Reflections about Jamil Al-Amin
and his Inspirational/Compasionate Spirit
Distressing Scenario in New York in the 1960s
Reflecting the Impact of White Supremacy
At that moment, I hated Kain. Hated him for seeing right through me, for touching my feelings of inferiority around white Puerto Ricans, for hating my not being able to speak Spanish properly, for not being able to throw my straight hair back, for being rejected by Elizabeth, that strawberry blond pug nosed white 'Rican in the 6th grade, for touching the rage I felt at all those women in the church and the projects who rejected my mother because she boldly sat with black women in the front of the building and laughed heartily with them, exchanging stories of the stupidity of their men for thinking their wives didn't know what they were smoking and who they were fucking, for having no family in Puerto Rico that I could visit in the summertime and coming home with tales of sandy beaches, mofongo and the bath-tub warmth of the Caribbean. I hated those motherfuckers who thought I wasn't good enough because of my lips, my nose, my kinks, the ashiness of my feet, my black accent. Fuck them, they should die.
I screamed at Kain in the most venomous tone, "I'm black, motherfucker. I am a black man whether you or anyone else knows it."
I don't know how he did it so quickly, but, Kain leaped across the stage, grabbed me by the throat and pounded me against the wall, his eyes blazing.
"What color are you, punk?" he bellowed. "Fuck you," I spat out as he choked me. "What fucken color are you, Felipe?"
I was scared of him, scared of that demon in him, that horrible look in his eyes, the sneer on his face. Tears started to trickle, snot out my nose.
"I'm brown, man... brown. Now get off me."
"Fuck you," he hissed. "Tell me right now, the exact color of your skin, punk."
He was hurting me, humiliating me. I didn't want to knee him. I couldn't anyway. He had me wrapped up too close, his knee against my groin, his whole body pressing on me. I had never seen him like this.
"I'm light brown, like light colored coffee, get the hell off me."
He pressed on.
"Light colored coffee. That's so fucken cute. Look at me," he screamed, " LOOK AT ME! You know what color I am, motherfucker. I'm black, midnight black, charcoal black, the black that scares crackers, I'm their worse fucken nightmare. I know it. I live with it every day. Every fucken day. And, I have to endure their shit every day. Their scowls, their sneers, their thinking I'm another dumb ass nigger who can't read or think. I can't speak that mira-mira shit and get a pass, my hair doesn't straighten like yours with Dixie Peach, I'm a nigger and I've learned to accept it and fight back the only way I know how."
I couldn't look at him anymore. I hated the pain in his eyes, the truth in his voice. I turned my head, the tears now streaming down my face.
He loosened his grip, then stepped away. I was heaving, crying uncontrollably.
"You've done everything you can here. You've taught us, you've inspired even me. But, your time is done here.
You need to go back and educate those ignorant assholes, yea, the very ones who rejected you and your mother.
Because if you don't, who will, who will? Now, get the hell out of here and don't come back until you make your decision. And it better be the right one."
I ran out.
Meeting with H. Rap Brown
"Someone I could trust"
The only one I could speak to about this matter, the only other person I trusted was Rap Brown. I trusted his wisdom.
Though he chastised black folks from the stage and almost shamed them into revolutionary consciousness through his juxtaposition of American liberal rhetoric and the brutality reality of our daily lives, off-stage, with friends and family, he was gentle and non-judgemental.
Learning about the Southern culture/history
I called him a day later, after I had calmed down and he listened to my lament, quietly.
"You need to get out of the city for a while. Why don't you come with me to Baton Rouge? It'll be good for you"
I quickly jumped at the opportunity to see the South and he told me when to be ready and then he hung up.
After, I thought to myself, what the hell just happened; what does Baton Rouge have to do with my dilemma, my pain?
Why didn't Rap just comment on Kain's weird behavior toward me? He was up to something. I didn't press him.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana was a clean, nicely trimmed city that seemed to have come to terms with itself and race. I got no strange looks from white folks and they seemed fairly comfortable in the presence of blacks. The black people I met, Rap's Mom, Thelma and brother, Ed, were truly hospitable, courteous and seemed to live a comfortable, easy-going life.
The first thing I noticed was Rap's softened demeanor, he walked and talked less suspiciously, laughed more and his wicked, sometimes sarcastic humor disappeared. I was shocked to discover Rap was actually shy and learned "the dozens" to defend himself against the bullies. Why fight 'em when you can beat 'em with your brain and mouth, he explained to me.
While we were in Baton Rouge, Rap's old childhood friends played the dozen's with him, kidded him about his militancy, all in good taste and Rap never hit back, never. I realized he knew he was home...and safe. But, I now knew from whence he got his street style oratory and his nick-name.
Another thing I noticed, Rap didn't come from poverty and projects. His family wasn't well off; his dad worked at an Esso refinery and his mom was a dietician, but, Rap was used to a real home and possession of property which meant defense of that property, if necessary.
Guns were just tools in Louisiana and everybody had them. It was not some magic stick that spit fire, it was a hunting gun, a home defense gun, a part of the make-up of a Southern man, black or white. There was no mystique to the damn thing; it was as natural to have a gun, as it was to have a shovel, a pick-up truck or a lawn-mower.
Rap's ease with a rifle was a beauty to watch; he wasn't a showboat, it just seemed like part of his body, an extension of his arm He reminded me of John Wayne and Audie Murphy when he walked with it, though, I would never have told him that. And from all accounts he was an excellent shot which is why I've always questioned his alleged murder rap of 1 Atlanta policeman and the wounding of another. I was told Rap could shoot a musk-rat out of an upper rain gutter at 50 feet.
He grew up shooting guns. His father , Eddie Brown, hunted regularly. If there was, in fact, a shoot-out with 2 policemen on an Atlanta street, near his home, with his wife inside, trust me, 2 cops would've been dead; not just one. I'm convinced someone else did the shooting, but, knowing Rap, if he knew, he'd never tell, ever.
A few days into our stay at his house, Rap took me to a football game, between Southern U and Grambling, being held at the black Southern University athletic field (though the Louisiana State University was blocks from Rap's house, black teams were not allowed to play there). The Southern U stadium was packed, whites and blacks jostling each other to get tickets, scurrying for seats with no overt hostility even as people bumped into one another.
Learning about the racial dynamics and historic divisions in the South
I didn't watch the game, wasn't interested. What fascinated me was the camaraderie of the fans, slapping five with each other, the loudness of the taunts from the fans of the different teams toward each other with no fear of a fight.
Maybe the South had reached a new plateau of racial harmony. Here I was in the deep south, the old antebellum South, dripping with gumbo, under the drooping branches of Spanish moss, and blacks and whites were laughing, slapping each others backs over touchdowns and gained yardage and generally getting along. They had reached critical mass, I thought, and had decided to morph into new consciousness. I leaned back in my seat, watching it all, marveling at the harmony. Half-shouting to Rap above the din, I said,
"It's beautiful to see black folks and whites getting along so well. This is blowing my mind, brother!"
Rap, standing up while I was seated, looked at me, quizzically, then he looked at the crowd, then looked back at me.
"Felipe, everybody in here is black. They're no white folks here, what the hell is wrong with you?"
I figured Rap was pulling my leg, but, his eyes weren't smiling.
I figured Rap wasn't looking in the right places.
"Look at these people...look at those folks over there...look at that couple...look at that family over there...hello? Rap, they're not only white, they're white white. It's them damn sunglasses you got on, blood. I don't know what you seeing."
Very rarely did Rap take off his sunglasses while he was outside. He took them off and stared at me like I was a fool.
"Negro, these are black people, octoroons, quadroons, mulatos and bloods. And they're probably all related. This is Louisiana. You can't run away from your blackness here. Niggers will let you know who did who and when, and if bloods don't, white folks will. You can think you passing, but, these crackers around here will nail you to the cross, if you ever think you're white 'cause your skin is light. They know these Negroes and their mommas."
I stayed with my mouth open, in total shock. When I say the folks in the stadium looked Irish, Italian, Jewish and German, I mean it. But, as I started to really scrutinize, to peer into their faces as they were shouting encouragement for their respective teams, I began to see the blackness; a fuller lower lip here, a rounder butt there, a hint of knappy curliness to the straight hair. Damn, what an experience! I never thought a stadium could be a sociological classroom. The next day as were just driving around Baton Rouge, I brought up the subject of my reluctance to move into organizing in East Harlem. I gave Rap all the reasons, calmly, well thought out.
Rap kept driving, nodding in assent, to let me know he was listening. Then, without looking at me, keeping his eyes on the road, he spoke, slowly.
"I can't stand some of those chumps we saw at the game, yesterday. They bought into slavery with the little privileges their yellow asses could muster. They were brainwashed into feeling lower than white folks and higher than us. House niggers is all they are, is all some of them will ever be. But, some house niggers were valuable during slavery; told the field niggers everything about the master, when he slept, when he woke up, when he left, when he was coming back, where the guns and machetes were and where the food was stored. Some were black, some with Achilles tendon so they couldn't run anymore, or sell them off to other, more brutal plantations.
What if I decided I wasn't going to organize black folks because most of them had accommodated themselves to being slaves, to not even thinking of going against the white boy, much less fighting him, huh? Where would we be? Where would I be?"
The silence hung in the car like a wet, floppy blanket. I hung my head, embarrassed to even look at the man I admired.
We drove in silence.
"You have a choice, brother. Fight or watch your people die. And, it's your choice. No one will know you bowed out. I know a lot of brothers who just decided to slide through life, pay a little money to the movement, talk shit and raise little boojee negroes to go along and get along. I ain't mad at 'em. That's what they chose. I just won't trust 'em in a fight,
But, if they're gonna contribute in some way to our victory, I'll take whatever they got to offer; just won't tell 'em too much.
It's really up to you, Felipe. You could continue teaching. Or you could put your body where your mouth is.
You're my boy, I'll back your shit up no matter what decision you make, you dig?"
It took all my might not to cry in that car. In his wisdom, Rap slid the knife in silently, without a lot of hoopala.
Lessons and inspiration from Rap Brown: Rap Brown was God's Angel
He had brought me all the way to Baton Rouge to see the contradictions clearly, contradictions within the people he had to deal with everyday. And, he still had faith in them, in the righteousness of black liberation, in the dream.
It was there, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with my older brother, Rap Brown, at my side, that I decided to become a full-fledged Puerto Rican, an organizer, an orator, a soldier, a warrior.
Whether my people were ready or not, on the island or on the mainland, if they needed me I'd be there, if they called me, I would answer and bring every talent, every skills set, every gun to the fight or die. I lost my conceit, the hatred of my own and gained a new love. The lesson of Baton Rouge never left me and I have Rap Brown to thank for that. Funny, huh, a black man who motivated me to co-found the Young Lords
. God works in mysterious ways. That day, Rap Brown was his angel, his messenger, and I believed it.
About Felipe Luciano:
Community Activist and Founder of the Young Lords Party
A two-time Emmy Award-winner for his reporting, Felipe Luciano was America's first Puerto Rican television anchor. He is the founder and chairman of the Young Lords Party, a member of The Original Last Poets, an advocate for inter-ethnic communication, and the host of "Street Talk".
A talented diversity speaker, Felipe Luciano is committed to community empowerment, ethnic pride, and civil rights. This commitment was pivotal to changing the color and complexion of politics, culture, and society in New York City. He is a regular contributor to many New York area newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and Essence, while continuing to write and perform his spoken word poetry. (Keppler)