Showing posts with label #bookreview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #bookreview. Show all posts

Monday, June 13, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Walter Rodney's Intellectual and Political Thought, Reviewed by L.V. Gaither

WALTER RODNEY’S INTELLECTUAL AND POLITICAL THOUGHT
Reviewed by L.V. Gaither
Walter Rodney, born in British Guiana in 1942, was one of the most outstanding historians within the radical, international Caribbean tradition. Largely remembered for his Marxist reading of the underdevelopment of Africa, Rodney possessed that rare capacity to take theory and situate it into practical politics; to push liberating ideas beyond the limits of one’s imagination into concrete reality. Although Rodney’s life, and correspondingly his course of revolutionary activity, ended when he was assassinated at the young age of 38, his intellectual production continues to resonate in the international arena.

 Rupert Lewis’s new book delves deeply into the impressive and wide-ranging panorama of Rodney’s political and intellectual thought. As I read it, I was reminded over and over again that at a time when a reassessment of Rodney’s ideas could benefit us most, his contributions to Caribbean and African political thought are unfamiliar to the present generation. Popular awareness of his contributions to the intellectual formation of black radicalism in North America is limited mostly to his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. But even here, as the next generation emerges to take the reins of political, social, and intellectual leadership, prospects for understanding the importance of this major work are fading.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Review: We Do This 'til we FREE US

We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice

By Mariame Kaba
Edited by Tamara K. Knopper
Foreword by Naomi Murakawa
Haymarket Books: 206 pages


Book Review words by Charles Brooks

In the last year during the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the demand to defund the police pushed the discussion around policing in a way that just hasn’t been witnessed before. Police departments across the country were now under public pressure to review and cut spending priorities while reallocating dollars to community based interventions. The avalanche of poor reporting and misinformation caused confusion and misunderstanding around the defunding issue allowed the narrative to be redefined as well as coopted to conveniently fit within the liberal reformist narrative.  Then there’s the manufactured hysteria and heightened racial anxieties resulting from the backlash linking recent reports of rising violent crime to defunding the police.    

Is there a more perfect time for a book to step into this moment of confusion and crisis with a 
Mariame Kaba at an 2018 event. Credit madison365
blast of clarity?  Mariame Kaba does that with her book, We Do This ‘til we Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice.  As an organizer and activist, Kaba began her work with political prisoner defense campaigns, “And, particularly the MOVE Nine, Ramona Africa, and all the women who were either killed or were imprisoned, some of whom are still in prison today, over a mass terroristic police attack against Black people in the United States. Something that does not get talked about as a form of police violence. But it’s the ultimate form of state violence throwing bombs on a bunch of people in their homes. That really was a radicalizing event for me. And it helped me to start to think about state violence in a different way.” 

In this collection of 31 essays and media interviews, We Do This ‘til we Free Us outlines Kaba’s analysis and views within an abolitionist framework.  She describes prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolition as a political vision with a structural analysis of oppression and as a practical organizing strategy: “PIC abolition is a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundational to our personal and community safety.” 

 Kaba’s analysis covers the school to prison pipeline, sexual violence, restorative justice practices, state surveillance, and transformative justice.  We Do This ‘til we Free Us also includes Kaba’s insight around the campaigns for Marissa Alexander, Rekia Boyd, Cyntoia Brown, and Bresha Meadows, to name a few.  She rejects the idea of relying on the Department of Justice for “justice”, that police reform works as well as the idea that prison addresses the systemic causes of violence. Her analysis is informative as well as instructive as she
clearly outlines the abolitionist principles, the steps to securing freedom for the incarcerated, and provides guidelines to drive and support organizing work in the community. 

With the years of political experience/knowledge Kaba has in activism and organizing, she understands the challenges that folks are facing as they process what they hear and read about “defunding the police” in real time. She readily admits not having all the answers but there’s still the pursuit in her work to grapple with the question(s) at hand. Kaba talks about being openly conflicted about civilian review and challenges herself in a way that provides a pathway and a model to transformational change: “None of us has all of the answers, or we would have ended oppression already.  But if we keep building the world we want, trying new things and learning from our mistakes, new possibilities emerge.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us not only highlights but informs the need for self-review to reframe our thinking.  This is a paradigm shift when she speaks about thinking about a transformative society, what that looks like and how do we get there. Kaba writes, “First, when we set about trying to transform society, we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform.  Our imagination of what a different world can be is limited. We are deeply entangled in the very systems we are organizing to change.” 

We Do This ‘til we Free Us is written in the abolitionist tradition that not only speaks to the compelling
Artist credit: Micah Bazant
need for a shift in thinking but the book is also grounded in self-determination. Throughout the book, Kaba discusses the transformative role the community has in determining accountability, transformative and restorative justice.  Here, Kaba writes about the essential role of community accountability and community work on a grassroots level -  collective organizing, participatory defense campaigns, mutual aid and community-based interventions.  As abolitionists, Kaba says the goal to dismantle and abolish the prison industrial complex is based on rendering the PIC obsolete by changing the conditions by which people live.  This is connected to a deeper premise based on the idea of building – building relationships, building community, and building a vision for the future. Kaba writes, “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all”? 


Related Posts: 


Further Reading:
Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

Project-NIA, is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.

Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action is an initiative led by researchers Woods Ervin, Mariame Kaba, and Andrea J. Ritchie. The project aims to interrupt and end the growing criminalization and incarceration of women and LGBTQ people of color for criminalized acts related to public order, poverty, child welfare, drug use, survival and self-defense, including criminalization and incarceration of survivors of violence.






Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Pandemic Crisis and What Got Us Here...

We Still Here: Pandemic, Policing, Protest & Possibility
By Marc Lamont Hill
Edited by Frank Barat
Foreword by Keeanga Y. Taylor
Haymarket Books: 117 pages

Book Review by Charles Brooks

The world is different now.  The nation is different now. There is no returning back to normal.  The corona pandemic unleashed waves of misery, suffering and indescribable loss of jobs, healthcare, businesses, and life.  A public health crisis of unforeseen magnitude triggered a crisis in the national economy that set-in motion a series of events affecting the entire country in one way or another. In the midst of this pandemic, the nation witnessed regular working-class folks forced to shelter in place and social distance or compelled to work due to their “essential worker” status. We also witnessed their response to the broken systems, failed institutions and meaningless slogans that failed them, miserably. And then George Floyd was killed by the police sparking massive protests in the US and around the world.  The protests revealed there was more than just an appetite for activism but a deeper virulent hunger for radicalism when the people saw change but sought transformation instead.

Marc Lamont Hill writes a book that helps us to make sense about what is going on and what is needed to realize what he calls the abolitionist vision.  A vision sustained by the possibilities and hope for the future with what he describes as transformative solutions.  We Still Here explores the themes of pandemic, policing, protests and possibilities through a lens of a radicalism that links his analysis of white supremacy, racial capitalism and neoliberalism with race, class, and gender identities.

The book starts and end with essays by Hill; the first - his own personal journey navigating around Covid-19, his father and the protests, and the second, an essay on the abolitionist future.  In between, Hill is joined by French activist Frank Barat in a question/answer format where Barat asks a number of questions around the pandemic, policing, and the massive public uprising. 

Responding to questioning about social distancing and sheltering in place, Hill brings a race/class perspective as he makes the argument that “economic power enables social distance”. He describes the emergence of corona capitalism as an “aggressive articulation” of Naomi Klein’s thesis on disaster capitalism in her book, Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Hill says, “Human crises are exploited by the by the powerful who coordinate with governments to create policies that enable them to profit during such moments.” Here, Hill frames his response around neoliberalism, racial capitalism and white supremacy outlining the poor financial health of hospitals, the contradictions of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) while individual/corporate wealth exploded. He argues the emergence of corona capitalism has expedited the consolidation of privatized power and uses Amazon as an example. Here, Hill talks about Amazon’s influence and ability to shape public policy and their unique position to maximize profits during the pandemic.

“In the United States, there has always a been a relationship between disposability and confinement. Our willingness to consign people to spaces of confinement is directly related to our assessment of their economic value.  This assessment is informed by the logics of White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism,” says Hill.  His analysis of the pandemic includes what he describes as the spaces of confinement and the politics of disposability.  Hill focuses on the most vulnerable – the imprisoned, the jailed, nursing homes and immigrant detention facilities, highlighting the “callous sacrifice of life that informs attitudes and decisions that render them disposable.”  He also grapples with the use of language, making a critical – and political – distinction comparing the use of rebellion versus riot, and Black Lives Matter versus All Black Lives Matter. 

Although Hill explains the significance of All Black Lives Matter movement, he discussed more about what BLM is not compared to what it is, lamenting on his only concern – cooptation. He does make the argument that it would be a mistake to frame 2013 BLM and 2020 BLM as two different movements or even two iterations of the same movement.  But Hill didn’t extend his response to specify the appropriate frame in which to view 2020 BLM or make a clear distinction between BLM and Movement for Black Lives. This is where the books’ question/answer format limited Hill’s response because here, follow-up questions were needed to expand or clarify Hill’s analysis on BLM.  While this is subjective to the individual reader, the book’s core analysis nevertheless remains intact.

Hill discusses black politics as well as his critique of former president Obama, but Barat asks no questions about the 2020 presidential campaign.  In his opening essay, Hill indicates his focus being on the pandemic, this unprecedented period of immense crisis and despair that compels clarity and analysis.  Hill does exactly that with, We Still Here, “It’s not enough to respond to Donald Trump’s incompetence or the extraordinary grief that people are living with in a time of pandemic.  We must come to understand everything that brought us here.  This is what young organizers in the streets are demanding.  This is what everyone living in the time of pandemic, policing, protest, and possibility must reckon with.”

 

Related Posts:

Book Review: Black Detroit by Herb Boyd, A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York 

Book Review: Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude, American Democracy, White Supremacy and Racism


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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York


Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination
Herb Boyd
Amistad/HarperCollins: 432 pages

A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York                            

By Charles Brooks

Herb Boyd recently appeared at the revered City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem, NY to talk about his latest book, Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination.  Published in 2017, Mr. Boyd has entered yet another book into the annals of black history with Black Detroit that covers slightly over 300 years - spread over 340 pages and 29 chapters.  A prolific author and journalist, Mr. Boyd has an incredible body of work that includes 25 books in addition to countless news articles published over the years with many news outlets. 

Mr. Boyd was joined by CCNY Professor L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy in a format that deviated from the typical stand and deliver to one that was more conversational and informal. For a little over an hour, their conversation covered a wide range of topics that included the book’s sub-title along with Detroit’s history, black press, music, economy, and radical black politics.


Listening to Mr. Boyd and Professor Lewis-McCoy engage in conversation with each other, you got the sense that Black Detroit was more than just capturing critical moments in time. Clearly, Black Detroit was about the people behind those moments but more importantly, their stories of self-determination.  Mr. Boyd makes note of this during the book’s introduction where he wrote: “Black Detroiters survived enslavement, white mobs, housing and job discrimination, and municipal indifference, and with each endeavor they chipped away at that age-old misery index.”  

Mr. Boyd first spoke about the conversations he had with his mother, Katherine – “a veritable walking historian with an encyclopedia of knowledge about Detroit.”  Utilizing his mother as a tremendous source of information, Mr. Boyd talked about the time they spent reminiscing about important dates, events, places and of course – the people who made Black Detroit what it was and is.  “I found myself going back to the old neighborhood – that’s pretty much what I knew I had to do to write about Black Detroit. To go back to these black neighborhoods and talk to some those individuals,” explained Mr. Boyd. But he also mentioned a connection – a special connection he made with the people that enabled him to write Black Detroit.

In response to questions from Professor Lewis-McCoy, Mr. Boyd went on to drop nuggets and kernels of information throughout the evening.  For instance, the existence of slavery in Detroit as well as the Underground Railroad where Detroit served as the last stop. Mr. Boyd explains: “This was a path that was carved out by individuals who were escaping the atrocities of servitude in this country,” Or when he talked the racial tensions and hostilities that framed the racial riots of 1943 and 1967.

Or how automobile manufacturing was not only the “lifeblood” for Detroit’s economy but for the nation as well. Or when he unveiled that before Detroit was known for making automobiles, Detroit was at one time, the stove-making capital of the world! Or when he talked about not only how the music and Detroit was “inexplicably connected” – but how the music was more than Motown.  Here, Mr. Boyd pointed to the world class musicians who studied and played a wide range of music - rhythm & blues, blues, be-bop and of course, jazz. He explained that folks came to Detroit because of the Renaissance taking place there – similar to the Harlem Renaissance. “It was more than just New York – there was a renaissance happening all over the country in varying degrees.” He pointed out that the Harlem Renaissance was also replicated in cities such as Pittsburgh and Toledo.

The evening of conversation ended with the topic of politics – specifically, black radical politics.  Professor Lewis-McCoy asked Mr. Boyd to talk about what he described as the “uniqueness” of Detroit in this regard.  Consider for a moment the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, the Republic of New Afrika, the revolutionary formations taking place amongst the black workers in the automobile plants, and Wayne State University (WSU) as a cauldron of black radical politics. “It was such a promising moment where we thought revolution was just around the corner, such a moment of heightened political intensity,” said Mr. Boyd. Describing Wayne State University as a “hotbed of activism”, Mr. Boyd recounted his first class at WSU where he had 125 students.  There in the first row sat members of the Socialist Workers Party, Black Panther Party, Shrine of the Black Madonna, League of Black Revolutionary Workers, and the Revolutionary Communist Party. He amused his audience when he said: “Every political stripe was represented in that classroom – so you can imagine the tricky line I had to walk from an ideological standpoint.”  


   
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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: Democracy in Black: How Race still enslaves the American Soul

Democracy in Black
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
Crown: 288 pages

American Democracy, White Supremacy and Racism

By Charles Brooks


Democracy in Black: How Race still enslaves the American Soul, written by Princeton University Professor Eddie S. Glaude has been on the bookshelves for about two years now.  The book was released January 2016 just as President Obama entered his last year in the White House.  In this book Glaude confronts the American democracy project and its contradiction – a contradiction seemingly rooted in the treatment of African Americans versus the American ideals of freedom, justice and equality. Glaude notes the contradiction and writes: “People could talk of freedom and liberty and hold black slaves.” As the subtitle suggests, this is a book unmistakenly about race and white supremacy in America.  

He challenges American democracy by linking this contradiction to white supremacy as the driving force behind what Glaude describes as the value gap, opportunity deserts and racial habits.  Glaude also writes about the concept of disremembering or active forgetting – a critical component to not just widening the value gap but advancing white supremacy. 

Democracy in Black is a clearly written polemic that’s easy to read without the dense academic prose. Glaude attempts to make a case about the far reaching implications of this American contradiction with anecdotes, historical and contemporary examples along with his personal observations and experiences. You will find featured prominently throughout the book, quotes from James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and W.E.B Dubois that Glaude uses to grapple with his thoughts on white supremacy, the value gap, opportunity deserts, and racial habits. 

Glaude takes on a wide range of topics that includes a brief history lesson on the origins of American contradiction. He digs into the implications and dangerousness of white fear, but more specifically white fear of the anticipation or rather, the expectation of black criminality.  He describes the narrowness of today’s black politics and black leadership that includes a searing critique of Reverend Al Sharpton and President Obama. While Glaude is not likely to get any love from Sharpton or Obama fans, he won't receive any from the clergy either when he talks about the death of the black church and their retreat as a progressive institution. He also takes on struggling HBCU’s, revealing his thoughts about President Obama’s apparent dismissive approach. His discussion about race also includes, the public resistance to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, radical activism, and the Great Recession, where he writes “…the very foundations of Black America have cracked under the weight of the economic fallout.” 

There are passages in the book that should trigger passionate debate such as his criticism of President
Obama where he writes, “Obama refuses to engage directly the crisis sweeping black America.” Or when he says Obama was supposed to be more – he was supposed to be different, “He was ideally our black progressive antidote to the conservative policies of the Bush years.” Such provocative statements are certain to draw condemnation from Obama’s supporters who fiercely defend him at all costs. There’s Glaude’s prescription for presidential politics where he advocates for essentially a protest vote where there’s no vote for the presidential candidates or simply left “blank” – hence the “Blankout” strategy. With a hint of naiveté, Glaude reveals his belief in America when he talks about remaking American democracy.  He says a revolution of value is needed to transform the value gap and racial habits, and there are three ways to accomplish this - with changes in how we view government, black people and to what truly matters as Americans.  Yet in this context, Glaude did not include his views around “respectability politics” or provide a more expansive analysis on structural racism.  Although Glaude outlines some meaningful remedies to remake American democracy – there’s this muted dismissal of the realities around those interests or issues that inherently generates opposition. Whether the issue is poverty, minimum wage, healthcare, crime, or even support for the Confederate flag – there will always be a clash of two sides.

Nevertheless, Democracy in Black is definitely worth the time to read as Glaude makes more than a few points throughout the book that argues for a new way of thinking.  The Ferguson protests, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Forward Together campaign - the politics of disruption are just a few examples that he uses as being informed by taking a more radical approach to transforming American democracy.  Just as important is Glaude’s inclusion of the need to transform the current state of black politics from its limited and narrow state to one that is more expansive in political expression. Like Glaude says – something has to change. 

Suggested Reading: