we are here in the prison auditorium. it is february nineteen sixty eight. six months after the witnessing unto death of the street fighters of newark, detroit and hundreds more of my country's troubled cities.
we are in the middle of the tet. the vietnamese new year celebrated in a new way.
no cease fire. victory or death, said the black pajama-clad vietnamese holding the lamp at the end of that tunnel of which so many generals talked of seeing light. and that messenger of god is making it clear to all. superman got kalishnakoved while cringing in a phone booth in hue,
trying to tell walter cronkite that peace is at hand.
we are in the auditorium watching "the green berets". john wayne in khaki cowboy outfit and talking that same tired garbage on which he built his career, talking about the red man.
we who are black and who have watched our brothers and sisters throw themselves at the beast.
who remember being slapped with the left hooks of endless promises, and slapped with the right hooks of blood and death when we took these promises too seriously.
who spent our childhoods sitting through saturday matinee specials: wide screen depictions of john wayne, jungle jim and tarzan having hair-breadth escapes from black, brown, red and yellow people looking like us, the whole world over.
we are sitting in this auditorium watching john wayne acting out yet another role, portraying yet another soldier in pharaoh's army, living high off the hog among the fleshpots of egypt.
and something cracks inside of our collective selves. something tells us it's redemption time.
and so we orchestrate our thunderous applause in counterpoint to the patriotism of the
white inmates led by hitler's little helpers, dirt-poor like us and having nothing but their white skins to show for all their troubles.
they cheer at the movie scenes of gatling guns in c-forty sevens blowing away yellow people. we retaliate by cheering to a crescendo in that one scene where the vietnamese communists overrun the american base camp and run up their blue, red striped and yellow starred banner. some brothers wax totally ironic, get carried away, belting out in public school harmony:
at the end of the movie we all, black and white file downstairs onto the red- tiled hallway. everywhere you can see there are wall- to- wall helmeted riot police, like all of us were going to be stupid enough to have a race riot for their entertainment!
i see the captain walking straight toward me. he asks me in a serious and menacing tone: what is going on?
in a silence in which you could hear a cockroach scramble across the floor i cheerfully answer with a straight face that we were watching a good movie. and everyone, and i mean everyone, got all enthused.