Sunday, November 19, 2006

More provocation

Another thought on my throwaway post. One looks at black America today, and one wonders what the civil rights movement (lawyers and all) really achieved. On the one hand, an awful lot - Brown vs the Board of Education etc. On the other hand, it achieved nothing. Many towns and cities in the US suffer from racial apartheid, with blacks, whites, latinos living in separate cantons. There's no need to cite statistics such as percentages of prisoners, life expectancy, access to healthcare and medical insurance etc between the races because we all know them.

As a well-known Nigerian academic working in the states once said to me: 'America? Its a plantocracy and always will be.'

Take Chicago for an example. It is the epitome of the racial apartheid that plagues American cities, with a huge gulf between life just north of the CBD and life just south. The same goes for Boston and countless other American cities. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs, and a continual warning to those who think America 'solved' political theory with its constitutional set-up. As I've argued in the past, it is precisely the strength of the American constitutional framework that is America's weakness: it breeds a sense of superiority, and curiously blinds Americans to de-facto realities. One of which is the morphing problem of race.

This is really what annoys me about Beyonce and co. Its not about the talent of a Jay-z (of course the guy is talented, how would he have succeeded otherwise?) its about the mess that America is in, and the way in which vast tracts of black-American culture have been co-opted, commodified and numbed from all challenge and resistance (or so it seems). It is less a point about specific individuals, and more a lament about the collective compass of the times: cynical times when heroes are laughed at, and crass materialism and misogyny rule the roost. What was so special about the film Rize was its depiction of a black counter-culture that explicitly eschews commodified hip-hop. Of course, since then, crumping has become commodified, and part of mainstream hip-hop. Such is the way of things.

The point can be made more generally: like many British people of a centre or left-of-centre persuasion, we are still living through the disappointment that participating in the biggest demonstration in living memory (against the war in Iraq in 2003) counted for nothing. It was our Paris 1968 moment. It seems there are no tactics and strategies left, either in favour of black liberation in America, or in favour of fighting fools like Blair, when their finger quivers above the button. Our lament is therefore not really about the music, its the spirit of resistance that the music stood for.


Dotun 7:45 pm  

ave you been talking to Mushin area boys lately? it seems you are looking for a fight.

soul to soul,  8:00 pm  

Love it.
When challenged by a women, men like to claim that their errors were a "throwaway" remark. Women always over-react, don't they!
Who is the "Nigerian academic"? And here you go again--an elite white male lecturing on the "spirit of resistance". Does every write have to be a fight for your superiority?

Jeremy 8:06 pm  

You (deliberately or otherwise) misunderstand. I refer to it as my 'throwaway' post because it is where I talk about throwaway Nigerians. So trying to turn it into a sexist male comment won't wash.

As to your other comment, I'm not sure I understand. I am expressing a sadness at a weakened resistance in a world where corporate power is all. Where is the lecture/sense of superiority in all this?

Your comment yet again says more to me about your own inadequacies and built-in pre-conceptions about what a white male might say than they say about me. Go check yourself.

Anonymous,  1:38 am  

Once again, Jeremy, you speak out of your bony ass (arse?). How many "countless" American cities have you lived in and studied in-depth the racial makeup and "morphing" racial problem?

Who thinks America's "solved" political theory? Certainly not me. The form of government in America is very much unlike anything before and seemingly anything after it, but as long as it is human in origin, nothing is "solved." What it is however, is the "most perfect union." The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. There is nowhere else on earth where black people are richer or healthier or live longer or better than in America. FACT.

Another fact: America's trying terribly hard to be color-blind, a goal shared by one of my heroes, MLK, Jr. It may stumble, but it's far ahead of anything anywhere else.

So again, stop talking out of your ass, sit down and simply (and wordlessly) marvel at the magnificience that is America, mankind's last hope, a city on a hill.

soul to soul,  1:48 am  

Oh, silly me, not to realise that "throwaway post" meant the same as "post about throwaways". Forgive me for not being able to read the male language correctly. Anyway, I won't rant.
Who is the Nigerian academic, just so as the little woman, here, knows the source?
How is race "morphing"? I wouldn't like to put words into your mouth and assume an answer.
Now Jay-Z is "talented". Before he was "mediocre". Do you have any fixed view-points or are they relative to which group of people you want to insult?
Black American culture has given up "resistance"? Depends what you read, Jeremy: that's not true from what I read.It was interesting that some while ago you had a "Mapplethorpe moment". You gave into cheap USA cultural ways of seeing: you know, that commodified culture you despise! Why not a moment as seen through a Nigerian photographer's eyes? The "sense of superiority" is in how you continuously talk down to people.

Jeremy 8:16 am  

Fred you're not being serious are you? There's nowhere in America that comes close to the multiculturalism of London. While far from perfect, it is far more of beacon of integrated life than anywhere in the States. London after all was not built by slaves, so the legacy isn't there.

Your superiority about America might have come across as typical yankee swagger a few years ago. Now it seems rather quaint.

Soul to soul: No I won't tell you the name. She lives and works in America. Why would you expect me to reveal her name in that context?

Anyway, here's my question. You say from what you read black American resistance is not dead, but then give no examples. I'd like to hear more.

soul to soul,  11:31 am  

So, this "well known" academic would be bothered about that comment, Jeremy. She never wrote anything to support the comment--stood by it--just happened to say it to Jeremy. Academic chit-chat in otherwords by a "throwaway Nigerian" who doesn't want to be in Nigeria. Your sources always evaporate don't they into shadows to cover your opinions, because that's all your arguments ever really are. I asked you to explain your comments.
But, like a man, you twist it round asking me to quote sources and do your work for you--so as you can shoot down the girl's words. So, here are my questions back to you:
How is race morphing?
Do you have any fixed cultural view-points?
How do you know black America has given up resistance?
Why does someone who attacks black people for being numbed by commodified culture square that with his own opiated Mapplethorpe view of black people?
Jeremy, I'd too like to "hear more". London you say wasn't built by slaves. True, but it was rescued by a massive influx of black labour whose grandsons and grand-daughters are now treated like free slaves/outcasts. London has its underclass, and cities beyond.And a plantation/ghetto mentality exists in the UK. Let's see if we "hear more" or whether that is it, now that you have journalistically provoked a readership once more.

Jeremy 12:39 pm  

Soul to soul - I'm not sure who has the bigger chip on their shoulders - you or Ms White-people-are-backward Nubian Cliche Soul.

America is a plantocracy. It doesn't require much thought or the naming of academic names. It was built by slaves and still largely runs on a slave mentality: exactly how is Mississippi or Alabama different to how they always were? The racial divide is as big as it ever was. I'm sorry that you were not able to substantiate your claim that black resistance 'from what you read' is not so weak. I am open to being challenged by better-informed opinion.

To answer your questions (I always try to engage, rather than rant):
1. How is race morphing? This is a complex question that a blog comment simply cannot do justice to. Post 9/11 in the States, there's obviously more anti-arab/islam than before. Racial profiling now has this arabised element. Added to this is the continued influx of latinos, turning parts of America into Spanish-first-language zones. This creates a new set of racial/miscegenation fears and anxieties for the wasps.

However, the bigger historical curve is the paradox between a white liberal perspective (in the UK and the US) that race relations are better than ever, and the reality.

Katrina punctured the illusion, but its still there.

It really does prompt the question about how successful the civil-rights movement was. Will people like Obama change things? Let's see.
2. Do I have any fixed cultural view-points? Not really. Everything is bound by context and by time. Within context and within time, yes. In other words, what you call 'cultural view points' are contingent upon the place and time of response. But you'll have to be more concrete in your questioning for me to offer any less abstract a response.
3. Black America and resistance. I just don't see it. I am sure there are plenty of black organisations that are trying their damndest, but the constellation has not been easy. A weakened Bush is now an opportunity. I am keen to learn more about what is going on. Things were different under Clinton, perhaps they can change again. Certainly in the UK with both feminism and race, things are a lot more difficult now than in recent history. The Metropolitan police is still beset by racism. The post-Steven Lawrence moment has gone. Meanwhile, many young women think of feminism as a dirty word. An oppositional consciousness has segued into a confusing wrestling match - the lines of resistance are far less clear to discern. Meanwhile, many intellectuals have been pacified by the publish-or-perish severe regimes of the academy: no one wants to stick their neck out and engage.

What's worse is that in accord with the general western belief that things are getting progressively better, racism often seems to be a problem more or less solved, according to white liberals. This is the problem with a de-jure/constitutional/juridical approach to thinking race: existential realities are left well alone.
4. I simply don't have a Mapplethorpe view of black people. The comment next to the image I took was a comment about admiring a black man's body at a certain instant in time. Will you not grant me the licence to admire a black man's body, purely aesthetically, without construing it as somehow racist? Why would you want to extrapolate from that that that is how I see black people? It is casting a slur which I simply do not accept.
5. London has its problems, but it has nothing like the apartheid-level disintegration of many American cities. Mixed couples are no big deal in London and other cities, whereas there will always be stares in the US, even in New York.

The racial (white-Asian) divides in places such as Bradford in the North of England are worrying. They are partly the upshot of Labour being complacent on the issue and being gung-ho in promoting faith schools. There are close-to-American levels of apartheid in certain places up north. But there isn't the historical legacy of slavery to keep the wound festering for long - they are problems that can be solved, unlike the States.

South Africa seems to be travelling along the American model by the way. The wounds are too deep for one or two generations to solve, 'truth and reconcilliation' committees or not.

Now: you answer my questions:
Where do you see black resistance at its strongest right now? Where are the gaps of opportunity? What is your role in all of this? What theoretical perspective do you use to understand race? What is your perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the feminist movement right now?

One final thought: Nigerian academics who are not in Nigeria are not 'throwaway'. It is impossible to carry out genuine academic research in Nigeria, as we have found out to our cost. I'm sure many would love to back home doing their work. But with a collapsed tertiary sector, it is neither feasible nor realistic. So they make do working the plantation in the US. Its tragic, but its hard to see the education sector turning itself around in Nigeria for generations to come.

Anonymous,  1:37 pm  

A lot of the finest terraces in London was built on the backbone of slavery!!

Anonymous,  1:40 pm  

Some of finest terraces in London were built on the backbone of slavery!!

Ooooh the multiculturalism of London! Different ethnic groups living in parallel ghettoes

soul to soul,  7:39 pm  

Did I say that America wasn't a plantocracy? No. Your statements say nothing about how race is "morphing" just a lot of obvious view-points--thought you had something new to say. There is a lot of black activism in America--try looking at some of the radical black gay and feminist blogs and what is happening on the ground. More and more publications are coming out reflecting and re-defining the civil rights movement and what it can mean for today and tomorrow. Guess you are rather cut off in Nigeria! As for the rest of your post, well it reflects what you have already said--a lot of political platitudes taken from the media, Jeremy. Ms Cliche Soul? Well, you would know all about cliche wouldn't you--How about having a Rotimi Fani-Kayode moment, Jeremy. (Know him?)It says so much when Mapplethorpe springs to mind so easily for you--shows your high art Western leanings and why you are so rude and condescending to females. You could learn some soul from Soul. Read her post on Strange Fruit? Notice you didn't try to correct her on Malcolm X, when she proved you wrong, nor apologise.

Jeremy 8:13 pm  

"try looking at some of the radical black gay and feminist blogs and what is happening on the ground" does not amount to a whole lot of substantiation, let alone a counter to my thesis that black revolutionary politics is all but dead.

Of course I have heard of Rotimi Fani-Kayode and seen his works (sadly they are rare and hardly anything is available on the internet). You'll have to tell me what you mean by having a Fani Kayode moment though. I'm not sure how Soul 'proved me wrong' on Malcolm X either.

Just as Soul repeatedly tried to portray my alleged superiority complex, displaying (and acknowledging) her own racism in the process, you continually try to portray me as a chauvinist, revealing your own issues more than any reality. I suspect you have suffered at the hands of chauvinists in the past. But really, do not project chauvinism onto the world, its ultimately self-fulfilling.

Anonymous,  12:00 am  

jeremy, I think you have a problem. Why do you keep responding to Soul? She clearly has a problem with her own identity and can only validate herself by reducing you to your race. She consistently mis-read what you are saying. and you foolishly or egotistically keep responding to her. You must be mad.

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