Black Women Won’t Save the World

“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.”

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

ERIC GARNER, ALTON STERLING AND CONTROLLING BLACK BODIES IN THE AMERICAS (a text in three parts)

 

“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.

Foreign Whips and Detroit’s Decline

 

“FOREIGN WHIPS AND DETROIT’S DECLINE”

By

Audrey Shipp

 

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”