The only real power we the people possess, as individuals and en masse, is our deafening power to resolutely say No to the bullsheet. All those prescient and very pregnant Afrikans who tossed themselves overboard during the Middle Passage figured this out while sailing across the Atlantic in boats only built for Cuban links, as did the self-liberated captives aboard the Amistad who made the epiphanal discovery that sharp steel can tear open throats of any color. Midway through the last century Rosa Parks reminded us about the power of No all over again in far less dramatic, bloodthirsty, and self-annihilating fashion coming home one night on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. Defying a post-bellum social custom that decades of bowing down had transformed from a rule of law into a robotic law of the father, Ms. Parks said No loud enough for the Supreme Court to hear. She held her ground when convention commanded she clear out so some self-inflated kracka could assert his nobility among the animals. The history of African Americans is full of small, quiet acts of resistance as personal and fundamental as Ms. Parks’s, but few so resonant as to become a liberation movement’s creation myth.
Thanks to the Daily News’ beyond-fabulous sepia-tone mug-shot memorial cover, Parks, the bespectacled seamstress–NAACP activist of 1955, is now officially a Thug Immortal, the original ride-or-die chick. So gangsta, so About The Black, she moved all the way to roughneck Detroit as Montgomery fast turned life-threatening. The News‘ cover choice has upset some in the cult-nat ranks, but I applaud it lest we forget the freedom road is paved with jailed revolutionaries and that liberation rhymes with incarceration when not death. Tain’t but a hop, skip, and a jump from Parks to Angela and Assata on the FBI Most Wanted lists. And unlike the women of the Weather Underground who had to blow some shit up to get there, all these Black women had to do to register as threats to kracka supremacy was to make a federal case out of saying No.
The record will show that sister Rosa wasn’t the first person in her community to Just Say No to bloated and ridiculous kracka privilege. She was, however, a poised, committed, and perfect fit for her beloved NAACP’s good Negro profile. The one chosen and the chosen one, designed by nature and designated by nurture to ignite sympathy and resistance locally, nationally, and internationally in the wake of the recent Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court victory of 1954 and the still-smoldering outrage over Emmett Till.
Timing is everything. Had Ms. Parks’s rejection of ritual Negro obeisance to niggerization in transit occurred a year earlier, maybe there’d have been no Montgomery bus boycott and no Martin Luther King Jr. to galvanize and emerge from it. But certain acts like certain people possess an air of inevitability not only in retrospect but as they are occurring. And the seagusts of change Ms. Parks helped set in motion proved no mild breeze but a tempestuous hurricane that this country can’t help but to keep reeling from for as long as being Black in America and being American remain irreconcilable ideas. As the recent events in New Orleans have shown us, race is the country’s most frequently recurring nightmare. It also is the most stable marker and litmus test of the nation’s moral and mental immaturity—the deferred dream whose most obvious attribute and lasting legacy is bound up with the country’s spiritual fate and mirrored face from Birmingham to Abu Ghraib. What Rosa Parks did with her No has become mythical because like Perseus’s triumph over Medusa, it forced kracka supremacy to recoil from the banality and weakness of its evil. By the same token her action made her own folk recognize that there is a difference between being powerless and being terrorized. A difference made manifest when their engagement in the famous 381-day bus boycott affirmed the power a community of No’s can amass in a society where the power of the profits, revered in ways reserved for the supernatural, can magically sweep aside racist custom when it conflicts with commerce.
Ms. Parks’s passing at 92 last Monday also begs we reflect upon the economic boycott as a political tactic in an age where the crux of living is fast becoming to shop or not to shop. Buyer-logical determinism is thrust upon even the poor by connective technologies that have made the world simultaneously smaller and more mall-like. The marked difference between the time when Ms. Parks said No and our own is that the No we need to say has less to do with paying for the privilege of being oppressed than with how our dreams and desires have become what keeps systemic oppression alive. So that as crazy and quixotic as it sounds, a modern-day equivalent of what Ms. Parks and the Black community of Montgomery did would require all people of conscience to cease and desist. Out in the virtual military-industrial-consumption complex where power now attempts to rule over our tricked-out, pimped-out, and branded brain matter, there’d be a riot of concern for our happiness and well-being. So much concern that being offline would probably become a treasonous offense.
Yeah, the Wachowski brothers already made the dumbass movie, but in this version the point wouldn’t be to reboot a more benign opiate of the people but to reboot the very question of human freedom. Ralph Ellison once intimated that if you want to slip the yoke of slavery then you got to change the joke. Rosa Parks turned sitting on your Black ass into a liberation dance. The Blackfolk of 1956 Montgomery hurled carpooling at their oppressors like a Molotov cocktail. Here and now all we got to do to start a ruckus is stage a mass logoff of the virtual economy for a couple of centuries.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 25, 2005