BESSIE SMITH:[singing] Then trouble’s takin’ place in the lowlands at night // I woke up this mornin’, can’t even get out of my door.
STUDS TERKEL:Bessie Smith, of course, the Empress of the Blues, singing of a disaster, of a flood. Sitting with me, hearing Bessie Smith on this recording, is James Baldwin, brilliant young American writer, but perhaps a more specific description of Mr. Baldwin, since he is one of the rare men in the world who seems to know who he is today, James Baldwin, brilliant young Negro American writer. And as you listen to this, Jim, to this record of Bessie Smith, what’s your feeling?
JAMES BALDWIN:It’s very hard to describe that feeling. The first time I ever heard this record was in Europe and under very different circumstances. And I never listened to Bessie in New York. And what struck me was the fact that she was singing, as you say, about a disaster, which had almost killed her, and she had accepted it and was going beyond it. It’s a fantastic kind of understatement in it. It’s a way I want to write. You know, when she says, “My house fell down, and I can’t live there no more,” it’s a great sentence. It’s a great achievement.
STUDS TERKEL:The way you want to write, you say?
STUDS TERKEL:I’m looking now at page five of your new book, and it’s a remarkable one, Nobody Knows My Name. It’s a series of essays, articles, opinions of James Baldwin, More Notes of a Native Son, the subtitle. And on page five—the reason I had chosen the Bessie Smith record, because on page five, you write of your being in Europe. You were in Switzerland.
STUDS TERKEL:And you said you “came armed with two Bessie Smith records and a typewriter. And I began to try to recreate the life that I had first known as a child, from which I had spent so many years in flight, and it was Bessie Smith who, through her tone and her cadence, helped me dig back to the way I myself must have spoke when I was little. And I remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I buried them deep. I had”—and here’s the part—“I had never listened to Bessie Smith in America, in the same way, for years, I had never touched watermelon. But in Europe, [inaudible] reconcile myself.”
JAMES BALDWIN:Yes. Well, and I put that—that winter in Switzerland, I was working on my first novel, which I thought I would never be able to finish. And I finally realized in Europe that one of the reasons that I couldn’t finish this novel was because I was ashamed of where I had come from and where I had been, and ashamed of life in the church and ashamed of my father, ashamed of the blues and ashamed of jazz, and, of course, ashamed of watermelon, because it was, you know, all these stereotypes that the country inflicts on Negroes, you know, that we all eat watermelon or we all do nothing but sing the blues, and all that. Well, I was afraid of all that, and I ran from it.
And when I say I was trying to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken when I was little, I realized that I had acquired so many affectations, I had told myself so many lies, that I really had buried myself beneath a whole fantastic image of myself, which wasn’t mine, but white people’s image of me. And I realized that I had not always talked—obviously, hadn’t always talked the way I had forced myself to learn how to talk. And I had to find out what I had been like in the beginning. In order, just technically then to recreate Negro speech, I realized there was a cadence, there was a beat, much more than—it was not a question of dropping S’s or N’s or G’s, but a question of the beat, really. And Bessie had the beat, you know? And in that—this icy wilderness, you know, as far removed from Harlem as anything you can imagine, Bessie Smith and me. I began—
STUDS TERKEL:And white snow.
JAMES BALDWIN:And white snow and white mountains and white faces, who really thought I was—I had been sent by the devil. It was a very strange. They had never seen a Negro before.
“I want to be as free as the spirits of those who left
I’m talking Malcom, Coltrane, my man Yusef
Through death through conception
New breath and resurrection
For moms, new steps in her direction
In the right way
Told inside is where the fight lay
And everything a nigga do may not be what he might say
Chicago nights stay, stay on the mind
But I write many lives and lay on these lines
Wave the signs of the times
Many say the grind’s on the mind
Shorties blunted-eyed and everyone wanna rhyme
Bush pushing lies, killers immortalized
We got arms but won’t reach for the skies
Waiting for the Lord to rise
I look into my daughter’s eyes
And realize that I’m gonna learn through her
The Messiah, might even return through her
If I’m gonna do it, I gotta change the world through her
Furs and a Benz, gramps wantin ‘em
Demons and old friends, pops they hauntin’ him
The chosen one from the land of the frozen sun
When drunk nights get remembered more than sober ones
Walk like warriors, we were never told to run
Explored the world to return to where my soul begun
Never looking back or too far in front of me
The present is a gift
and I just wanna BE”—
If you value the free, fair, and open Internet, then you need to act now, before two corporate giants deal it away.
Several news outlets have just reported that Google and Verizon are about to cut a deal that would allow giant corporations to control which websites load slowly, quickly, or not at all. Google used to oppose this kind of corporate control over the Internet, but now it looks like they’re changing their tune. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” but it looks like their pursuit of profit might be getting in the way of living up to that ideal.
Thankfully, it’s not a done deal yet. If enough of us speak out now, we can create enough pressure to get Google to back off this corporate takeover of the Internet. Will you join me in adding your voice, and then ask your friends and family to do the same?
The basic promise of the Internet lies in the guarantee that information you put online is treated the same as anyone else’s information in terms of its basic ability to travel across the Internet. Your own personal website or blog can compete on equal footing with the biggest companies. It’s the reason the Internet is so diverse — and so powerful. Anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there’s money to promote the idea or money to be made from it.
This is critical for Black communities and others that have had our voices compromised by corporate-controlled media. For the first time in history we can communicate with a broad audience, educate, politically organize, and create new businesses — without prohibitive costs or mediation by gatekeepers in government or industry. It’s the strength of your ideas, not the size of your budget, that largely determines your success. In television, radio, and print this can’t happen on a large scale because access is determined by big media corporations seeking to turn a profit.
This deal could take the Internet in a different direction. It could end the Internet’s level playing field by allowing rich corporations like Google to pay for faster-loading websites and services. It could destroy the potential for independent voices to compete with giant corporations for an audience — big corporations who can pay for preferential access to Internet users would drown out the smaller voices online. And it could mean that you’ll start getting less Internet service at a higher cost.
We expect the big telecommunications companies to try to stifle freedom and equality on the Internet — they’ve hired an army of lobbyists to do just that. But Google has always said it supports a free and open Internet. Google likes to portray itself as a corporation with principles that go beyond profit, and it would be disappointing to see Google abandon them.
Google has tried to downplay this story. They issued a short, carefully worded statement that says they’re still committed to an open Internet, but they haven’t denied that they are in talks with Verizon to cut a deal that would give corporations more control over Internet traffic.
By speaking out, you can pressure Google to walk away from this deal. But time is running out — please join me in signing ColorOfChange.org’s petition to Google today: