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

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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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: