Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico.

By Ishmael Reed

Baraka Books | 2019

Reviewed by Jerry W Ward, Jr

Ishmael Reed’s Moral Compass

Ishmael Reed

Many American thinkers have tried, by way of philosophical essays, jeremiads, reflections on habits of the heart and soul, provocative manifestos, and open letters, to improve our nation's debatable social contracts and fragile moral compass. Indigenous victims of imperial genocide; enslaved persons and  slavery' s  enemies;  poets and writer of many colors;  advocates for equity, human rights, and social justice; clergymen and clergywomen; and a small number of elected  officials—all of them , the dreamers  and the doers have participated in moral and ethical warfare. Fighting.

Since the mid-twentieth century, Ishmael Reed has been deep, abrasive, and didactic, an iconoclastic champion of what is "good" and a formidable critic of what is "bad" in domestic and transnational affairs.  Reed is a fighter, a battered but undefeated fighter.

Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico is a compelling record of his place in literary histories and moral struggles. It is a feast one consumes with grains of pepper and salt.

How does a reviewer observe due diligence in commenting on Reed's life and multiple achievements? One notes how apt is Wendy Hayes-Jones's notion that Reed is an "erudite pugilist punching out rounds of words interlaced with the bookish military strategist planning his next move to outwit the enemy." (See "Ishmael Reed: Fifty-Eight Years of Boxing on Paper. On the Aesthetic Legacy of Ishmael Reed. Ed. Sami Ludwig.  Hamilton Beach, CA: World Parade Books, 2012)

How does one make a fair but trenchant evaluation of a conscientious sorcerer, a Neo-Hoodoo priest, an iconoclast whom certain feminists crucify as hyper-masculine (toxic) misogyny personified? How does one coordinate his depictions of American and world histories with his unique logic and calling out of our nation's hubris, yearning to be fascist, and uses of imperial desires? It is a daunting task to account for Reed's fiction (expanded by drama, music, and film) and non-fiction from 1968 Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down to 2019, the most recent collection of essays and journalism. Several book-length studies of Reed offer clues about the required thinking, but actual assessment is a dim glow in a tunnel of a future.

Background and underground work must be done. If one had world enough and time, it would be ideal to measure Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico against a chronological re-reading of

Sufficient world and time are hard to come by.  One must improvise, hoping that one's grasp of Reed's moral compass is accurate.  American cultural literacy has reached a nadir, understanding rhetoric has grown impotent, and the probability of anxious misreading is enormous.

Reed is not an anachronism.  His moral compass ensures that we will be tutored by his ethical discourses, his testimony about and indictment of the American people in Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico.  He is a pre-future sage who speaks to us with the authority of an Old Testament prophet. Fame has given Reed a few material rewards, but the reward he most deserves is knowing, within his lifetime, that his uncanny intelligence succeeded in making the divided peoples of the United States a bit more honest about who and what they are.

Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico is a relentless mirror that forces us to gaze upon ourselves in 2019 and to ponder that the absence of Confederate statues in Mexico highlights the inerasable presence of those statues in our fights with revitalized racism and white supremacy, with the fact that the American Confederacy lives in a Brazilian town  [[see https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/gq8ae9/welcome-to-americana-brazil-0000580-v22n2 ]]  We cannot excuse ourselves from our histories with the bad faith of  post-whatever  ideologies so assiduously cultivated by the super-rich and hegemonic international cartels.

Reed's essays compel us to deal with (1) our land of fluid identities, (2) culture in general—especially to what Reed contends is the brilliant performance and bad history of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, (3) politics or the tragedy and travesty of government and the rule of law, and (4) culture as theatrical.

Reed makes good use of his stern journalism and moral compass to remind us again and once more again that the historically situated insights of David Walker, Frederick Douglass,  Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Toni Morrison,  Michelle Alexander,  Tommy J. Curry and other moralists who compete for our attention are as crucial, as necessary as air.

At end of decoding Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico readers will either absorb the lessons with gratitude or reject them with howls of execration. Reed does not pander; he challenges us to maximize our critical thinking to discriminate among what he gets right, what he gets half-right, and what he gets wrong.  His new essays are solid in their depiction of what Simon de Beauvoir brilliantly named the ethics of ambiguity.

Only the most perverse readers can fail to profit from the sweeping motions of Reed's moral compass.  And most readers, I suspect, will get the point of so typical an assertion as the latest shedding of light on the "tangle of pathologies in the white community is to be encouraged.  Better late than never. Maybe no longer will the white community be treated as Lake Wobegon, with the black community as a sort of waste disposal across the tracks for the country's social problems." (p. 265)

This assertion ought to guide us in understanding that none of our ethnic communities are free of pathologies.  We are all—yellow, black, brown, white and red—afflicted with pathologies, and our most prudent course of action is to perpetually write and fight for the uncertain remedies that may in time the future will provide reasonable or rational or pragmatic cures for our human conditions.

— Jerry W Ward, Jr. is an occasional contributor to The Neworld Review

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