Cop Brutality: @Memphis and Nigeria’s #EndSARS

“But somehow we survive

severance, deprivation, loss

Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark

hissing their menace to our lives,

most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror,

rendered unlovely and unlovable;

sundered are we and all our passionate surrender

but somehow tenderness survives.”

-Dennis Brutus (from “Somehow we survive”)


on January 7, 2023 police officers pulled over TYRE NICHOLS for alleged reckless driving. what should have been a routine stop turned instead to his battle with death as five police officers beat and tased the 29-year-old to death. TYRE, father to a four-year old, was a skater who had a website called “THIS CALIFORNIA KID” documenting his skating life in sacramento. he had come to memphis during the pandemic to live with his MOM and was working with his STEPFATHER at fedex. his killers were members of the memphis police unit called scorpion (street crimes operation to restore peace in our neighborhoods) that the department formed in november 2021. following the murder of TYRE, the unit was disbanded.

in nigeria, there had been years of complaints about the police unit called sars (special anti-robbery squad). authorities formed the unit in lagos in the early 1990’s, and later it was expanded as part of a national police strategy. nigerian citizens complained of being arrested, detained, and tortured by sars officers.  two incidents in 2020 set off national and international protests against the police unit – an arrested MAN falling off a police vehicle in early october in delta state who onlookers presumed dead and then police killing protestor, JIMOH ISIAKA, on october 10 in oyo state. a few days after those two incidents and their subsequent protests, the police replaced sars with a new swat unit.


the five officers who killed TYRE NICHOLS in memphis were fired. as the nation goes through these cycles of police abuse and firings, we know that firing officers doesn’t end our colonial status as Black people within a system of white supremacy. Journalist CHRIS HEDGES recently stated that the “military and police forces in the u.s. function as armies of occupation” stabilizing corporate colonialism. despite the five officers being black, they derive their agency by ensuring the social system functions for a business-as-usual economics that benefits the few. within capitalism, the “representationalist” aspect of identity politics, to quote the late GLEN FORD, hasn’t saved us from losing forty percent of our wealth since 2008, nor from being forty percent of the nation’s homeless while accounting for only fourteen percent of the population.

at a press conference in memphis, police officials said, “…”

despite protests across nigeria over police brutality, police and hired thugs continued to kill PROTESTORS. during the october 2020 protests in lagos at the lekki toll gate, soldiers attempted to restore order. order in nigeria includes maintaining control over crude petroleum – a crucial global resource and the nation’s largest export; one percent of the population owns eighty percent of the nation’s oil wealth. despite PROTESTORS waving the nigerian flag and singing the national anthem, soldiers stormed and shot at them. the military killed at least forty-eight PEOPLE and another ninety-six CORPSES were later found.

at a news conference in lagos, authorities promised, “…”







The accounts of police brutality directed at Tyre Nichols are from:

“Woke Imperialism” by Chris Hedges in The Chris Hedges Report” (San Francisco: Substack, Feb 5, 2023)

“We’re not done: end of Scorpion Unit after Tyre Nichols death is first step, protestors say” by Edwin Rios in The Guardian (New York: Jan 29, 2023)

“Colonial-Capitalist Fascism and its Deadly Outcome: The State Murder of Tortuguita in Atlanta and Tyre Nichols in Memphis Are Inextricably Linked” by Black Alliance for Peace Atlanta in Black Agenda Report (USA: Feb 1 2023)

The accounts of police brutality in Nigeria are from “The massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate” by Femi Falana SAN in The Guardian Nigeria (Lagos: Nov 24 2021)

The statistic on Nigeria’s oil wealth is from “Imperialism, dependence, development: Legacies of colonialism in Africa” by Lee Wengraf in International Socialist Review (Chicago: Center for Economic Research and Social Change, Issue 103, Winter 2016-17)

The Incalculable Costs of California’s Mass Shootings

My closest confrontation with gun gunfire came at the end of what started out a normal workday. Decades back when my seventeen years of teaching middle school left me feeling that the word I said most often was “no” – with my own kids at home and with the middle schoolers at work, — I drove one afternoon from my job at Adams Middle School that was just south of downtown Los Angeles to Jefferson High School in South Central. I had an afterschool interview with a Jefferson administrator about a possible transfer to their campus. The atmosphere on Central Avenue that day included the typical L.A. weather that hinders deep thought – the clear blue skies, the glaring sunlight that bounces off cars’ rear windshields and back bumpers – the weather that inspires you to come outside, get out of the house; but once you are out, you’re greeted by the pay-to-play society that is America.

As I drove near the school parking lot towards the dismissal chaos that happens once a school bell rings at the end of the day, gunshots rang out in front of me from the left side of the street. Students scattered. School staff on supervision ducked down. I noticed a young person on the right side of the street who appeared to have been shot being pulled into a black car. Like other cars nearby, I made a U-turn on the tight residential street and headed in the opposite direction. I drove away from the chaos of that afternoon.

Fast forward to contemporary California – the state with the nation’s strictest gun laws — and the string of mass shootings that have occurred in January 2023.[i] One of the first was in the City of Monterey Park in San Gabriel Valley – not San Fernando, but the other valley; the valley popular media chooses to forget. A working-class region – San Gabriel Valley lacks the media chic of an adjacent Calabasas; and, geographically, instead of leading to the lush vegetation surrounding cities near Santa Barbara, it drifts into the dryness of Palm Springs. At a dance studio he frequented in the Chinatown area of Monterey Park, 72-year-old, Huu Can Tran, murdered eleven people – My My Nhan, Lilian Li, Xiujuan Yu, Muoi Dai Ung, Hongying Jian, Yu Lun Kao, Chia Ling Yau, Valentino Marcos Alvero, Wen Tau Yu, Ming Wei Ma, and Diana Man Ling Tom – ages 57-72. He also injured nine others. It was January 21, the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Following the shooting, Tran shot and killed himself during a standoff with police in the city of Torrance.

Next, on January 23 in the northern California city of Half Moon Bay, sixty-six-year-old Chunli Zhao, a farmworker, shot and killed seven of his co-workers – Marciano Martinez Jimenez, Jose Romero Perez, Aixiang Zhang, Zhishen Liu, Qizhong Cheng, Jingzhi Lu, and Yetao Bing – ages 43-74. He also wounded one other person. It appears the shooter was upset because his supervisor requested he pay one hundred dollars for damage to a forklift.[ii] Zhao later drove to a police station where he was taken into custody.

On that same day in Oakland, 18-year-old Mario Navarro was killed and four people injured while filming a music video. The shooter has not been apprehended.

Then, on January 28 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverly Crest,[iii] adjacent to Beverly Hills, Nenah Davis, Destiny Sims, and Iyana Hutton, ages 26-33, were killed and four others wounded outside a party being held at a home being used as a short-term rental.

In a country where guns outnumber people, the US is averaging six hundred mass shootings per year. That’s more than the human mind and human emotions can keep up with. The pace dehumanizes not just the dead, but the living. The 338 million people who make up the U.S. own more than 400 million guns.[iv] That’s domestic gun ownership – sans cops and military. We are five percent of the world’s population, and we own forty-two percent of the world’s guns.[v] We may not be ready to end world hunger, stop climate change, or spread democracy across the globe. But we are ready to kill. Each other. Unfortunately, at a certain point the mass shootings stop being a shock in a society in which we are adversaries of ourselves. Everyone is a potential threat, a lurking enemy.

I may have tired of saying “no” to middle schoolers and my own kids, but where is the “no” to corporate gun trafficking in the U.S.? How are parents supposed to discipline youth on the topic of gun ownership within the capitalist anarchy of our society? Ours is a society that doesn’t say “no” to indulgence – especially not the indulgence of guns.

Back in time, at the shooting that occurred before my job interview, I circled the blocks adjacent to the high school a few times. Holding the steering wheel with both hands, I took a few deep breaths and drove back to the school to see if the perimeter appeared safe. I passed by. I then made a big loop around the campus by driving a few more blocks before finally entering the school parking lot to go to the interview. Sitting at a desk with the administrator, we discussed the shooting and then our conversation shifted to facts about the school.

When I finally transferred to a high school, it wasn’t Jefferson. I chose another location, but I did teach a Saturday enrichment program on their campus some months after the shooting. I was never afraid to be amongst the students there. We read, wrote, conversed. And like high school youth in many cities across the U.S. who are filled with expectations about their future lives, they eventually applied for college.

[i] Beckett, Lois and Levin, Sam. “Eight Days, and 25 dead: California Shaken by string of mass shootings.” The Guardian. 25 Jan 2023.

[ii] Turner, Austin. “Half Moon Bay: DA confirms report that shooter was triggered by $100 equipment bill.” Santa Cruz Sentinel. 27 Jan 2023.

[iii] Associated Press. “Police say three dead, four hurt in latest California shooting.” The Guardian. 28 Jan 2023.

[iv] Horsey, David. “More than 400 million guns, from sea to shining sea.” The Seattle Times.” 20 May 2022.

[v] Harrison, Pricey. “The U.S. has approximately 5% of the world’s population and 42% of civilian gun ownership.” PolitiFact. 15 February 2018

Disparaging Black-American Culture in a Vague Economy

(This essay was originally published on on August 31, 2018.)

(A response to “Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap”)

In his recent article, “Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap,[i] Columbia undergrad Coleman Hughes argues that activities which he regards as Black-American cultural traits such as conspicuous consumption and a lack of financial education result in Whites having economic wealth that is ten times that of Blacks. Hughes believes “there are certain elements of black American culture that, if changed would allow blacks to amass wealth.” Because these elements are held by both White- and Asian-Americans, central to Hughes analysis of culture and economy is the notion that the vague entity he refers to as “white culture” is superior to that of Blacks. His assumption of white superiority is made evident in the dichotomy he constructs when referring to Irish-Americans and German-American Jews as “formerly lagging ethnic groups” who embraced so-called dominant White cultural traits and became successful. In Hughes analysis it is cultures, not social classes, that engage in certain practices that lead to economic success.

Hughes does indeed approximate a truth when referring to how culture can beset us with limitations, because he himself is an example of precisely that. He adroitly proves his limitations as an American scholar who inserts himself into an academic arena to analyze economics with the pretense that Marxist analysis of economy does not exist. As a scholar living within the depoliticized social and cultural sphere of the United States, he seems unaware of how Marxist analysis of society is able to flourish both in the academy and within the broader cultures of industrialized Europe and Latin America while not being able to do so here. Hughes is oblivious to the forces within U.S. society which have both co-opted social movements that advocate for economic change and depoliticized the populace such that there is almost no critique of the capitalist economic system. By limiting himself to the cultural confines of U.S. society, Hughes establishes two misconceptions. The first is apparent in his title “Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap” in which he readily ignores the most significant analysis of modern economy done by Karl Marx and proceeds to argue that “self-defeating behaviors” in “black culture” account for Blacks having less wealth than Whites. A second misconception is his use of vague terms such as “the academic Left” and “the Left.” While the term “academic Left” may be fairly precise in the U.S. context given that Marxist analysis is accepted within the confines of the American university, “the Left” when used to refer to politics in the broader society is a nebulous term. What is this Left and who are its members? Would these be Liberal Democrats who, as economic Liberals, advocate the same laissez faire capitalism that the American Right espouses? U.S. Democrats would hardly be considered “the Left” in the industrialized societies of Europe and Latin America. Or is Hughes as limited in his provincial U.S. intellectualism as Blacks are limited by their purse strings in that same society?

According to Hughes, if small-b, black culture were to change, there would be an end to small-b, black poverty. But what is the Black culture he refers to? He is disinclined to refer to small-b blacks as African Americans. In his essay African Americans are mere appendages to the broader Euro-American culture. Would the term “African American” necessitate the writer having to discern how colonialism functions in a capitalist society and how economic and cultural dominance are intertwined? Hughes states that “Asian-Americans…are on track to become wealthier than whites.” How does the fact that Asian-Americans are not a colonized people (i.e., Native Americans, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and Hawaiians) factor into their success? As an immigrant group that for the most part did not suffer conquest, many Asian American cultural groups have unhampered access to Confucian teachings that equate education to godliness. On the other hand, White enslavers forbade the African-American enslaved to read books and when they did, those books did not connect them to the Caribbean culture Hughes praises nor to African culture. Furthermore, various cultural groups within the United States, such as Korean Americans, have financial institutions in their U.S. communities that link them to financial assets in their highly-industrialized homelands. Yet in Hughes worldview, the dominant culture exerts no control over marginalized cultural groups and treats them all the same. But if that were the case, why then the anecdotal evidence showing Asian American parents push their children to study engineering, the sciences, etc. to circumvent discrimination in professions based on the liberal arts?

Hughes claims “a nation’s wealth has more to do with the economic system it adopts and the set of skills its citizens possess.” But just like surplus value in a capitalist economy, the exact economic system he refers to remains an unstated allusion. Capitalism is the dominant global economic system; yet, Hughes dares not call it by name because that would require reference to its arch critic, Karl Marx. If, as he states, wealth is indeed based only on the current economic system (capitalism) and the skills of its citizens, why is U.S. capitalism wealthier than that of not only Nigeria or Mexico, but also of Great Britain and Finland which both have lower per capita gross domestic product rates than the U.S.? Is this where culture, referred to in Hughes’ title, becomes a dominant factor? Yet European societies have experienced intense levels of industrialization. Perhaps Europeans lack the skills to produce the American products sold by apple, Nike, and Mattel. But Americans no longer manufacture most American consumer goods now that U.S. companies outsource production internationally seeking cheap labor to enrich U.S. CEO’s and leaving the U.S. worker deskilled.

In his negation of racial discrimination as delineated by Ibram X. Kendi and his repudiation of a call for justice through reparations as advocated by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hughes argues solely for a form of self-help to end Black poverty. Denigrating any form of reparations for Black Americans, Hughes states “slavery is hardly the root cause of America’s prosperity (because) if it were, we would expect American states that practiced slavery to be richer than those that did not.” Hughes contrasts the wealth in the Northeast of the U.S. with the poverty of the former slave-holding South with no reference to northern industrialization as if the U.S. were still a horse-and-buggy economy. Yet to remain dumbfounded about why a geographical region is not wealthy after its wealth and natural resources have been expropriated is akin to asking why a worker is not wealthy after his labor has been appropriated to create surplus value. Following Hughes argument that cultures, not social classes, engage in certain practices that lead to economic success, he believes entire swathes of “children from one culture may routinely hear phrases like ‘asset diversification,’ ‘mutual fund,’ and ‘inflation rate.’” Yet how ironic that while these terms are supposedly heard by Asian-Americans and Whites regardless of class and despite where they live in the U.S., Hughes remains oblivious as to how wealth can be extracted from a specific region with scant benefit to that region just as wealth can be expropriated from a worker with surplus value going disproportionately to his or her boss, the company, or the corporation that employs that worker

In a capitalist economy the wealthy get wealthier and the poor get poorer according to Marxist analysis. This reality can be seen not only in U.S. society but in the global arena as well. As such, it is not incomprehensible that in the U.S., the groups that started with the least, Native Americans and African Americans, would have minimal economic advantage in a laissez faire capitalist system that added genocide, slavery, racism, and colonialism to the brutal economic system it imposed. Citing “spending patterns” as a direct cause for Black cultural deficiency, Hughes ignores the economic system in which African Americans live as he constructs a false argument that culture determines wealth. In his disregard for the breadth of global, intellectual wealth on the topic of the economy, the writer’s attempt to analyze the circumstances of Black Americans is constricted by the limitations of the dominant, depoliticized, provincial American culture he fetishizes.

How will the circumstances of small-b blacks change according to Hughes given that “no element of culture harms black wealth accrual more directly than spending patterns”? The writer criticizes Blacks ownership of smart phones, at 71 percent, and contrasts it with that of Americans in general, at 62 percent. Ironically, even though Blacks purchase more technology, Hughes concludes Blacks “are ill-suited for success in the information economy.” At the close of his essay, he appears to allude to the fact that the revolution will occur via media as he laments both the “ignorance” of the American “Left” and the “impotence” of “the Right” and emphasizes how the latter cannot help change Black culture because they are “too far from the media channels through which blacks tend to communicate.” If the revolution is going to occur via media, why bemoan the purchasing of smart phones by Black people? If technology in an “information economy” will be used to transform culture in a future with no reparations because the latter “would not address the root causes of black underachievement,” wouldn’t the purchase of smart phones be advantageous? Yet the “information economy” the author refers to exists in the present economic order which is capitalism. And yes, capitalism impels reparations — for Black Folk and all exploited peoples as well.

[i] Hughes, Coleman. “Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap.” Quillette 19 July 2018: 1–11. <;

How to Do a Book Reading Like a Jazz Musician

The book, “Mama Fannie,” evolved into a musical instrument as her daughter simultaneously read from the text and addressed the live audience. Jacqueline Hamer Flakes was a guest at the City of Asylum community center in Pittsburgh on January 14. Her presentation was a reading where she shared her new book about her mom, Fannie Lou Hamer. Her reading from the biography was one of the most unforgettable and affectionate I’ve witnessed because Jacqueline Hamer, also known as Cookie, rendered the book a musical instrument – she read a series of short sections, and following each, inspired by memories of her mom, she related her own stories that each narrative in the book motivated her to tell. The result was a splendid and engaging series of riffs on who Fannie Lou Hamer was and how she championed social justice throughout her lifetime. Here is some of what Jacqueline, the daughter, shared:

The chords: Fannie Lou Hamer

The riffs: Born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was a Civil Rights activist and community organizer who resisted white supremacy by working with both the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). During her early forties, she visited a doctor to have a cyst removed, and unbeknownst to her, she was given a complete hysterectomy. Unable to bear children, she eventually adopted four girls, and Jacqueline Hamer Flakes, the author of the biography, was one of them.

The chords: Not just 40 acres

The riffs: Black Folk in the U.S. (and globally) have yet to receive reparations for enslavement, but where there is a will, there is a way. Fannie Lou encountered barriers simply trying to buy a home, and when she did finally acquire one, it was firebombed. Along with Maya Angelou and others, she went on to raise money in 1969 to purchase 40 acres in the Mississippi Delta. That land was central to the founding of Fannie’s Freedom Farm Cooperative which she expanded by an additional 640 acres in 1970.

The chords: Africa

The riffs: Fannie Lou was part of a SNCC delegation sent to Conakry, Guinea by Harry Belafonte. The trip in 1964 proved both life changing and inspirational. A child of the segregated US South, her travels in West Africa opened a window to a view of Black people capable of running their own societies.

The chords: Advice

The riffs: “What would Fannie Lou Hamer tell us today?” Jacqueline Hamer responded by saying her mom, the activist and organizer, would tell Black people to get an education. (Fannie had to labor in the cotton fields starting at age six, consequently she only attended school three months out of the year.) She would advise us to go into communities and help others get an education and to pay it forward and pay it back.

The chords: A pot of peas

The riffs: Jacqueline Hamer criticized how authors have written about her mother and built their own books and reputations without really knowing the real Fannie. She said was wonderful that, in the past, writers interviewed Fannie Lou before they wrote about her. But she reminded us that those who didn’t sit with her mom and shell peas, didn’t really know the real Fannie Lou Hamer.

Harriet Tubman, Twitter, and Freedom

San Francisco’s City Lights Books invited Dr. Clarence Lusane to speak about his new book, Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, with moderator, Justin Desmangles. As I watched the livestream on November 21 of this year, the symbolism of Tubman awakened my memory. The cover of Dr. Lusane’s book reminded me that an image of Harriet Tubman had once been my profile picture on twitter.

Although I might have forgotten my selection of images for social media, the reasoning and emotions behind the choice were very present. In July 2018, I craved an image that symbolized freedom for my twitter profile pic. Nia Wilson had just been murdered and her sister, Lahtifa, stabbed while they, along with a third sister, Tayisha, waited for a train at an Oakland subway station. The stabbing murder forced me to consider how Black people in the U.S. still were not free. Eighteen-year-old Nia Wilson, a Black woman, was killed by John Lee Cowell, a twenty-seven-year-old White man. Cowell had been on the same train as the sisters prior to the stabbings. And despite his expressing in court his anger about being punched by a Black woman a week prior to the stabbings, and despite his having called another Black woman the N word on a city bus as he fled the crime scene, the murder of Nia Wilson was never ruled a hate crime. For me, the physical and emotional injuries inflicted on the Wilson family, along with the seemingly countless murders of Black people that filled social media from the deaths of Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland to George Floyd highlighted the colonial nature of Black life in the U.S. The same political and economic forces that had labelled us less than human as they drug us through the Middle Passage, that had forced us to work in bondage with, to date, no compensation, and that had deemed us second-class citizens under fascist Jim Crow were still operational.

Before choosing the Tubman pic for my profile, I’d had so many profile names and pictures during my fourteen years on the social media site that I can’t remember them. After the murder of Nia Wilson, I’d chosen Tubman because as both a runaway and an abolitionist, she symbolized freedom. Freedom from the white supremacy ingrained in capitalism, freedom to be Black and a woman, freedom to make choices about how the Black community in the U.S. chose to live, freedom to find liberatory spaces.

During my years of Twitter usage, I witnessed how the site had been instrumental in several political movements during the early part of this century – the Arab Spring, the Indignados in Spain, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and EndSars in Nigeria. I’d later seen counter-revolution stifle the Arab Spring when authorities began policing social media and jailing activists. In Nigeria government officials froze the bank accounts of protestors or chased them into exile. And in the overdeveloped West, authorities silenced some activists while global capitalism proved itself capable of incorporating liberals from the Indignados, Occupy, and BLM movements into the status quo of electoral politics or career activism. These were activists who had failed to base their protest on the most radical of political demands.

Prior to the Musk takeover of twitter, I’d thought of the social media site as a space where leftists could not only keep up with political developments, but also engage in conscientization and grow in leftist theory. I’d seen the joking statements made by twitter users who said they came to the site as a liberal and ended up an anarchist. Given the political space in which we found ourselves, it’s not surprising that twitter attracted Black activists. It has been a space in which Black nationalists, Pan Africanists, feminists, leftists, and radicals could converge to share ideas and battle in ideology. If Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X advocated the termination of colonialism and human degradation by any means necessary, then twitter appeared one means of doing so.

While I was aware of the contradiction of using a capitalist site like twitter as a leftist political space under the helm of Jack Dorsey, I, like countless others, am even more aware of this insurmountable irony under twitter’s new ownership. Musk’s reactivation of rightwing accounts has resulted in some liberals and radicals abandoning the site. If people haven’t quit the site altogether, many are using it less as they drift towards other social media alternatives. More importantly, other activists are more determined to do up-close organizing on the ground with marginalized and oppressed communities.

Harriet Tubman was the last profile picture I used that wasn’t my own. I didn’t remove the Tubman image because I felt that the circumstances that led up to the killing of Nia Wilson no longer existed. The needs of Black people in the U.S. and those of the global Black community are more urgent than ever. Nor did I do so because of my demoralization with leftist politics. While respecting people who choose not to use their own names and likenesses, I simply reached a point in which I wanted to acknowledge and embrace the legacy of Harriet Tubman while representing myself. I remain committed to radical liberation in the West and the termination of a political economy that underdevelops Africa as it extracts the continent’s natural resources and labor on the cheap.

Vanishing Bookstores and Black Spaces in Los Angeles

I imagined myself buying several books at Eso Won Bookstore in Leimert Park during their final sale. Rumor was the Black-owned bookstore would be closing after thirty-six years in business. A landmark for Black Los Angeles, it was awarded 2021 Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Despite its compact size of 1800 square feet, it had also been recognized as one of the largest Black-owned bookstores in the U.S. It was where I’d spied, surrounded by other books, the cover of the 869-page, Library of America edition of James Baldwin’s Baldwin Collected Essays and knew then that I had to buy it. My Baldwin purchase completed a couple of years ago, now the store’s founders, James Fulgate and Tom Hamilton, had reached retirement age. They started Eso Won initially inside a home and later as a book-on-wheels concept in the late 1980’s. Eventually the store would find a home at various storefronts in South Los Angeles before the owners settled on Leimert Park in 2006. I’d heard they would be closing sometime at the end of the year. So, I went to the bookstore at the beginning of November 2022 planning to make final discount purchases and say my last goodbyes.

In the years following the 2014 police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Eso Won, along with the California African American Museum, was the location to hear Black writers and activists engaged with political and social life talk books and politics. It was at Eso Won that I heard Kali Akuno, co-founder of Cooperation Jackson, a Mississippi cooperative, speak about his book, Jackson Rising. That was an evening in 2017 when I headed to the bookstore after work. As they normally did on evenings of book talks, Fulgate and Hamilton converted the small walking space inside the bookstore into an auditorium by bringing folding chairs from the backroom and arranging them on the salesfloor. Using a small desk as his podium, Akuno faced the audience as we sat on the metal chairs anxious to hear his reasons for leaving California and starting a cooperative in the South.

On other occasions, we might be ten people in the audience, and sometimes we were twenty with standing room only. The common thread connecting us was curiosity and a craving for answers from Black people who had analyzed our common oppression. Amongst the speakers and the audience, some were comfortable with reform while others sought revolt. Sitting in the small space on Eso Won’s sales floor, I also heard Ibrahim X. Kendi speak on How to Be an Anti-Racist, Kelly Lytle Hernandez on City of Inmates, and Daina Ramey Berry on The Price for their Pound of Flesh. As the nation confronted its violent legacy of racism and witnessed protests against police brutality, the Eso Won website and calendar became a lifeline connecting me to the next scheduled appearance of a writer, activist, or scholar.

Because I had heard the store would be closing at the end of 2022, I arrived at the beginning of November. Turning on to Degnan Avenue, I noticed a store with brown paper covering its windows. There was no sign above the storefront. My first thought: Is that where it was? I stopped my car momentarily. The commercial space that had sheltered the grandest dreams and creations of so many Black writers seemed now so tiny. I drove towards the park at the end of the block, turned around and drove back to the storefront. Yes, that is where Eso Won was. And it was now gone. I was too late. Silently, I cursed myself, and I cursed the city.

After parking, I got out and walked towards the former bookstore. Although I couldn’t enter, I figured I could at least allow my body the fiction that I was going to. A letter-sized paper taped on the closed glass door assured me that, yes, the store, with brown paper covering the windows was the former Eso Won. Beyond the storefront, I was drawn in by the Saturday morning environment of Leimert Park. It was a cross between movie set and maroon village. With cars parked at an angle on both sides, the middle of the street, which functions as a plaza, served as a marketplace for merchants selling t-shirts, jackets, and African clothing made of bold and colorful Ankara prints. On the northern end of the block, a man opened his black iron cast barbecue pit. He waved his arms at the billows of smoke causing apparitions of Tubman and Garvey to rise. At least two different sets of speakers on opposite sides of the street blared different reggae songs. Near the vacant Eso Won building, a Black homeless man huddled near a closed door while a young woman with a large Afro sat near the curb in a high metal chair and typed on her laptop that she’d placed on the metal table. Two Black men in expensive sports attire brisked past. Continuing down the block, I noticed at least two other stores had closed. I believe one had been a store that sold clothes and wooden sculptures from Africa. In front of an empty storefront, three or four musicians had started a session of African drumming. The drummers pounded resonant and rhythmic beats into the animal skin as a small group of mostly men stood by chatting and listening. At the southern corner of the block, men hurried in and out of a barbershop.

While it’s not the only Black bookstore in Los Angeles, the closing of Eso Won is a double loss. It is symbolic of the decline in the Black population of Los Angeles that has fallen from a high of thirteen percent in the 1990’s to its current eight percent. For various reasons, many Black LA residents are moving to the nearby suburbs or as far as the neighboring counties of San Bernadino and Riverside, while others have moved out of state. The outward migration means Black spaces like Eso Won disappear.

Eso Won is also symbolic of the disappearance of independent bookstores in the Los Angeles area. During my high school years, my teacher sent ten or twelve of us students who were in her AP Spanish Lit class to the long gone Librairie de France/Librería Hispánica on Olive Street, near Seventh, in Downtown Los Angeles. There used to be separate Spanish and French bookstores on Book Sellers’ Row on Westwood Boulevard.  Book Sellers’ Row started at Pico and ran all the way up to UCLA. Other bookstores on Westwood included a medical bookstore, Sisterhood feminist bookstore, and the pride of the region, Westwood Bookstore itself. Near West Hollywood there was the Bodhi Tree which specialized in religion, philosophy, and spirituality. And in Santa Monica, on the now gentrified Third Street Promenade, the leftist bookstore, Midnight Special held court for twenty-three years and hosted writers, thinkers, and activists such as Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Elaine Brown, and Edward Said. I didn’t have the fortune of seeing those luminaries in Santa Monica, but I was in the audience to hear the reading by Chicano poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca. After his reading, he signed my copy of Martín & Meditations on the South Valley.

While the moneyed classes might argue that the growth of a conglomerate like Amazon — which has precipitated the closure of independent bookstores — has led to lower prices and the convenience of warehouse-to-door shipping, for the Black population, the loss of a space like Eso Won offers no rainbow on the horizon. As members of a community that has languished for centuries without reparations, the owners of small Black businesses almost never have the economic foundation and investment to grow into large capitalist enterprises. And while the forces of capitalism allow privileged classes of White residents to build stronger and newer communities, those same forces tend to split up established Black neighborhoods. I’ve seen evidence of this along Crenshaw Boulevard, just two blocks away from Leimert Park, where numerous Black businesses have closed due to the economic hardships caused by gentrification as well as the pandemic and subway construction.

So, on a November day in Lemeirt Park, the notification taped on the closed glass door was proof Eso Won was gone. Like Central Avenue, Santa Barbara Avenue, Rodeo Road, the old Eastside. Now a memory amidst the rolling rhythms of music, the greetings of smiling street merchants, and cars driving away into the distance.

Our Sleepwalking Towards Death with Gabriel García Márquez

At eighteen, with my first year of community college completed, I flew alone from Los Angeles to Mexico City. After several days of scouring bookstores, I brought back a suitcase full of novels, poetry, and history books.

I had begun my college studies as a talented Spanish major whose first published poetry — both bilingual and all-Spanish — had been accepted in Americas Review (University of Houston). As a young African-American writer whose first language was English, I shunned away from English-language literary journals because I lacked confidence they would publish my writing. Even then, decades back, I was aware that the publishing industry was a majority-White profession, and I perceived it as a barrier through which I would not be able cross. Social change, my dedication to craft, and persistence have allowed me to move beyond that barrier and get my work published in numerous English-language journals.

Given my skills in the Spanish language, I didn’t hesitate recently to read the short story, “Amargura Para Tres Sonámbulos” (“Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers”), by Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish. Reading English translations of Spanish-speaking writers creates a thin linguistic veil between myself and the writer that I try to avoid. In the story, Márquez’s first-person-plural narration allows his two sleepwalking narrators to tell a story about a third who is a woman. The two narrators reveal to us, “Estábamos haciendo lo que habíamos hecho todos los días de nuestras vidas” (“We were doing what we had been doing every day of our lives.”) Their emphasis on the humanity of the woman sleepwalker – who lives in the underground — underscores how sleepwalking is an analogy for the process of life. On one occasion during her walk, she falls to the ground and starts eating dirt; yet, she still isn’t dead. The two narrators inform us that the more she walks around the house at night, the more she begins to look like death.

By using the sleepwalking metaphor for the process of a life approaching death, García Márquez makes the finite quality of material life abundantly clear. His magical realism presents three characters who move through the narration like phantasms of our imagination, so thinly clad that they need no names nor any physical description.

Using García Márquez’s number of three, I offer three pressing topics in the world today that we, as humanity, engage with as if sleepwalking. I will refrain from naming them, allowing the reader to use speculation (of which magical realism is a part) to discern the topics of discussion. I have likewise personified my sleepwalkers as women.

She sits at the outdoor table as clouds form in the dry atmosphere. One raindrop falls to the dark brown table as the wind blows the clouds away, assuring no rainfall. She remembers how months, years have passed with barely a sprinkle. She half gazes towards the parched earth, one eye open and the other closed, confident in the technology of dams and irrigation. Faraway, in the Southern hemisphere, no rain means starvation and death. While further off in the tropical regions, torrential rains flood the land, washing away homes and livelihoods, and later leaving stagnant waters that breed disease. Lucky, she puts on her dark sunglasses and feels the warmth of the sun lulling her to sleep.

Six hundred years of extraction on the Atlantic side. Six hundred years! She enters the house, unties the Ankara fabric from her head, rushing to complete her studies while there is electricity. Recalling the words of the professor in class today, she ponders the extraction first of people and then minerals, natural resources, and land from the continent. She must find that chapter her professor was referring to. She sits in the chair, resisting sleepiness, and begins flipping through pages. There it is. She reads how the West and others have ensured that full industrialization of products cannot happen on the land, that the profits are drained away to far-off corners of the world and not given to them — the rightful owners of the wealth. She then sits back, the hanging light flickering off and on, and starts to doze.

She knows that nothing can resuscitate a life that is gone. There is no incubator for a dead body. She saw the bullet hit, pierce skin, spew blood across the linoleum floor, stop a vital organ. The life was lost. She is not sure whether it was a shopping mall, a church, or a schoolroom. Stretched out on the carpeted floor, she covers her head with the blanket to hide from the reality of twenty to forty percent of the world’s guns in her one country. Something about a law written on paper 240 years ago. End of question. End of discussion. End of life.

The Civil Rights Movement & the Haitian Revolution Never Ended

The Civil Rights Movement, like the Haitian Revolution, never ended. This idea crossed my mind as I read the essay, “On the Marvelous Real in America” by Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier. In his discussion on magical realism in Latin American writing, Carpentier refers to synchronism and how events recur in Latin American creative writing; they continue to happen. In other words, magical realism defies the notion that historical and life events begin and end at a specific time as the Western mind would have us believe.

Carpentier distinguishes magical realism from European Surrealism. Comparing the two artistic movements, he views European writers and artists subtly trying to force magic, whereas in Latin America everyday people and creatives have faith that surreal events actually happen.

While reading his essay, I incorrectly assumed that Carpentier was trying to flaunt his knowledge of Western Civilization, since there are myriad references to Kafka, Voltaire, and other European writers. I was unaware of how much of his life was spent in Europe. Carpentier was born in Switzerland in 1904 to Cuban parents. During his adulthood as a novelist, essayist, and musicologist, he traveled back and forth between Europe and Cuba. At seventeen, he began his higher education in Cuba, but left in 1928 because of his opposition to the dictatorship. He returned to the island after 1959 as a supporter of the Cuban revolution, and eventually he became Cuban Ambassador to France. After his death in France in 1980, he was buried in Cuba.

In his essay, he describes how his travels took him to the People’s Republic of China, Iran, and the USSR. In each location he contemplated art, architecture, the environment, and the people. But it was in Haiti where he first encountered magical realism. His example is that of Dutty Boukman, an early leader of the Haitian Revolution. Born in Senegambia in 1767, Boukman was enslaved, sent to Jamaica, and then to Haiti where he became a leader amongst an escaped community of Maroons. In 1791 he was presiding over a religious ceremony which then became the catalyst for a slave revolt that ignited the revolution. Threatened by the revolt, the French colonizers killed him and then felt pressured to display his head to the Haitian enslaved to banish the atmosphere of invincibility he had cultivated. In other words, despite the French killing Boukman, the Haitian people continued to perceive of him as amongst the living.

I contemplated how Western colonizers, in an effort to impose Western time on those they seek to control, will kill those who rebel against their oppressive social order. The goal is to designate both a specific beginning and ending that can be measured logically. But as Carpentier tells us in reference to magical realism, the reality for the oppressed and marginalized isn’t so neatly packaged. Synchronism allows for events, despite their appearing to die down, to continue to happen by bursting forth again. In this sense the Haitian Revolution never ended because the cause for the revolt continues to spark unrest and has not been resolved. Likewise, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement for liberation which it birthed have not ended. If they had, the Black Lives Matter Movement, for all its successes and shortcomings, would not have sprung forth. Western power conspired to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, to kill them in the logical expanse of time, but the movements that they became symbols of live on.

Carpentier says that the oppressed rely on faith that the surreal happens, and he states that this faith allows for various realities to occur simultaneously. I like to think that magical realism exists at the point of not knowing. There is so much that we don’t know about Native genocide, the Middle Passage, and Black enslavement. For me, that is where the speculation comes in and where the writer calls on magical realism to fill in the gaps. And, yes, those gaps demonstrate how historical and personal events continue to occur.

Carpentier leaves us with the belief that “improbable juxtapositions and marvelous mixtures exist by virtue of Latin America’s varied history, geography, demography, and politics.”

Alejo Carpentier

Haiti and the US-Mexico Border

(Published by Pure Slush, Vol 21: “25 Miles From Here,” September 2021)

I wanted to leave Los Angeles and go to the US-Mexico border.  Not 25 miles away, more like 120.  I’d read about the Haitian migrants who’d made their way to the border after walking from Brazil.  Walking through South America, Central America, and Mexico to reach the border with the United States.  There must be something I could do, I figured.  I felt hopeless.

How did the Haitians end up in Brazil?  They migrated in 2010 following the Haitian earthquake when Brazil offered work contracts on projects related to World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics.  After both the huge construction projects and the economic boom related to them ended, work opportunities disappeared. An estimated 40,000 Haitians began their trek to a US-Mexico border which then President Trump was intent on sealing.

My connection to the US-Mexico border has been continuous.  I crossed it as a youth when my mom drove from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico for daytrips that included sightseeing along the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and reaching a final destination at a Mexican restaurant that had chicken tacos and sweet soda.  During my youth, a US citizen driving across the border simply showed their California Driver’s License to enter Mexico and again, to return to the United States.  It wasn’t the current situation of having to show a passport to cross over.

For me, the US-Mexico border always seemed accessible.  Prior to the suburbs between Los Angeles and San Diego becoming developed cities of their own with their own traffic jams, San Diego, on the US side, was a quick two hours away by car.  My mom would exit the urban sprawl of Los Angeles taking the San Diego Freeway which offered five or six lanes for the cars headed south.  The apartment complexes and strip malls and car dealerships of L.A. would give way to homes on green hills and orange groves.  Nearing San Diego, I saw glimpses of the Pacific Ocean with the sun beating down on rolling waves, seagulls in the sky.

And upon arrival at the border, it was my mother showing her California Driver’s License to the Mexican authorities waiting at the gate that had ten or fifteen entryways for cars entering Mexico.  It was the change from smooth US pavement to the bumpier Mexican side.  The chaos of cars driving in downtown Tijuana where no one seemed to keep their car within the car lanes, or where painted car lanes were not even visible.

As a teenager, I made a conscious decision to cross the border at 17 when I flew to Durango, Mexico to study Spanish in summer school and to live, during my stay, with a Mexican family.  The family took in three females for that summer stay.  I was the only African American, and there were two blondes — from San Diego, and Canada, respectively.

The following year, at 18, I crossed the border again, this time flying to Mexico City all alone to take in the sights, visit museums, and buy as many books as I could fit into my suitcase.  The selections included books by Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, and Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenal.

And even after the teen trips by plane in which I crossed the border, there was adult, schoolteacher me driving from L.A. to TJ to buy comic books in Spanish that I could use for my silent reading program.  It was that odd year in which my middle school administration decided I, a bilingual English teacher, should teach a class in Spanish to newly-arrived, immigrant children from Mexico and Central America.  And there was childless me crossing the border with my then husband to buy clomiphene at a Tijuana pharmacy to help us conceive a child.  The Mexican pharmacies offered a much cheaper price than anything that could be found in the States.

But there was no me I could configure in 2016 to cross the border to assist the Haitians.  None of the roles I had taken on were up to the task – the child on day trips, the foreign student, the literature and art enthusiast, the middle school teacher, the childless mom.  None of those roles would adequately buffer social activist me.  My passport was expired.  I was now a single mom, and I felt I needed to be accompanied by a man because, despite modernization, patriarchy is a thing in Mexico.  It’s the country with the second-highest rate of feminicide in Latin America after Brazil.  There was getting my car across.  Would I buy the additional car insurance in San Diego as US citizens do prior to driving their car into Mexico?  Or would I rent a car on the U.S. side with the intent of driving that insured vehicle into Mexico as some are known to do as well?

I felt the helplessness both the US and Mexican governments had imposed on their citizens and non-citizens.  I felt solidarity with the 40,000 Haitians who had walked from Brazil to Mexico in 2016.  Their bravery and determination are unparalleled.  Haitians have borne the emblem of Black resistance to empire for centuries — since their long fight against enslavement and for independence from France, 1791-1804, and during their long and ceaseless resistance against US-backed, feckless political regimes imposed on their own country.

While many Haitians have decided to try to live in Mexico as undocumented persons in that country, it is estimated that in Spring 2021 there are still 4000 Haitians at the US-Mexico border in Tijuana.  They languish amongst the growing surge of immigrants from Central America who are fleeing a host of ills, including gang warfare, climate change, and post-covid economic devastation.  The Haitians have cited incidences of racism from Mexican police and from other immigrants as well.

I continue to advocate for justice in as many ways as I possibly can on this side of the border – my existence inextricably bound with that of oppressed people everywhere.

Foreign Whips and Detroit’s Decline

In the early 1940’s, Detroit was at its industrial zenith, leading the nation in an economic escape from the Great Depression.  Between 1940 and 1947 manufacturing employment in Detroit increased by 40 percent, a rate surpassed only by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.” [i]  

Inherent in Detroit’s zenith were forewarnings of its decline.  Positioned as one of several U.S. magnets, Detroit drew in hundreds of thousands of desperate workers from disparate regions of the country.  It was a terminus for black migrants fleeing the Jim Crow South, as well as European immigrants new to America.  The catalyst: the American Dream.  People were in march with the expectation the country would fulfill the promise engrained in its founding documents.  No doubt, it would come about.  Yet, challenges to Detroit’s zenith were already in ascension.  And two of its competing cities—Los Angeles and San Francisco—were located in the state which would become the nation’s most populous, attracting millions of migrants and immigrants in its own right.

“In the U.S., there are at least two dominant musical manifestations of hip-hop culture: one (tributary-like) characterized by staying independent, sticking to old-school hip-hop ideals, ‘keeping it real’, the other (river-like) characterized by ‘ghetto fabulous’ aesthetics and a bling-bling attitude.”[ii]

Gucci Mane opens the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards in fur coat and jeans.  Shirtless, multiple diamond chains serve as his mantle.  Recently released from jail, he is ready to perform capitalism.  “In bling-bling (culture) one can find a way to perform capitalism…(a) trope of reappropriation.”[iii]   His rap lyrics swerve around the themes of drug sales and his own vulnerability as an object of violent pursuit on the streets.  Gucci removes his coat as rapper Travis Scott joins him on stage.  Now Gucci is in boxing mode.  He moves his arms and head as if in a boxing ring, battling.  Contrasting with Gucci’s opulence, Travis shields himself in padded bomber jacket and jeans, as he raps about sexual prowess and drug use.  Himself creative director of this performance, Scott alternates between pointing at the audience and curling his free hand towards his waist, usually not quite touching it.  As the song segues into the lyrics of “Pick Up the Phone,” Gucci exits the stage and Young Thug, aka TG, aka Thugger, aka Jefferey, surges forth from a phone booth on stage holding his microphone in one hand and using the other to seemingly push back the encroachment of his own idiolect.  Thugger’s lyrics then race ahead of him so much so that he appears to be pursuing them on stage as he rhythmically paces forward while alternately retreating, still, of course, clutching his mic. He’s amped.  Finally, using humming as a signal of intrusion, Quavo, possessor of one of the most discernible voices in contemporary male rap, enters through an aisle amongst the audience, accompanied by a convoy of females.  Minutes after his joining the artists on stage, the three men close the song.

“Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors had their headquarters in the Detroit area.”[iv]

The Big Three corporations, after enlisting American workers, engaged to satisfy the desire of the American populous.  As a society, we crave more.  We yearn to be more mobile.  We covet the newest model.  Yet linked with the growth of the automobile industry was the war economy of 1939-1945.  World War II commanded that auto plants convert to the production of military planes, tanks, and vehicles.  As huge numbers of soldiers went off to war, there were more jobs for additional workers, black migrants, even women.  The corporations profited from the war, as did we.  The war economy was lucrative for the country.  Yet it doesn’t end here.  Corporations aren’t easily satiated and will seek more profit.  Advances for CEO’s, increases for executives, dividends for shareholders.  As such, big business will be antithetical to unions that try to organize workers for a dignified wage and working conditions befitting the workers’ true worth.  As agents of capitalism, corporations will utilize the tools of racism, sexism, and xenophobia to atomize workers who are both means and menace.  Dialectics.  Inherent in the growth, is the portent of the decline.

“For large numbers of African-Americans, the promise of steady, secure, and relatively well-paid employment in the North proved illusory.”[v]

Escaping from the Jim Crow South, the expectation is for an improved life liberated from the social limitations of segregation and the historical legacy of slavery.  Yet black migration is often a catalyst for white flight.  White flight to the suburbs.  White flight into whiteness as European ethnics hasten to discard their ethnic markers and join the “white race” of the United States.  White flight in Detroit’s employment agencies that were classified in the yellow pages as “Colored” and “White.”[vi]   White flight in the advertisements for employment that until 1955 “regularly specified racial preferences in job listings.” [vii]  White flight into the better auto factory jobs leaving blacks male employees in the most subordinate and the most hazardous positions which would eventually shorten a worker’s life, such as that of paint room operator. [viii]  White flight as some of the penny-pinching auto plants abandon Detroit and relocate to the off-limits, Jim-Crow South seeking cheaper labor. [ix]  White flight in some unions purporting to represent all members of the working class, but at times complying with management’s deployment of the tool of discrimination. [x]  White flight into separate neighborhoods that have “rates of segregation barely changed between the 1940’s and the present.”[xi]  White flight that would result in 1980’s Detroit having “eighty-six municipalities, forty-five townships, and eighty-nine school districts.” [xii]

“I KNOW ALL MY WHIPS ARE FOREIGN…” (Young Thug, “Pull Up on a Kid,” rec. 2015)

Little wonder the lack of brand loyalty.  For some, the desire for a whip, or car, shifts from the American ideal to the foreign.  The Big Three did not envisage our growing inclination, as consumers, for less grandiose and more efficient cars. That preference would be fulfilled by economical Japanese imports.  And for the upper class, the European import became a public badge of one’s ranking.

“I KNOW ALL YOUR BITCHES BORIN’” (Young Thug, “Pull Up on a Kid”)

The use of the profane term “bitch” can undoubtedly cause wincing in a room.  Sweaty hands will clutch.  In academia.  At the corporate news headquarters often owned by the same companies that sell rap music with profane lyrics.  Parents who span a wide cultural array and are members of varied social classes.  Parents who are determined to do the best for their kids, shudder.  The profane word “bitch” and how it divulges the speaker’s perception of women and affects the female’s perception of herself within the speaker’s gaze.

In my workaday environment, the public secondary school, being the recipient of this profanity is not unfamiliar territory.  A few elementary teachers may have also been branded with the term.  It isn’t the student with which one has a good rapport but who suddenly has a bad day that decides to call the teacher “bitch.”  If the teacher is fair, professional, and consistently delivering instruction, the profane epithet will most likely be delivered by a student who did not like the teacher from day one.  The friction and defiance were already present and remained a constant.  Perhaps because the student, given his or her own background, had trouble with authority.  And in a moment of being disciplined, the teen will mutter or exclaim outright, “bitch.”  The goal being to chip away at the teacher’s power, relegate her to a lowly position as a woman, and heap on humiliation.  Contrastingly, in heated moments of confrontation, are my male colleagues down the hall branded “bastard”?  Seared with an f-bomb?  Probably neither.  “Bitch-ass” is more than sufficient since it achieves the aforementioned humiliation while also emasculating the male working in a predominately-female field.

“A masculinist discursive strand is clearly identifiable in both rap music and its parent culture, Hip Hop…Both women and men have participated in Hip Hop culture and rap music in ways that have been both oppressive and liberatory for women.”[xiii]

In his song, “Pull Up on a Kid,” Young Thug raps about a particular type of “bitch.”  “Ooh she bad, damn she bad, yeah, she bad, yeah.” A bad bitch who is able to fulfill the sexual appetite of the man who, in this song, will probably not be faithful given his desire to “wet” not just one female, but also “yours.”  Although almost virginal and/or impeccably dressed (“Fresh as a peppermint”), she is not adverse to a sexual threesome.  This woman knows how to hang with a man with major money.  She is travelled, having formerly lived in Miami.  She is able to easily cross class and cultural lines having hung out with Haitian zoes, or street gangs.

“Hip hop, including rap music, is a complex and contradictory arena in which regressive and oppressive elements sometimes complicate and at times even undermine what fundamentally remains an oppositional and potentially liberatory project.” [xiv]

Potentially.  Yet late capitalism is sloppy.  Sloppy indeed.

And African-Americans are a complex people.

“Such a double life, with double thoughts, double duties, and double social classes, must give rise to double words and double ideals, and tempt the mind to pretence or to revolt, to hypocrisy or to radicalism.”[xv]

Black women gained the least…”[xvi]

The Black women of Detroit’s manufacturing zenith had no crystal stair.  A meagre 20% of them were able to acquire factory jobs in the auto plants by 1950 [xvii]  where all females had to labor to climb a seniority list separate from that of males.  Many worked for white families as domestics – an occupation they would soon weary of.  It was their own bodies’ ability at reproduction that would open up more avenues for work in the black schools of Detroit where black female teachers would serve as a rung for the rest of the family to climb the ladder towards the coveted middle class.  As the barriers of discrimination came down, more job opportunities would open up for black females in city work. [xviii]


The love of the foreign, whether it be the car, the woman, or French, Balmain jeans.  What should we expect in a global economy?  Germany and Japan now rival the U.S. in auto manufacturing.  When we casually shop at the local store, we not only select from American-made goods.  We are consumers in a global market in which “American” companies have moved across the border and overseas for bargain-priced labor.  The corporations pay a pittance to workers as the profits of execs and shareholders balloon.  At the expense of American workers hoping for secure lives for their children.  To the detriment of middle class America budgeting like the working class.  To the deprivation of impoverished blacks, people of color, immigrants who have not yet disappeared into the vast anonymity of whiteness and its social advantages.  Glance at the tags, the label, the VIN number.  More than likely, made somewhere other than America.  Swag is foreign.

“Rap lyrics may or may not contain an overt critique of capitalism, but they are generally supported by a communal value system where linkages between people are held together by loyalty and blood.” [xix]

So much so that Young Thug warns, “Playing with my slimes, you won’t make it out the exit.”  In Thugger’s idioglossia his slimes are his confidants, his homies.

“In expressing the collective dream of becoming something else – of taking flight – the statement becomes inseparable from the collectivity and the community.” [xx]

Capitalism will link us together just as potently as it rips us apart.  If we survive the inherent violence of the plunder, we may be forcibly marched off land that our ancestors down the ages and through folklore vowed was ours.  We may be overpowered, shipped off to new lands, and auctioned off as chattel.  We ourselves may relinquish family ties in a particular region to migrate into a distance where there is the promise of work, higher pay, improved living conditions, a new life.  We leave our country and cross borders in search of a material dream.  We abandon the familiar, the bloodlines of generations.  We relinquish the customary and are forced to become accustomed to new regions.  We learn new countries, cities, languages, rules on the job.  In an effort to combat the ravages of capitalism and to resist its ripping us apart, we form alliances in social movements, unions, politics.  Inherent in the new fusion is capitalism’s desire to tear us apart.  By social class, by gender, by race.  The psychological, social, and cultural tolls on us can be terrifying, and for some, insurmountable.

“In the case of Hip Hop, ‘the street’ is a site where the sensibilities of black lower class people prevail.” [xxi]

Class stratification within the black community is a reality.  In the geographic regions of the urban North, Midwest, and West where blacks migrated in search of nebulous dreams, not all, in many cases few, made it up the rungs to a coveted, continuous middle class life that promised to be easier with employment steadier.  The deterrents to black progress were not only economic because racial barriers had also been set up.  Blacks carried the double burden of having started far behind whites in the country and whites new to the country who capitalized on their whiteness.  As the U.S. deindustrialized, automated, and outsourced “a seemingly, permanent class of underemployed and jobless blacks had emerged” [xxii] who were often told they were to blame for their society’s shortcomings. [xxiii]

“The process of deindustrialization – the closing, downsizing, and relocation of plants and sometimes whole industries – accelerated throughout the twentieth century.”[xxiv]

“Employers left industrial centers with high labor costs for regions where they could exploit cheap, nonunion labor.”[xxv]

“ALL MY WHIPS ARE FOREIGN…” (Young Thug, “Pull Up on a Kid”)

The dialectics of rap music: “the marginalized celebrating that which marginalizes.”[xxvi]

As some of Detroit’s automakers relocated to the South in search of cut-rate labor, others eventually spread production to myriad regions of the globe where workers would manufacture parts of the automobile and then ship those parts back to the U.S. for assembly and the sticker “Made in America.”  The automation of U.S. plants meant many workers lost their jobs and were being displaced further and further away from the American Dream of an irrevocably secure life.  For frugal middle and working class U.S. consumers, the Japanese car became an economical alternative to the large gas-guzzling American models.  For the wealthy elite, German engineering supplied luxurious, high-end autos.

How do members of the black working class survive?  Education.  Hard work.  Follow the rules.  Some will defeat the barriers of sky-rocketing tuition, racism, family conflict, and personal predicaments and make it into the coveted middle class.  Those who don’t will find that minimum wage, low-skilled service jobs are no entry into a gratifying and secure livelihood.  A fraction may be tempted to “pull up on the mail truck” (“Pull Up on a Kid”) and possibly risk the consequences of a federal heist, not unlike the federal heist of multinational corporations currently not paying U.S. taxes.  Or, for those with lyrical skills, there is the music industry, specifically hip hop and rap, where one can engage in the dialectics of being able to “perform capitalism,” voice its dreams, shortcomings, and how it functions, all the while “retaining specific cultural markers.”[xxvii]   In other words, performing capitalism while staying black.

[i] Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005), 19

[ii] Alf Rehn & David Skold, “All About the Benjamins—Hardcore Rap, Conscious Consumption and the Place of Bragging in Economic Language,” “Culture and Organization, April 2005, http:

[iii] Rehn & Skold, “All About the Benjamins”

[iv] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 16

[v] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 8

[vi] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 95

[vii] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 94

[viii] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 99

[ix] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 262

[x] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 11

[xi] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 8

[xii] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 266

[xiii] Layli Phillips, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, and Dionne Patricia Stephens, “Oppositional Consciousness Within an Oppositional Realm: The Case of Feminism and Womanism in Rap and Hip Hop, 1976-2004,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 90, No. 3, The History of Hip Hop (Summer, 2005, pp. 253-277,

[xiv] Layli Phillips, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, and Dionne Patricia Stephen, “Oppositional Consciousness Within an Oppositional Realm,” 254

[xv] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 146

[xvi] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 28

[xvii] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 28

[xviii] Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 111

[xix] Layli Phillips, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, and Dionne Patricia Stephen, “Oppositional Consciousness Within an Oppositional Realm, 260

[xx] Rehn & Skold, “All About the Benjamins”

[xxi] Layli Phillips, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, and Dionne Patricia Stephen, “Oppositional Consciousness Within and Oppositional Realm, 259

[xxii] Sugrue, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 144

[xxiii] Sugrue, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 156

[xxiv] Sugrue, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 127

[xxv] Sugrue, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis,” 138

[xxvi] Rehn & Skold, “All About the Benjamins”

[xxvii] Rehn & Skold, “All About the Benjamins”