The only salvation for us, therefore, is to translate our individual problems into group problems; and then as a group proceed to eliminate them. We must survive as a people, not as a collection of assimilated freaks — rootless and faceless.
As a writer and social activist, I believe it is necessary, therefore, to address my art, ideas, and actions to the collective needs of my people. It is my duty to transform the oppressive objective conditions which our people face into something more compatible with our physical and spiritual needs. It is my duty also to help my people destroy the slave mentality which affects us all. It is my duty to listen to the voice of my people to learn from them; and to dedicate my life to total liberation of us all. It is my duty to protect myself and my people from the enemy within as well as without. I feel that there is no higher duty that a Black man can perform in this society, considering the condition his people find themselves in.
We must seek the total liberation of Black people from all aspects of their oppression. We must remember that our current ideas are the products of a particular kind of history. A history which began when my forefathers were sold into slavery. That our lives have been influenced by people like Malcolm X, the writings of Garvey, Du Bois, Monroe Trotter, Claude McKay, and Frederick Douglass. I would like to believe that I am an extension of these forces, that I am motivated by the spirit of the Nat Turners, the Denmark Veseys, and a friend named Herbie Johnson who died from an OD (overdose of narcotics) when he was seventeen; and by millions upon millions of unknown Black people who slaved to survive like my parents did, so that one day their sons and daughters would rise up, take control, and reclaim their manhood.
Currently, I am greatly motivated by the ideas of writers and thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Charles Fuller, Bill Davis, Rolland Snellings, and the theoretical writings of Harold Cruse and Max Stanford. Le Roi Jones’ writings on music and his play Black Mass have recently provided meaningful insights into the spiritual nature of Black people.
There are so many excellent and relevant Black writers and creative artists. There is a writer in Philly named James Stewart who, under better social conditions, would be recognized as a writer of great depth and intensity. Of course, there are also colleagues like Dan Watts, editor of Liberator, and social activists and writers like Ted Wilson and Eddie Ellis.
All of these writers have one thing in common: And that is a consummate desire to see Black people liberated by any means necessary. They are willing to sacrifice everything they have to accomplish these ends. And this is finally — it must be — more important than any single creative or artistic trait that they may have. For, finally, our art will be judged in terms of its relevance to the age that produced us, and the degree to which we were willing to extend it into reality. In the end, nothing else will matter — whether it was aesthetically perfect, or artful, or if it lacked craft. Others after us will ask: Did it help liberate us?
What are the crucial issues of our times? For us, as I have already stated, it is survival and the nature of that survival. Further, can we survive as long as the White man dominates the world with his idea of what the world should be? I believe we can not. Therefore we must understand that in order for us to survive we must come together as a people, organize to confront the Western White man on all levels of conflict. We must look at this struggle from the perspective of what Fanon calls the “Third World.” That is, internationally, in terms of the developing nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
We must see ourselves as the extension of that Third World situated in the bosom of the beast. In doing this, we must assign ourselves the task of developing a “new humanism,” so that we may ultimately create a synthesis of the best that mankind has to offer, and thereby move to alter the existing power relationships. Then, and then only, is there hope for our children. Then, and then only, will we understand what manhood is. It is not about what Moynihan and other White sociologists say it is. It is not about assimilating into a dying society, totally lacking in spiritual substance. It must be about something much deeper, something much more pertinent to the overall needs of Black people.
And if blood must flow so that our Black Spirit can prevail, then damn it, let it flow. Otherwise, look forward to a bland existence m the wilderness of White America. Look forward to the pervasive mediocrity of Western society inundating us and the entire non-White world. These are harsh realities. They are not intended to soothe but to create conflict — meaningful conflict — among a people who have, generally, been in a semi-hypnotic state.
Currently the question of Black Power occupies the center of our lives. It must continue to do so. Everything that I have spoken about must ultimately be dealt with in terms of power — physical, psychological, and spiritual. Black people are being asked very concrete questions about the political structure of America. It is becoming clear that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans offer any meaningful solutions to our problems. Black people must have their own political structure in which to determine their own destiny.
The future of peoples of African descent living in America is dependent upon the degree to which these and other salient realities are understood and accepted. We must give our total selves to the struggle to achieve our human rights; and, finally, it is in struggle that we will learn who we are.
From Negro Digest, October 1966
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Lawrence P. Neal, a graduate of Lincoln University, was arts editor of Liberator magazine. Neal (1937-1981) worked as a critic, poet, folklorist, playwright, filmmaker, editor, teacher, and administrator. He was a founder of the Black Arts movement, which saw his people’s art as unique and race-based.