June Jordan: The Critic as Activist

[By Goyland Williams]

To be a minority in America, or in any “democratic state” is a dicey proposition. I’ve been inhaling essays in June Jordan’s Moving Towards Home. Jordan’s words may come as a shock or, as Robert Frost puts it, ” a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong…” for those who resist structural analysis for cheap American patriotism.

The immediacy and timelessness of her essay “Problems of Language in a Democratic State” is so utterly true and frustrating. Frustrating because the force of her critical acumen has gone unanswered, if not altogether, avoided. Frustrating because what is found there, might save our [black] lives. 

 Perhaps June Jordan knew that a gun was already at our heads. And that we need new words. 

Somebody needs to write aggressive new statements of social design and demand. More and more Americans finally want to hear new sentences, new ideas, to articulate this unprecedented, and painful, majority situation. But is there anybody new around the house? Someone who can think and organize a solution to this loss of privilege, this loss of power (129)?

Does it matter that Jordan prefigured Houston Baker’s Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era, Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America,” or Jerry W. Ward, Jr.’s Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery? Truth-telling has its place. What matters most is that June Jordan does not shy away from the spirit-stabbing words that might unnerve and even un-house us. The truth is:

This is not a democratic state. And we put up with that. We do not have a democratic language. And we put up with that. We have the language of the powerful that perpetuates that power through the censorship of dissenting views.