Author: D'Netria

Gimme back my crown like the Queen Nefertiti

Peaceful Protest: Not an Easy Thing to Do (Conversations with Dead People):

The topic of this conversation between Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay is whether nonviolent protest is effective today. Paul, who is a firm believer in nonviolence, asks his good friend, Claude, to join him for a Black Lives Matter protest in Baltimore, Maryland. To his surprise, Claude does not share some his [Paul’s] sentiments in regards to nonviolence and will challenge Dunbar’s beliefs. By the end of this conversation, we will discover whether peaceful protest gives you an advantage or if it is simply a hindrance from being fully prepared in cases of resistance.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Hey Claude! It’s great to see you again old friend. Lately, it seems, we’ve been having a hard time reconnecting. Unfortunately, I only have about an hour to chat since I am heading up to Baltimore to participate in a non-violent protest against police brutality. I’m sure you have seen all of the recent events and heard about the rioting that has occurred throughout the city since the death of Freddie Gray. Well, Black Lives Matter has been organizing a series of peaceful protest throughout the week to bring reconciliation in these hard times. Only the words of my poem Sympathy can accurately express the pain that I feel. “I know why the caged bird beats his wing/Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;/For he must fly back to his perch and cling/When he fain would be on the bough a-swing/And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars/And they pulse again with a keener sting–/I know why he beats his wing!” Claude, I would love for you to join me if you have the time. I think your presence can be quite influential in this situation and create a positive change.

Claude McKay

Claude McKay

Claude McKay: Yes, Paul, it has been far too long. And, yes, we both know how it feels to be oppressed and bound by the systematic restraints that police us as Black men. That is why I personally struggle with the idea of nonviolent protesting. Although I do not believe that it is entirely ineffective, I have my doubts. In the past, we can see the changes that were a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement, but I wonder if that same movement would be possible today. You mentioned police brutality, well, I believe that is not only important for our people to teach our children how to respond to law enforcement but to also be able to physically defend ourselves when necessary. Like you, I have also written about this burden that we bear in my poem Enslaved. I quote, “My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,/For this my race that has no home on earth./Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry/To the avenging angel to consume/The white man’s world of wonders utterly…” But I, my brother, cannot be so forgiving. I cannot react peacefully to death and violence.

Paul Laurence Dunbar:​ You know, Claude, I believe that we have to continue to stand together in times like this. When the Black community is still facing so much discrimination and violence, we have to be the change we want to see in the world. From my experience with peaceful protests, I have come to believe that this isn’t just the best form of resistance but also the most psychologically healthy choice. The great Dr. Martin Luther King often spoke on nonviolence. He even said, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.” That simply means we have to fight the natural human urge to hate those who mistreat us no matter how severe the pain. Yeah, C-Mac, it can be a really hard thing to do, but hatred only destroys us in the end. My goal is to have inner peace with God and myself. He is the only one who can judge and give us true freedom and equality. In my poem, I spoke about this very issue in Not They Who Soar when I said, “Not they who soar, but they who plod/Their rugged way, unhelped, to God/Are heroes.” While I do believe you have some valid points surrounding your ideas on violent protest and fighting back, I still believe that we will find justice if we seek it the right way. For, even if we die, it will never be in vain.

Claude McKay:​ Well Paul, you have made some interesting points, but I have to respectfully disagree. In my poem If We Must Die that you just loosely quoted, I state, “…oh, let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!” I am a firm believer that people respect hard workers and those who are willing to fight for what they believe in. Though they may destroy our bodies, they will remember our courage, our will, and our strength. Malcolm X once said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you are a man, you take it.” My personal values are more aligned with his stance on nonviolence. We cannot sit around and wait for the police or the law or even the president to work on our behalf. We have to rise up like men! We have break away from the systematic oppression that has kept us silent for so long. You say that “violent protest” will cause self-destruction. Well, I say that we are not violent; we are just prepared. Until I am able to watch the news and not worry about the safety of our Black fathers, sons, and brothers, I will never have inner peace. My peace comes from knowing that my sons will make it home alive and that my daughters will be treated the same as their White, female counterparts. That is as close to freedom and peace that I think I will find.

We Wear the Mask

Paul Laurence Dunbar: I must say that I am slightly surprised by your comments. On the other hand, I have known you for a long time and I have always admired your outspokenness and fervor. You feel as though we are not properly defending ourselves, but I have found that violence only begets violence. The main objective of peaceful protesting is negotiation. We cannot afford to miss any opportunity that we may have to sit down with our current leaders and restructure the system. Do you think that government officials would be willing to do that with people who are attacking and fighting against them? I don’t. Yes, this approach may seem a bit unsavory at first, but it can open the door the change that we hope to see. Believe me when I say, “We wear the mask that grins and lies,/It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–/This debt we pay to human guile;/With torn and bleeding hearts we smile…”

Claude McKay: You are right when you speak about negotiating. My only concern lies in the way in which we get there. The truth is, a completely nonviolent and peaceful protest is unlikely under these circumstances. In the past few weeks, members of the Baltimore community attempted to have a week of peaceful protests but were unable to do so. I truly believe that we have to judge for ourselves which approach we should take on a situation-by-situation basis. It is easy to say that we should respond peacefully, but would we if it were our children on the news? No, I would not remain peaceful and I would not negotiate. Justice is what we seek! And, a legal system that will allow for this brutality to occur is not just; it is cruel. I stick by my words when I said, “But I am bound with you in your mean graves,/O black men, simple slaves of ruthless slaves.” In Bondage is another poem where I address this burden of my Black people. You speak about human guile and bleeding hearts but hearts only bleed when they have broken, trampled, lacerated, and cut. That, my friend, is violence.

Peaceful Protest Baltimore

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Point well made, Claude. But, if we want to see a completely nonviolent protest, we must continue to have conversations like this. Even you are uncertain of the effectiveness of a peaceful approach – you, who is one of the influential voices of our time. Can we then expect others to follow if we are not doing so ourselves? C-Mac, I adamantly believe that this movement can be the reincarnation of the Civil Rights Movement if we can produce a leader to guide the people in the right direction. Back then, they had Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and the list goes on. Today, we have not seen that much needed leadership brought to the forefront of this movement. In God’s time, I know that it will happen; but, I believe until then, we have to continue to live peaceably with all men.

Claude McKay: I once said in my The White House, “Your door is shut against my tightened face,/And I am sharp as steel with discontent;/But I possess the courage and the grace/To bear my anger proudly and unbent.” I will not lie; it is not an easy task. Still, in the end, we share a common goal. I do encourage rioting but I hope to be able to defend my loved ones and myself if need be. Just like you’ve said, “We sing, but oh the clay is vile/Beneath our feet, and long the mile…” Yes, we do wear the mask, but I hope the day will come when we don’t have to. That is what I am fighting for – what we are fighting for.

Paul Laurence Dunbar: I am glad that we are able to find a silver lining, my friend. That is why I still want you to come to this protest with me. I understand that you may not be fully convinced of my methods, but being there could help you to see why I believe in it. It is always a pleasure talking with you. You challenge me in my thinking and I hope I can provide you the same courtesy.

Claude McKay: My sentiments mirror your own, Paul. I think attending this protest would be an excellent opportunity for me to get a better understanding of your perspective. I have heard so much about the Black Live Matter campaign but this will be the first time I am able to physically participate. Thank you for inviting and we can continue this discussion on the way to Baltimore.