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]

“BALMAIN JEANS, EXTENDED TEE, THAT MY SWAG, YEAH” (Young Thug, “Pull Up on a Kid”)

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: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228623915

[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, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20064000

[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”

Cool Black Friend

“Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’

You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me”

(“Nothing from Nothing,” Billy Preston)

“You ain’t got to be rich to talk to Gucci, but you got to be part of something

 Ain’t nobody play no pro ball or nothing? Ain’t nobody got nothing?”

(“At Least a M,” Gucci Mane, Mike Will Made It, Zaytoven)

At nine-percent of the city’s population and falling, living in multifarious communities throughout the City and County, Black people in L.A. have numerous opportunities to be the “Cool Black Friend.”  Opportunities abound on city streets, on school and college campuses, in the workplace, on Hollywood screens, in the music industry, and at the club.  Possibilities are plentiful amongst a myriad of ethnic groups but especially amongst the power majority – White/Euro-Americans, whom as Michael Eric Dyson correctly notes, Blacks have been “reading” for centuries for our own survival–and amongst Latino communities of Mexican and Central American heritage who are the majority culture in once overwhelmingly-African-American South L.A.  Having created the philosophy of cool on U.S. terrain, and having created that framework despite the nothingness of their former condition as chattel property, there is little wonder that Blacks are selected as the Cool Black Friend.  An anomaly, perhaps, given that the deculturalization process for the enslaved involved the “uprooting from land” and targeted the elimination of language, cultural practices, and family ties.  Yet Black history in America is a history of resistance and the creating of something out of nothing.  Railroads invisible to the eye.  Churches in a land that denied them literacy and the bible.  Schools and universities before their freedom was even granted.  Resistance to empire — an acumen for the precise where and when in political movements — that white Liberals cling to today.

In the nation at large, and following the era in which African Americans were forced to take up European musical instruments and play for their enslavers, the Cool Black Friend has existed in music since the era when Whites visited segregated Black clubs in locations such as Harlem or Chicago’s South Side.  For the visitor, these excursions were undoubtedly a positive if one had a Black connection who could facilitate entrance to a musical venue.  And today, if a non-Black musician or singer performs a type of music with African rhythm or African-American intonations, it is advantageous to be chums with a Black performer who can give you credence.

Sports abound with Cool Black Friends.  We see this especially on university campuses with huge endowments and top tier sports programs where the student body may be comprised of few African Americans, but the sports team has a large number of Cool Black Friends leading the university to NCAA victory and its resultant monetary gains for coaches, administrators, and the like while excluding the players themselves.  High five to the Cool Black Friend when he or she scores.  Professional athletics are more of a mixed bag, depending on the sport.  Cool Black Friends generate billions of dollars in stadium expansions, advertising, broadcasting, and ticket sales, especially during finals when corporations and the wealthy might buy out front row seats at market price for five thousand dollars (or resale $50K) to watch Black athletes take the spectators’ team to a win.  High five on that.  Yet some sports, such as football with its 70% black players, 25% black quarterbacks, or tennis which has consistently and sporadically (to use an oxymoron) had a lump in its throat regarding the assertive, pro-Black, female athleticism of Venus and Serena Williams, or golf which tried to play the token card with Tiger Woods but had to do so only half-heartedly given that athlete’s ambivalence about his own political power, show no interest in white liberal chumminess.

In some cases, having sex with a Cool Black Friend can result in the creation of the longest-running reality show to date in the U.S.  And even though the relationship that spurred that sex tape may sputter and fizzle, the Cool Black Friendship may be seen as a winning formula if the celebrity and her insecure entourage have no marketable talents of their own.  Thus, the formula must be repeated and replicated because, of course, Black Americans have a history of creating something out of nothing.  Aren’t these the people who following Nixon’s questioning their ability to survive another 500 years in the U.S., who after that same President’s statement in the 1970’s that they would only survive if the best ones were inbred, and amidst allegations in the 1980’s of CIA support for Central American counter-revolutionaries that led to dumping cocaine into the hood to fund the Contras and further destroy the Black family while fueling the street-to-prison pipeline, turned the dregs of that historical experience into a musical genre?  Trap Music aside, some Black friends are simply an insinuation.  By getting butt implants or pumping up one’s lips, it’s possible to allude to a Cool Black Friend 24/7, even when he/she may not be in one’s presence.

In the United States, which has raced with Russia in building approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, the detonation of 100 of which would block the earth’s sunlight.  The U.S. with the world’s largest number of incarcerated people, 40% of whom are Black, although Blacks are only 13% of the population.  The U.S. which is 5% of the world’s population, yet uses 24% of its energy and is ranked the second largest carbon dioxide producer. A country comfortable with the notion that white wealth is 13 times that of Blacks and Latinos. Yet, living in the Empire, and aware of the disproportionate distortions of day to day life, when Blacks shout, “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter” is, at times, the rejoinder of Euro-Americans.  With the latter, in this instance, showing scant knowledge of how call and response functions, the question to be pondered is where in the makeup of the Empire is the message “All Lives Matter” being communicated.  Whites live in the Nation.  Blacks, overwhelmingly, live in the Empire.  Even though news networks, public relations firms, and advertisers have recently put their own spin on the word “matter,” so that mileage, insurance, and happiness “matter,” the original proclamation endures.

In these circumstances and during his two terms in office, perhaps President Obama was the ultimate Cool Black Friend.  His presence allowed the United States to look progressive, as if it had overcome its racial differences, as if tolerance were the norm.  He brought Black cool to the nation and the imperial Oval Office. In a geographical world region founded on settler colonialism, Obama inherited the continental — North, Central, and South American — desire of political leaders to have it both ways – to pillage while appearing benign.  In the U.S., the liberal establishment clung to its belief in a palatable nation in which we could maintain our wasteful, consumerist lifestyle, hopefully come together as one, bridge the inherent conflict in maintaining a huge military budget, while supposedly being a beacon to the world of harmonious progress.  In his role as President, Obama had to set the course for both the nation and the empire, but like many imperial leaders, he overlooked the plight of some of his colonial subjects – amongst others, Blacks themselves, who, as inhabitants of the Empire, were seeking a liberator and have scant need for Cool Black Friends because we are our own Cool Black Friends.

The Charleston Nine, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Art of Jacob Lawrence

One soul, hundreds, thousands may hear the whistle of the early-1900’s train in Jacob Lawrence Number #5.  These are W.E.B. Du Bois’ “black refugees” who decades prior were also escaping the injustices of the vestiges of Southern slavery.  Amongst these souls, the excitement may be there, the expectation, and idealization of life in the U.S. North, especially given that Northern industry, in many cases, is paying the fare, making it quite worth the while to pick up and leave the unequal, segregated living conditions of the South.  Will Northern industry’s promise to pay transportation lead to the same indentured servitude experienced by blacks in the Reconstruction South?  Will the North be the antidote for the circumstances in the South where “the black man has simply to choose between pauperism and crime” (Du Bois)?  The experience of my grandmother was that of leaving Tennessee in the 1930’s, barely 20, the youngest of eleven children all living except the one black male disappeared into the night to never return home again.  She was the only one to take the train north to Chicago.  Or perhaps there were others in her family who went north, but they didn’t stay.  They would eventually return south.  Not she.  Her mother and father had come from Mississippi to Tennessee and as family lore would have it, her mother had Indian blood.  This was more than likely a truth, but also a bit of a digression given our black folk propensity to reach into a nebulous past and pull out our Native American blood to explain why we are not quite so black African, where the yellow, honeyed brown, and, chestnut skin colors come from.  These skin tones being a phantasmal legacy of the white rape of black females by slave owners.  This acerbic inheritance was quite apparent in my maternal grandmother’s family line, even more so in my father’s whose family, unlike my grandmother’s, took a loathsome pride in their light skin color, so much so, that my own mother was not readily accepted into their clan.  All this, yet the most important factor being it was the African blackness which held everything together and made us who we were and who we are and which is the beginning and end of our universe until eternity always loyal linking me, us to Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, and beyond. Thus, therefore, and so forth, into the North on Lawrence’s black train, belching black smoke as the headlamp leads the way.  Iron tracks shackle southern, agricultural land “once marvelously rich but already partially devitalized by (the) careless and exhaustive culture” (Du Bois) of the slave system. Iron wheels navigate plots deceitfully promised “for eventual lease and sale to ex-slaves in forty-acre parcels” (Du Bois).  Northern industrial lords, in their bidding, analogous to the contemporary “coyotes” of the U.S. Southwest and Mexico who round up desperate immigrants and move them north with the expectation that the human smuggler will eventually be paid for his effort.

Jacob Lawrence 42 exposes a South disgruntled with the undertaking and enterprise of migration.  A white man, gun and holster on his hips, stands as an “X” at the train station door ready to arrest the two departing black passengers.  Police officer?  Sherriff?  Perhaps.  Yet this is the land in which “every white man was ipso facto a member of (the) police” (Du Bois).  And blacks were a people whose first crime in this country, and particularly in the South, was their “blackness or other physical peculiarities” (Du Bois).  Surely, there must have been more than a few residents in white neighborhoods who murmured under their breath, “Let the niggers leave.”  Before their self-ordainment as African-American.  Ante-dating their self-proclamation as Afro-American.  Prior to salvos accompanied by raised fists of black power, these Colored people and Negroes (as branded by the Spanish and Portuguese) were leaving a land that for several centuries had deemed “life amid free Negroes (as) simply unthinkable, the maddest of experiments” (Du Bois).  Still there was this despotic effort to impede blacks’ departure, blocking their train passage because, of course, the South was losing former free labor, current cheap labor, the people who made both the white landowners and the white poor feel racially superior to all other beings on earth, the women who had cleaned their houses, raised their kids.  The men and women who while working in their hot, insect-infested fields, some dropping dead to the ground and then being kicked aside, because the plough never stopped (Du Bois), still had the audaciousness to light a white, desolate world with spiritual song.  The people who should have been crushed by centuries of abuse after losing their African spiritual world but who bowed their heads down and embraced a god on a cross whose word they had to fight to read, often in secret, and to whom they had to worship in the wooden churches that would be kept separate Black Churches because they could not enter the white.  Wooden churches that could light up in burning flames of hatred at the flick of a match and still do, historically black churches, because we are a historically black people carrying history historically on our backs, historically black in Charleston when praying to that same God and subject to being shot by a white man who is not alone in thinking in his solitary mind that his whiteness is under threat and siege, shot for being historically black – Reverend Clementa Pinckney.  Say his name. Cynthia Hurd.  Say her name.  Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  Say her name.  Tywanza Sanders.  Say his name.  Ethel Lance.  Say her name.  Susie Jackson.  Say her name.  Depayne Middleton Doctor.  Say her name.  Reverend Daniel Simmons. #Sayhisname.  Myra Thompson.  #Sayhername.  Amen.  Nine people killed.  Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  June 17, 2015.  Charleston, South Carolina.

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

Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and Controlling Black Bodies in the Americas

“Detroit’s black day laborers gathered at an informal outdoor labor market on the city’s periphery, known to local whites as the ‘slave market.’  The large ‘open air mart’ thrived between the 1940’s and 1960’s on Eight Mile Road…” (Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis)

Eric Garner (part I)

In 1770 the Municipal government of the Louisiana Territory then under Spanish rule stated it was permissible in the Territory for the Europeans to trade tobacco for African slaves.  On July 17, 2014, in the formerly-liberal now neoliberal bastion of New York City, money capital of the overdeveloped world, and once the prime destination for Blacks leaving the Reconstruction South, there was no law permitting a black man to sell individual tobacco cigarettes on the street, indeed, based on city legislation, it was strategically inconceivable and legally impermissible for a black man to do so, and it was an activity for which Eric Garner would be killed given that the police department since the mid-1990’s was fixated on what it called quality of life in the city so when a group of African-American and Latino men had the idea of selling cigarettes that they would buy from nearby states or the Indian reservation at prices cheaper than those of New York City in order to sell on the streets, especially to people similar to themselves, who, in this case, would be people going to the welfare office nearby, and for whom, the one cigarette those customers purchased might ironically indeed have been a momentary improvement in their quality of life, both alleviating stress and bought at a cheaper price, well, the New York City police did not see it that way and after the call they received from the apartment manager who, adding his complaint to the hundreds that had been made regarding this particular area because he felt pushed to his limit with the group outside his Staten Island apartment building whom he described to police as selling cigarettes and drugs on the streets, surely the mention of the word drugs would arouse the attention of the police who were familiar with this particular group and specifically with one 43-year-old man named Eric Garner, impossible to miss at 6’2”, 395 pounds, a husband and father of six who had already been arrested twice the same year because his selling of cigarette loosies was not in accordance with state tax law.

The fact that Mr. Garner was known for buying ice cream for children in the area was  inconsequential as was his history for being a type of referee amongst the group of men with whom he hung around who would at times get into their own brawls, and the reality of Mr. Garner, a husband and father of six, working in a trade that he had made part of his livelihood was likewise irrelevant, but the fact that Eric Garner was himself breaking up a fight between his buds that day proved fatal because the plain clothes cops focused on him and this time it was Garner they wanted to arrest for selling cigarettes, and despite the big man asking that they not touch him, they proceeded in any case, with one particular cop grabbing the huge Garner, who suffered from various health conditions, by the neck and tackling him down to the ground in a chokehold, pressing his face to the cement, handcuffing him, and leaving him on the ground where Garner made his now famous pleas stating, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” eleven times, all of which were recorded on the phone camera of one of Eric Garner’s friends, but the cops ignored his pleas because somewhere in their training or due to the dozens of arrests they had made at this same spot or most likely because quality of life mandates did not include the life of someone who looked like Mr. Garner and who worked in the informal economy, they concluded that his pleas for help were fake which might be the reason that instead of Eric Garner receiving a professional group of medical personnel to attend him, he was sent what appeared to be five fake medics one of whom walked around carrying the oxygen that was never administered to the patient who suffered from acute asthma and who died after the cops succeeded in being the catalyst for Eric Garner’s cardiac arrest.

The Americas (part II)

The tragedy of Alton Sterling was to have been born in a state that historically more than one European country had fought to the death for – not only death amongst Europeans – the deaths of the original Native American inhabitants of the land and the African slaves imported as property.  Louisiana, as the former center of colonial slave trading in the United States, was contested ground not unlike my birthplace of California.  They are both states in which the presence of more than one colonial European power resulted in a fight for geographical dominance and economic and military control.  One of the most pernicious and exploitive forms of domination was European ownership of black persons transported from Africa as slaves.  Although the Portuguese initially had exclusive access to the coast of Africa and thus the exportation of our ancestors according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494[i], the French, Spanish, and English would feud amongst themselves and with the Portuguese in order to gather the labor they needed to found and exploit the new lands they sought to conquer in the Americas.  European enslavers attempted to gain dominion over enslaved Africans by branding them according to their place of origin, this being important since enslavers placed a preference on peoples imported directly from Africa.  The Europeans sought to curb the Africans’ exposure to revolutionary ideas which they deemed more prevalent in the Caribbean holding islands than amongst Africans imported directly from the continent.[ii]  While the Europeans placed a premium on the skin brandings they put on Africans as property, they, for the most part, ignored the scarification the enslaved had put on themselves to indicate their particular African cultural identity.

The English-speaking slave traders kept rather meticulous records of sales of the enslaved, the Spanish are noted for having kept some; yet, the French kept very little data regarding sales of African slaves.[iii]  Their memorandums may have been scant, but the French administered the largest slave population of any colony in the territory of Saint Domingue which we now call Haiti.  The French domination of Saint Domingue lasted from 1659 until the years of the slave revolt ending in 1804.  Saint Domingue had a population of 800,000 slaves toiling in the cultivation and production of tobacco, cotton, and coffee as well as the monumental sugar trade that supplied 40% of that product to Europe.  With more than a thousand shipping vessels, over 20,000 French sailors, and more than 500 ships in its port at any one time, the Europeans considered Saint Domingue the “Pearl of the Antilles.”  Always wary of a coup d’état, the French would avoid importing slaves to Louisiana during the years 1729 to 1731 because the enslaved were rebelling in the Territory during those years.  And later Charles IV would block importation of slaves from the French Antilles to Saint Domingue as the Haitian revolution got under way in 1791.[iv]

The presence of the huge population of French sailors in Saint Domingue could not have been more horrific for women. “Colonized women were frequently positioned in the colonies and under slavery as concubines, mistresses, or sexual servants.”[v]  The scholar Kempadoo describes in her writings how militarized masculinity demands heterosexual sex on a regular basis.  When the French sailors of Saint Domingue did not resort to having sex presumably amongst themselves, they would rape the females from the Native or African populations.  How else to explain the emergence of Creole slaves — a new category of enslaved that was “specifically barred from…commerce” for importation to Louisiana as early as 1777[vi], again due to the preference for slaves imported directly from Africa whom the Europeans hoped to manipulate.  Black women were not only dehumanized by the Europeans placing them in the role of having to fulfill the sexual desires of the sailors.  Throughout the Americas, they were considered breeders whose “wombs were incorporated into plantation economies to increase the size of the slave population.”[vii]

The English had a monopoly on the barbarity of the slave trade by the 18th century, having surpassed both the French and the Spanish in the trafficking of human lives.  After the slave revolt in Saint Domingue during the years of 1791-1803, the Europeans moved some sugar production to Mississippi.  The Louisiana Purchase, in which this territory was transferred from French to Spanish, back to French, and finally to U.S. hands, was a manifestation of how the United States, a former colony itself, had now gained the ability to recolonize.  The incorporation of the territory which contained the largest slave market caused political anxiety amongst the political power brokers in the North. Their concerns were appeased by designating black slaves as 3/5 of a person in the U.S. Constitution, thus avoiding having the South gain excessive electoral representation.

Another colonial power that formerly controlled black lives in Louisiana was Spain. And how did the Spanish maneuver to restrain their African populations?  The Spanish designated Cartagena in present-day Colombia, as the former slave trading center of Spanish America; thus, it was the sister city of Anglo-American New Orleans.  While Anglo-American slavery was noted for being brutal and French slavery in Saint Domingue was so deadly the enslaved lived just a few years, the Spanish in their largest slave market of Cartagena are noted for having “difficulties with transportation, (an) unimaginative government, (and) powerful and myopic vested interests”[viii] all of which affected the degrees of mercilessness the Catholic Jesuits, landowners, and mine owners could impose on their African slaves. France and Spain were both Catholic countries, and the Catholic church took the position that slavery was a contract and that the slave was a human being with family rights.[ix]  While this may have been one of many laws on the books dating back as far as 1348 in Castilian legislation, it would be difficult to enforce in Colombia because of the shortage of priests to implement it.  And its application was uneven in other geographical locations of the huge Spanish American empire.  Despite their Catholicism, the French were barbaric slave owners in Saint Domingue known for working slaves to death in just a few years.  If preservation of the family unit is used as an indication of respecting the humanity of African slaves, we know that in Anglo-American slavery separation of family members was the norm.  Colombia’s rate of nuclear family units amongst slaves was anywhere from 37-60% depending on the region.  Peru and Brazil, both Catholic countries, discouraged family units amongst slaves where only 10% lived in nuclear families.  The Bahamas and Jamaica, on the other hand, are noted for having 54 and 70% of slaves respectively living in nuclear family units.[x]

Other characteristics regarding the lives of the Africans enslaved in the region now called Colombia was a life expectancy of 30 years, a mortality rate of 50%, with women giving birth to an average of 5 kids, and having, statistically, more than half die at an early age.  The ratio of men to women in the late 1700’s in the Colombia region was 109:100, which contrasts markedly with South Carolina at 180-250:100.  A particularity of Colombian slavery is the notion that the enslaved did not have to toil for the enslavers on Sundays and Catholic holidays.[xi]  This fact is important because it would allow for increased rates of manumission given that African slaves toiling in the gold mines in areas like Choco, or laboring on farms could work on Sundays and keep the profits from their work for themselves.  Retaining the profits of their labor should have allowed for increased rates of manumission given that the enslaved would be able to then purchase themselves or other family members.  Yet records indicate that the Spanish rarely disclosed the laws regarding manumission and even when the enslaved were aware of the laws, some masters refused to grant freedom.  Thus, records for the late 1700’s show that the region of Cali granted only 87 manumissions and Buenaventura, 7.  The goldmining region of Choco is distinct in having a 75% manumission rate, but this is also connected to the depletion of the gold mines in that area.[xii]  By 1785 the colonial powers in Colombia, by way of their dominion over and regulation of the lives of African slaves, had depleted the gold mines of Choco, although slavery would not officially end across the country until 1851.

Alton Sterling (part III)

“In a setting black women referred to as a slave market at Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street (Chicago), they (black female domestic workers) haggled daily for work, just as their counterparts did in New York’s ‘Bronx Slave Market.’” (Christopher Robert Reed, The Depression Comes to the South Side)

Six years, take it or leave it, six years of being an acquaintance to the owner of the Triple S Food Mart who said that Alton Sterling never got into any fights and was popular amongst the store’s shoppers who referred to him as the CD Man, with his table of cd’s and dvd’s in a cardboard box on his table propped up outside the store while playing music for his customers to both sample and lighten the load of their workday, known for extending credit to his customers who might pay him a portion of the price of the cd and return later to pay him the rest.  Alton Sterling with his cd business still extant after Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and the Virgin Megastores’ closure in Europe and America in 2009; yet, Sterling, still the CD Man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 5, 2016, despite the digital age of downloads and apps, a black man once again caught up in the whirlwind of 21st -century global capital – a tempest which at its worst functions like the bighead carp eating algae and detritus at the bottom of the Mississippi River, looking for consumables in an era when capital had deemed the music cd dead and America had opined the black working class of no regard and the black underclass, irrelevant. Here was this one African American male, father of five, selling cds in the open air in a country that had considered it more acceptable that he sell himself for labor, a country where blacks have ironically functioned as both profit and profit makers, and where independent black enterprise has always been suspect and has not been given support causing blacks to be on a tempestuous tour of the country for several decades now looking for living arrangements starting from the South after Emancipation and fleeing to the North, Midwest, and out West, currently regions subject to gentrification, especially in the major cities, where wealthy international elites buy condos and lofts in formerly abandoned downtowns presently undergoing transformation and forcing blacks, browns, working people, and the elderly to compete in their old neighborhoods with those same absentee-owner/renter elites and with middle class American whites trying desperately not to feel the crunch.

The CD Man, 37 years old, a registered sex offender, which no mom, family, or community can condone, had previously been arrested for carrying a gun and being in possession of marijuana in Louisiana which is not Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, nor D.C. where marijuana is now legal, and sentenced to five years; thus, he had done time, and now engaged in his business, sole proprietor, his presence contradicting the myth that blacks are more tolerable solo than in a group – a group that can incite anxiety amongst fearful whites like the hundreds of Haitians languishing today in Tijuana having fled Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, worked in Brazil, and due to that country’s economic downturn, migrated, some on foot to the U.S.-Mexico border, where they now sit, wait, and dream the dream of entering a country which centuries ago deemed black migration en masse to the U.S. useless and which now perceives the individual black person, especially male, as a threat.  And that fateful call of the homeless man, perhaps upset that Sterling would not give him money, so he calls the police to tell them that Sterling is carrying a gun in open-carry Baton Rouge, and the two cops respond to that call ready to snuff the life out of this black man as they straddle and tackle him to the ground, during which shots are fired, and the cops emerge alive.  Alton Sterling dies to his kids, dies to their moms, dies to his customers, dies to the homeless man who used his phone to call the police, dies to the bystanders who used their phones to record the killing, dies to open-carry Baton Rouge, dies to America’s former largest slave market of Louisiana, dies to the open arms of the jails and prisons which like the rest of America is confounded about what to teach, which services to provide, job opportunities to avail, housing to rent and sell, what the future looks like for working and underclass black America, a thorn in its side since the days of freedom.

[i] Thomas N. Ingersoll, “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community,” Louisiana Historical Association, Spring 1996, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4233285

[ii] Thomas N. Ingersoll, “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community”

[iii] Thomas N. Ingersoll, “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community”

[iv] Thomas N. Ingersoll, “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community”

[v] Kamala Kempadoo, “Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade: Transnational Feminist Perspectives,” Indiana University Press, Spring 2001, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40338451

[vi] Thomas N. Ingersoll, “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community”

[vii] Kamala Kempadoo, “Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade: Transnational Feminist Perspectives”

[viii] David L. Chandler, “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia,” The Latin American Studies Association, 1981, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2503127

[ix] David L. Chandler, “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia”

[x] David L. Chandler, “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia”

[xi] David L. Chandler, “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia”

[xii] David L. Chandler, “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia”

Works Consulted

Baker, Al, David Goodman, and Benjamin Mueller. “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death.” New York Times 13 June 2015.

Berlinger, Joshua, Nick Valencia, and Steve Almasy. “Alton Sterling Shooting: Homeless Man Made 911 Call, Source Says.” CNN 8 July 2016.

Chandler, David. “Family Bonds and the Bondsman: The Slave Family in Colonial Colombia.” Latin American Research Review 2 (1981): 107-131. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/2503127.

Ingersoll, Thomas. “The Slave Trade and the Ethnic Diversity of Louisiana’s Slave Community.” Louisiana Historical Association 37 (Spring 1996): 133-161. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/4233285.

Kempadoo, Kamala. “Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade: Transnational Feminist Perspectives.” Indiana University Press 2 (Spring 2001): 28-51. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/40338451.

Meek Mill Didn’t Get Killt (Nonfiction in 3 Voices)

Voice 1: In the land of curt consolations, one that is most apparent is that Meek Mill didn’t get killt although surely that could have happened in the City of New York which garnered a recent reputation for snuffing the life out of the big man selling loosies on Long Island or the youngin confined to Rikers Island based on allegations of stealing a backpack the soul of whom was stolen from him so much so that he committed suicide.  Meek Mill’s case could have been otherwise.  He escaped that fate, if escape it can be called, given the rapper has been dragging the ball and chain of probation since 2009 for an incident that occurred as a teen; yet, given that the U.S. legal system, which markets in black and brown bodies, has acknowledged no change in him, no redemption; thus, the law, its judicial representatives, and police boots on the ground watch his every move coveting a new conviction and they find it when the rapper pops motorcycle wheelies on the set of a video filming.  Illegal.  Against the law.  2-4 years jail time.  Meek didn’t get killt.  He didn’t run from the cops who then took it upon themselves to feel fear and shoot him in the back.  He didn’t attempt to be the “trillest” and say, “Officer, I want to let you know I have a weapon,” and then get shot.  Point.  Blank.  He didn’t get into an argument at the liquor store and walk down the street only to get shot in the back.  None of that.  Meek Mill didn’t get killt.

Voice 2: On that one track Meek say, “They wanna see you in the hood back when you ain’t got shit.”  That be real tho.  That’s how the United States be operating on “Young Black America.”

Voice 1: Why do Blacks total forty percent of those incarcerated yet make up just thirteen percent of the U.S. population?  And why are one-third of those on parole in the U.S. Black people?  Black people and Brown people are disproportionately locked up.  Last name from that now-gone Spanish empire that surrendered to the force of both Anglo expansion and the consequent U.S. empire?  You know the one.  Persona de Mexico?  El Salvador?  Chances of being incarcerated abundant as well.  Practice a suspect religion.  Accent a bit odd.  Low income.  Scant education.  Behind bars.

Voice 2: On that one track when Meek and Thug say, “Lost so many niggas, I went crazy, I couldn’t balance it,” that be real too.  Like, you lose your peeps, and you be fucked up from the pain, like dizzy and shit, everything is out of wack, the city gets bigger and it’s just you standin there and all the traffic is goin in all different directions, and the empty house cuz that person ain’t there no more, just things, things to be cleaned up and horded so you can keep them or toss others in those large plastic trash bags to be dumped into oblivion, but you never forget cuz those people be in your heart always and on your mind at the oddest moments and when you look in the mirror, you be seein that person, them people, and when you speak, you hear they voices, too.

Voice 1: The challenge is to resist a culture of violent obliviousness in a broader society that would have us forget because the forgetting is dehumanization not only of the forgotten but of ourselves.  After September 11, 2001 when U.S. news networks faced the hardship of paying tribute to the souls lost in the Twin Towers, I remember looking at the scrolling photos of the deceased on the tv screen and realizing how beautiful everyday Americans were.  The photos, names, occupations of the victims were portrayed uninterruptedly.  Sixteen years later, in our society that increasingly shutters the finality of death as well as institutions like jails and prisons that impose forms of death on the living, we are increasingly not offered those commemorations, words from family members, the photos.  Just this year with the tragic human losses in the Las Vegas Concert shooting, the Texas church shooting, the hundreds of dead in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, we see meager mention of the victims.  The corporate news media, which has few reasons to seek revolt, moves on to the next story.  But as the poet says:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

…any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

-John Donne

Voice 2: That be trill, tho.  John Donne was ride or die way back in the day.  Those some good lines.  It may be someone else today, your homie tomorrow, but eventually, it’s us.  One of my favorites from Meek’s album is, “Relax your mind and kick your feet way up/Selling dog food tryna feed my pups.”  We’re not forgetting Meek nor the many, many locked up.

Voice 1: “We Ball”?

Voice 2: Ballin.

Black Women Won’t Save the World

For: Erica Garner

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, Black Women won’t save the world.  Notwithstanding the circumference of the Cradle of Civilization in South Africa nestled in a locale from which all human beings originate; regardless of the excavations in Ethiopia of both Lucy and Ardi marking the evolution of homo erectus and what that signifies to the world in the evolutionary flowering of life, the act of waiting 27 years in a Mandela-like manner is far beyond the dexterity of even the most steadfast amongst us.  So, please do not expect it, since what a girl really wants is to be a first in Africa as President of the former American Colonization Society (aka, Liberia) to show the world how it’s really done following the commendable lead of Brooklyn-and the-Caribbean’s Chisholm who made her bid as leader of the entire Empire after the sea having been parted by that group of women who were so good at either whispering or shouting:

“Come along with me.”

(You know the ones.)

Those who say: “Come on now.”

“Don’t give up.”

Those that question: “Why can’t you do that, too?”

Harriet Tubman.

Sojourner Truth.

Rosa Parks.

But they can’t do it all.  They can’t continue to clean up the mess of Western Civilization epitomized in the world’s largest economy that works overtime like an oversized fan both amassing resources and throwing out products.  They can’t continue to wipe the mouths of temperamental children.  Black women will not save the world with a sweeping lift of the train of their gowns as they walk on stage and, with a Hattie McDaniel smile, accept their award.  Even though the world expects that they listen Oprah-style to its dilemmas and then offer pats on the back; even though society would have them sweeten reality like Aunt Jemima; even though segments of American politics cross their fingers waiting for Black Women to show up at the polls to circumvent the country’s tendency to worship totalitarian totems, it goes against the grain.  When all a girl wants is fresh food that can’t be bought at a liquor mart, healthcare that can’t be provided at a storefront, dignified employment that can’t be applied for amidst corporate outsourcing, ownership that can’t be acquired in economic inequality, safety that can’t be granted by the 2nd Amendment, and for her sons and daughters to live a freedom that can’t exist in a society of colored-only mass incarceration.  So, no, Black Women (who have been my sustenance) will not save a world that reduced Lucy to an objectified Sara Baartman, Hottentot Venus to be paraded around European freak shows to exhibit her large buttocks.  Regardless of their self-imposed exile to Paris and refashioning themselves to seduce á la Josephine Baker or using the both life-saving and self-effacing tools of Madame C. J. Walker to accommodate white middle-class patriarchy, they may still face a court case named the “The United States of America vs. Billie Holiday” in which their Blues cannot even be contained in a volume by Toni Morrison.  If indeed “la vida es un carnaval,” I want Black Women to formulate it, but we can’t save a world that is not of our making, a world in which mothers were historically assigned double duty and fathers were denied last names.  Fathers were depleted of even air to breathe.  Fathers had to plead, “I can’t breathe.”

Blatant Brazil

Esteemed Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

There were less blatant ways to kill Marielle Franco.

Foremost being before her African ancestors made their captured voyage to shore,

they could have simply jumped ship into the depths of the Atlantic as seaweed carcasses,

and her seed would have never settled in your soil.

Or her forebears could have been the first to rebel like Haiti and world capital and

empire could have slowly sanctioned her off, starved her and blamed her for her own

hunger.

In our times you might have choked her father for trespassing on any public street and

left her whirling to organize protest against his murder only to die breathless with no

beating heart.

You might have given her child a plastic gun to play with in a park and rushed in

annihilating both her and her offspring.

Finally, you could have stopped her car for a traffic violation, hauled her to jail to accuse

the accused of hanging herself.

Instead Marielle Franco was shot while driving Black, assassinated along with her driver

Anderson Pedro Gomes.

Her only defense the votes that made her a Council Member.  Her voice that rallied

against racism, oppression, and injustice. Her mind that analyzed and made

connections.

Brazen Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

Our Loss.

Your kill.

Descarado Brazil

Estimado Brasil:

(Policía, Ejército, Falange)

 

Entre maneras menos flagrantes para matar a Marielle Franco existía la posibilidad del suicidio de sus antepasados Africanos.  Durante su esclavizada travesía marítima, ellos podrían lanzarse a las profundidades del Átlantico en forma de cadaveres de alga marina y la semilla de Marielle nunca se hubiera establecida en tierra brasileña.

O sus progenitores podrían ser los primeros en rebelarse a la manera de Haití y el capital mundial unido con el imperio la condenarían lentamente, dejandola con hambre y acusandola por su propia escasez.

En nuestros tiempos podrían sofocar a su papá por traspasar en cualquier calle pública dejandola a ella en un remolino de agitación para protestar su asesinato sólo para morirse ella misma sofocada y asfixiada.

Podrían regalarse a su hijo una pistola plástica para divertirse solito en el parque y después apurarse Usted mismo a la escena del crimen aniquilando a ella y a su descendencia.

Finalmente, podrían detener a su carro por una violación de tráfico arrastrandola a la cárcel para acusar a la acusada de ahorcarse y matarse.

En cambio, a Marielle Franco la mataron cuando iba manejando Negra, asesinada junto con su conductor Anderson Pedro Gomes.

Su única defensa los votos que la eligieron Concejal Municipal.  Su voz que denunciaba el racismo, lo opresión, y la injusticia.  Su entendimiento que analizaba y relacionaba.

 

Desvergonzado Brasil:

(Policía, Ejército, Falange)

Nosotros perdimos.

Usted Extingue.

 

-Translated from the English by Audrey Shipp.

-Traducida del Íngles por Audrey Shipp

Absent African American History and a History of Frederick Douglass

On my most recent travels to Washington, D.C. I didn’t cross the Anacostia River to visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site which was the home of the former slave and iconic abolitionist, orator, and writer.  My time in the city was then little and winding down, and my frustration ran deep as the locale which loomed large on tourist maps beckoned me.  Yet the sun was setting, and I and my travelling entourage were tired, hungry, and thirsty.  Of course, I knew of Frederick Douglass, and I had read some of his texts but not in the context of other African American thinkers and African American social philosophers.  I knew of Frederick Douglass in the American context of the grand scheme of U.S History that is Founding Fathers, War of Independence, Abolition, Civil War, Civil Rights unto the present.  In that context he is undeniably a hero.  The hero.

In my current reading of the text Creative Conflict in African American Thought–a text published in 2004 and written by history professor Wilson Jeremiah Moses–I have had the opportunity to place Frederick Douglass in a historical context with other African American thinkers including Alexander Crummel, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey.  Mine is an opportunity rarely afforded African American youth given that our K-12 education system teaches of historical giants such as Douglass (when at all) within the grand scheme of U.S. history and as colonial appendages to the broader culture. During my own education before attending college, I don’t recall in depth studies of African American thinkers other than Martin Luther King.  It took my own efforts as a teen to scour then extant L.A. bookstores and find the writings of Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Malcolm X, etc. In the U.S. it isn’t until one attends college that one has access to a wide range of African American thought.  Indeed, American universities are the vanguard of research on African-American history and culture with their researchers and professors distinguished by an enthusiasm, passionate curiosity and analysis that rarely reaches secondary education.

Euro-American popular culture disparages history, and as a people living in a colonial situation in the United States, our living experiences in many cases mimic White Americans while simultaneously being antithetical to White reality.  Euro-American culture erases the blundering of Natives, forgets its own indentured servitude, and disregards the manner in which European and “white” non-European immigrants to America changed ethnic-sounding monikers to Anglo last names while, at the same time, this dominant culture professes a belief in never-ending progress based on bourgeois ideals. Given White Amnesia regarding history, it is not surprising that as Black Folk we don’t readily refer to our history in the United States within an African-American context.  Not only do we not refer to the specificities of our U.S. history, we fail to put ourselves within the larger African diaspora that includes not just primogenial Africa but Blacks living in Europe and our distant cousins through enslavement throughout the Americas.

Frederick Douglass is full of history and fuller still within an African-American context wherein one sees him not only as an abolitionist, but as an assimilationist as well.  A man of recognized mixed ancestry (born of the enslaved Harriet Bailey and a White father who would not recognize him), his predisposition was to view Whites as superior.   He was not an advocate for Black racial pride nor ethnic solidarity and saw little use for Black institutions.  He was indeed a follower of bourgeois conventions.

As African-Americans we act out our foremothers and forefathers frequently and regularly.  The dominant culture would have us be only Frederick Douglass.  Yet without acknowledgment we have our rebellious Angela Davis cerebrations, our unrelenting Malcolm or high-road Martin agitation, our Booker T. desires to start a Black Business, and our Du Bois integration frustrations that lead to yearnings of donning Ankara African fabric and returning for good to the African continent.  Yet rarely are we put into that cultural context.  As high school students we aren’t consistently afforded this mirror to look at ourselves.  As writers we often fail to put Black Americans within the context of Black thought and its developments.  And we most certainly cannot expect White America to do this for us.  The result is a lack of recognition and awareness about how African American thought develops, how it turns on itself, and how it regresses.  History is alive.  It is under the surface of everything we do.  It urges to manifest itself.  As writers and educators, it is our duty to hear its call and reclaim African American history from under the mantle of alienation.

African Americans Move to Nicaragua

Given persistent economic inequality and disproportionate mass incarceration, in the twenty-first century African Americans require territory for a national homeland.  Malcolm X is the most prominent of recent embodiments of this desire conceived of by Black Americans.  He is a tireless spokesperson and advocate for a national territory, as is Martin Delany who promotes this idea developed by the Black generations of his era.  Living from 1812-1885, Delany was physician, abolitionist, writer, husband, father, and a Civil War soldier who like Malcolm X was preoccupied with Black liberation and what it would look like in his time period as one of 600,000 freedmen amongst 3.5 million enslaved African-Americans.  He expresses the popular point of view of that time that “we (Black Americans) are a nation within a nation.” [i]  His preoccupation led him to conclude that real liberation and access to progress, for the freedmen at least, would require leaving the United States where whites owned everything as a result of their dependence on black labor.  Although whites would historically make it appear that Blacks were sequestered and forced to engage in hard labor because of their inferiority, the opposite was actually true; they were seized due to their superior abilities in activities like mining and agriculture.

Another idea circulating during Delany’s lifetime was the notion of repatriation of the African-American enslaved to Africa.  Delany was critical of this project which he regarded as conceived of by white slaveholders.  Namely, the American Colonization Society proposed to send Blacks to Liberia, an African nation created by the United States.  Depending on the political climate in the U.S., Delany considered this notion to be plausible, and at other times not.  He set sail for Africa, became familiar with the terrain and environs of Liberia, and finally concluded that he had an “unqualified objection to Liberia.”[ii]  But that conclusion would not stop him from later contemplating East Africa as a potential homeland for Black Americans as well as Lagos in present-day Nigeria.

Ultimately, Delany reasoned that the optimum location for an African-American homeland would be Central America.  Given its location and terrain, Delany saw Nicaragua specifically as an excellent location for agriculture and commerce.  His perception was that there was no racism in Nicaraguan society and that colored people wielded power.  He stated, “Central and South America are evidently the ultimate destination and future home of the colored race of this continent.”[iii]  His focus on Nicaragua was in no way unusual during his time period given that there was an obsession with Nicaragua amongst the white American ruling class.  During the 1850’s, members of the U.S. government had considered annexation of Nicaragua in an attempt to distribute land and eventually enslaved Black persons to white non-slave holders.  In other words, then, as today, the notion of Jeffersonian, white-male equality depended on both the exploitation of non-whites and the acquisition of territory outside the United States.  But was this land free of racism as Delany had perceived it to be?  Not quite so.  Nicaragua was a site of “ethnic cleansing”[iv] as practiced by the Spanish on the indigenous populations.

A closer look at race in Nicaragua reveals it not to be the idyllic environment as envisioned by African-American freedom fighter and liberationist Delany.  As contemporary researcher Lancaster points out, “Nicaragua does indeed have a race problem, or perhaps more to the point, a color problem, that manifests itself in insidious ways.”[v]  The minority populations of African and Miskito (Amerindian) origin are both concentrated and isolated on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast which was colonized by the British and which shares no direct highway link to the rest of the country.  Historically, the majority mestizos (persons of mixed blood), who themselves comprise 90% of the population, have considered Afro-Nicaraguans and Miskitos as backward and inferior.  Perhaps Delany perceived of Nicaragua as being free from racism due to the more subtle manifestations of racism in Latin America where this social malady is a series of practices as distinct from racism in the U.S which is structural.[vi]  Despite racism’s subtleties in Nicaragua, the leadership positions of the country have historically been held by the white elite who are noted as being the only demographic in the country not engaged in the internal and psychological warfare resulting from performing Spanish culture in indigenous or African skin.  This colonial warfare is noted by researcher Lancaster as being reversed only once per year, during carnival, when indigenous and African cultures are celebrated.  At other times, through both language and practice, the majority of the population exhibits a pervasive desire to be white.

Nicaragua as a nation continues to be a point of contention as current President Ortega struggles to retain power.  Ortega, who participated during the 1980’s in the leftist Sandinista revolution to overthrow U.S.-friendly dictator Somoza, has shifted his beliefs from Marxist-Leninism to democratic socialism.  Ortega’s terms as President include 1985-1990 and subsequent terms following elections in 2006, 2011, and 2016.  While some U.S. democratic socialists support Ortega and many U.S. Marxists and anarchists criticize him, the disparate groups tend to agree that the U.S. government, through its financing of NGO’s and human rights organizations, is trying to destabilize the present government viewed by the U.S. as being too friendly with both China and Russia.

Which way freedom?  Like African-Americans, the peoples of Nicaragua have had to struggle, engage in warfare, and face death and the death of loved ones in the quest for freedom during the eras of exploration and exploitation of the American continent, an exploitation that continues today.  Regarding economic issues in the formation of a nation, Delany often emphasizes business; yet, history shows that as businesses grow, they conglomerate and monopolize which results in a constraining of freedoms as their leaders cease to operate in the interests of working people.  Decisions about how businesses operate must be democratically shared with working people.  Regarding the freedoms of women, Delany correctly states that “no people are ever elevated above the condition of their females.”[vii]  Nicaragua today ranks twelve (after Germany) in gender equality.  Homosexuality is legal, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is illegal, but same-sex marriage is not recognized.  Unlike many other countries in the Southern hemisphere which focus on the growing of a few crops for international distribution, the country produces 80-90% of its own food.[viii]

Martin Delany, who, like Malcolm X, expresses a deep love for Black people, consistently has our freedom on his mind.  The physician Delany was one of the first three Blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1850, but they did not attend because protesting white students blocked their attendance.  Martin Delany states that if we Black Folk cannot leave the U.S. and found our own nation, we should at the least establish our own schools and colleges.  Delany proposes that African Americans leave a homeland for our children.  This same Martin Delany who was so preoccupied about a homeland died in 1885 with no tombstone marking the land holding his humble grave in Ohio until the year 2006.  Martin Delany resonates through time and beyond his grave.  His advocacy is persistent and pertinent.

[i] Howard Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 1850-1920 (New York: Routledge Press, 2017), 97

[ii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 77

[iii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 82

[iv] Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “Native Land and African Bodies, the Source of U.S. Capitalism,” Monthly Review 1 February 2015

[v] Roger N. Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua,” Ethnology Vol. 30, No. 4 (October 1991): 339-353

[vi] Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua”

[vii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 92

[viii] Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune, “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” Monthly Review 23 July 2018