On Monday, I had the wonderful experience of participating in the Lawrence Read and Reflect as a part of our Martin Luther King, Jr. day observance. I hope that many of you were able to participate in some of the day’s activities. The book we read was, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, by Marc Lamont Hill. In the foreword to the book, Todd Brewster notes that Lamont Hill’s message is that, “these recent, very public killings of African-Americans fit a picture that is not as racist as it is intolerant, not as uncaring as it is unseeing, not as malevolent as it is indifferent, and not as much a continuation of America’s original sin as the product of regressive policies and attitudes nurtured in a post-civil rights era; indeed, in the last thirty years.”
As we move toward the end of this week and the inauguration of a new President, the challenges that were articulated by Mr. Lamont Hill are worth continued reflection. Far beyond political party, is the question, “How do we, as a society, understand our responsibility to and for each other? Can we resist the intolerance, blindness, and indifference that Nobody documents?” The title of the book, reminded me of another piece, The Nobodies, by Eduardo Galeano. Galeano was one of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers. A Uruguayan writer, Galeano advocated truth-telling in his context and that of other Latin American countries, on behalf of social justice.
Galeano’s sense of truth was shaped not only by personal experience that included death threats and exile, but also by both Das Kapital and the Bible. In a 2009 interview he says of himself, “I had a Catholic infancy and a Marxist adolescence. I could be one of the few individuals who poured over Das Kapital and the Bible. They ought to exhibit me in an anthropology museum. Of course both influences are still alive in me, but they do not own me.”
In another interview he talks about reading, saying it is, “. . . a secret and sometimes fertile, ceremony of communion. Anyone who reads something that is really worth the trouble does not read with impunity. Reading one of those books that breathe when you put them to your ear does not leave you untouched: it changes you, even if only a little bit, it integrates something into you, something that you did not know or had not imagined, and it invites you to seek, to ask questions. And more still: sometimes it can even help you to discover the true meaning of words betrayed by the dictionary of our times. What more could a critical consciousness want?”
When he speaks of his writing Galeano says, “I write wanting to speak and express myself in a language that is sentipensante (feeling-thinking), a very precise word taught to me by fishermen of the Colombian coast of the Caribbean Sea. And for that reason, precisely for that reason, I don’t like at all to be called an intellectual. I feel like I am thereby turned into a bodiless head, which is also an uncomfortable situation, and that my reason and emotion are being divorced from one another. One supposes that an intellectual is someone capable of knowing, but I prefer someone capable of comprehending. A cultured person is not someone who accumulates more knowledge, because then there will be nobody more cultured than a computer. A cultured person is someone who knows how to listen, to listen to others and listen to the thousand and one voices of the natural world of which we are a part. In order to speak, I listen.”
When I first met this poem, I had the experience of sentipensante. I share the piece with you between our observance and reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of justice and the promise and peril of the inauguration. For me this piece — presses my consciousness outward and further convicts me and the structures and vocabulary that I have been taught and have used – by articulating a hope that is worthy of stumbling toward. I welcome your thoughts.
Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping
poverty: that one magical day good luck will suddenly rain down on
them—will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down
yesterday, today, tomorrow, or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a
fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their
left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right
foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.
The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the
no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life,
screwed every which way.
Who are not, but could be.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police
blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”
― Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
If you would like to hear the poem read in Spanish, here is a link to one option.
Please note that in keeping with the disturbing images in the poem, the video images in this link may also be disturbing.