Thursday, November 24, 2016

from #Trump#TIME

In the November 9, 2016, “President-Elect Trump” issue of TIME Magazine, Princeton Professor Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. predicts that most pundits and scholars “will talk about the discontent of working-class white Americans, how elites dismissed them with scorn and treated them with condescension, and how they, in the end, rejected the status quo and the economic philosophy that has left them behind.”

And, indeed, most of TIME’s elite “insider” pundits, whether part of the Democratic or Republican establishment, in licking their wounds over their erroneous predictions, explore both the economic and cultural split between whites.  Zeke Miller writes of those who don’t “feel like you’ve had a 2.5% GDP growth this quarter.” Charlotte Alter claims, “Trump’s victory was fueled by a supersurge of white voters from rural areas, motivated by economic anxiety with strong undertones of racial resentment” as well as “the stench of sexism.” David Von Drehle alliteratively calls it, “the rust belt’s revenge.” But on who? On blacks, and other people of colors? On white elites? Or both?

J.D. Vance, in “What we can learn about---and do for---the white working class,” states that the phenomenon of “The white working class” in this election (the sequel to the “colorblind” post/racial media echo chamber show of 08/09) is “a consequence of this incredible geographic and cultural segregation we have in this country.” Vance appeals to the “elite” he assumes that the primary readership of TIME magazine is more likely to identify with than the working class. “We can’t have an elite culture isolated from the rest of the country. It’s not a durable way to have a well-functioning society.” Since we underestimate this segregation (between whites) at our peril, he calls for a “cultural reconciliation…that can’t just happen in one direction.”

The only specific suggestion he offers is that “our country would really benefit if those who went to elite universities, who started businesses, who started nonprofits weren’t just doing so on the coasts.” Vance’s suggestion may work for some, especially given the stratospheric rent increases that is forcing many out of these “coastal elite” cities (I know quite a few blacks feeling forced to repatriate the same south their grandparents left only to find different forms of racism here in Oakland, and I know many whites---mostly of the creative class—who are also being driven out of the cities, but would these folks find open arms in what Vance calls these “white working class” areas, or would they justifiably be called carpetbaggers, colonizers?)

I believe that if we are genuinely interested in overcoming “this incredible geographic and cultural segregation we have in this country,” we first need to do away with the reductive distinction between “elite” college educated (as if that’s “blue”) and non-college educated “white working class” (as if that’s red), which still clings to anachronistic equation of “blue collar” to “working class” to further fragment worker solidarity in this “consumer era.’

Beyond that, I agree that it’s largely true that corporate mass media, as well as its social media spinoff, has done little to nothing to create channels that could reach across this cultural divide (between north and south, city and rural, for instance) and has, in fact, created walls. This has been the function, and achievement, of Mass Culture America for almost 50 years. Often, this is most profoundly played out in the ostensibly apolitical areas of culture. Since so much of our cultural (mis)understandings are mediated by mass culture, I think back to a time when American culture was more regional than national, when different regions could use the national media to dialogue with each other.

Today, we have football, and some local character is maintained (“They like to boo in Philly”), but think of today’s national music, which is mostly centralized in Hollywood. Before 1970, in the 1950s and 60s (which may be the era some Trump followers would call “great”), we see an America in which Chicago had a series of overlapping scenes connected to locally owned radio stations and record labels to brand a “Chicago sound,” and the same was true for Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Philly, etc. Today, as has been largely the case since the 70s (with a few brief challenges), LA has swallowed up the nation’s music culture, with the possible exception of Nashville, or Atlanta (and kinda sorta Austin).

This network of regional cultures didn’t totally bridge the geographic and cultural segregation, but it at least put them in dialogue with each other. Music at its best is a uniting force that relishes cultural differences, but today’s LA based music industry prefers we forget this (as do the Silicon Valley folks invading my town with their Pandora algorithms). Furthermore, it’s no accident that most local economies (both in big cities and smaller towns) did much better when the music industry was less centralized in L.A.

Yet Vance, like the vast majority of pundits in TIME, fails to take non-white America into account, and thus ignores the more complex triangular relationship. For if we’re going to talk about the necessity of healing the rift between the “blue” whites and the “red” whites (as more important than, say, the rift between the “red” working class whites and “blue” working class blacks, or between the “blue” whites and the “blue” blacks), it’s hopefully with the understanding that this is not to unify a divided white culture at the expense of people of color (as has been done far too often, going back to Bacon’s rebellion in the 17th century).

So, in order for this reconciliation to occur, we cannot simply have a two-way reconciliation between the white working class and the white coastal elites, but also with blacks and other communities of color. In contrast to Vance, Eddie S. Glaude believes the deeper meaning of the election results is that “White America—and I mean those who see themselves as white people, not as those who happen to be white—has struck back.” While the first argument claims a class conflict within “the white community” was more responsible for Trump/Pence than race and race-ism, Glaude emphasizes stats that show that 45% of college educated white women and 54% of college educated men preferred Trump to show that these other “insider” scholars and pundits in TIME and elsewhere are overemphasizing the split between college educated and non college-educated whites, in order for the white “elites” to “other” the white working class (to say nothing of non-whites).

In other words, the non-college educated white “rust belt” (or rural) working class men and women do not have a corner on racism, and many of the white ‘elites” (whether Democratic or Republican) in the pundit class that claim so, are doing so in order to hide their own racism: “The ugliness of so many white elites can’t be hidden behind the veil of so-called white working class resentment. Black people know that business owners and politicians donned white sheets and sat on White Citizen Councils. The election of Donald Trump is just the latest instance of this collective sickness.”

Racism, first and foremost, is a policy pushed down by the economic elites. While Joel Klein warns Trump (and his voters) that the future must be “multi-ethnic and globalized,” Glaude knows that the future must be multi-cultural, but that doesn’t mean it has to be globalized. “We announce the bankruptcy of an economic philosophy that has decimated workers, no matter the color of their skin.” Glaude suggests that the non-elite whites, and the non-elite blacks may have more in common and points to an anti-racist future. He holds out an olive branch to the white working class, who may or may not be blinded by racial hatred.  In a sense, he’s doing more to reach out to, and understand the “white working class” more than any of the elites in TIME are.
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The rift between white “elites” and white “working class,” but also between whites and non-whites that may have played a greater role in this election, may be understood better if we consider, for instance, the relationship between the 3 popular music genres that have largely come to dominate America’s musical landscape for 70 years now (post WW2): “Pop,” R&B, and C&W.

In the 1940s, northern media networks and record label conglomerates (say RCA/NBC) created a sense of American popular music that excluded the vast majority of “race” records in Jim Crow America. It also excluded much southern C&W. Both R&B and C&W made a virtue out of necessity, and developed their own networks. C&W had a rebel separatist pride that goes back to, say, 1861. R&B and its networks helped create a mid-20th century black middle class.

This happened in an a “pre-corporate era,” when some New Deal regulations remained intact, and the corporate media conglomerates had foolishly abandoned radio for the seemingly more lucrative TV. In retrospect, some, like Nelson George, have argued that this era of a more segregated music culture—between R&B and C&W, and between R&B (and gospel) and pop allowed not only more cultural self-determination, but also enabled more money to flow into the black community than the subsequent (ostensibly less violent) assimilationist regime, and certainly folks like Merle Haggard, who made millions without ever really crossing over into white pop, witnessed analogous trends happening in the “white working class.”

And though these two genres, and the cultures (or “races”) they implied did certainly not work in tandem (for instance whites would terrorize black radio stations, especially once they found their kids were listening to them), it’s interesting to note that they shared a common enemy. Most of the anger or defiant pride in C&W lyrics (from Loretta Lynn to 2004’s “Redneck Woman”) was/is not directed against black folks, but rather the northern hypocritical white who thinks he’s less racist, the white that applauds Martin Luther King when he’s fighting against “Bull” Connor and Gov’ner Wallace, but that turns on him after his Chicago Campaign targeting northern racism (while smug former Rick James sideman Neil Young pontificates).

Yep,  I ‘get that strain of white resentment. The white elite corporate pop industry, which often tended to be a tepid compromise, and had a watered down lowest common denominator sense of “America,” tried to seduce both southern C&W, and southern R&B to the glorious elevation of “crossover,” but even many white youth found this “talented tenth” of black artists plucked for the white pop culture by elitist assimilationist “Svengalis” like Ed Sullivan or Dick Clark not nearly as engaging as the R&B that was only played on the black stations (like, say, James Brown Live At The Apollo), as well as the C&W that hadn’t crossed over from the country stations (“’and up north ain’t no-one who buys them,’ and I said, ‘but I will.’”)—and this state of affairs was threatening to the elites.

They had to lure these whites, as well as these blacks, to their idea of national pop culture. RCA’s “Elvis” did some of this work. The “British Invasion” did too, yet when the Pop Industry elites declared the end of a separate R&B (“Race”) playlist in 1964 (as Malcolm X was popularizing the word separatism), there was a tremendous push-back against a move many in the burgeoning black music industry saw as a sign of forced assimilation—so soon they had to reinstitute a separate R&B chart and devise more insidious ways to undercut black self-determination.

From the perspective of rhythm & blues, the invention of FM/Album-Oriented, “counter culture” Arena rock was even more successful in helping effect a kind “backlash” (or “white-wash”) or “white flight” from the AM/Top 40 multi-racial communities. From the perspective of country & western, this FM/Album-Oriented cultural revolution paralleled the invasion of the suburbs and exurbs onto what had once been rural America. Pop artists started “going country,” but more profoundly they were “going LA” (The Eagles, for instance), or going suburban.

In the 70s, two trends that may seem to be opposite occurred. First, radio was, as James Brown put it, re-segregating—not just between blacks and whites, but by genres. Soft Rock/Southern Rock/Heavy Metal; Quiet Storm V. Funk. Second, R&B and C&W became more like “pop.” There seemed less variety as the music industry centralized in the coastal elite city of LA. By the end of the decade, funk became whitewashed into disco (Frankie Crocker added Queen to the playlist of the nation’s premier black radio station), and country became countrypolitan (Kenny Rogers’ #1 hit by Lionel Ritchie, for instance). Newer technology and increased corporate control had allowed the elites to declare victory over the small town (or even bigger city) C&W and R&B stations where the DJS had some autonomy and could break local talent like back in the days of Johnny Cash and Rufus Thomas.

Both C&W, and R&B suffered from this, and, in retrospect, one might ask, just how great America could have been if these two genres could have (strategically) united against the northern, and Hollywood, culture elites (the closest they got was that both the black and white churches criticized The Beatles “Bigger than God” stunt).
Soon, these elites could go further and take music off of AM radio, and replace it with Rush Limbaugh and the like. As a music lover, this would signify an anti-populist trend even if Rush Limbaugh had been as “left-leaning” as, say, Amy Goodman. Why? Because too much talk, and not enough music, divides!

Donald Trump certainly knew music’s power to unite as well as to divide, and it’s not really an “accident” that Trump’s soundtrack is largely that of the northern (& LA) corporate assimilationist backlash to (and baby boomer white flight from) the threatened de-segregation, or musical “miscegenation” of the 60s between black and white (and created a culture war between rock and roll and country). His largely 70s/80s white rock soundtrack included working class anthems like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” but was certainly not going to include a black working class anthem like 1982’s “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash.

When considering Trump’s playlist, it might seem a little odd that a man who promises to make America great again would emphasize the songs by a band that was part of the phenomena known as the British Invasion, The Rolling Stones, over, say, Merle Haggard or Motown songs. According to The Washington Post:

Before he's taken the stage at his events, and as he's worked the crowd afterward, those who come to hear him speak are reminded that they "can’t always get what [they] want" via one of more than half a dozen Rolling Stones songs in regular rotation, including the eyebrow-raising “Brown Sugar” and "Let's Spend the Night Together," the pill-popping anthem "Mother's Little Helper" and the patiently confident “Time Is On My Side.” (“Now, you always say that you want to be free. But…you'll come running back to me...”)” Some of his song choices “might come across as a wink of sorts -- perhaps a self-aware mogul poking fun at his public caricature. “Sympathy for the Devil” is a Trump trail standard: “Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste,” Mick Jagger sings -- in Satan’s voice.”[1]

Indeed, Trump could “laugh at himself” in his Mick Jagger clothes in the “eyebrow-raising” song where he identifies with the plantation owner who rapes the slave women (and then calls them fat), while certainly not making equal (or any) time for a black perspective as in, say, “Bid Em In,” by Oscar Brown, Jr.[2]

Trump’s Stones playlist also features the first song that really allowed the Stones’ to “invade” America’s top 40 in 1964. The song was a cover of a follow-up to the first big crossover hit of American artist, Irma Thomas (known as The Soul Queen of New Orleans); or might say “cover up.” The Stones, with help of the northern and LA based national musical establishment, were able to secure more play for their version than she did for hers, and money drained out of America (both black and white, after all, there were quite a few white people making money off of Irma Thomas) to the land of the Anglo-Saxons.

For the Stones, the rest is rock and roll history (while Irma Thomas got a job in a K-Mart or was it a Montgomery Ward?). This was not an isolated incident in the music industry of this time, yet if Trump truly wants to make America Great again, why not at least play the Irma Thomas original (made in USA) over the Stones?

It seems for Trump that part of the essence of this era when America was great is that exhilarating feeling when Northern White elites, like the teenage New York Donald Trump who first started wearing his hair all more Beatle-esque, could be rescued by the British from the fearful onslaught of southern R&B, and (I might add) southern C&W.  Ah, 1964, when both C&W and R&B had more self-determination (and some whites in power who didn’t like that were plotting). Musically speaking, the north always had a hard time seducing the south (whether black or white) to its playlists. And over the previous decade these forms of music rooted in the south had been seducing white northerners away (to say nothing of the northern migration of blacks changing northern white culture despite itself).

Using Jagger, however, to erase original versions of both R&B and C&W tunes (he certainly could rock more than, say, Pat Boone) could seduce more into the arms of assimilation in the classic rock (70s and 80s) era Trump emphasizes--the generation that smoothed over—if not resolved-- the culture wars between the white north and white south (in ways hauntingly similar to the unification of southern and northern  a century earlier) with “southern rock” (and don’t get me started on so-called “fusion”); the generation who even considered disco (or “Funk in Bee Gees whitefoot”) too black (and/or too gay), and worthy of burning, while some black youth, on the other hand, considered it too “corporate white” and the punks had to agree, damning Disco with the same finger they damned dinosaur-yacht rock); ---the generation that was raised on Journey (and not offered much of a black rock and roll alternative by the corporate radio).

 Some of them also loved C&W, or at least countrypolitan or so called Contemporary Country (which often sounds more like 70s rock than it does like classic country), but some scorned country as redneck music or perhaps their father’s music, and felt left behind when rock and roll “lost the battle to hip hop.” But Rolling Stones, once allegedly a threatening “counter culture” or “white youth drug culture” band had now before easy-listening, a safe bet, a unifier of white culture.

I, too, still love many Stones songs, just not the few overplayed hits Trump used (and even, perhaps, breathed new life into)….enough black folks like it that it’s not as specifically white, yet the Stones, perhaps more than any other band, could kind of effect a culture reconciliation between southern and northern, or rural and and rust belt working class whites which signified Trump’s coalition….and, for the younger folks, he’s got Adele. But for a man who boldly claimed at his acceptance speech that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he, like many Americans, seems to have forgotten the American musicians (both R&B, and C&W) who made America great (and made the Rolling Stones possible). I’d argue that Trump’s campaign playlist featured more of the kind of white classic rock pushed by the post-regional Hollywood-based music industry than it did contemporary country and R&B for the same reason he favors tax cuts to the richest Americans at the expense of working class Americans of all races. If his choice of music is any reflection, Trump will not be bringing back many jobs to rust belt, rural, much less inner-city America.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Few Things Judy Juanita’s De Facto Feminism Got Me Thinking About


“Terminology makes for binary thinking dilemmas” (162)
“In protest movements, as in wars, the people on the bottom don’t write history” (156)

I always felt that one of the reasons the Occupy Wall Street 99% movement (of 2011/12) was doomed to failure, aside from hostile external forces like the police, the corporate media, and the ostensibly non-political real estate market, was because there was a wall of misunderstanding between those who set up the occupy camps (where everyone gets 5 minutes to speak at a microphone), and those fighting more through the formal mediation of art, writing, or recorded music. Both were needed for the movement’s success, but some of the former, at their worst, declared that they were the true activists and accused the latter of wanting to be “leaders” or “spokesmen”—or too individual while the latter, often on the defensive, would respond by accusing the former of making no room for the contemplative mode or the more inwardly-driven introvert. It didn’t help matters that many of the whites whose voices tended to dominate this “leaderless” movement were also not taking seriously the concerns expressed of the black women who showed up at rallies with signs that said “blacks have always been the 99%.”

By contrast, in my experience, I’ve found that the most vital, engaging, even potentially revolutionary, grassroots social arts and political scenes and movements are able to form bridges across specialized professions or segregated communities. For instance, the underground scenes that provided me shelter and community in Philadelphia (in the 80s) and to a lesser extent in Oakland (during the 00s), at their best, found the creative spark that fueled them by crossing lines between “town” and “gown” (the streets and college), between “doers” and “thinkers,” or a more ‘blue collar’ (punk and hip hop) and white collar ethos, and not merely on a fashion level; they even helped bridge the gap (if not smash the wall) between whites and blacks (graffiti was an especially important bridge in the 80s). Sure, there were limits to this “unity in diversity approach” (since many of these scenes were youth scenes, they still struggled with ageism, even if it was a defensive ageism), but there was a recognition that the thinker and doer, the artist and the activist, need each other if there’s any hope that the alternative economy and culture we were creating was to be sustainable, something more than another transient flash in the plan, and generally, in my experience, the women in these scenes understood this—and served as voices, and forces, of unity—more than the men.

Ex-Black Panther, and “lone wolf,” Judy Juanita’s new De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland (2016) sheds many insights into these dynamics in ways that can be useful for any future artists and activists who wish to work together to form a movement that may topple the patriarchal, plutocratic, racist imperialism that dominates American reality in an era of global capitalism. She understands the psychology in which  “activists, oft called anarchistic, despise artists who don’t overtly join them.” (108) Some feel it’s an unequal trade, that somehow the artists aren’t giving back what they’re receiving. In any event, I’ve heard many activists scold the very people they’re trying to recruit, or seduce, “you’re acting too much like an individualist, a bourgeois individualist.” But it’s one thing for a white (often male) ideological anti-individualist to scold another white male for being an individualist, but given life in a country where whites (especially men) have been afforded the full-rights of individualism compared to black men and women, it’s quite another for an ideological anti-individualist to criticize a black woman, especially when it may be as an individual that a woman is able to create alliances across factions.

In De Facto Feminism, Judy Juanita celebrates the working class black individualist…by showing the (oft-unheralded) ways they help build community, not through theoretical imperative, but simply in order to survive. The women Juanita celebrates transcend the false “binary thinking dilemmas” (between artist and activist, and between individualist and collectivist) to engage in an artistic activism, and an altruism that need not be self-abnegating that occupies a fertile, proliferative, place where selfishness and altruism, individualism and community activism can unite. For sometimes the reason why one doesn’t “fit in” to one social scene is the same reason you can get along with more people from other social scenes.
 For Juanita, this has been a life-long struggle, “an act of self-creation spanning 4 decades,” and De Facto Feminism is a record of her findings that can be useful for current and future generations of artists and activists in their struggles.

During her time with the Black Panthers, which in hindsight she calls her phase of “naively determined black womanhood,” Juanita had been an idealistic anti-individualist collectivist (In “Black Womanhood,” an essay Juanita wrote at the age of 20 for the Black Panther Newspaper, she writes that the struggle requires “her strength, not her will, her leadership, her domination, but her strength”). But, it must not be forgotten that Juanita, even as a young woman, was not just a Black Panther, but also part of the Black Arts Movement (BAM which may not be as well known to the general reader)[1]:

“As student activists at SF State, the Black Student Union fought to bring Jones (Baraka), Lee (Mudhubuti) and Sanchez onto Campus. We formed the Black Arts and Culture Troupe and toured community centers throughout the Bay Area with poetry, dance and agit-prop plays. We enacted ideas we were hearing on soap-boxes about black power, black consciousness, and black beauty. We staged mock conflagrations like ones that were taking place in urban cities. We were empowering ourselves, our communities and getting academic credit. A natural progression was community activism.” (110)

When she joined the Black Panthers, she was drawn to the alliance between artists and activists, but witnessed, during an era of “shattering community,” a growing split between the two groups: “to look at the BAM and its relation to the BPP renders a vision of the poets and the dramatists standing in counterpoint.” Ultimately, however, “the activists upstaged the artist/intellectuals. I had immense sympathy for the second group, but pitied them (pitied their women more. How much subservience would soothe a wounded ego?)” (107)

Despite the chauvinism she found in the BAM more than in the BPP, and the factionalism and her torn allegiances, Juanita appreciated what the BPP and Black Arts Movement had in common, and celebrates this legacy:

“The BPP was appropriating the oppressors’ language, and using it to shatter oppression. That new use of language, in the BPP and the BAM, was as powerful as any gun, and even more powerful because it aroused feeling and changed the terms of discourse between friends, enemies, lovers, generations and cultures. Being an agent of change meant I aroused deep feelings, affected discourse, found the powerful voices that I had heard in childhood, in church, in soul music, in the pulpit—in my own voice.” (111)

Juanita’s allegiance was both to art and to activism, and she didn’t want to be forced to choose, and as we see her mind go back and forth between the BPP and the BAM, weighing the advantages of each and trying to develop a new synthesis, we see her
ability to step back from the heated conflicts and tense divisiveness between the artists and activists to see the productive symbiosis: “Black music, musicians and dancers became ambassadors at large to the world  “But the airwaves and new media[2] amplified the beat, the dances, the Soul Train lines, the frizzy hair, the handshakes, the lingo (bro), now of which needed the Gun or its bullet because the BPP handled that task,” (113) and part of the reason the BPP was able to handle the task is because of what women like Judy Juanita (a.k.a. Judy Hart) provided.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of both the BAM and the BPP, the role of women in the Black Panther party (which was numerically mostly women) is still not emphasized enough in biopics like the recent PBS Vanguard of The Revolution, (2016), yet even in Seize The Time (1970), Bobby Seale wrote of the first women in the Black Panther’s power to educate and recruit new members to the party. Juanita, ex-editor-in-chief of the Black Panther newspaper, gives her own account of the importance of these young women as bringing together rival factions to create and sustain a larger, more rooted, movement. Certainly, Juanita and the other women were no passive recipients of edicts from Bobby, Huey, and Eldridge:

“Our gang of five affected policy and high-level decisions by virtue of our intense participation, outspokenness….we also formed liaisons and romantic relationships with brothers in the party. From the upper echelon to the lumpen proletariat, we lived, slept, ate and cooked with the BPP…. We were the initial link between the campus and the party. Three of us married ‘brothers in the struggle’ who also happened to be educated brothers. This is significant because our connections and intimacy (which some labeled promiscuity) connected brothers from the party with brothers from SF State. The BSU brothers like to talk about supplying the BPP with guns and money, but this bridge called my back supplied the people’s army with equal and greater provision.” (40)

This final point provides a great example of what the mature Juanita refers to as “De Facto Feminism.” In her title essay, she offers her own definition of “de facto feminism” by contrasting it with the 20th century feminism she experienced:

20th Century feminism is “defensive, lean-in elite, scarce, historical, white-ish, precious, theoretical, lawful, contempt for men but not their $$$.” De-facto feminism is “offensive, classless, proliferative, a historical, black and then some, inside/outside the law, do you with/without men” (146). This contrast does not get tangled up in the academic debates between the “difference” and “sameness” feminists, but is a celebration of the practical de facto feminists who “stand between peace and war everyday in…the Gaza Strips of the US” in the absence of being able to change the laws.

Although she claims de facto feminism is “classless,” it’s clear that it’s working class as Juanita never loses sight of the economic dimensions to patriarchal sexism, especially when coupled with “the stigma that black people carry as pigment” that “forces them to be what others would term illegal, immoral but not impractical.” (151):

A whole class of workers constitutes women who braid hair, part of the underground economy in the black community. Overwhelmingly black and youthful, they work from home, a cadre of postmodern kitchen beauticians who make a way out of no way, to raise children, make money, be stylish and create community.” (150—emphasis added).

Her accounts of these various and varied women remind me of other women I’ve met in Oakland. When I read about “Shelly,” (152) I think of the amazing Phavia Kujichagulia (“She also had a disinclination to sell her body for a recording contract”). And when I read: “In New Jersey, I lived in a six-unit building with several foxy single mothers who attracted and “housed” members of the New York Giants football team during the season,” I am reminded of another book by an Oakland author released this year, ElTyna McCree’s Oh What A Ride!

Although, like Juanita, McCree was born in 1946, and ElTyna can certainly relate when Juanita writes “hands-on celibacy became my unspoken choice for years,” their two stories are very different. Eltyna grew up near Pittsburgh, PA, working for Allegheny Airlines while Juanita was editing The Black Panther.” A devout church-goer, McCree worked closely as Director of Convention Services, and was the official travel coordinator for the Church Of God In Christ COGIC, booking reservations for conferences and becoming ordained as a preacher. Fleeing from a destructive marriage back east, she (with the help of God) reinvents herself in Oakland running the Connections Unlimited travel agency for over 30 years—and running for School Board as a republican in a democratic city—all without a college degree--before gentrification cost her her shop. Reading Juanita’s book, I think of Eltyna’s quite different (but in some ways similar, minus the sex) services she provided for the Miami Dophins when they came to Oakland for the Super bowl:

 “The one and only superbowl was being played at Stanford. The SF 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. We had our new hotel in Oakland, which was hosting the Dolphins. We were beyond excited. In those days I was so dressed up every day. I decided to walk up to the Hyatt just to check on everything. I arrived at the concierge desk. There were about 30 folk there all needing something. She was overwhelmed, I told her to take a break. I sat down. Well, that was Friday morning. I didn’t walk out of the Hyatt til Monday at 1 p.m. Some of the Dolphin players wanted their game tickets sold. The women needed babysitters, needed to have their hair and nails done. They wanted to do to San Francisco for dinner. I knew where to get every resource. Jim Cole’s sons and my goddaughter Ayoka (they went to Calif Prep school together) helped with kids activities. Hair and nails got done. I rented Lincoln Town Cars and we got coaches for their wives to dinner in San Fran and Sausalito. Local folk were asking for transportation to the game. I chartered a bus, got box lunches, and cases of champagne for the bus. I, Miss Fly, was wearing 14 karat gold nails and players wanted to buy them for their wives, or girlfriends. I got Ruby’s Gold Finger nails to come over to the hotel, an we sold those…Dolphin general manager Mr. Callahan andI remained friends for years. When I walked out of the hotel that day, I had profit of 4800.00 in cash. Through her ups and downs, Eltyna too may also join the legions of women Juanita celebrates as “walking talking political education classes who teach persistence when things don’t work out?” Ain’t she a de-facto feminist?

Juanita’s essay can also remind me of my own Italian grandmother who I know, alas, too little about, aside from her having to come to America as a mail order bride and, when her husband died young, leaving her with 8 children, used her social and business skills to, among other things, run a numbers racket, even though she was illiterate and I could barely understand her English. Juanita’s own great grand mother, an Okie from Muskogee, took books and magazines from the homes of rich white folks where she worked, and helped form that town’s first free colored library! (160)

All of the women Juanita celebrates in this essay, she boldly claims, “are far more feminist than the broadcast/weathercasters who’ve memorized feminist principles and theory from prep school through Ivy league. Juanita also nods to the women who founded #BlackLivesMatters when she writes, “a new wave of feminists instead might envision women of color setting policy and leading, being arbiters instead of being left behind,” (153) and I think of the #LaughingWhileBlack women scolded by a white woman on the Napa Valley Win Train (2015), and their unheralded contributions to the legal corporate economy when Juanita celebrates the book clubs that gave “mainstream publishing a shot in the arm.”

Reminding us that “in protest movements, as in wars, the people on the bottom don’t write history,” Juanita uses her literate skills throughout De Facto Feminism to speak of, to, and for, those de facto closer to “the bottom,” and asks “will it take 200 years for respect to come to those de facto feminists sitting on the bottom, squeezed into pink collar ghettos and brown security guard uniforms lined up at the minimum wage margins of this world?” (156)

Although Juanita expresses a justifiable disgust with “the white-ish, lean-in elite” characteristics that is the legacy of dominant 20th century (second-wave) feminism, her book does contain one instance that celebrates the de facto (rather than de jure) feminism of the white women. During her adolescence in 1964, during the period when Sly Stone wrote “The Swim,” and helped create a dance craze working closely with white topless dancer Carol Doda, Juanita writes of the powerful convergence that The Birth Control Pill and Beatles created for whites. As a teenage Juanita watches young white women starting to dance more with black women (even as their parents are leaving the neighborhood), she notices:

“All the prepubescent and adolescent white girls having orgasmic and orgiastic responses released a long suppressed sexuality from its Victorian, Southern, and Puritan constraints. As these women let it rip in that prolonged moment of free public expression, they freed up black women from whoredom, from bearing the brunt and hard edge of the white men’s sexuality. We were no longer the only culturally-sanctioned object of naughty or forbidden sex, of plantation promiscuity.” (33-4)

This is one instance where young white women—by liberating themselves—were able to do more to liberate black women than any of their paternalistic Moynihan-Report inflected proclamations could….or would. Juanita’s perspective on this time when de-segregation seemed promising through music and dance should be must reading for any historian of the swinging sixties sick of the Male Baby Boomer Rock Critic establishment’s version (Greil Marcus, et al) and shows the ways in which the more ostensibly “apolitical” music of the early 60s (the groundswell from the segregated R&B stations) had more power than 70s “profound” light rock whose rise paralleled the rise of white-ish feminism.

And, finally, she offers a powerful argument for why whites should care, and not just for “altruistic” (paternalistic) reasons, but yes, for selfish reasons. “Black people often serve as an early warning system for the American populace…for better and worse, the hardcore issues blacks face—guns, crime, poverty, failing schools—define the newest America.” (161). As the standard of living for most whites in America has been noticeably decreasing since the great crash of 2008 (although not as much as it is for blacks), Juanita reminds me a little of those women at the Occupy Rally with the “Blacks have always been the 99%” sign, as if to say “welcome to the club.”

+++++++++
I’m a woman. POW! Black. BAM! Outspoken. STOMP! Don’t fit in. OUCH! The lesson? Sometimes when one takes a stand one becomes a lone wolf, a neighborhood of one, a community of one to declare sovereignty for art, sexuality, spirituality, and say-so, an individual.” (7)[3]

De Facto Feminism, however, includes a much more varied range of writing than my essayistic explorations of two of its more publically-inflected threads may suggest to one who hasn’t read it. Even if you have no interest in the Panthers, or community activism, or in feminism, per se, there are many personally-inflected essays that focus on her life as a writer. It is not merely a series of essayistic arguments, but maintains “the feel of memoir” as these essays are arranged as a loosely constructed chronology/autopbiographical journey. Eschewing the fictional mask of the “unreliable narrator” Geniece in her semi-autobiograpical Virgin Soul, the political and the personal come even closer in De Facto Feminism, as Juanita casts a retro-spective glance from which to build a present and future, without debilitating nostalgia.

Because Juanita published Virgin Soul (2013), in her late 60s, what people used to call one’s retirement years (when one could get away doing that), some may “see” her as a “late bloomer.” Yet, what Juanita was doing these years, was not merely honing her craft, but also exploring different social dynamics in which art circulates (as she explores the social interactions in the theatre world, the stand-up comedy world, and even the poetry world), and also digesting (if not exactly recoiling from) the extremely intense “baptism by fire” she experienced at age 20 in the Black Panthers as an agent of change. The years in between are hardly “lost years.” Juanita is able to make art out of stint as a maid in “Cleaning Other People’s Houses,” in addition to increasing her empathy for the working class women she champions. In a sense, the essay on Carolyn Rogers may be the most personal, as obviously Juanita can relate to a woman celebrated by the BAM, but later forgotten as she eschewed the “militant” posture which made it easier to get published during this time.

In these essays, Juanita emerges as a working class artist/intellectual (which our dominant culture tries to tell us is an oxymoron), and a working class teacher, one who is highly skeptical of the ready-made solutions, and the ridiculous gerrymandered specialized genres. She challenges the social nexus that too often determines the circulation of literary texts in our society, and yet emerges triumphant. As she speaks of the way she learned to become a novelist, by jumping from many social scenes and roles as artist/intellectual, I see a writer relentlessly measuring the inner world by the outer world, and vice versa.

Although she doesn’t mention much about her role as teacher in this book, many of the essays can be useful in a creative writing class, in the sense that they show the many different social roles a novelist may play in order to enhance one’s long-term commitment to her art. If people say your story telling it not funny enough, why not show up at stand-up comedy night, and try that out….with no illusions you’ll become a famous stand-up comic, but it can help your writing. And seek out writers groups! When she writes about some golden lessons she learned about herself and writing (in A Playwright-In-Progress), one insight is “I learn through making big, fat mistakes vs. reading/perfecting it in my mind.”(73) I, for one, can relate to that, and I know many others who can: yes, sometimes we publish precisely in order to make a mistake public, as if that is the only way to move beyond it. Part of why Juanita’s such a great teacher is because she can relate to the student going through that, or the student who doesn’t know which genre they should put their primary emphasis: poetry, fiction, or plays…for in this specialized society, you must choose one, and for one like Juanita, that is not always an easy choice…(as if she, like Frank O’Hara, is more interested in that “grace to live as variously as possible”), but it precisely the life-long battle with that choice that makes Virgin Soul such a great novel, as this novel is conversant with so many other genres (drama, and poetry, and stand-up comedy, with Black Panther Newspaper agit-prop, as well as with the oft unheralded art of cleaning other people’s houses). This, in fact, is why Virgin Soul, through its art, has been able to help create community years after many other Panthers were jailed for the same thing. One doesn’t have to have read Virgin Soul to appreciate De Facto Feminism, but they certainly complement each other.

In another writer’s hand, such reflections may seem self-indulgent, but Juanita never loses sight of the light she’s shining for those unspoken for which her younger self may have been tempted to judge. She never loses sight of the collective struggle, and of the fact that some things must be kept secret, in offering brilliant advice for organizers: “Caucus as an intransitive verb meant your group agenda had to be strengthened privately and exhaustively to have maximum ”impact.” (111) Indeed, this is a book a 20, or 30, or even 50 year old, could not have written….



[1] Her essay is thus a perfect antidote to many academic essays about the Black Arts Movement (in which white writers often debate on “what happened to Le Roi?” “oh he hates us now”)
[2] I can’t resist noting that the new media 50 years later seems to designed to prevent exactly the things the old media amplified.
[3] Notice her use of artful puns. BAM is not just a Batman-and-Robinism, but the Black Arts Movement! (thus, POW could be Prisoner of War?)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Quick (Caffeinated) Response to Malik Diamond’s Presentation in Adrienne Oliver’s Class @ Laney College October 18, 2016

Pedagogically, I love Malik’s style, and it was clear by talking to some of Adrienne’s students afterwards that Malik said many things students have heard for the first time, from facts about multi-national capitalism (the lines that connect the corporate media industry to the owners of private prisons for instance) and environmental destruction (some students had never realized that cell phones are made of oil which is made of fossils) to other insightful perspectives and world views that challenge Eurocentric views from two different fronts (stressing the common ground between Afrocentric perspectives and the Lakota people).

Although Malik’s primarily utilized the monologic lecture strategy (as is fitting to his role as visiting speaker) he was able to gage his student/audience’s response and interest successfully throughout (whether through verbal nods, eye contact, etc) and spoke as an equal in a learning community with humility and presence….or you could say charisma. Mr. Diamond understands that as a teacher these days, you’re essentially competing with TV and its various mistruths and distortions, and knows that he has to be entertaining. To some this approach may have more in common with a motivational speaker, preacher or even stand-up comic at its best.

He wove a spell of language that honored the fast flow of thoughts, yet slowed down enough for dramatic effect, leaving room for students to digest: he filled the white board several times (and in a sense played the marker like a musical instrument).
Though he himself didn’t rap, or talk specifically about particular hip hop songs, he broke down the distinction between “MC” and “teacher.” The pedagogy of the MC became clearer when spoke of how “A rapper is not the same as an MC.” To illustrate this point, he mentions that when hip hop began 40 years ago, the live event was much more important than the recording, but today this is flipped, he remarked, as he sees (all too) many rappers today gazing at their shoes, not understanding the importance of working the crowd, or of call and response.

Mr. Diamond understands call and response. We could easily translate this into the more traditional terms of pedagogy, although some would say it’s in bad taste to think of students as one’s “audience.” Yet even though MD’s presentation could be termed and entertaining and artful rant (I mean rant non-pejoratively, or, better, a structured improvisation, highly sensitive to the social context, but varying and returning to a theme, like word-jazz at its best. I don’t think it would be fair to reduce it to the banking model.

Of course, as a teacher of writing and reading, I am obligated to sublimate the kind of pedagogy MD exhibited with the more paper-mediated (or e-paper mediated) forms of exchanging knowledge and opinions. But, importantly, the oral mastery that MD brings to the classroom (in both lecture and Q&A format) shows students how an (in most cases older) man who has obviously read a lot (at one point, Malik almost apologized for his encyclopedic knowledge) can take what he read and truly appropriate it, make it his own….in “developing unique perspectives” (as the SLO for English 1A would put it). And sometimes this cannot be learned from a book, or from a text-centered method of teaching. And, despite the statistically minded orientation of a regime of standardized testing, the kind of embodiment of critical thinking that Malik’s presentation espoused shows how the medium becomes as important, and almost one with, the message.

Or, to put more clearly: students didn’t just appreciate the knowledge he shared, but the way he wears that knowledge, as if to notice “Wow, reading a lot of books doesn’t just make you a better writer, but can make you a better talker!” And that indeed is a social (marketable) skill. Of course, part 2 of his visit will focus more in detail on how he wears that knowledge through his hip hop activism. This is a man who has a vision of how the world can be better….and even if you disagree with him (which of course he encourages), what he says can generate an infinite number of paper topics….