In the wake of several high-profile cases involving black Americans killed after encounters with the police, writers Stacey Patton and David J Leonard examine why blame is often shifted to the deceased.
Last week a Staten Island grand jury concluded that no crime was committed when an NYPD officer choked 43-year-old Eric Garner to death in broad daylight. Never mind what we all have seen on the video recording; his pleas, and his pronouncement, “I can’t breathe.”
So what if the medical examiner ruled it a homicide? An unfortunate tragedy for sure, but not a crime.
“You had a 350lb (158.8kg) person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible,” New York Representative Peter King told the press. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died.”
This sort of logic sees Garner’s choices as the reasons for his death. Everything is about what he did. He had a petty criminal record with dozens of arrests, he (allegedly) sold untaxed cigarettes, he resisted arrest and disrespected the officers by not complying.
According to Bob McManus, a columnist for The New York Post, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the teenager shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri, “had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Especially bad decisions. Each broke the law – petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then – tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably – each fought the law.”
If only we turned our attention on those who are responsible. Had Officer Daniel Pantaleo not choked Eric Garner, the father and husband would be alive today.
Had Officer Pantaleo listened to his pleas, Garner would be alive today.
Had the other four officers interceded, Garner would be alive today.
There is plenty of blame to go around. The NYPD’s embrace of stop-and-frisk policies rooted in the “broken windows” method of policing is a co-conspirator worthy of public scrutiny and outrage.
Yet, we focus on Eric Garner’s choices.
Such victim-blaming is central to white supremacy.
Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.
Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.
Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.
The irony is these statements are made in a society where white men brazenly walk around with rifles and machine guns, citing their constitutional right to do so when confronted by the police.
Look at the twitter campaign “#CrimingWhileWhite” to bear witness to all the white law-breakers who lived to brag about the tale.
Just think about the epidemic of white men who walk into public spaces, open fire and still walk away with their lives. In those cases, we are told we must understand “why” and change laws or mental health system to make sure it never happens again.
Food matters – it mattes because it is the sustenance of life; it matters because it a source of pleasure, and nostalgia, a building block of identity, family, and community; it matters because of obesity and starvation, food insecurity, because it is central to global economies – it is a source of profits and profits for some, and despair and anguish for others; it matters because it is local and global. It also matters because it represents a window into broader themes and social realities, to systemic inequalities and persistent violence. With Black, White, and Green Farmers Markets, Race, and the Green Economy, Alison Hope Alkon makes this clear, illustrating the material and symbolic importance of food. Examining two farmer’s markets in the Bay Area (North Berkeley and West Oakland), Dr. Alkon demonstrates the many ways that race, class, and inequality operate in these spaces, demonstrating how each embodies an distinct intervention against the environmental status quo; they are overlapping poles of a broader food movement.
According to book’s description, “Farmers markets are much more than places to buy produce. According to advocates for sustainable food systems, they are also places to “vote with your fork” for environmental protection, vibrant communities, and strong local economies. Farmers markets have become essential to the movement for food-system reform and are a shining example of a growing green economy where consumers can shop their way to social change.” Situating farmer’s markets in a broader history of the “slow food movement,” Berkeley People’s Park, the Black Panther Party, and countless others challenges to our corporate food hegemony, Dr. Alkon pushes the conversation beyond food as nourishment, and markets as places of commerce to emphasize the ways that these public spaces function in terms of identity, resistance, community, and struggles for change.
Focusing on farmer’s markets as a “cornerstone of food activism,” Dr. Alkon brings to life two spaces that work to challenge everything from food deserts and constrained food choices, to GMOs and the corporate takeover of contemporary foodways. Like other movements, social location and identity impact the goals, methods, and framing mechanism used to galvanize support for the markets and the broader movement of food activism. Racism and differential levels of privilege are visible in these spaces.
The power of the book rests with its ethnographic intervention, with its documentation and how food matters, and its elucidation of food activism; it equally emanates for its willingness to explore and expose the endless contradictions within the food movement. “This contradiction – between farmers markets’ broad, radical aims and individually oriented economic strategies” is at the core of the book. Yet, in focusing on race and class, in examining inequities, Dr. Alkon further reveals the contradictions evidence in those who privilege sustainability and the environment over justice and people.
There is so much richness within this book, as it reveals the ways that “hipster racism” operates alongside of systemic racism; it spotlights the entrenched yet invisible (to some) privileges even among the most progressive people. Dr. Alkon summarizes the markets and the people who inhabit in a profound way:
Many participants envision the North Berkeley Farmer’s Market as a way to improve both environmental and social conditions through green economic exchange. However, environmental themes are prioritized and are thickly interwoven with the farmer’s markets institutional policies…. In West Oakland, the reverse is true. Issues of social and more specifically racial are most prominent, as the West Oakland represents an environmental justice approach to the politics of food. Environmental sustainability underlies the market’s work – the creation of a local organic alternative food system – but is discussed only occasionally (75-76).
Food matters . . . it masks and reveals the persistent inequalities, the contradictions, and the different levels of power and privilege; Dr. Alkon makes this clear over and over again, providing a language for thinking about how foodways and food activism offers spaces of change yet also has workers to maintain the very systems that are supposedly being challenged in a myriad of ways. An important work!
A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Bryant Terry (this was before the publication of his most recentbook Afro-Vegan). The interview was never published. As I read Black, White and Green, I thought it was important to return to this interview, to digest the important analysis and profound insights that Terry delivered in the interview. Each spotlights the importance of not only talking about and understanding food, but food as change, as power, privilege, identity, and both a window into a shade concealing persistent inequalities in American
A couple years ago, my friend and colleague Lisa Guerrero bought me Bryant Terry’s cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Living in a SMALL town, Lisa searched high and low to secure a copy for my birthday, a fact that not only illustrates the kind of a person Lisa is and what a great friend I have, but the power of Bryant Terry’s work. Having now had the opportunity to engage with Bryant on Twitter/Facebook, to learn from him by way of his web show, to read about his newest book, and understand his work as part of longer tradition of activism and social justice work, it is clear that he offers not only food the feeds the body but knowledge that feeds the mind. Terry, a chef, an author, and an activist, teaches the world not only how to cook and do so in a healthy way, but to do so in a way that reflects and reaffirms important values. Like his food, this interview is simply delicious
David Leonard (DJL): Talk to us about your new book
Bryant Terry (BT): The new book – The Inspired Vegan – is a snap shot of where I was at as I was writing it. I thought a lot about my daughter, what type of book I wanted to write, that 40 years from now she would get a sense of the person that I am, what my values are, who my heroes and sheroes are; it is a snap shot of the food justice movement that I am so active in.
I realized that people have a low food IQ. People are so disconnected from growing and cooking wholesome fresh food. So giving people basic skills to prepare a home cooked meal is important. I wanted to give them basic tips and tools so they can make fresh meals for themselves and their families. I also wanted to empower people to put together entire meals devoid of animal of products. One of the critiques of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks is that it is often a bunch of side dishes. People don’t know how to move from a diet where meat is at the center of the plate to a plant-based diet. I wanted to show people that you can have meals that are vegan and also sumptuous and complex, and most importantly delicious.
DJL: You also have a new web show; is the show an extension of your book?
BT: My books are an extension of my politics. I started this work as an activist in New York City. I founded this project called Be Healthy, politicizing young people, understanding that if this food justice movement is going to be successful young people must be at the forefront. The last thing these kids wanted to do was come in for a lecture on structural inequality and food insecurity, especially because in additional to lacking access to wholesome food, they also came from neighborhoods with horrible schools and race issues. One of the creative ways to engage young people was to teach them how to select fresh foods, how to prepare it, which is so important because if they help prepare it they are more likely to try and become accustomed to other types of food. My cookbooks are an extension of this work. I wanted to use the same approach on a national scale. The show is a similar concept, using popular culture to shift people’s hearts and minds.
DJL: What are your goals beyond your work?
BT: My goal is not to convert people to be vegans. While I don’t consume any animal products, I don’t even describe myself as a vegan. I do that very intentionally because I know that for many of the communities I am trying to reach, the term vegan brings up certain images, ideas, and triggers. I want to avoid that.
I also want to avoid the latest fads to seek out remedies. There is no one-size-fits all diets. I really encourage people rather than choosing the label, to think about what your body needs. Rather than just choosing a diet, think about cultural food ways; think about ethics, values, politics, what kind of world do I want to see, what sort of environment do I want leave for my children, how do I want to see animals treated – these are the questions that should guide our food choices rather than a label
DJL: What advice would you give parents about teaching food lessons to their kids?
BT: While I only have 9 months of experiences as a parent, one of the most important lessons I would convey is modeling. You can talk about eating well, but need to model healthy eating habits. Simple things: eating mindfully, not overeating, and taking your time while eating. The basic fundamentals of living are so important. We have to model that for our children. We want to lay down a foundation for her so that when she gets out into the world she can make empowered choices to think about advertisements and peer pressures. At that point, it is about letting them to make decisions based on that knowledge.
Even before our daughter was born, my wife was very conscious of exposing her to a range of taste and flavors while in utero. Now as a child, we are constantly introducing to her to married foods. One of the foundations for our diet crafting an Afro-Asian diet that builds upon African and Asian foodways, so that she appreciates and understands her own foodways. She eats everything from mung beans, to blacked eyed peas, from bok choy to collared greens already.
DJL: How does your work challenge the ways in which healthy eating, organic, and vegan is often imagined in connection to white middle-class identities?
BT: So much of work is response to narrative that concludes that African American cuisine contributes to poor African American health. It is a simplistic way of looking at the public health crisis. It is important to understand that most of the communities with high rates of obesity, diet related illness – cancer, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension – are saturated with processed and fast foods. Focusing on soul food completely erases the issue of people over consuming fast foods, processed foods, package foods, and those high sugar, salt and fat, and low in the nutrients we need. It complete ignores the ranges of oppression and environmental stressors people are enduring that leads to stress, that might lead to overeating. People need to understand the complex reasons why African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans are dealing with these health crises. When we revisit the traditional foodways of African Americans, it is extremely healthy. Sweet potatoes, squashes, dandelion greens, collared greens. These are the types of foods my grandpa was growing and these are the foods that most of people in our communities were eating. These foods are as authentic and traditional as the comfort foods and survival foods so often associated with African American cuisine.
DJL: In recent years there has been an increased awareness and public consciousness about food deserts; what are your thoughts about this trend?
BT: I think so often the focus on food deserts leads to a focus on corporate food interventions. Every community should have a full-service market, but that is not the solution. Food security and increasing food health will come from producing economically empowered communities. We need to have solutions owned and driven by those living with these communities. Lack of access to food is one indicator of poverty. It has to be about more than food. I also think talking about food deserts erases the ways that people are already combating the lack of choices. We need to recognize there is a lot of knowledge and movements taking place and not imagining these places as deserts that need help.
DJL: We also don’t think about how the term deserts naturalizes inequality; we don’t talk about the production of deserts.
DJL: Where do you come down on the term of Soul Food?
BT: When people think about soul food, people are thinking about red velvet cake, fried chicken, and chitterlings. They are not thinking about sautéed butter beans or dandelion greens or even baked chicken; they are thinking about the heaviest, most indulgent foods. Soul food doesn’t evoke the diversity of the cuisine. I prefer to talk about African American cuisine and to think about how colonization, industrialization, and modernization have impacted our cuisine. Lets talk about that rather than pathologizing our food ways as part of this bigger racist game.
DJL: How does your work recognize the constraints on choice while giving voice, power, and agency in determining diet?
BT: It’s tricky. When we talk about these issues and only focus on personal responsibility, we don’t understand the larger picture of what’s wrong with our food system. That being said, I will be first to admit it is about personal choice; we all are responsible for how we live our lives, what we chose to consume. But when we think about the reality that people are limited by their choices. People are limited by their understanding of those choices; this complicates our discussion. Don’t tell me it is all about choice when there isn’t safe green spaces, when there isn’t food co-ops, farmer markets, or full-service supermarkets within their communities. There are corner stones that only have processed foods, cigarettes, alcohol, and if they have fresh foods they are 50% more expensive. Understanding the options that are providing in working poor neighborhoods are not there even though people want healthy food options.
In our post-Reagan, and post-Iranian Revolution moment, black and Muslim bodies have become increasingly entangled as sources of fear, nationalist narratives, and racial scapegoating. Amid the ongoing war on drugs and the war on terror, blackness and Muslimness is consistently used to mobilize consent for and support for increased state power, systemic policing, and a culture of violence. According to Vijay Prashad, “the international Muslim terrorist and the domestic black criminal stand as alibis for revanchism. Race free criminals (read white) are free from extra detection or from pious fulminations of the political class” (Prashad 2003, p. 75). Sohail Daulatzai similarly elucidates the dialectics and shared experiences in “Are we all Muslim now? Assata Shakur and the Terrordome,”
As scholars such as Michelle Alexander and Khalil Gibran Muhammad have noted, once the US state defined particular activities as “crime”, it then sought to crack down and control it. As the fears of the “black criminal” were stoked, the political will was generated in mainstream America to pass repressive laws that normalised “crime” and linked it almost exclusively to blackness, making all black people suspicious, and leading to state-sanctioned racial profiling, the creation of an urban police state, and the explosion of a massive prison archipelago that Michelle Alexander has called “the new Jim Crow”.
The “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war.
Similarly in the “war on terror”, the US has named particular acts as “terrorism”, delegitimising them and generating the political will through fear to normalise the figure of the “terrorist”, making Muslim-looking people, and even Muslim countries themselves, suspects under deep suspicion in their struggles for self-determination.
As a result, the need for state security created broad “anti-terrorism” measures that expanded state power, making Muslim countries subject to invasions, sanctions, bombs, and drones, and making Muslim bodies subject to indefinite detention, torture, surveillance and targeted murder, as Muslims got marked as people who don’t have the right to have rights.
While the system of mass incarceration used the face of the “black criminal” to legitimise itself and disproportionately target black men and women, the tentacles of incarceration soon expanded to include Latinos and other poor people in its orbit.
Similarly, the “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war. But while the Muslim has been the face of this, the logic of “terror” is now being used to target other countries and also black and brown communities domestically, as the fluid category of the “terrorist” continues to morph.
These entrenched narratives, racializing stereotypes, and white racial framing not only impact policy, but cultural representations, public discourse, and everyday interactions. It results in stop and frisk, and racial profiling on the streets and in airports; it contributes to daily microaggressions and flattened cultural representations. Black or brown bodies and criminal are imagined as interchangeable, Muslim and terrorist are positioned as inseparable, reflecting the entrenched nature of “post-racial” hyper racial American discourse and practice.
The connection between black and Muslim subject is not limited to white supremacist discourse, state violence, and shared racialization, but is equally evident in the “political and cultural history of Black Islam, Black radicalism, and the Muslim Third World.” Herein lies the focus of Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (University of Minnesota Press 2012), a very important work that pushes readers to look at resistance, to look at a history of radicalism, and examine Diasporic challenges to white supremacy.
Black Star, Crescent Mood decenters whiteness and antiblack racism, spotlighting the shared histories and interconnections beyond policing and state violence in the everyday resistance and the ongoing struggle for justice. Challenging the conventional narratives surrounding the black freedom struggle, that centers nonviolence, the South, Christianity, and civil rights, Dr. Daulatzai centers everyday resistance, the black radical imagination, the Muslim International in an exploration of artists, activists, intellectualist, and change agents.
Black Star, Crescent Moon begins its discussion of the Muslim International subject, black internationalism, and the “Afro-Diasporic imagination” (xxxiii) with Malcolm X. Given Malcolm’s position within the Nation of Islam, given his internationalist politics, and given his symbolic meaning into present-day discourses, it is no surprise that Malcolm anchors this work. “In mapping Third World solidarity against white supremacy onto the racial terrain of the United States and arguing that the man who colonized Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Congo, and Kenya is the ‘same man’ who is in Georgia, Michigan, California, and New York, Malcolm radically challenged the sacred narrative of American exceptionalism” (29). Reflecting on the dialectics between Malcolm’s faith, his transnationalist politics, and Black Islam Dr. Daulatzai narrates a history whereupon Malcolm expanded the political imagination, foregrounding alternative freedom dreams and new methods and approaches to turning those dreams into reality.
Black Star, Crescent Moon builds upon its discussion of Malcolm to highlight the ways the Muslim International and transnational black politics are equally visible with respect to the Battle of Algiers (which would be highly influential to the activists and black cinematic imagination), Sam Greenlee’s The Spook who Sat by the Door and Baghdad Blues, and Frantz’s Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Mask all of which furthered the message of a black radical politics anchored in internationalism, decolonization, and an imagined (and real) community based in Afro-Asian (Afro-Muslim) solidarity. “Black cultural activists in the Civil Rights and Black Power era positioned themselves, their art, and their politics in relation to the anticolonial and anti-imperialist movements taking place in Asia, Africa and Latin America, writes Dr. Daulatzai. “The Cold War inaugurated a new phase in American power that simultaneously sought to contain both the anticolonial impulses emanating from the Third World and a burgeoning Civil Rights and Black Power movement domestically” (69). The power of this work rests not just with its detailed textual analysis, its examination of aesthetics, and the Diasporic context, buts its emphasis on geo-politics and the responsive utterances from black radicalism.
Black Star, Crescent Moon ends with discussions of both Muhammad Ali and hip-hop, making clear how each has used, deployed, and been influenced by the intersections of blackness, Islam, and transnational radical politics. “In reinvigorating and reshaping the already vibrant space of the Muslim International, these artists and activists force and compel the Muslim international to be a broad and inclusive space that understand the overlapping histories and interconnected struggles that not only have shaped the modern world” Their work “also shape the conscience of the Muslim International as a site for radical justice and equality” (196). Like Malcolm and the Battle of Algiers, Ali and Greenlee, Immortal Technique and Jasiri X, Black Star, Crescent Moon and Sohail Daulatzai expands our radical imagination, indexing transnational dreams and pathways to freedom, justice, and social transformation. Powerful and inspiring, this work reshapes our understanding of social movements and the ongoing struggle for black freedom.
In what ways is black internationalism not inherently radical? What sorts of examples demonstrate the liberal or conservative use of black internationalism?
How and why is Black Islam seen as a threat to post-civil rights state formation?
What are the connections between culture wars, “Islamic terrorist” and “black criminal”? How do they exist at a crossroads?
What is the significance of the connection between Killer of Sheep (and the LA Rebellion) and Battle of Algiers?
How did technological shifts impact the black radical imagination and the Muslim International?
How do we account for antiblack racism within Asia and the Middle East given these histories?
Why is the Caribbean and Latin America (or is it) not as prominent within these Diasporic and transnationalist black radical formations
How does India.Arie “ghetto” fit within this discussion?
Contemporary racial discourses are defuse and far-reaching; yet, within the fast-pace news media cycle, and a mainstream media more invested in the sensational and the spectacle, rarely do these conversations move beyond talking points, buzz words, and bumper stickers. This aptly describes the nature of racial discourse emanating from mainstream media and political discourses. While evidence in a myriad of issues, mainstream coverage of social movements, marriage equality, gentrification, and crime is most certainly emblematic of a flattening and flattened discussions of these crucial issues facing the nation.
Dr. Christina Hanhardt, associate professor of American Studies at University Maryland, steps into this historical vacuum, offering readers an important book on “how LGBT calls for ‘safe space’ have been shaped by broader public safety initiatives that have sought solutions in policing and privatization and have had devastating effects along race and class line.” Offering insight into the histories of urban development and neoliberalism, into social movements and GLBT civil rights activism, into race relations – conflicts and alliances –, and into discourses and policies around crime, Dr. Hanhardt not only chronicles several important chapters in urban history but also offers a framework for dialectical and intersectional discussions. To talk about and understand gentrification requires understanding the racial history of redevelopment, which requires understanding the white supremacist imagination with respect to crime; all of this helps us understand discourses around policing and state violence, from anti-sodomy laws to stop-and-frisk; in the end (or the beginning), this complicates our discussions of the history of anti-GLBTQ state violence and the experiences of communities of color. Amassing “extensive archival and ethnographic research in New York City and San Francisco,” Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence is a powerful text on so many levels.
In recent years, there have been many discussions of relations between (white) GLBTQ communities and the black community. Much of contemporary media discourse and reporting continues to focus on black homophobia, seemingly arguing that black homophobia is an obstacle to not only political power and equality (cue various reports about Proposition 8 and the limited coverage of black activists working for marriage equality in New York or Maryland) but to progress (p. 13). Dr. Hanhardt offers some historic perspective, making me wonder why the conversation always focuses on “blacks turning their back on fight for marriage equality” and not on how the focus on crime and safety from GLBT activist groups was a far more deleterious betrayal. Dr. Hanhardt pushes the discussion beyond the claims of heightened black homophobia to reflect on how blackness is imagined in connection to GLBT communities. Framed as an obstacle, and a source of pathology, mainstream discourse frames blackness as a pollutant compared to the integration of GLBTQ communities into neighborhoods as a source of maturation and growth. Whether through narratives of homophobia, opposition to redevelopment, or crime, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the many ways that blackness is imagined as an impediment to progress and urban renewal in a cultural, economic, and political sense.
The issue of visibility is also a prominent theme within Safe Space. Here, Dr. Hanhardt argues that visibility has been central to LGBTQ activism, especially in a post civil rights context. Movements have consistently argued that visibility of GLBTQ communities, or the legibility of queerness, correlates with levels of violence. In other words, visibility leads to increased danger. At another level, Dr. Hanhardt argues that mainstream GLBTQ civil rights groups have also seen visibility is also a source of power, security, and safety – that visibility and awareness of hate crimes results in attention, political mobilization, and police attention. “Decades of activism produced innumerable organizations and agencies to deal with ‘homophobia – whether expressed by police misconduct, antigay violence, or even unneighborly hostility,” writes Hanhardt. “Laws against private, consensual sodomy were eliminated as a general criminal category, and LGBT activists largely succeeded in dissociating the generic terms of homosexuality – and to a lesser degree, transexuality – from the broad category of criminal” (p. 5).
Safe Space brilliantly and importantly illustrates the ways that these narratives and frames privilege whiteness and middle-class identities (as well as those experiences of gay men). The presumption of safety resulting from invisibility works from particular assumptions about safety and the possibility of invisibility – Dr. Hanhardt persuasively documents how this focus on visibility erases transgender communities, communities of color, and lesbian and bisexual communities that neither benefit from the associated respectability nor the gender/race/sexuality/class privileges. Likewise, the argument that visibility of violence will compel action presumes that all members of the GLBTQ communities and all neighborhoods are afforded equal levels of humanity and care. The illegibility of pain and innocence for certain communities highlights the limitations of this approach.
Dr. Hanhardt not only documents these discursive articulations but how these racial, class, and gender lenses shape the “understandings of the roots of, and remedy for, misogynist, racist and anti-LGBT violence” (158). The racialized and gendered understandings contribute to certain remedies and activists agenda that ultimately replicate inequality and state violence engendered throughout contemporary America.
The focus on ideology and activist framing extends beyond a discussed of the deployed rhetoric embraced by mainstream GLBT civil rights groups but is evident in the embrace of hegemonic understandings of safety, neighborhood, community, quality of life, and crime. In this context, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the consequences of the focus on violence (indexed through black bodies, through the conflation of street crime and antigay violence – the “bashers and the criminals” ) in terms of policy and activist initiatives that have privileged protected “gay neighborhoods” (p. 225) and heightened police activity. These choices, and political maneuvers not only shape the activities initiated by these groups (which issues; where) but also elicit consent for state and neoliberal activities that run counter to the needs of communities of color, the poor, and youth (and this includes GLBTQ communities of color). “The establishment of protected gay territories and the identification of anti-LGBT violence as a designated criminal category – must be paired with two of global capital’s own ‘spatial fixes’: gentrification and mass imprisonment” (14).
While much of the book reflects on the ways that GLBT civil rights activism colludes with the projects of transnational capitalism and its racial/gender/class logics, Safe Space is equally invested in spotlighting spaces and movements of contestations. Offering ample examples of GLBT organizations that sought to challenge the mainstream rhetoric and policy initiatives, Dr. Hanhardt speaks to the contested spaces. Here, Dr. Hanhardt’s powerful discussion and her analysis FIERCE reminds me of the work of Critical Resistance and how demands for complicated and intersectional discussions of safety and security have been central to activists movements in recent years:
Just as Critical Resistance advanced an abolitionist agenda, one that sought to connect poverty to ubiquity of environmental toxics to criminalization to mass incarceration to housing and educational inequalities, groups like FIERCE linked gentrification to mass incarceration to police brutality to stop and frisk to antigay violence.
Safe Space advances these important conversations in powerful ways, offering theoretical frameworks, historic context, critical interventions, and the language for not only reflecting on these movements and the deployed rhetoric but also enacting research in the name of freedom dreams. Dr. Hanhardt “asserts that mainstream and LGBT discourse has substantially transformed the category of anti-LGBT from the social to the criminological, and that this shift was grounded in privatized claims in neighborhood, the process was neither foretold nor total” (9) – this history continues to be written and the future continues to be contested. With Safe Space, Dr. Christina Hanhardt reveals the level of debate and struggle, providing readers with the necessary historic insight, theoretical templates, and tools to best understand these dynamic movements of change all while empowering in the persistent march toward equity and empowerment – safety – across communities and boundaries, from Islan Nettles to Matthew Sheppard.
Mainstream American racial discourse loves conflict between marginalized groups. Turning every instance into a spectacle, these narratives erase the tensions and material conflicts, often times pathologizing communities for an inability to get along with one another. From the media to Hollywood, from the halls of Washington to the ivory towers, discourses around interracial conflict deny/erase/ignore the context of racism, letting power, governing ideologies, and dominant institutions off the hook. We have seen this with media discourses around Blacks and Latinos, Blacks and Jews, and Blacks and Asians. Of course, the centering of blackness is instructive given the centrality of narratives of pathology and efforts to imagine blackness as a destructive and undesirable pollutant. Not surprisingly there is little room to discuss resistance, to document coalitions and shared struggles against white supremacy, and the articulation of “freedom dreams” (Kelley 2003).
Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, with Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles (UC Press), steps into this narrative vacuum. Challenging the erasure of resistance efforts that sought to claim foreclosed space, Dr. Johnson offers an important discussion of a history that remains “illegible” (Neal 2013) given the hegemony of narratives of conflict, hostility, and pathology. Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity“examines interracial anti-racist alliances, divisions among aggrieved minority communities, and the cultural expressions and spatial politics that emerge from the mutual struggles of Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the present.” Challenging “institutional and social repression” that has resulted in “both moments and movements” “Blacks and Chicanos have unmasked power imbalances, sought recognition, and forged solidarities by embracing the strategies, cultures, and politics of each others’ experiences.”
This work is less invested in the formation of organizations or specifics mobilizations but instead the everyday resistance, the “hidden transcripts” (Scott) and “informal infrapolitics” (Kelley). The focus here leads readers to see the genealogy of resistance, to see the many ways that spatial foreclosure and the denied rights of citizenship were consistently inspired opposition that moved across racialized lines.
Building on a myriad of works that have documented the history of race within Los Angeles, and race relations in the city of Angels, Dr. Johnson brings an important focus on space, the sonic, and micro-politics. From Zoot Suits to community newspapers, from car culture to graffiti, from punk music to hip-hop, Black and Latino youth have carved out spaces of resistance, challenging not only dominant representations and everyday violence but the refusal to recognize their “collective entitlement to national membership” and citizenship.
Dr. Johnson chronicles a history of Blacks and Latinos in postwar Los Angeles as one defined by immobility – segregation, job dislocation, economic stagnation, mass incarceration, and confinement. It is equally a history of space, evidence by the destruction of public transportation, the construction of freeways at the expense of communities of color, the privileging of the needs of capitalism ahead of the needs of people (Chavez Ravine), the movement of manufacturing plants from urban to suburban (& into transnational spaces) and the role of the police/criminal justice as the principal arbiter of ownership and access to space. The discussion of mobility, place and space are so powerful within this book, as Dr. Johnson highlights the interconnections between space, mobility, power, and citizenship.
In this context, Dr. Johnson highlights the importance in the development of spaces of congregation. Faced with growing state and police power, which sought to disrupt interracial mixing (crackdown on Central Ave; freeways dividing communities), Blacks and Latinos created spaces in opposition. In 1948, John Dolphin responded to racism within the Los Angeles music industry. Realized that “most music stores in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles refused to carry records by Black artists” he established a record store in South L.A (p. 49).
Naming it “Dolphin’s of Hollywood,” this store would not only emerge as a place of gathering, of cultural exchange, and the production of “shared soundscapes” (p. xiii) but it would articulate a shared grievance regarding segregation and racial exclusion. Far from Hollywood, the decision to name the store “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” offered a powerful source of resistance. “He reasoned that although blacks were unwelcome in Hollywood, he could ‘bring Hollywood to the Negroes’…. The glamour previously attached to Hollywood as a physical place could not travel across town as a component of discursive space” (p. 49).
Similarly, the rearticulation of “freedom” and democracy by Charlotta Bass, editor of The California Eagle, LA’s largest black newspaper, and Luisa Moreno, a prominent activist, advanced a rhetorical space that spotlighted shared grievances, shared experiences, and shared struggle against racism in a postwar moment. Deploying the language commonplace during the war, Bass and Moreno offered “rhetorical strategies of interethnic affiliation.” Through rhetorical framing and organizing, they “shaped the narrative of the Black-Brown political alliance and its cultural corollaries for years to come” (p. 5). That is, their work, and their emphasis on shared experiences with white supremacist violence reflects Dr. Johnson’s idea of “spatial entitlement,” in that it allowed for the “imagining, envisioning, and enacting” of “discursive spaces that ‘make room for new affiliations and identifications” (p. 1).
Similarly, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity reveals the powerful ways that culture operates as a space of not only interracial gathering but a process where the necessary frames, identities, and shared grieves were articulated. For example, Dr. Johnson explores the ways that Black, Latino, and Jewish youth donned zoot suits in the face of exclusion, violence, and invisibility. “Space, sound, and racial politics were powerfully intertwined with the music associated with the political moment and with zoot suit culture more specifically, which included Black, Brown, and Jewish working class populations,” writes Johnson, an associate professors at UCSB. “Linking human rights to soot suit culture,” these sartorial choices and the contested meaning “became a culmination of intersecting constellations of decades-long struggles over style, body, and public space” (p. 26).
Evident here, and elsewhere, power rests in how Blacks and Latinos responded to disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and limited access to space with the construction of spaces that allowed for displayed humanity, legible grievance, shared “freedom dreams.” She describes these spaces of resistance as follows:
When the decimation of neighborhoods and the loss of leisure spaces could not be regained in physical space, people from disenfranchised groups claimed the kinds of spaces that were available to them, and in those spaces often created important democratic and egalitarian visions and practices. This did not translate, usually into permanent spaces. But spatial claims could manifest in temporary locations that announced the relevance and rights of Black and Brown people on the landscape of postwar Los Angeles . . .. Enacted entitlements of space took place on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, where Chicano cruisers congregated in a neighborhood that was once theirs; at an A & W drive-in among Black, Brown, and white car club members; and in El Monte and Pacoima, where music revues attracted interracial audiences outside city limits, where they were relatively free of police harassment (p. 65)
It is within these spaces that readers are pushed to look at various artists that cut across a multitude of genres – WAR, Ozomotali, Rage against the Machine, Señor Soul, & Thee Midnighters – that provided an “important register of shared grievances and interconnected struggle for social space and new liberatory identities” (p 95). These artists created songs that made you think and groove; songs that compelled people to dance and demand a freedom; artists that inspired artistry and movements of change.
They, like Gaye Theresa Johnson, envision a “good day.” That is, “in the midst of this political upheaval, cultural workers created new places and spaces through street demonstrations, mural self-defense groups, consumer collectives, and sites for performing music, theater and poetry” (p. 195).
This is evident in murals that are still visible throughout Los Angeles, or in the music that found a home at “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” or KDAY; it can be seen in the historic legacies of interracial organizations and the formation of ethnic studies at UCLA, USC, and countless California State University and community colleges in Los Angeles; it can be seen in the development of the Garden, or in the development of dance crews, or swapmeets, or in the shared histories on basketball courts and baseball fields. The history of Los Angeles is not one of a Hollywood film, whether that of white wealth or Black-Latino-Asian conflict, but one of everyday resistance and the ceaseless agitation for visibility and space, mobility and inclusion, understanding and the realization of “freedom dreams.” Gaye Theresa Johnson Spaces of Conflict provides a necessary and important counter to these ubiquitous narratives, shining a spotlight on the many interventions and spaces of resistance that have demanded justice and full-citizenship. Like the artists and individuals documented in this book, Johnson powerfully offers readers “freedom dreams” to be experienced inside and outside of academia.
References to interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary work have become commonplace within today’s university. Not only erasing the complex and contentious history, its usage has become part of a lexicon that seeks to celebrate work that “transcends” the borders and boundaries of a discipline (& in turn reinscribing TRADITIONAL disciplines as authentic and most desirable).
Despite its usage, or ubiquitous misuse, much of the discourse around interdisciplinarity fails to account for actual interdisciplinary work; it ignores the spaces, and the people who have carried out interdisciplinary projects that are less invested in a particular cannon, a set of theories or methods, or way or thinking but instead concentrates on understanding and transformations. The failure to acknowledge, support, and invest in scholars who are at the forefront (and crossroads) of interdisciplinary work demonstrates the persistence of siloed/disciplinary thinking.
In her new book, Dr. Shana L. Redmond talks the “interdisciplinary mantle” back. In breaking tremendous ground, and in highlighting diasporic histories, the transformative possibilities of the sonic, and the role of music in the formation of imagined (and real) communities, all while demonstrating what interdisciplinary work looks like and the amazing work that can be done through a true embrace of an interdisciplinary praxis, Dr. Redmond delivers a book that is a game changer.
With Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (NY Press, 2013), Dr. Redmond provides a template for what interdisciplinary work looks (and sounds) like. Bringing together ample historiography (and archival materials), the tools of ethno-musicology, textual analysis commonplace within cultural studies, the literature of diaspora, and social movement theory, Dr. Redmond offers a book that centers music “because it creates collective engagement in performance and contributes to a dense black performance history that continually configures Black citizenship through shared ambitions” (13).
The power of Anthem rests not simply with its profound analysis, the range of anthems that it explores, but Dr. Redmond’s ability to offer robust discussions of the sonic. For example, in her discussion of “Ol’ Man River,” Dr. Redmond provides readers with ample background, offering insights into the historic moment of production, the biography of Paul Robeson, and the song’s textual/performative significance, all while demonstrating the power in discussing sound/musicality. “All of Joe’s musical entries are in this key, making Joe phonically and making him the human equivalent of the unadorned CM key – plan and bare. The composition changes in measures 25 to 33 to a solid chord accompaniment with prevalent augmented chords leading the ear to anticipate the sonic” (p. 105). This is the kind of depth of analysis and the range of approaches found in Anthem.
The power of the book rests with its varied (yet dialectical) points of entry – its focus on exploring music, as a “three dimensional document, practice and experience.” As such, it provides a range approaches and analytical frameworks. For example, Dr. Redmond’s discussion of Nina Simone “Four Women” brings into focus the narrative, the representational elements, in these anthems. Here she writes, “Simone confronts the flattening of Black women into one-dimensional objects by addressing intersectional identities of four distinct Black women, all of them representations of women who are at one and the same real and imagined” (p. 185).
Arguing that music provides the basis for an imagined community, creates the tools for agitation, the language of diasporic identity, the historic frameworks, knowledge, the vehicles of movement, and “a method of rebellion, revolution and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detail, and destroy communities” (p. 1). Music is a movement, and music moves . . . people, history, organization, and communities.
Here, Dr. Redmond builds on Robin D.G. Kelley’s idea of “freedom dreams,” highlighting how sonic performances not only articulate possibilities but also induce change. Sampling Kelley, who described black music as “capable of creating ‘a world of pleasure, not just escape the everyday brutalities of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy but to build community, establish fellowship, play and laugh, and plant seeds for a different way of living, a different way of hearing” (p. 8), Redmond demonstrates a genealogy of diasporic resistance. Pushing back at narratives that confine sonic resistance to movement music, as the “soundtrack” or the musical pulse of movement, that so often positions artists and their creations as the periphery of the real (grassroots, organizationally base) political/material struggles, Dr. Redmond documents the many ways that diasporic anthems have been “absolutely central to the unfolding politics because they held within them the doctrines and beliefs of the people who participated in their performances, either as singers or listening audience.” Evidence here, Anthem engages readers to think about resistance, performance, production and consumption of works that disrupted a white supremacist sonic hegemony.
A prominent theme within this book, and many exploring the history of black freedom movements, and black cultural resistance is movement. Amid a history defined by forced stagnation and confinement (slavery, Jim Crow – Sundown towns –, housing segregation, employment discrimination, the prison industrial complex, flattened stereotypes), the history of resistance (and the representations of resistance) has emphasized fluidity, movement, and dynamism. Anthem brings movement into the discussion in profound ways; at one level, the book documents movements, those individuals and their artistic creations who have pushed the community forward, who have resisted the stifling violence of white supremacy. At another level, the book takes readers on a journey throughout the diaspora, demonstrating how the sounds and the struggle of resistance are circulating, moving in and out of different locations, during different moments in history. No song is suck in time; no sound is confined to a certain community or historical moment. Still yet, at another level, Dr. Redmond reveals how these anthems moved people into action while also reflecting the daily moves and maneuvers central to a larger history of resistance. In other words, while the sounds of black freedom movements reveal the shifting “freedom dreams” and the different repertoire of tools available, the anthems, the performances, and the communities resulting from these shared texts were equally powerful as instruments and agents of change.
Dr. Shana Redmond’s Anthem offers an important intervention in how we talk about music, how we talk about diaspora, how we talk about resistance, and how we talk about the dialectics between 6 powerful anthems. Together they “represent a rich variety of perspectives, positions, traditions in African Diasporic history and culture, and through each of them a connection or response between communities is witnessed” (p. 271). And the power is heard, felt, and experienced in the songs themselves, and Dr. Redmond powerful positioning them within a larger history of resistance and the sounds of solidarity.
Instead of providing a brief discussion of each anthem, here are the anthems themselves. Listen and then go out and get this book to understand the textual, the sonic, the historic, and the transformative dimensions of each
Dr. Redmond notes limits on page 19 – what are these limits and is this unique to music?
Does the book complicate the idea around “musical genre” or different eras of “music”;
How does the film complicate if not disrupt the nostalgia afforded to certain artists or music (is there no “post” – 264)?
What the book tell us about globalization and collective struggle?
Benedict Anderson argues that newspapers/text are central to formation of nationalist project – imagined communities. How does this book highlight the sonic power for imagined communities?
What are the shortcomings of seeing music as “soundtrack” or as part of “backdrop” of movements dedicated to material or political change
In what ways is music textual and performative, individual and collective
Why do you think hip-hop is peripheral to the narrative yet seemingly central to the discussion of sonic resistance (this is not a critique but a source of praise for a book that offers great insight into hip-hop yet does not center it)