bell hooks, Living to Transgress

bell hooks is a feminist author and activist from the United States. Her name by birth is Gloria Jean Watkins, but she took the name bell hooks in honor of her maternal great-grandmother. hooks was born, one of seven children, to Veodis Watkins, a custodian, and Rosa Bell Watkins, a homemaker. She was raised in Hopkinsville, a segregated town in rural Kentucky, where she experienced firsthand both the hardships of segregated schools and, later, the process of integration.

Upon graduating high school, hooks attended Stanford University graduating with a BA in English in 1973 then continued on University of Madison, receiving her MA in English in 1976. Afterward, she split her focus between teaching Ethnic Studies at the University of South California and writing—publishing her first work, “And There We Wept,” a chapbook of poetry in 1978 and Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism in 1981—while, also, working towards a doctorate in literature at the University of California, which she achieved in 1983[1].

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hooks spent her academic career as a scholar of African-American literature, writing her PhD dissertation on Toni Morrison, but her influences include a wide array thinkers including, amongst others: playwright Lorraine Hansberry, pedagogical theorist Paulo Freire, theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, psychologist Erich Fromm, historian Walter Rodney as well as peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn and civil rights leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.[2].

As such, hooks quickly became one of the foremost theorists of intersectionality, a framework which has recently gained great popularity in the analysis of systems of power within society and has combined her analysis of power relations with her academic career, writing texts dedicated to the topic of pedagogy. In her 1994 book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, hooks advocates for “a way of teaching in which anyone can learn.” One in which educators help students “transgress” boundaries of race, class, and sexuality to achieve intellectual and, so too, personal, social, and cultural freedom[3].

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Implementing her own theories into practice, hooks, as a professor teaching at a variety of institutions from University of California, Santa Cruz and San Francisco State, to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and Oberlin College in Ohio, often found herself referencing pop culture in efforts to help students connect to theories of intersectionality. In doing so, she found herself grappling with new material in an entirely different field, media studies that would become the basis for her 1994 book Outlaw Culture.

In bell hooks’ own words: “Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is. So I think that partially people like me who started off doing feminist theory or more traditional literary criticism or what have you begin to write about popular culture, largely because of the impact it was having as the primary pedagogical medium for masses of people globally who want to, in some way, understand the politics of difference. I mean it’s been really exciting for someone like me, both in terms of the personal desires I have to remain bonded with the working-class culture and experience that I came from as well as the sort of southern black aspect of that and at the same time to be a part of a diasporic world culture of ideas and to see how there can be a kind of interplay between all of those different forces. Popular culture is one of the sites where there can be an interplay[4].”

Cecily McMillan

Works Cited

[1] Notable Biographies – bell hooks

[2] Notes on IAPL 2001 Keynote Speaker, bell hooks

[3] Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom by bell hooks

[4] bell hooks – cultural criticism and transformation

Mayor Marion Barry is Arrested for Crack-Cocaine

Rabble-rouser, hero, thug, public servant, crackhead, role model, negro militant, freedom rider, scoundrel, prophet, radical, drug addict, philanderer, genius, convict, legend… he’s been called it all. When it comes to Marion Barry, the truth really is stranger than fiction and, like most things, it depends on your vantage point, it differs according to where you stand and, especially, which side of the tracks you live on.

Straight from the experts, the indisputable facts are as follows:

1) Marion Barry was a powerful black leader:

“In 1965, Marion Barry arrived in Washington to direct activities for SNCC […] a civil rights organization known for demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts. Mr. Barry was its first national chairman. In 1966, he led a one-day bus ‘mancott’ to protest a fare increase requested by D.C. Transit.

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November 2, 1971: Marion Barry, seeking a Board of Education at-large seat, casts his ballot at the Ward 1 voting precinct at Cardozo High School (13th and Clifton Sts. NW)

He organized a ‘Free D.C. Movement’ to press for home rule. He called D.C. police ‘an occupation army.’ [In 1967,] With financial support from the U.S. Department of Labor, he organized and directed a group known as Pride Inc., which put more than 1,000 inner-city youths to work From 1972 until 1974, Mr. Barry was the school board’s president. In 1974, he was elected to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council […where] he was instrumental in defeating a 1 percent gross-receipts tax on all city businesses, winning the gratitude of the business community. He helped get a pay raise for the police department. He was among early supporters of equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

As mayor of the District, Mr. Barry became a national symbol of self-governance for urban blacks. […] His programs helped provide summer jobs for youths, home-buying assistance for working-class residents and food for senior citizens. And he placed African Americans in thousands of middle- and upper-level management positions in the city government that in previous generations had been reserved for whites[1].”

2) The FBI pursued Barry for the better part of the 1980’s:

“For eight years, FBI agents were trying to get Barry to a point where they could read him his rights. They went through his bank records, tax returns, American Express bills, and they staked out his home. No luck. They even set up a fake consulting firm to try to infiltrate the mayor’s inner domain.

[…] Then, as part of this ‘scrupulously fair’ operation, the pursuit team decided to find a woman whom Barry trusted. ‘We talked about how the easiest way to get Barry was with a woman,’ a high-level law enforcement officer told The Post. Rasheeda Moore, then in California, fit the bill. Her fateful invitation to Barry to meet her at the Vista International Hotel followed.

With Moore – ‘the cooperating witness,’ in FBI lingo — was an FBI undercover agent who allegedly brought Barry the crack cocaine he allegedly asked and paid for. All this was recorded by cameras and audio machines in the bathroom and the joining bedroom[2].”

Shortly before 8:30 PM on January 18, 1990, Mayor Barry arrested at the Vista Hotel by FBI and D.C. police, the result of a sting operation coordinated jointly by the United States Attorney’s Office. In short order, Barry was charged with misdemeanor drug possession of crack-cocaine and released to face the facts of that evening, under the scrutiny of a nation divided, in the cold, hard light of day[3].

When the story broke the next day, it sparked, yet another, sharp divide in what was already a racially charged city. The overwhelming majority of black folks rallied around the mayor, accusing the white—mostly, wealthy Republican—officials of targeting Barry as a powerful leader who had effectively created an economy for and constituency out of, what was before Barry’s tenure, a wholly disenfranchised black community. Put simply by Jonetta Rose-Barras, award-winning journalist and author of The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the New Age of Black Leaders (Bancroft Press 1998), “Black people thought, ‘He was set up[3]!’”

In the days and weeks leading up to his trial, crowds of black folks sprang up all over the city, waving signs that read “MAYOR BARRY MAY NOT BE PERFECT, BUT HE IS PERFECT FOR US”, “We thought lynching was outlawed in the 1920’s”, ‘Stop the persecution of our black leaders!” and the like, while community leaders made fiery speeches erupting in thunderous applause and endless cheers of “Barry! Barry! Barry!” One such preacher seemed to embody the spirit of general disillusionment and widespread anger at the personal nature of the attack on their mayor when he concluded his oratory with a bleak pronouncement and the wave of a condemnatory finger: “There is no justice in America for the black man or black woman. Let us not deceive ourselves[3].”

White voters, on the other hand, almost unilaterally called for his immediate impeachment, posting signs all over the city to that effect. As for their take on race at play in Barry’s case, consider the exchange between one every-day, middle-aged white lady and morning show host, Cliff Kincaid of WNTR, the flagship radio station for televangelist Pat Robertson’s conservative talk network. Calling in the woman exclaimed, “If I hear one more black claim that it’s because he’s black, I’m going to throw up!” Commiserating, Kincaid chimed in, “And let’s dismiss all this nonsense about entrapment. Nobody forced him to go to that hotel. Marion Barry is a pathological liar. He’s a crack head[3].”

In the trial that began on June 20, 1990, the U.S. Attorney ultimately brought 14 charges against Marion Barry: three felony counts of perjury, 10 counts of drug possession, and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to possess cocaine from the night of his arrest[4]. The criminal trial ended in August 1990 with a conviction for only one possession incident, which had occurred in November 1989, and an acquittal on the other one. “I believe [the government was] out to get Marion Barry,” one juror said. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson declared a mistrial on the 12 deadlocked charges[5]. The mayor was sentenced to six months in prison but came back to win a council seat in 1992 then rose, again, to claim the office of the mayor in 1994, where he remained for two terms[6].

FOR A COMPREHENSIVE TIMELINE OF MARION BARRY’S LIFE, CLICK HERE!

Cecily McMillan

Works Cited

[1] Washington Post Obituary

[2] Of Course it Was Entrapment – Washington Post

[3] The Nine Lives of Marion Barry

[4] Charges and Verdicts in Barry’s Trial
[5] Chasm Divided Jurors in Barry Drug Trial
[6] Marion Barry: Making of a Mayor

 

O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson

On October 3, 1995 Orenthal James Simpson (O.J.) was found “not guilty” of the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman after only four hours of deliberation. The response from the American people was split. Many white audiences stared in shock and disbelief while black audiences cheered and celebrated the verdict. What was a huge miscarriage of justice to white people felt like vindication and validation to black people. It proved that the LAPD was corrupt and racist towards Black people. But Simpson’s acquittal only benefitted Simpson and did nothing for relations between the Black community and the LAPD, a community Simpson had erased from his life in pursuit of fame, fortune, and celebrity.

Before Simpson stepped into the spotlight for the murders of Brown and Goldman, he was already a household name. Simpson first found fame as a college running back at the University of Southern California.[1] An NCAA record breaker and a Heisman Trophy winner, Simpson shined as the darling of USC football. He later went on to play professional football with the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers, breaking records along the way. During his time in professional football, Simpson became the spokesman for Hertz, the rental car service, and Chevrolet which bolstered his rise to fame. Simpson retired from football in 1979 to pursue other career options.

Simpson’s time in the national spotlight came during the Civil Rights Movement. However, Simpson made sure to stay far from racial conflict. Simpson not only declined to take a stand, he claimed ignorance to the racial upheaval around him. In an interview, when a reporter asks Simpson about the 1968 Summer Olympics boycott, he had “no comment.”[2] Simpson endeavored to live his life colorless, erasing his blackness and just being allowed to live as a man. In Ezra Edelman’s documentary O.J.: Made in America, a friend comments that Simpson was “seduced by white society.” This erasure of color from Simpson’s life meant that he could be palatable to the white world he wanted to take part in. In a commercial for Hertz, Simpson was depicted running through the airport, surrounded by white people cheering him on.[2] Much of Simpson’s adult life mirrored this Hertz commercial. For many of the white people in Simpson’s life, he was one of the few black people they knew, and they were all rooting for him. Simpson had been completely immersed in the world of whiteness, leaving his blackness behind. So, how did Simpson come to symbolize the struggle of Black America during his murder trial?

Two years before the murders and Simpson’s trial captured national attention, the eyes of the world were rivetted on Los Angeles awaiting the verdict of the LAPD cops responsible for the Rodney King beating. King’s beating was caught on camera and the cry for justice could not be ignored. The abuse the LAPD heaped on the Black community had been documented and reported for decades and had gone unanswered. Many believed that though the King beating was unfortunate because it was recorded and shared with the world, there would finally be justice for a community terrorized by the LAPD. The resulting ‘not guilty’ verdict shocked and angered many. The Black community raged at the blatant miscarriage of justice and took to the streets spawning riots that would last four days. The violence was not a response to just the King verdict; it had been brewing for decades. The L.A. riot may have been cathartic, but it was not justice. The LAPD and racial inequality still won.

Though Simpson had abandoned the black community, for many represented the height of success for a black man. Simpson’s football prowess rocketed him to the wealth and power black men rarely see, especially a black man coming up from poverty and government housing. Simpson may have tried to erase his blackness, but for black people he was a role model and something to reach for. Even black people understood that Simpson’s acceptance by a white audience was responsible for his status. Simpson had made it despite being a black man in white America. When Simpson was arrested for the murders of Brown and Goldman, much of black America was ready to root for him.

With the “Dream Team” consisting of Johnny Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and a few other high-powered attorneys at his side, the trial began in January 1995. Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were the District Attorneys prosecuting the case and built a case on the evidence collected at the crime scene and Simpson’s estate. But it was not enough. The world watched as Cochran and the Dream Team presented a defense that alleged mishandling of evidence and mishandling of evidence by the prosecution’s star witness, Mark Fuhrman. A trial that should have been about the science quickly turned into one about race and the history injustice and racism by the LAPD against black people. Johnnie Cochran spent the next year reconstructing O.J.’s blackness and building him as a symbol of racial injustice. Even though Simpson had not concerned himself with being Black in America, Black people rallied around him when it appeared he was being railroaded by the LAPD. While race was not the only reason the prosecution lost its case, it was the most defining. In a poll by the L.A. Times, 65% of whites believed Simpson was guilty, but 77% of blacks believed he was innocent.[3] In an interview for Edelman’s documentary, juror Carrie Bess asserts that Simpson’s acquittal was payback for the Rodney King beating and acquittal, but another juror denies this instead saying the prosecution lost the case because it was weak. But maybe it was a bit of both.

­­–– A. Latson

 

[1]https://www.biography.com/people/oj-simpson-9484729

[2]Edelman, Ezra. O.J.: Made in America.

[3]Decker, Cathleen. “THE TIMES POLL: Most in County Disagree with Simpson Verdicts.” Los Angeles Times. 8 October 1995.

Gentrification in 1990’s Atlanta: The Demolition of Public Housing

Demolition of Bowen Homes, June 2009.

June 3rd, 2009 marked the demolition of the last public housing project in Atlanta. Bowen Homes, built in 1964 and located on the west side of Atlanta, housed almost 1,000 people and was the last large family housing project left in Atlanta until its demolition. The end of Bowen Homes marked the end of a controversial program. In turn, it started a controversial debate about Atlanta and gentrification. The Atlanta Housing Authority’s executive director hailed the demolition as an event that “marks the end of an era where warehousing families in concentrated poverty will cease.”[1] Former residents of demolished projects had a multitude of reactions: most were of hurt and confusion, with one Bowen Homes resident stating, “This is just wrong. I wish I could join in with their rejoicing. I can’t.”[2] The demolition of public housing in Atlanta created a diaspora for groups of African Americans in Atlanta. What started happening over 20 years ago in the mid-1990’s has had ramifications to this day. To fully grasp why this debate is occurring in Atlanta (and many other American cities), it is worth examining the roots of the system that was put in place; in turn, we can examine ways to avoid previous pitfalls and create safer, more equitable neighborhoods in Atlanta and beyond. What seems to be lost in this debate are human lives affected. Where do the residents go, and how are they being helped in the long term?

Atlanta is a city of transplants. People from all over have moved to “the city too busy to hate” in the last 30 years—in fact, Atlanta gained the fourth most new residents of any American city in 2017.[3] There are few traces of the former projects—if they haven’t been converted into new apartments, they have been wholly demolished. Built in 1936 and once occupying the current location of Atlantic Station, Techwood Homes was the first housing project built in America.[4] Ironically enough, Techwood Homes was built over a part of town known as The Flats, a low-income neighborhood with a sizable African American population. Hailed as an opportunity to erase slums, increase affordable housing, and improving the overall landscape of the city, Techwood Homes and the other Atlanta housing projects came to represent a failed housing policy that left people behind, and the people left behind were African American.

By the 1996, Atlanta was the first city in the United States to commence demolishing its housing projects. By that time, Atlanta had a greater percentage of residents living in public housing than any other city in the United States.[5] The demolition of the housing projects did not mean that public housing ended in Atlanta. Mixed-income communities and government-sponsored Section 8 housing were created; still, the toll on the projects’ former residents was not taken into account. Having to qualify for vouchers, find affordable housing, and often moving to only slightly less impoverished neighborhoods does not fix the problem of housing inequality. In a volatile or down economy, public housing demolitions can lead to homelessness if more low-income housing is not made available.[6] Furthermore, the vouchers provided to former residents are often looked upon with suspicion by their new landlords—the vouchers also restrict people with criminal backgrounds from obtaining them.[7] Following the demolition of the projects, a large majority of displaced residents settled in 10 of Atlanta’s poorest ZIP codes thus re-creating a cycle of poverty.[8] In fact, a 2011 Georgia State University survey found that most residents ended up in new places within, on average, only three miles of their former homes.[9]

East Lake Meadows, 1991.

The winners of this demolition are the contractors and investors. Once a neighborhood has gentrified, real estate values sky-rocket and money is made. At what cost? Culture has been wiped out at the expense of condos and Beltline apartments. Poor African Americans who have lived in a neighborhood their entire lives are told to pack and handed a check that will not cover a move to a safer part of town. Housing projects certainly centralized crime but to demolish them and not provide affordable housing for all merely exacerbates their original problem: legalized segregation. Conversations about gentrification and government-mandated segregated housing are finally being discussed by the mainstream. In fact, the founder of the Atlanta Beltline project recently resigned due to a belief that his project was not providing enough affordable housing and promoting inequitable gentrification.[10] What has been done at East Lake Meadows is another model that combats gentrification by preserving the neighborhood through a construction project. Realization and self-awareness by the Beltline project creator and developer Tom Cousins are what will ultimately will help those affected by gentrification. Until then, real estate will continue to take precedent over a city’s citizens.—Jeff Brown

[1] Mark Niesse, “Census: Metro Atlanta’s population approaches 5.8 million,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 18, 2017. https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/census-metro-atlanta-population-approaches-million/1pxSPBRYI6L26zn4jgVBrN/.

[2] Niesse, “Census.”

[3] Niesse, “Census.”

[4] Robbie Brown, “Atlanta Is Making Way For New Public Housing,” The New York Times, June 20, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/us/21atlanta.html.

[5] Brown, “Atlanta.”

[6] Brown, Atlanta.”

[7] Brown, Atlanta.”

[8] Brown, Atlanta.”

[9] Stephanie Garlock, “By 2011, Atlanta Had Demolished All of Its Public Housing Projects. Where Did All Those People Go?” City Lab, May 8, 2014. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2014/05/2011-atlanta-had-demolished-all-its-public-housing-projects-where-did-all-those-people-go/9044/.

[10] Leon Stafford and Willoughby Mariano, “Beltline CEO steps down; New head to focus on affordable housing,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 23, 2017. https://www.myajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/beltline-ceo-steps-down-new-head-focus-affordable-housing/RoWS3022b1qYl8eWAoBa6M/.

 

Let’s Talk Julie Dash’s 90’s Indie: Daughters of the Dust, & What It May Mean For Black Identity

 

 

 

"I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence that you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name." Nana Peazant (Daughters of the Dust), via The Thunder, Perfect Mind

It was through this incredible 90s seminar that I was introduced to Julie Dash and Daughters of the Dust. I thought to myself, “this looks like Beyoncé’s video.” In fact, the year that Mrs. Knowles-Carter dropped her historic Lemonade visual album marked the 25th anniversary for Daughters of the Dust, as well as a seemingly pivotal time in defining and accepting black identity; I don’t think it happened coincidentally.

Daughters of the Dust tells a compelling story of a self-preserved Gullah Island family who overtime, has been able to maintain their ancestor’s unique culture.  They are the direct descendants of the slaves who worked the area.  The film is packed with tradition and gives a new meaning to perseverance. However, after many years, much of the Peazant family has decided to move into the “mainland.” This manifestation of assimilation into mainstream and modern culture is a major theme throughout the film. While the matriarch of the family, Nana, would probably never give the mainland the time of day, others are willing to part ways with tradition in hope of easier life. What they don’t realize however, is that mainland life isn’t as glorious as it appears. (As evident in the return of Yellow Mary)

I began to think about black identity, specifically, black American identity. I can’t be the only one who has felt as if black Americans, to Africans, are another rendition of the light-skinned versus dark-skinned beef. Again, it brings me to question what black identity really is, what it isn’t, and who gets to make these decisions?

Maybe we are struggling so much in determining black identity because for once, we are peaking out of the veil and feeling the need to define ourselves, for ourselves. Daughters of the Dust offers a revelation that the antagonist of their black Gullah identity is influence of European culture. (The mainland) This could explain why blacks from Africa often disregard black American’s as their own, due to American influence in our black American culture. This also helps to explain the dark-skinned versus light-skinned beef, as lighter-skin is too often associated with European relation.

So…I paint the question to you; what really is black identity? Sociologist have long said that race, “black” and “white” are merely social constructs but with what identity does that leave the entire black race when we consistently label the assets of our identity with the inclusion of the word “black”?

Could it be possible that identifying black culture begins with embracing, understanding, and breaking down what it means to be African American? Both African. And American.

I believe America’s war on black people makes it difficult for us to want to identify ourselves as pieces of them, but truth be told, we are. Also, and not to be confused with assimilation, maybe we can come to consider ourselves as the evolved versions of our ancestors. Not to get evolution confused as being “advanced,” but rather “a new model fit for its circumstances.”

What Daughters of the Dust offers us is a chance at witnessing a facet of our African American culture.

Let us consider long gowns in modesty, oversized hats, Sunday’s best with ruffles, white lace and a small dose of sheer, capable of bearing imagination. Let us consider traditional names that speak to our being, and a tongue that makes love with the creole. Let us embrace, and not abuse family; “Eli, your wife does not belong to you, she only married you.” And for our women, embrace your independence, “for it fine to want a man to depend on for only if you need to.” Embrace nature around you and the organics things nature give to you. Try fresh gumbo and weaving baskets.

Let your hair be the feelings that you wear; brief or long, twisted or puffed, free or tamed. To be sassy in demeanor is ok, enthralled with the spirits of your ancestors, but always in love and protection. If you shall dance, dance; Practice your footwork, let your arms go and let your body tell its message. Be spiritual; in whole like your hopped jewelry. Love and respect thy elders in a way the master respected thy whip.

Too, the pieces of this very archive, the years surrounding it, the historical black American events, trials and tribulations, further aid in the quest to define our African American identities.

On this 27th anniversary of Daughters of the Dust, I consider preservation, multiculturalism and evolution. From the time I began to learn in depth about black American identity I felt that black Americans must have it the hardest. Because truly, we are African and truly, we are American. One must come to a place of balance, a place of love, two seemingly polarized identities in which you’ve been birth. Without the impact of this social construct of  what”blackness” means to our European counterparts, the African and the America represents the true essence of double consciousness. (As defined by Du Bois)

-Tysheira Scribner


More To Ponder: In defining black and African American identities Daughter’s of the Dust can give us insight on assimilation as a negative occurrence. I think it is important to note that as African Americas, we are not assimilated, yet more so of heterogeneous nature. 

More Than Noise: “Hip-Hop you the love of my life” (An Ode to Black Culture)

In my mind it is the bridge between the unspoken and white picket fences. We’re talking as gutta as Wu-Tang Clang, as authentic as The Roots, as everlasting as Pac and Biggie, and as pivotal as Shawn Carter; there is a reason this black noise was bursting through Jordan Davis’ red dodge Durango. I believe the misinterpretation and seemingly irritable nature of black noise served as a death sentence for Davis; but unfamiliarity is always the archenemies of privilege.

What black noise is, is a lifeline for pain and questionability. These are real voices that convey the everyday lives, perceptions, and inevitable truths of  one of American’s third worlds. Reality defines the state of things in which they exist. To be blinded by such, can be defined as privilege.

Early black “noise” was the inspiration behind a once billion-dollar Black Entertainment Television network. It is more than noise. It is kin to the triangular trade that birthed this discarded third world nation. Though this vibration driven tale dates back to the tumultuous 70’s, it is its 90’s alliances that put these voices on the map. Hip-hop deserves its own Mount Rushmore up on Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

It didn’t surprise me in 2018 when I was tackling Tricia Rose’s critical analysis Black Noise, when she revealed an encounter with a colleague after which she had presented some research on this thing we call hip-hop. For the same reason it served as a death sentence for Davis, it served as a simple “nothing” to Roses’ colleague, the same nothing Jordan Davis’ privileged predator left him to descend into. In chapter three of the 1994 publication, Rose recalls hip-hop’s misinterpretator as stating, “Well, you must be writing on rap’s social impact and political lyrics, because there is nothing to the music.” (62)

“They ride down the street at 2:00 am with it blasting from car speakers, and (they) wake up my wife and kids. What’s the point in that?” Rose further recalls. (62)

As a self-proclaimed hip-hop baby I know how it makes me feel to ride with reasonable doubt blasting through the highest volume of my Civic. I am relating. I am feeling. I am understanding. Obliviously, I am dreaming. Can I live, in imagination that life has something more for me than it did my mother? Can I live, feeling in empathy for the black men whose public school systems don’t believe in anything more than their ability to be a drug dealing or dead ridden statistic? Can I live, with the least bit of comfort knowing somebody out there knows my story? And cares too.

Those political lyrics are as acquainted with Keisha down the block as the star spangle banner is to American stadiums.

Hip-hop’s coded language is the underground railroad that for once, refuses to cross its legs in favor of lady-likeness. Hip-hop lets the truth hang, something political correctness has never done. Hip-hop is a gift only received by those rich enough to understand our value.

As real as it gets, hip-hop tells the 1991 story of the 12-year-old Brooklyn girl that threw her baby down a chute and into a trash compactor. That’s “Brenda’s got a baby.” For those who have consistently lived behind white picket fences, the traumatization of third world tendencies are imaginable. I’m talking Margaret Garner and Beloved feels. I’m talking “the damage is irreversible” pull the plug type of feels.

“Can I live” speaks the inevitable consequences of the the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the ways in which something as politically correct as gentrification leaves third world residents to by any means necessary, make things happen for themselves.

This revelation that rap is mere noise is a reflection of the heart and eyes in which our melanin has always been regarded. For my fellow hip-hop babies, welfare recipients, affirmative actions beneficiaries, and driving while black inheritors, this revelation of meaningless noise is as Jim Crow as it gets.

Hip-hop is perfectly imperfect in the sense that it accurately lets the rest of the world know of the unprosperous cards black people have been (and are being) dealt.

For a moment, I will entertain the foulness of NWA’s “Fuck The Police” era that often ends up being the burden of proof that rap is merely a loud, violent, and unnecessary hobby.  If “affluenza” is legit, so is “Fuck The Police.”

Why is it that affluenza [i] can get a wealthy white teenager out of drunk driving and killing four people yet a black man cannot utter a cultural expression to his oppressor?

It is unfair to hold one to a standard of moral and political correctness, while the other through the lens of superiority. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do enforce a pattern. Expecting black men who have lived their entire lives under racial and social inequality to suddenly take the “high road” when you have yet produced them with some sort of ladder to equity is incomprehensible to say the least.

America’s law enforcement system was founded through the same moral and politically incorrect systems that make black bodies “less than” and a target for unjust treatment. The only time a black body is held in high regards is when it opposes its oppressor. It is then that the 3/5th compromise never existed.

“Fuck The Police” is a black man’s back against the wall (literally) and his only way out is to fight the thing that put him there. Hip-hop is not guilty of creating detrimental social impacts. In order for something to not be innocent it has to be the perpetrator of wrongdoing or crime. Verbal expression over banging beats regarding 1990s crown heights or 1990s Compton is as virtuous as we know.

Yes, hip-hop is noise. Voices are noise. And voices are quintessential to this thing we call life.

Hip-hop is necessarily unapologetic, too, a result of morally incorrect ideology this country stands on. Hip-hop’s critics may never acknowledge the role black coded laws played in putting black expression on the map.

I recently encountered a 23-year-old Chinese woman who has been a U.S resident for just 6 years. She began to speak to me regarding the interesting American things she’s encountered; a colleague had just given her an introduction to rap. Stunned, I immediately asked if hip-hops controversial lyrics interfered with her ability to enjoy it. Her response, and I quote “Not at all. It is part of the culture.”

In 5 years of American culture and 1 brief lesson on hip-hop, this China native who was still grasping English orality understood this black expressiveness. I stand strong when I say, black noise is consistently and inaccurately regarded as “nothing” due to its close resemblance to black life. Hip-hop’s acceptance as legit art is parallel to white Americans acceptance of black Americans, and the removal of the veil in which black Americans have always been hidden under.

-Tysheira Scribner

Footnote

[i] Affluenza- a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch

Work Cited

Rose, Tricia. (1994). Black noise : rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH :University Press of New England.

Why Bill Clinton Was Called “Our First Black President”: Saxophones, Black Votes, and Toni Morrison

Over fifteen years before Barack Obama was sworn into the Oval Office and became the United States’ first black President, Bill Clinton was called “our first black President.”

So how is it that the nation’s 42nd (white) president got that honorific before the first actual Black president?

The answer is a story that really spans the duration of Clinton’s presidency. Founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Dewayne Wickham, probably tells it best in his acclaimed book, Bill Clinton and Black America (2004). In his book, Wickham accounts for “the large African-American presence in [Clinton’s] administration, his perceived legal persecutions, his personal style,” and “his lasting yet tumultuous marriage”—not to mention his relocation to NYC’s Harlem after his presidency—which help explain why the former-Arkansas-governor-turned-president appealed so well to the American black community of the 1990s.

While this post can’t pretend to have a more extensive answer than Wickham in that regard, it can seek to provide a more succinct and specific answer to why Bill Clinton was (and indeed in some circles might still be called) “our first black President.” My answer to this question boils down to the following three essential events of the Black 1990s:

  1. The Arsenio Hall Show hosted Bill Clinton playing the saxophone in June of 1992, which helped Clinton win the hearts of Black America in a big way.
  2. Black voters turned out to give Bill Clinton a supermajority of their votes in November of 1992.
  3. Toni Morrison wrote Bill Clinton into Black History when she literally called him “our first black President in 1998”

Although I will touch on some of the complications and contradictions inherent to attributing Clinton this honorific, I will not be able to address those problems in deep detail, particularly as they include his complicit usage of the term “superpredators” to implicitly describe young, urban (codeword: black) criminals who purportedly preyed on America’s youth to partake in gang culture in the early 1990s. Addressing those problems in the detail they deserve would take the length of another post, if not a full-length article, to explain sufficiently.

In channeling the former president’s birthplace in my home state of Arkansas, my hope is that this post will generate interest in crafting a more careful and critical post that can balance the other side of the honor and praise that is so often allotted to Bill Clinton. At the same time, I hope it will recognize that the former president contributed more than most of the presidents that came before him in terms of representing the American black community during his administration.

The Saxophone

Directly after Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1992, The Arsenio Hall Show hosted the newly minted presidential candidate.

Out of this hosting opportunity, Clinton not only decided to make an appearance; he deliberately sought to show his soulful side to the American black community by kicking off the show playing Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on his tenor saxophone. Casually and with sunglasses. Almost like another member of Hall’s band. The rest became history. Hall’s amicable and subsequent interview with Clinton effectively served to endorse the Democratic candidate, on a predominantly black show with a predominantly black audience, for president in 1992.

And so, what would also turn out to be a controversial appearance on Arsenio Hall literally set the stage for Clinton to clinch a supermajority (83%) of the Black Vote in November of that same year.

The Black Vote

On November 8, 1992, Bill Clinton received a greater percentage of the black vote than any president to win a U.S. Presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Data Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research (Cornell University)

After winning the election, Clinton also appointed a number of black American citizens to serve in his administration, including but not limited to:

  • Mike Espy, Secretary of Agriculture (1993)
  • Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce (1993)
  • Hazel R. O’ Leary, Secretary of Energy (1993)
  • Jesse Brown, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1993)
  • Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor (1997)
  • Rodney E. Slater, Secretary of Transportation (1997)
  • Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1998)

In fact, Clinton appointed more black Cabinet Secretaries than any U.S. president in the nation’s history, including Barack Obama. Doing so gave the Clinton the appearance not only of better representing black people in the nation’s highest office, but also of rewarding black voters for turning out to vote for him with real change at the highest levels of administration.

And in 1999, towards the end of Clinton’s presidency, the Clinton White House sought to commemorate such real changes with a web page titled “Working on Behalf of African Americans.”

This page mentions over 80 initiatives that the Clinton administration advocated for and took part in during their time in office, including but not limited to (and these are line-items lifted directly from the page):

  • Closing the Book on A Generation of Deficits.
  • Real Wages Are Rising for African Americans. 
  • Addressing HIV/AIDS in Minority Community with an Historic $130 Million Effort. 
  • Extended Health Care to Millions of Children with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Hosted the First-Ever White House Conference on Africa in July 1994.
  • Launched the President’s Partnership for Economic Opportunity in Africa Initiative. 

But the ultimate event that that made Bill Clinton America’s “first black president, was the stroke of Toni Morrison’s pen in 1998 during the sex scandal that shook Clinton’s presidency to the core.

Toni Morrison Calls Clinton “our First Black President”

Noting the heightened political rhetoric of impeachment coming out of Washington in wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Toni Morrison wrote a short, slightly miffed column for The New Yorker that would make history in October of 1998.

In her column, Morrison called attention to the news media’s unrelenting coverage of the sex scandal, as well as its similarity to the all-too-American narrative of covering America black men with unrelenting bias and surveillance.

 

Over the years, and especially since Barack Obama was rightfully heralded as the United States’ first black president, Morrison has received substantial blowback for calling a white president “our first black President.” Most of this blowback, however, stems from the assumption that she was praising Clinton, when she in fact was

[D]eploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated […] like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.”

In other words, the reasons why Clinton was called “the first black President” are myriad, but they had less to do with race than they had to do with representation.

— Joshua Ryan Jackson

Works Cited

“Bill Clinton on the Arsenio Hall Show (1992).” YouTube, uploaded by The Arsenio Hall Show, 15 January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vaj8iCCZFhM.

Morrison, Toni. “Comment.” The New Yorker. October 5 1998, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1998/10/05/comment-6543, Accessed 28 April 2018.

Wickham, Dewayne. Bill Clinton and Black America. One World, 2004.

Nelson Mandela Comes to Harlem

Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid civil rights leader that was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, Transkei, South Africa.  As a young man he became very involved in the anti-apartheid movement according in South Africa.  This movement was very much synonymous to that of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in America.  Mandela fought for equal rights and privileges of black South Africans that had been taken at the hand of the predominantly white government.

Mandela was imprisoned in 1963 and remained there until his release in 1990.  He then went on to lead South Africa until 1994.  On June 21, 1990 Nelson Mandela traveled to Harlem in New York City to deliver a message.  His presence ignited hope in a community that was seemingly deteriorating and desperately needed a savior.  People gathered in anticipation of what the world leader had to say.  The New York Times quoted a mother named Mrs. Valladares as saying, ‘“Nelson Mandela will actually be in Harlem… He reminds me of Martin Luther King… He fought for his people. And he’s not going to give up now. He’s a survivor, just like I am.”’  New York natives waited for hours just for a glimpse of Mr. Mandela.  This significant moment is definitely one that stands for me because this happened to be the day that I was born in Harlem, NY.  It ties me to history.  Mr. Mandela was one to be admired and revered for his efforts in the anti-apartheid movement, and his presence in my hometown as I made my way into the world always keeps me tied to this historical moment. Nikkia Grant

 

Works Cited

McCray, Melvin. “Nelson Mandela Visits Riverside Church Harlem, New York.” Vimeo. 21 June 1990. Web. 1 December 2015. <https://vimeo.com/82911147>

Nelson Mandela Foundation. “Biography of Nelson Mandela.” Nelson Mandela Foundation. 2015. Web. 1 December 2015. < https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography>

Terry, Don. “The Mandela Visit; In Harlem, a Name to Add to Martin and Malcolm.”The New York Times. 22 June 1990. Web. 30 November 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/22/nyregion/the-mandela-visit-in-harlem-a-name-to-add-to-martin-and-malcolm.html?_r=0>

 

 

The Murder of James Byrd, Jr.

james byrd

Forty-three years after the heinous lynching of the young African American teenager, Emmett Till, America witnessed again how racism is still extremely present in the American south and how it is the driving force of such brutality that claimed the life of James Byrd, Jr. Many were oblivious to the possibility that hate crimes, such as chaining an innocent man to the back of a truck and dragging him for miles was still a threat in the 21st century, but James Byrd, Jr.’s death proved otherwise. On June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas, 49-year-old James Byrd was walking home from his parent’s house when he accepted a ride from three white men, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King. Although Byrd and Berry were associates who knew each other from around the small town, Byrd was not acquainted with King or Brewer. James Byrd was unaware that both men were affiliated with white supremacists groups formed in prison. The three men did not end up taking Byrd home. Instead, they beat him relentlessly and chained his ankles to the back of a pickup truck. King drove the pickup truck for three miles, dragging Byrd’s body over the asphalt road. Many reports have claimed that Byrd was conscious throughout the entire ordeal, until he was decapitated. The three men drove for another mile or so before leaving Byrd’s torso in front of an African American church. After Byrd’s torso was discovered by church members the following morning, and the investigation began, it was reported that police found Byrd’s remains in 81 different places along that road.

All three men were tried and convicted for Byrd’s murder. Berry was sentenced to life in prison, while King and Brewer were given the death penalty. Brewer was killed by lethal injection on September 21, 2011. Prior to being executed, Brewer showed absolutely no remorse for his crime. “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets,” Brewer told KHOU 11 News in Houston. Despite the lack of remorse from Brewer, Byrd’s family members wanted to spare the lives of Brewer, King and Berry surprisingly. James Byrd’s son, Ross Byrd initially supported the death penalty for his father’s killers, until he had a change of heart, opposing all capital punishment. His decision was supported by the idea that violence cannot drive out violence. The amount family members of victims killed by hate-crimes driven by racism who oppose capital punishment has grown in recent years. One of the organizations that has been formed, Murder Victims’ Families For Reconciliation, stands on this guiding principle: “From experience, we know that revenge is not the answer. The answer lies in reducing violence, not causing more death. The answer lies in supporting those who grieve for their lost loved ones, not creating more grieving families. It is time we break the cycle of violence. To those who say society must take a life for a life, we say: ‘not in our name.’”

As a result of James Byrd’s death and the death of Matthew Shepard, another hate-crime that took place in 1998, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The law criminalizes violent acts (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when those acts occur because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person. Jamari Devine

Afrocentricity: A Commentary

In our discussion of 90s Black experiences and cultural expressions, the concept of Sankofa is important to consider for both reflection and analysis. Sankofa is a Twi term from the Akan peoples of mainly Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. The word is a verb meaning “to go back and fetch:” to retrieve important items previously lost, forgotten or stolen. In the context of one’s culture, the idea of Sankofa requires one to both re-learn and adapt crucial skills, collective understandings and overall lessons from his or her ancestors. From this process, it is understood that the person who does the “fetching” receives the power from those “items” of knowledge. The ultimate goal of this retrieval is for one to then project themselves and their descendants into the future, working from informed positions of self-reflection, self-knowledge and self-determination.

For African Americans, in-depth studies of both our historical and current experiences in this country reveal ongoing, consistent reenactments of this Sankofa concept. Documentation of developments in our music, education, fashion, social arenas, family practices – and more – prove our active revitalization and reincorporation of the ways of our ancestors: in Africa, the United States, the Caribbean, South America…wherever people of African descent landed globally, by force or by choice.  Our cultural expressions reveal the agency exhibited in sampling, remixing or reinventing what we have learned for practical application in modern times.

From this position, I wanted to tackle the concept of Afrocentricity – which as a term became prominent in the 1980s and 90s. There are many conflicting interpretations of this term, and its often conflated with Afrocentrism, African-centered thought, “Afro-“ vs. “Afri-”, and so on. This happens to the point where the idea of someone being “Afrocentric” entails a host of stereotypical tropes, caricaturing and misunderstandings. This is particularly evident in popular media of this time, as well as public reaction in many Black communities. 90s film characters like “Ahmal” in Sister Act 2, Damon Wayans’ “Conscious Brother” in “In Living Color” episodes, the dreadlocked player on A Different World, and many other examples would depict a kufi-and/or-dashiki-wearing individual spouting random historic statements about “The Pyramids”, ”the white man” or “Shaka Zulu.” Dressed in kente, mismatched colors and military-like gear, this type character would often act in arrogant, misinformed behaviors, which would ultimately isolate them from the larger Black community.

These tropes are a testament to the simplified nature of discussions and expressions relating to what are considered Afrocentric theories and praxis. For some it’s wearing traditional African clothing, for others it’s adopting African names – or also re-identifying with an African ethnic group or spiritual system. For many, its academic scholarship: focusing on prioritized pre-colonial African historical periods deemed “classical” or “enlightened” – above any other cultural expressions or achievements of any other group of people in the world. Conversely, many researchers of African and African Diasporic value systems, knowledge bases and cultures have sought to identify common threads amongst these intricate systems, in an attempt to create blueprints for strategic unification, productive cultural alliances, and community building for liberation and ultimate sovereignty. All of the actions mentioned in this paragraph are interlinked, and are products of individuals making either informed or uninformed choices to change their lives in a way that reconnects them to a cultural source. At the same time, we need to continuously reevaluate our ideas, and challenge ourselves to avoid recreating limiting, dogmatic or one-dimensional systems of cultural expression – where one organization deems themselves “more African” or “more Afrocentric” than the next, based on attire, ideology, spiritual practices, how many visits to Africa they made or how many books they’ve read on Black history.

In looking at the long history of our people in this country, and in the African Diaspora, we have infinite examples of resistance to oppression, reapplication of cultural expressions and innovative methods of growth and renewal. Viewing them all as equally important to consider keeps us from developing an essentialist trait of prioritizing some experiences over others: resulting in an Afrocentric definition that may confine, stereotype and simplify. In the United States, the respect-based process of learning about our families, communities and their solution-building strategies has helped us to overcome all obstacles to survive and go forward. This empowers us to progress with the informed appreciation and application of our African retentions, forms of knowledge and practices. Kweku Vassall

RANT WARNING! lol: <I would also like to challenge this idea of one being “conscious,” a popular phrase in Black communities in relation to African-centered or Afrocentric thought. Conscious is often said as if all that needs to be learned has been learned – or that there’s this class of enlightened people who know-what-they-don’t-know-their-neighbor-also-knows, because one is so busy being “more informed”. Not to negate people coming to important realizations, BUT knowledge of oneself also deals with positive relationships with others, implementing practical solutions to problems, adapting in various environments and creating new knowledge to fit one’s current situation – all things Black people of all walks of life and ideologies have accomplished. This idea that a few are “awake” and the majority are “asleep” works within this larger misconception that up until recent years Black people were ignorant, chitlin-eatin (non-vegetarian) slaves who couldn’t observe their environments enough to notice oppression, or were disconnected from their ancestors and relatives to point where they had no appreciation for the family values and principles for survival passed down for their benefit. Our grandmothers and grandfathers may have experienced hell (in various class statuses and locations, obvious and hidden torments included), but at the same time, honoring our African ancestors teaches us that the experiences of our most recent African American relatives are valid and worthy or respect, honor and consideration. We should see them as active participants, not passive bystanders, in our history and cultural development. This is true especially considering the marginalization and oppression they faced, how they either thrived or psychologically crumbled as a result, and the sacrifices they all made for us to both be here AND have the privilege to operate in learning spaces to obtain further knowledge that was often hidden from them. It would behoove us to look back to the important information they knew, which can help us even more to face our current reality.>