Dom Griffin on Them: Covenant

The Problem With Them: Covenant...

My man Dom knocked it out of the park with his latest review of Them: Covenant, the newest Black torture porn horror series on Amazon Prime. As you can see from the above thumbnail, it’s trash. I’ve not watched it but I could tell it wasn’t for me just from the trailer and Dom confirmed many of my initial thoughts when he watched it for our sins.

It’s spoiler-heavy but I never planned to watch it so whatever. Even if you hadn’t planned to watch Them either, I implore you to watch the review anyway. Not least for its razor-sharp critiques on a lot of things regarding Black media and how some of it is made for white people to coax them out of their privileged world view (I guess?). As much as I loved Get Out and it helped me deal with a lot of personal demons, I fear that it has unintentionally awoken a beast that is white studios greenlighting Black horror because it’s seen as “diverse” to peddle Black torture narratives that just make Black people feel worse.

But those are my thoughts. Go listen to Dom’s and laugh your way through otherwise you’ll just cry. If you watched Them, what did you think? Let me (and Dom) know in the comments.

Whiteness and racism aren't illnesses

a sign that says racism is a pandemic

I initially opted for a softer title but it was a life goal to be more active with my language back in 2016 or 2017 so there you go.

Three things popped up on my social feed today regarding the connection between whiteness and racism and the language of illness. In reverse order:

  1. An article called “Whiteness is a Pandemic” by Damon Young, referenced in this Kottke.org post of the same title.
  2. An Instagram story from Josh Rivers of Busy Being Black discussing his personal use of language linking white supremacy to illness
  3. This thread from Dr Subini which Josh had originally referenced from an Instagram screenshot post as a counterpoint to the above

Before I dive into anything else, it’s amazing how circumstances can connect through the power of the Internet. And yet that’s exactly what it was created for. Large networks of information rabbit holes that are never too far apart to be deemed coincidence.

Anyway, the final paragraph from Young’s piece for The Root:

White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it. I guess a vaccine could work, too. But we’ve had 400 years to develop one, so I won’t hold my breath.

It’s common to see racism and its structures to be represented that way and while I’ve not done it myself, I know many friends and family who have and haven’t argued against it. But then Josh Rivers mentioned how he’d used similar language before finding this Instagram post from Project LETS which referenced a Twitter thread by Dr. Subini Annamma, a Black Asian feminist and author of The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled Girls of Color in the School-prison Nexus. Here’s the first tweet of it:

Fam, racism is not a virus. White supremacy is not a pandemic. Using illness & disability as a metaphor situates white supremacy & racism as passively spreading. These metaphors evade the way white supremacy & racism are purposefully built into structures & strategically enacted

Now this I can relate to. I understand the idea of white supremacy and racism like diseases in that they pervade society and you don’t always see it or can do little to prevent or cure it at all in large quantities. But viewing them as physical structures makes more sense because there are actual constructs that were built for the purpose of promoting white supremacy.

There is no vaccine for racism and knocking down buildings of oppression won’t solve the problem in and of itself. Instead, we tear those walls down and we clear the debris and we use those bricks to create the opposite. The work doesn’t stop because the buildings aren’t standing anymore.

(featured image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

The history of US racism against Asian Americans #

Up until the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, the prevailing narrative about Asian Americans was one of the model minority.

The model minority concept, developed during and after World War II, posits that Asian Americans were the ideal immigrants of color to the United States due to their economic success.

But in the United States, Asian Americans have long been considered as a threat to a nation that promoted a whites-only immigration policy. They were called a “yellow peril”: unclean and unfit for citizenship in America.

The enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey #

Taken from the above linked article, published in 2016:

Every year, about 275,000 people tour the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, and as they stroll through its brick buildings nestled in a tree-shaded hollow, they hear a story like this: In the 1850s, when Daniel was a boy, he went to work for a preacher, grocer and distiller named Dan Call. The preacher was a busy man, and when he saw promise in young Jack, he taught him how to run his whiskey still — and the rest is history.

This year is the 150th (sic) anniversary of Jack Daniel’s, and the distillery, home to one of the world’s best-selling whiskeys, is using the occasion to tell a different, more complicated tale. Daniel, the company now says, didn’t learn distilling from Dan Call, but from a man named Nearis Green, one of Call’s slaves.

See also: the history of mint julep and black bartenders and a very brief history of Jamaican rum

(via TWBE)

What are you doing, Lenny?

(Original tweet here)

Earlier today, I noticed a Lenny Henry tweet on my timeline. I went onto his profile just to see what he was up to and came across the above tweet.

On the surface, it looks like a comedian/writer/actor retweeting another comedian/writer referencing another writer. But you’d have to know little about David Baddiel or Caitlin Moran to take this on face value and not see what’s wrong with it.

Caitlin Moran, when once asked if she addressed the “complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls” in her interview with Girls creator Lena Dunham on Twitter, she replied “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” There’s a more measured critique of the situation by Bim Adewunmi but it caused a shitstorm and many of Moran’s colleagues came out to defend her in the name of white feminism.

In the 90s, David Baddiel did Blackface to portray Jason Lee, a footballer who played for Nottingham Forest at the time. Lee discussed the incident in 2018:

“If I did there’d be no animosity, but I’d ask them if they realised the significance of what they were doing.

“It was, looking back, a form of bullying. I work in equalities now, and it can affect different people in different ways.

“I don’t think people appreciate the possible harm it can cause. Not everyone has the make-up to deal with that, and they shouldn’t have to.

“With me, there was always something – if it wasn’t my hair, it was the colour of my skin or my height, and it made me resilient.

“What did they expect me to do? Give up my career? I was always going to continue and I played until I was 40 – I have to remind people of that.”

To then see the pair in agreement that people cherrypick the historical inaccuracies in period dramas—particularly the Black people in Bridgerton—is peak hypocrisy. Now Moran “gives a shit”!

It’d be nice if they’d become better people after their behaviour but I don’t think they have. And then to see Lenny Henry retweet it just rubbed me up the wrong way.

See also: The gentrification of BLM and the semiotics and myths around All Lives Matter and BLM.

James Baldwin on the American Negro image

james baldwin

I saw this on Instagram (sidenote: follow @retrosoul__ on Instagram for more of the same) and thought it was poignant, given the last 4 years of American politics and what the future holds now President Biden is in office.

“One of these facts is that the American Negro can no longer, nor will he ever again be controlled by white America‘s image of him. This fact has everything to do with the rise of Africa in world affairs. At the time that I was growing up, Negroes in this country were taught to be ashamed of Africa. They were taught it bluntly, as I was for example, by being told that Africa had never contributed ‘anything’ to civilization. Or one was taught the same lesson more obliquely, and even more effectively, by watching nearly naked, dancing, comic-opera, cannibalistic savages in the movies. They were nearly always all bad, sometimes funny, sometimes both. If one of them was good, his goodness was proved by his loyalty to the white man.”

James Baldwin—”A Negro Assays the Negro Mood”, New York Times Magazine (12th March, 1961)

What does the future hold for Black America? Only time, hope, vulnerability, and strength will tell. But it will always be on Black people’s terms.

Related: The world according to James Baldwin, James Baldwin on the meaning of liberty, and love from a Black perspective.

(via Daana Townsend on Instagram)

Toni Morrison on Martin Luther King

As it’s Martin Luther King Day, people have taken to social media to share quotes and meta-opinions about those quotes (and who says them). I’m very wary of white allies who use MLK as a shield against criticism or some kind of threading on their quilt of equality.

And then I saw this quoted on Twitter today:

“Since the murder of Martin Luther King, new commitments had been sworn, laws introduced but most of it was decorative: statues, street names, speeches. It was as though something valuable had been pawned and the claim ticket lost.”

Toni Morrison, PARADISE

Ain’t that the truth? But then again, Toni Morrison always knew.

The hidden history of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton addressing the public

It’s hard not to have a visceral reaction to Judas and The Black Messiah. The new trailer dropped earlier this year and as Daniel Kaluuya turns around in the first second of it, donning a beret and being viewed only through a keyhole, we wait with a big, held breath.

“Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party”

The music drums through to intensify a legacy of a man many of us have never heard of. But his words blast the screen.

“I AM. A REVOLUTIONARY.”

He is pictured standing, invoking his audience’s emotion and reminding them that it is not him who is the key to their salvation, it’s each other. Black people, Latinx people and white people can be seen in the meeting hall where he is speaking. We know that the film will touch Fred Hampton’s time in the Black Panthers and the start of his Rainbow Coalition.

Many people may have come into contact with Fred Hampton for the first time. And if there’s anyone you should read about, it’s Fred Hampton. But if they weren’t going to teach us about Malcolm X in school, they sure as hell weren’t going to teach us about Fred Hampton.

So who was he?

Before we get into Fred Hampton, we have to understand the time he came up in, what he was walking into, and why he died so young. When the Chicago PD gunned him down, Fred instructed the FBI that in cold blood, as he lay sleeping next to his 8-month pregnant girlfriend, he was only 21 years old.

COINTELWHO?

Let’s talk about COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO was a program by the FBI that targeted Black activists in the civil rights movement. Fred Hampton was many things but his death sparked the unmasking of a very concentrated, racially motivated eradication of Black revolutionaries that people, up until that point, could only chalk up to conspiracy theory. Black revolutionaries kept on being murdered and assassinated, and although everyone knew that it WAS the Feds, they couldn’t prove it until Fred came along.

The program was started in 1956 by J. Edgar Hoover. It aimed to infiltrate, discredit and surveilling and disrupting American political organizations. They targeted the Communist Party USA, anti-Vietnam war organizers, environmentalist and animal rights organizations, the American Indian Movement, The Young Lords and they even lightly monitored the Ku Klux Klan, and when I say lightly? I mean LIGHTLY.

But… the organizations that they thought were the most threat to national security in America? Black Nationalist groups and civil rights movements. But they had a real concentrated pressure and violence on the Black Panthers. They were billed the NUMBER ONE threat to National Security.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the classified documents:

Prevent the rise of a “Messiah” who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah”; he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat due to his age. King could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (non-violence) and embrace Black Nationalism.

My Man Fred

Fred was the Black Messiah they were talking about. But we can’t talk about Fred unless we talk about his political ideology. Often we get wrapped up in singular speeches or moments. It happens with Martin’s “I have a dream” speech and Malcolm’s pilgrimage to Hajj. Fred gets wrapped up in the Black Panthers, naturally, but he was above all else, a revolutionary socialist.

He saw the most important factor in the fight for freedom. The real enemy was capitalism, fueled by white supremacy which permeated everyone’s struggles from poverty to xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, transphobia and everything else. He knew that to be truly free, you had to mobilize everyone in the lower classes, to lead a revolution and that racism was a vehicle of distraction to keep us from tackling capitalism and the 1%. This was the key to making him one of the most feared Black revolutionaries of the time. That and the normal COINTELPRO tactics weren’t working.

Fred walked into the Black Panthers just before a power vacuum. Bob Brown stepped down because of all the tricks the FBI were doing. These included:

  • Anonymous letters which contained lies, blackmail and threats to violence (Martin Luther King had been blackmailed to try and make him kill himself.)
  • Illegal wiretaps.
  • Forged documents.
  • Informers

This is what Fred walked into. He’d been being watched since he was 18, anyway, but as he ascended to power through his charisma and socialist ideals, he became the FBI and Chicago PD’s biggest target. But there are things in his legacy that have changed the whole landscape of activism and socialism.

While Fred was Deputy Chairman, the Black Panthers started their Free Breakfast Program for children. Health Clinics and ambulance services were quickly started too. Although the Panther’s legacy is deeply rooted in the right to bear arms and create their own police force to protect Black and marginalized folx from the police, their programs strived to educate, feed and protect communities. When these nationwide programs gained success, they branched into services for blood banks and buses for relatives’ prisons. With all this going on, the Chicago chapter’s membership and credibility grew.

But Fred wasn’t stopping there. He thought turf wars between gangs were counter-productive towards real progress, so instead of leaving them to do their own thing, he tried to tackle it. He held meetings with rival gangs. They related to him because he was their age, and he could cut through to explain to them that the real enemies weren’t other gangs. It was the rich, running Chicago for their own means. This made a lot of sense to the gangs, especially the Young Lords. They said Fred helped them uplift their aims, and provide for their communities and they agreed that they didn’t want to lose their turf to developers. Fred helped “bring them out of right of the gang and start organizing the community” (José “Cha-Cha” Jiménez, leader of the Young Lords.).

This was essentially the heart of Fred’s revolutionary thinking; a broad coalition of all the oppressed that could rise against the rich capitalists that were gutting communities and keeping people in poverty. He knew he couldn’t stay mobilizing just Black people and Black Nationalists—he had to unite everyone. He saw the importance of strength in numbers. So as he began to change people’s thinking, he started crafting a broad coalition.

He reached out to the Brown Berets, the Young Patriots, the Red Guard Party and the Blackstone Rangers. He called them Rainbow Coalition. This in itself, was the only way towards a revolution, and the powers that be knew it. It would have changed history, but it put a target on Fred’s back, that sealed the fate of a life taken too soon.

The FBI was shaken to its core. In 3 short years, Hampton had mobilized a strong group living in poverty, and their gang affiliations meant they were done for a revolution, no matter how bloody. They couldn’t have it. They knew they’d found their Black Messiah and they knew he had to be stopped before he even started. Hoover had targeted Garvey in the 20s, and through the 60s, it was Malcolm, Martin and Fred. With Fred’s leadership skills and his universal communication, the usual tactics were trash. So Hoover had to come up with another plan, that was vicious.

Hoover originally contacted the Chicago Police who said hell no at first. Next on the list, Edward Hanrahan was an upcoming and coming democrat, and Cook County’s State Attorney. They came to an agreement, which probably had something to do with Hanrahan’s ambitions to take over from his mentor, Richard Daley, as mayor. Hanrahan put in an informer, William O’Neale.

Okay, let’s talk about William O’Neale.

He was a petty criminal who was recruited by the FBI extremely early on. He had been tracked as early as 1966. FBI agent Roy Martin Mitchell caught him driving a stolen car over the state line to Michigan. He was told these charges would be forgotten if he agreed to be an informant. So he did. He infiltrated the Black Panthers, and eventually ended up as their head of security. He had taken out leases for flats and had keys to nearly all of them, including Fred’s.

Unjustified murder

On December 4, 1969, Hanrahan chose 14 officers from his office and Neale put an X on the floor plan he had provided of Fred’s flat for the feds. The X was Fred’s bed. The night before, Fred had been teaching a class and Panthers had been at his flat, where O’Neale had drugged Fred’s drink and cooked food for the other Panthers. Some Panthers stayed, but O’Neale and a few others left.

At 4:20 AM, the police stormed the flat. They pounded on the door and the Guard, Mark Clark asked who was there. The first group of cops yelled “Tommy gun!”, and started to shoot. Clark was dead on impact. As a reflex, his trigger finger flinched and a bullet flew into the ceiling. This is the only shot the Black Panthers were able to shoot off. Now both teams of Feds were inside, and they continued shooting a spray of bullets at everyone in the flat.

Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend, Akua Njeri, laying next to him recalls the murder:

“I saw bullets coming from…the front of the apartment…Sparks of light. I had slid over on top of Chairman Fred. I don’t know what I was thinking, or what I was doing, I just moved over and covered his body,”

“He didn’t move. Just lifted his head up. It was like he was going in slow motion.”

“He never said a word, he never got up out the bed”

“[Someone] kept calling out, ‘Stop shooting! Stop shooting! We have a pregnant woman, a pregnant sister in here.’ At the time, I was 8 and a half, 9 months pregnant. Pigs [police] kept on shooting.”

When the shooting stopped, she said she slid over Fred’s body and put his house shoes on. She thought of all the things she needed to do to get her and her baby through a life or death night.

“Keep your hands up. Don’t stumble. Don’t fall. They will kill you and your baby.”

“There two lines of police, they were laughing. [They] grabbed me by the top of my head, slung me to the kitchen area.”

“Somebody said, ‘He’s barely alive, he’ll barely make it.’. . .The shooting started back again. The pigs said ‘he’s good and dead now.’”

Fred’s ghost

In the aftermath, several Black Panthers were severely wounded. They were all charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder, which was bullshit, so the charges were later dropped. Hampton, 4 months after his 21st birthday, and just as he had signed on to be the spokesman for the BPP Central Committee, had been slaughtered in his own bed.

While the raid had been swift, the coverup could be hailed as one of the most incompetent in history. They claimed they’d been in a shootout, but tests came back disproving it. The Panthers had only got off one shot from Clark, and that was obvious. Cops had fired at least 90 bullets for Clark’s one. They looked like murderous, callous, fools.

This wasn’t a victory, though. The coroner ruled “justifiable homicide”. Isn’t that some bullshit? The pigs went to my man’s flat when he was DRUGGED and shot up everyone in the thing and… justifiable homicide? Of a 21-year-old? Really? But if there’s one thing we know, the system is run by bitch boys who can’t take real opposition because the capitalist ideology is so weak. It barely stands up to criticism, or we wouldn’t lose so many of our revolutionaries. Their opposition wouldn’t be so callous, uncivilized and downright criminal.

After Fred’s death, the police’s incompetence was still thriving, and they unsealed his flat. The Panthers gave tours of it, showing the “bullet holes” that had been circled as their shots in the coverup, were actually nailheads. An understandable deep trauma of rage, anger and disdain swept across the Black community and the communities that had been aligned with Fred. When Hanharan tried to get re-elected, he was destroyed by his opponent and his career was done. Hoover always remained invisible, and his career was highly decorated in white circles whilst he was alive. But…

In 1971, 8 activists from Pennsylvania, set up a citizen’s commission to investigate the FBI and its dodgy dealings. One thing we have to remember about the FBI, CIA and all secret services around the world, they’re not for us, the people. They’re criminal sections of “intelligence” that work to uphold the murderous system we have now and instil fear and intimidation, so we all tow the line. They’re not for us; they’re for the criminals.

These absolute Gs, raided the Media, PA FBI office and stole a thousand documents. They found:

  • The FBI informers reported every single meeting and action on the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee and lots of others.
  • They used informers to discredit and create distrust amongst the ranks of organizations.
  • Hoover had a special bias towards Black revolutionaries and had a personal vendetta in destroying Black freedom movements.

Now, these were things that were widely known in the community; you just needed proof. Nonetheless, seeing it all on paper? Wow. So, there was an investigation and the start of a Senate Investigating community. By this time, the state tried to say that COINTELLPRO was dead. I call shit on this and think it’s still operating today, just more carefully, and Hoover escaped any fault, dying in 1971.

But for once, the state was up for conviction. Black Panthers members had long been defendants and the tables had turned. The families and survivors sued. The trial took place years after the case was filed and the case lasted 18 months. In 1977, the jury had deadlocked on a verdict and the judge threw out the case. In 1979, the Court of Appeals found that the Government had hidden documents relevant to the case and demanded a new trial.

Njeri wrote in her book “My Dance with Justice”: “It got to the point that the plaintiffs didn’t trust each other; we were sick of the lawyers and they were sick of us. . . .The survivors just wanted this nightmare to be over.” While there was anxiety happening with the filing survivors, the police department defendants were getting increasingly paranoid that damning evidence was going to be revealed and their lives would be over.

In the end, both sides agreed to a settlement of $1.83 million which is just over $4.9million today. Each government branch, City, County and Federal paid about a third.

So what happened to O’Neale? Well… He admitted he didn’t feel bad for his part in it. In a 19984 interview with the Tribune, he stated he chose his sides early and didn’t feel bad about his part. He’d slipped drugs into Fred’s drink, he’d given the layout of Fred’s flat to the feds and he’d willingly given the feds intel in his time infiltrating the Panthers. But he did seem genuinely horrified at the murders. Fred’s body was dragged out and a pool of blood followed the trail; that’s how nasty it was. In O’Neale’s head, he thought it was only going to be a raid, and his uncle, speaking in 1990, says he got caught up, in far too deep. What started as him trying to learn a charge, turned into being the accomplice and the facilitator of one of the most gruesome and influential assassinations on a Black revolutionary.

O’Neale had gone into the witness protection program, as word of his work started to spread and he feared for his life. On the eve of Martin Luther King Day in 1990, he spent the day with his uncle, a retired truck driver. His uncle said he kept spending a long time in the bathroom and tried to get out of the back window. His uncle pulled him back a few times, but eventually, O’Neale got loose, ran down the highway and was struck by a car. His death was ruled a suicide.

After coming back to Chicago secretly from California secretly around 1984, he’d tried a similar suicide attempt in 1989 but was only injured.

Bill Hampton, a brother of Fred said:

“The act (of being an informant,) he committed was unjust. He tried to live with it and couldn’t”

And that’s how arguably, one of the biggest traitors in Black revolutionary history lived his last day. He was always adamant that he felt no remorse but the feelings of being a pawn in a bigger plan that became overwhelming must have weighed on his mind, along with the gruesome crime scene photos afterwards.

A long legacy

There are a few things we can learn from Fred. Read about socialism. Recognize that struggle is international, and the pull of white supremacy and capitalism are inexplicably linked. If we are to have a socialist revolution, we must unite the underclasses together. Educate yourself. Learn to separate communism and socialism from the dictatorial regimes that have used it to gain popularity and as a vehicle to get egotistical, power-hungry people into power.

And don’t let romance pull away from the horror. He was 21 years old. He was gunned down sleeping, in his bedroom, with his 8-month pregnant girlfriend next to him. Severely outnumbered and drugged, he was a sitting duck, brutally murdered for being too powerful. He was a socialist revolutionary with a call to action for all the oppressed. He knew that racism was just a vehicle for capitalism to continue to exploit from the masses. He knew of the importance of alliances and the power of education and knowledge. Ultimately, the murder of a far too young Fred Hampton tells us a few things. He was too smart for them. He was on the right track. He may have been the closest one to spark a socialist revolution.

It pains me deeply to remember Fred. For how young he was. What he was, could have been and what he could have started. His death sparked just as much like his life, but that doesn’t make it any less unjust. His death went on to expose the unconstitutional and murderous operation of COINTELPRO, sparked the formation of an operation that would shine a light of the truth of all of the FBI’s shady workings, and went on to get at least a settlement out of all 3 stages of government. So even in death, he was ruffling feathers and inspiring changemakers to carry on organizing.

But above all, he reminds us that organizing outside of the system, in our communities is vital for a socialist revolution. We can’t depend on the government that is killing us to make a stand for us. We must do it on our own streets and with the same message, Fred Hampton shouted in his short, short life.

“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’ve stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.”

Long live Fred Hampton’s spirit.

The closest we ever came, to a true revolution.

Bon Appetit but with more POCs and the racism isn't addressed

You may remember our piece on the racist unravelling of Bon Appetit. Well, Jack Saint returned with highlights of his stream dissecting the return of Bon Appetit. Tl;dr: it’s been gutted, filled with more POCs in front of the camera, they barely addressed what happened, and when they did, it was like putting on a plaster on a gangrene wound.

That said, Jack goes in depth and the rawness of it having been live worked well alongside the plastic, corporate feel of the Bon Appetit reboot which didn’t work for me at all. Chris Morocco’s segment was particularly nauseating and those meatballs aren’t meatballs as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to see more Black and Brown chefs being able to make dishes meaningful to them and discuss the stories behind them but it feels like too little to late (and that’s at no fault to the POCs making the food).

Stream the highlights below and you’ll see what I mean.

So Bon Appetit Started Uploading Again... | Stream Highlights

The world according to James Baldwin

An illustration of James Baldwin

Christina Greer gave a 4-minute TED-Ed talk on James Baldwin and the time the FBI created a 1,884-page file on him (something I wrote about a while back).

In the 1960s, the FBI amassed almost 2,000 documents in an investigation into one of America’s most celebrated minds. The subject of this inquiry was a writer named James Baldwin, one of the best-selling black authors in the world at the time. What made him loom so large in the imaginations of both the public and the authorities?

If you haven’t already, you should immerse yourself in as many of his speeches and lectures as you can, read his books, actually listen to what he says, act on it, and never talk to Black people about it. Deal?

Stream the video below.

Notes of a native son: The world according to James Baldwin - Christina Greer

Angela Davis: Revolution today

angela davis

In a lecture for CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), Angela Davis discussed the meaning of revolution today.

She called on her audience to continue to fight for progress and criticised “the mainstream feminist movement”.

“The mainstream feminist movement has made serious, serious mistakes. You know, I often point out that when I wrote a book that was published in 1981 called Women, Race, & Class, everybody started referring to me as a feminist and my response was ‘I’m not a feminist, you know, I’m a black revolutionary’ because I didn’t see how the two had anything to do with each other. But I realized that I was talking about a certain kind of feminism, a bourgeois feminism, a feminism that is still unfortunately […] white bourgeois feminism which is unfortunately the most represented feminism today and most people think that as feminism.”

Stream the full lecture below with subtitles available in English, Spanish, and Catalan.

Angela Davis. Revolution Today

Albert Murray on race, jazz, and modernism

albert murray

Tim Keane wrote an essay on jazz writer Albert Murray for Hyperallergic. He touched on Murray’s life and his work examining modernist art and jazz:

In Murray’s view, jazz converts psychological pain and its vernacular offshoots into ritualized, polytonal, integrated music and dance. Jazz adapts and expands the written scores that the musician follows and ultimately surpasses; its best improvisers are extemporizing formalists learning from and competing with the innovations of peers, collaborators, and forerunners. Its refinements universalize the particular, dissolving personal history and psychosocial baggage, and call participants into the mythic dimension — an aesthetic realm that involves getting on the dusty dance floor.

There was also a brief critique of Murray’s 1970 essay collection, The Omni-Americans:

The book dismantles American Black separatism as a regressive, escapist fantasy that cedes the premise of white supremacy — the Balkanization of the country by race — to the nation’s bigots. Though he necessarily deploys them to make his points, misleading or reductive labels infuriate Murray, who believes that being American involves being neither wholly Black nor wholly white, while insisting that Blackness be defined as a characteristic as primarily American as whiteness has been since the country’s founding.

Fifty years on, such liberal hypocrisy is endemic to hyper-gentrified gluten-free neighborhoods, where Black Lives Matter posters hang in the windows of pricey condos, boutiques, and galleries — stretches of real estate that once housed working-class Black families and businesses.

Grab a copy of The Omni-Americans on Amazon and read Tablet Magazine’s review of the book on its 50th anniversary.

The gentrification of Black Lives Matter

White people laying down on their fronts at a Black Lives Matter protest. Who knows why as I don't see handcuffs

In 2016, there was a Black Lives Matter protest in Nottingham and a Black protester laid on the tram tracks. Hell ensued with comments from White people such as “Black Lives Matter is an American thing—it’s not as bad in the UK.”

Fast forward 4 years and it’s absolutely not an “American thing”, not that it ever was. And a shift in perspective has meant White people from the US, UK, and around the world who shrugged it off before are now taking notice but for the wrong reasons.

LA Times staff writer Erin B. Logan wrote an article entitled “White people have gentrified Black Lives Matter. It’s a problem” which addressed this shift and the gentrification of the movement. While it won’t have surprised many Black people who’ve seen first hand how White people have co-opted the protests for their own gains (remember those influencers who took pictures outside buildings pretending to help?), some of the quotes in the article struck a chord.

Historically, when Black people protest, they are responding to intolerable and immediate injustice — say, the water crisis in Flint. In contrast, Jeffries said, white Americans tend to protest over more abstract goals — like the Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality or the melting of Arctic glaciers — and are driven by the “fierce urgency of the future.”

“What you’re willing to sacrifice, demand and compromise is going to be different,” Jeffries said. “There is a shared sense of the problem but your immediate objective is fundamentally different.”

This is happening as we speak; Extinction Rebellion protesters have blocked newspaper printing presses, accusing the paper of “failing to report on climate change”. Well, shit, what’s new?

AJ Lovelace, an activist and filmmaker remarked on the motives behind some of the White female protestors:

“It was obvious to me that people were out there to say they were out there. White girls would agitate the police and then cry when they responded. This isn’t how a protest works.”

They should have cans of Pepsi with them.

One of the latest quotes from the piece summaries the involvement of White people for me:

Jeffries told me that if history shows one thing to be true, it’s that white attention and sympathy for Black social justice is fleeting. It wanes when cameras disappear.

Did you notice how attention was high in June but now the cameras are gone, White people have gone back to their regular chitchat? I guess that really was enough activism for one day.

(Thanks to Shakeia Taylor for putting me onto this article.)

The Collapse of Bon Appétit

Rick, Priya, and Sohla, formerly of Bon Appetit

Last year, I got into Bon Appétit and fell in love with the format of cooking but with a more personable touch. I was used to shows like Kitchen Nightmares, Masterchef (back when Lloyd Grossman presented it), and Saturday Kitchen. But Bon Appétit was fun and entertaining. Until we all found out about the racism.

Jack Saint made a brilliant video called The Collapse of Bon Appétit which deconstructed the ideology behind the channel’s demise and why it was more a symptom of a racist system than an error of judgement. My favourite line was this:

“This was a burgeoning giant of online video, and it just completely shit the bed because it couldn’t stop being racist.”

For me, it was a terrible shame but also a wake up call that this is an issue for all media conglomerates trying to curry favour from the masses. We’ve seen first hand how White these corporations are and how they ill-treat their employees of colour (if they even have any). And for Condé Nast, they weren’t paying their BIPOC workers what they deserved.

But one of the most poignant points that Jack made was about how the chummy relationship between Bon Appétit cast members and their fans was very one-sided. I found myself slipping into that kind of behaviour but nowhere near the apparent fanfics people had made. Yikes. It reminded me of something my friend Keidra once said about fans:

Please y’all, don’t make these idols like your friends. They are doing a job. They have friends that are not you.

I’m not going to police how other people navigate their fandoms, especially when I’ve never been that ingratiated in one myself. From my experience, it’s probably for the best that this kind of ideology was dismantled but I wish it wasn’t off the back of racial exploitation. Again.

The Collapse of Bon Appetit | Jack Saint

Race and Modern Architecture: A Review

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Magdalena Milosz wrote a review of Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present earlier this month. Here’s an excerpt:

The editors of Race and Modern Architecture recognize a need to not only append “other” architectures and critical histories to the canon. Rather, they propose to examine how race is constitutive of modern architecture, suggesting that “race can be read as much within the canon as outside of it.” The opening chapters thus recontextualize early American civic architecture through its disavowal of slavery, as it sought to represent a liberty and democracy from which Black people were excluded. Here, the figure of Thomas Jefferson looms large, and the authors shine a light on his and his contemporaries’ personal connections to slaveholding, as well as pointing to overarching links between slavery and architecture.

The book explores racial impacts on architecture since the 18th century, and challenges those in the field to pay architects of colour their due.

By analyzing how architecture has intersected with histories of slavery, colonialism, and inequality—from eighteenth-century neoclassical governmental buildings to present-day housing projects for immigrants–Race and Modern Architecture challenges, complicates, and revises the standard association of modern architecture with a universal project of emancipation and progress.

As Milosz surmises, it’s more of an academic read than a bedtime story but it provides a decent basis for understanding racism and erasure in architecture.

Read the full review on Canadian Architect and a post on Paul R. Williams: the Black architect of public buildings and celebrity homes.