Meet Dr Neal Hall. A graduate of Cornell and Harvard University, he is an ophthalmologist and reactionary poet.
He recently published a critically acclaimed anthology of verse – Nigger For Life – reflecting his painful, later-life discovery that in “unspoken America” (despite hard work and drive) race is the yardstick by which he is “first” measured and judged; it is the benchmark against which his life and accomplishments are metered and thereby accorded diminished value, dignity and equality – all of which are indispensable in accessing choice, opportunity, power and freedom in America.
Nigger For Life reveals his deep sense of betrayal combined with his fervent passion for life and his desire for equality for “all”. His words pierce through in candid, gut-wrenching clarity. He bares his intelligence, wit and dreams.
Dr Cornel West, a professor at Princeton University and one of America’s foremost public intellectuals and a champion for racial justice, hails Hall as “a warrior of the spirit” and “a warrior of the mind,“ adding that his poetry “has the capacity to change ordinary people’s philosophy on social and racial issues.”
Dr. Howard Myrick, a professor of broadcast, telecommunications and mass media at Temple University praised Nigger for Life for its “amazing economy of word, conveying vivid images, riveting style, lucid insight and possessing that destined-for-repeat-reading quality.”
It says a great deal about Hall that, notwithstanding his substantial achievements, he has not allowed himself to be tamed into acquiescence by the trappings of material success, nor does he view America through rose-tinted glasses.
His anthology is as confronting as it is illuminating, as disarming as it is thought provoking; as cathartic as it is inspiring.
Whether an ophthalmologist or poet, Dr. Hall’s reality is clear-cut – in the eyes of “unspoken America,” he is a Nigger For Life.
I contacted Dr Hall and he kindly agreed to an interview to talk about his book and to share his views on race relations in America, the implications of Barrack Obama’s rise to the US presidency and a host of other related issues.
Emerging from a history of slavery and racial oppression which, for centuries, was the lot of Black people in America, you have since been able to attain a medical degree from Michigan State and ophthalmology surgical subspecialty training from Harvard University. You are also a recognized poet. Yet, despite all that, you say America does not deliver equally. You even suggest that in the eyes of “unspoken America” you are a “Nigger for Life”. How do you explain that?
Dr Hall: First, I would argue against your premise that Blacks have truly emerged from slavery and racial oppression. That which you call our history is still our daily collective reality. Don’t confuse achieving formal education or as I call it – mis-education, mis-information and white degrees, as freedom or equality.
And though we do not find ourselves toiling in cotton fields, we are, however, still on a color-coded exploitative plantation. A color-coded exploitation that, despite all that we may accomplish, reminds us of and puts us in our place. And in doing so, it limits our access to true freedom and equality, despite our advanced degrees.
In “unspoken America”, as in once “spoken America” race is the one thing on which black people are “first” judged, by which they are “first” measured “first”, against which their lives and accomplishments are metered diminished value, dignity and equality; all of which have everything to do with accessing true choice, opportunity, power and freedom. In America, I am a surgeon and poet second. Black skin first. America does not see white degrees when they look at me. They see a Nigger first and bring to that first look and all looks thereafter some measure of their negative, racial stereotypes/obstacles that limit my choices, opportunities, power and freedom.
I once heard Andrew Young speak. He was asked a similar type question. Mr. Young answered in part, just think how much more I could have achieved in my life, with my life, had it not been for the obstacles embodied in racism in America. I find no great victory in achieving advanced educational white degrees in black skin institutionalized to limit me still.
Don’t confuse education, voting, civil rights, etc. for freedom. They are not freedom. They are however, pieces of the puzzle that can distract us from or lead us to freedom. The latter only through the narrow corridor of economics (i.e. medium of exchange of power in the world). Education, voting rights, civil rights, etc. are tools to create our collective economic might.
Regarding the question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: pages 12, 61, 123, 129, 176, 186, 211, 214,
Was writing your book “Nigger for Life” a cathartic experience for you?
Dr Hall: Yes! I had come to learn that there were only two things that would truly listen to me; only two things that sat patiently in silence to hear my joys and my pains; those two things being the pen and paper. So, indeed, the process of writing my thoughts and feelings onto a welcoming empty page was and remains purely cathartic.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book; pages 98, 109, 115
Do you get the sense that it is becoming increasingly politically incorrect to raise the issues you do, even among African-Americans?
Dr Hall: We are too black, too poor and too oppressed to be concerned about political correctness or incorrectness with respect to our voices regarding and against racism and racial oppression. I see being labelled politically incorrect with respect to this issue as an imposition, a ploy, a censorship put upon our cries to be heard and an impediment to our pursuit of freedom.
It should never be politically incorrect for the oppressed to speak truthfully of their oppression lest we become politicians and our struggle, politics rather than the pursuit of freedom.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: page 3, 8, 20, 42
In your view, what does the election of a Black president indicate about the state of race relations in the US?
Dr Hall: The election was not a referendum on improved race relations, racial acceptance and tolerance in America.
I think it speaks more to how bad Bush was as a president coupled with the lack of serious, credible alternatives in McCain and Palin (possibly Clinton). Notwithstanding that, President Obama barely won the popular vote and had to begin lobbying the super delegates in anticipation of a close popular vote. Don’t be fooled by the winner take all electoral vote (365 Mr. Obama v. 173 Mr. McCain). On the heels of Bush, McCain and Palin, Mr. Obama should have won the popular vote in a landslide.
Of the 131 million voters in the 2008 presidential election, there was only an 8.5 to 9 million vote difference (about 7 percentage points) between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain. Amongst white voters the difference was 12 percentage points in favour of Mr. McCain.
Exit polls revealed amongst Black voters:
- 95% voted for Mr. Obama.
- Latino voters, 67% voted for Mr. Obama; 31% voted for Mr. McCain.
- Asian voters, 62% voted for Mr. Obama; 35% voted for Mr. McCain.
In contrast, white voters voted for Mr. McCain 55% over Mr. Obama 43%.
Two million more blacks and 2 million more Latinos reported voting in 2008 than was reported in 2004. Without these 4 million votes, Mr. Obama’s already razor-thin 7-percentage point win would have been reduced to 3.6 percentage points (i.e. 49.5% Mr. Obama vs 45.9% Mr. McCain).
Among Asians, 338,000 more votes were reported cast in 2008 than in 2004. The number of white voters in 2008 was slightly up – from 99.6 million in 2004 to 100 million in 2008.The increases in the number and turnout rates of Black, Hispanic and Asian voters all increased from 2004, reducing the voter participation gap between minorities and white voters.
This was particularly true for black voters. The Black voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points – 60.3% in 2004 to 65.3% in 2008; nearly matching the voter turnout rate of white voters (66.1%).
The Latino voter turnout increased, with the rate rising 2.7 percentage points – 47.2% in 2004 to 49.9% in 2008. Among Asians, voter participation increased from 44.6% in 2004 to 47.0% in 2008. Among white voters, the turnout rate decreased some – 67.2% in 2004 to 66.1% in 2008.
The surge in black voter participation was driven by increased participation among Black women (highest among all racial, ethnic and gender groups—a first) and young voters 18 to 29 (of which 66% voted for Mr. Obama). The voter turnout rate among young black voters was higher than that of young voters of any other racial and ethnic group – a first.
If one looked at increases in voters and votes by region, the greatest increases were in southern states with large black voter populations:
Mississippi – voter turnout rate was up 8 %
Georgia – 7.5 points
North Carolina – 6.1 points
Louisiana – 6.0 points
District of Columbia – 6.9 points
Dissecting the 2008 Electorate – U.S. History, Pew Research Center, April 30, 2009
This was not a referendum on improved race relations and tolerance in America. It was a referendum on how one man inspired disenfranchised people of color (particularly young black females) to turn out in record numbers to vote for what they believed to be real hope and change from the highest office in the land.
Our challenge is to create an operational plan of collective economics people of color can embrace and run to achieve freedom despite any one man or his color.
Institutionalized racism is deeply rooted in economic exploitation. It does not and will not end overnight, nor with the election of any Black man to the White House. America wants to give the world the impression of a happy ending to its African and Native American holocaust history.
According to President Jimmy Carter, “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.” Barack Obama did not appear to share his view. Do you agree with President Carter?
Dr Hall: There is plenty of evidence of White Americans confirming what Mr. Carter asserts. It speaks volumes for itself.
Excerpts of Racist Comments:
A Staten Island woman found a five dollar stamped “Lets Keep The White House White” http://blackpoliticalthought.blogspot.com/2008/06/racist-comments-against-barack-obama.html
A cartoon of two policemen standing over a bloody chimp lying shot to death on the ground. The policeman not holding the gun says to the policeman holding the gun, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill”. http://blog.buzzflash.com/honors/131
Mr. Obama was called an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/15/tea-party-leader-melts-do_n_286933.html
A South Carolina Republican activist posted on twitter, “Just heard Obama is going to impose a 40% tax on aspirin because it’s white and it works.”
A Republican staffer for a Tennessee state senator emailed a block of paintings and photographs of U.S. presidents. The white presidents were shown in their actual likenesses. Mr. Obama was depicted as a disembodied cartoon set of eyes – a “spook“.
A Republican newsletter in California showed candidate Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon, and food stamps http://www.theseminal.com/2009/06/16/will-republican-leaders-denounce-rash-of-racist-comments-directed-at-president-obama-and-his-wife/
With respect to Mr. Obama’s response remember, he is truly, and should be, the president of all the people and colors of America. Probably the first ever to be that in earnest.
Mr. Obama is also a politician, and like all politicians, there is an enormous political abyss between what he can think privately in his head and what he can say publicly with his mouth.
Do you believe that Congressman Joe Wilson’s infamous “you lie!” outburst targeted at Obama was just an ordinary emotional outburst, or is it possible that he and many other whites who oppose Obama feel emboldened to react with hostility towards him because subconsciously, in their minds, a black man will always be a “Nigger”?
Dr Hall: The answer is in the question asked. One would argue whether it was subconscious or not. I think institutionalized and socialized would be closer to the truth than subconscious. This question also addresses your first question!
America does not deliver equally; name one other president in modern day that was subjected to a “you lied” outburst during a nationally televised speech before the world !!
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: pages 29, 146
Of late, very few, (if any) African-American politicians have sought to make race relations a theme of their campaign. For example, Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker and Washington’s mayor, Adrian Fenty ran for office on the promise of competence in office and reducing crime. Isn’t that a tacit admission that race is no longer such a big deal in the US and you’re enjoying racial progress?
Dr Hall: If you believe that to be true, I would ask you to walk, as a Black man down some of the streets of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Upstate New York, South Boston, etc.
Politics and politicians are more interested in getting and staying in office. Black politicians know that a pure race-relations campaign theme is a no-win proposition before a white electorate and media. As such, one should use great caution using Black politicians and their campaigns/themes as a true barometer as to the state of race and race matters in the US.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: pages 3, 7. 20, 40, 42
Some have suggested that African-Americans have far less to fear from the bigotry of racist whites than from the mayhem of blacks themselves, alluding to the increasing incidence of Black-on-Black crime, drugs, the breakdown of Black families and communities and other social ills. Some experts suggest that the problem stems from people choosing not to take responsibility for their lives. What is your take?
Dr Hall: To a large extent, Black America (as well as post-colonized Caribbean Blacks) did not create the institutionalized social and economic degradation and mayhem they find themselves living in. Our Native American brothers can attest to that.
I believe Black Americans, like all Americans, have a responsibility to stand on their own two feet and be equal and contributing brothers in the dream – “We The People”. But! I believe White Americans and institutionalized racism have a far GREATER obligation to get their foot off Black America’s chest so that Black America can truly rise or fall on its own merits. Don’t ask nor demand a black man to stand without “first” demanding that White America first get its foot off the black man’s chest.
Don’t hold the oppressed to a greater responsibility than that of the oppressor. We don’t hold a person raped to a greater obligation than the rapist.
Decades after the Brown v. Board Of Education US Supreme Court ruling we continue to hear of inner city schools having to fight desperately for funding for their students, many of whom are Black and poor. To what extent has equality and desegregation been realized in the American education system and does “institutionalized racism” still exist there?
Dr Hall: Again, the answer is in the question asked. Yes, institutionalized racism exists in all corners and corridors of America; particularly those corners and corridors perceived to lead to economic empowerment.
To what extent is the African-American’s image of himself/herself, and other peoples’ image of Blacks in America, being shaped by the media; and is it true that much of the media’s portrayal of Black communities is overwhelmingly negative?
Dr Hall: Again, the answer is in the question asked. You know this to be true. The media knows fear (negativity) is one of the most powerful marketing tools. Fear sells. Fear persuades. The media knows fear gets ratings and ratings bring media advertising dollars i.e. profits. With fear and negativity the media shapes the views/beliefs of white and black viewers. The latter with self-hate and a sense of being sub-standard; less than. The former with an inflated sense of superiority, righteousness and entitlement. You know the answer to this question. St. Lucia and other Caribbean Island states have fared no better under colonial rape and rule.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book pages 68, 177
There is a feeling among some Caribbean people of African descent living in the US that African-Americans – notwithstanding their history of racial oppression – sometimes look down on West Indians and other blacks originating outside of the US. Is that a fair presumption?
Dr Hall: I don’t have much experience in this area. But I do know that the field nigger and house nigger mentalities; the dark skin and the high-yellow skin; the good hair and bad hair mentalities live amongst us to divide us and to pit us against ourselves. It is extremely important that we do not allow our collective pursuit of freedom to be divided amongst itself. We must be and see ourselves as one in this fight for equality.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: pages 128, 164
Do you share Dr. Martin Luther King’s optimism and his dream of freedom, racial equality and harmony?
Dr Hall: Indeed, I share Dr. King’s dream and wish for freedom and equality, not just for the Black man but all men, lest we become the oppressor of men ourselves. I am surely no lesser than any man but more importantly, I am no better than any as well.
On the other hand, I do not share Dr. King’s optimism in our “turning a cheek” in our fight for freedom for all men. There, I embrace more Malcolm’s – “by any mean necessary”. I caution you not to think from this that I advocate physical and property violence as an option. I do not !!!
This is where I depart some from Malcom. I do however embrace titrated, measured collective economic violence. I embrace oppressed people of color to unite their collective economics and withhold that economics from those who would not do right by us right now!! Let them feel our collective economic might and anger. And to those who would do right by us right now, let them prosper from our collective economics. We have yet to pool our economic might to achieve wealth and power to free not just the Black man but all men.
We should at a minimum, use the power of our purse to begin to gain power by buying collectively or collectively withholding our spending. We don’t need another March on Washington; we need a March on Wall Street by any collective economic means possible.
To freedom’s and equality’s end, we should direct our collective economics towards building a black self-sustaining, self-determining economic infrastructure that would empower us to free not just ourselves, but all men. To that end, I embrace and share the dream of Dr. King.
Regarding this question, I refer you to the following poems in my Nigger For Life Book: pages 120,126, 129,160,195
Dr Neal Hall’s contact details:
Web address: http://www.surgeonpoet.com
For more information and analyses of the 2008 US presidential elections results see:
Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S. History by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, Paul Taylor, Executive Vice President http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1209/racial-ethnic-voters-presidential-election
The Independent Political Report http://www.independentpoliticalreport.com/2009/08/fec-releases-official-popular-vote-count-from-2008-presidential-election/