Everyone it seems has, by this point, had their say about the 'fascistic' nature of Rap music. Cultural nationalists have an axe to grind against Lil' Wayne, against newly minted woman batterer, Chris Brown, and of course against the usual suspects like Fifty Cent, There are various ways to look upon the special brand of cultural anxiety and of cukltural distortion that attends drastic oppression. Not all opf those wyas of seeing are productive, though every single one of them is in the end, rational.Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies (2002)IAGAINST RACE OR THE POLITICS OF SELF-ETHNOGRAPHYCarole Boyce DaviesIntroductionIn 1997 in a London bookstore, in the wake of the success of The Black Atlantic a publisher’s flier caught my eye. It announced that Paul Gilroy’s next book, was going to be on “Black Fascism.” Startled that a black scholar would actually produce and enshrine that combination, I relayed this information to a friend, a well-known member of the London black activist community who indicated disinterestedly that he would not be the least surprised if Gilroy would attempt such a project. I was not surprised then when an essay entitled “Black Fascism” appeared in Transition (Issue 81/82). Still, seeing this essay titled in this way became for me a defining moment in my assessment of Gilroy’s larger project. This project, my reading of Gilroy’s ‘Black Fascism’ then is his larger critique of any form of black nationalism and of any black activist/collective work taken to the limit. Against Race as title for this book under present consideration is that this is no more than a publisher’s recognition that a title such as “Black Fascism,” provocative though it is, would be harder to market to the U.S. academic public. Sold as Between Camps in London, Against Race as title fits better into the range of “race industry” books.Continuing consideration of the relationship between this title and this original intent allowed me to come to the conclusion that the relationship between the two was neither trivial nor by chance. What I shall argue then in the following are three basic points in the allotted for this discussion: (1) Gilroy’s Against Race is a veiled attempt to deploy his “black fascism” as a partially legitimate category even as it lets the current version of “fascism” - U.S. imperialism and its fascist policies escape full analysis (2) Gilroy’s project is weighted not “against racism” as an entrenched practice but a philosophical argument against the idea of race, as a discursive category , hardly a new argument (3) the politics of self-ethnography that he employs is able to assert a white patriarch as it traffics over that same well known masculinist error, long recognized in feminist critique—the erasure of the black identitarian position, in this case, the black mother.I. Gilroy’s Black Fascism ProjectContemporary U.S. “patriot politics”, enshrined in the USA Patriot Act of 2001 offers a perfect opportunity of witnessing “fascism” in its formation. A state level assertion of racism and racial profiling as policy; the erosion of basic civil rights for singled out portions of the population; incarceration without fair judicial processes; deportation; a massive military formulation which is able to level massive force and technological destruction wherever it feels like; a media absolutely aligned with the state’s position and through it the ability to marshal public opinion in support of the state’s interests. Under U.S. imperialism, the former British imperialists are reduced to being an active voice in the international assertion of U.S. imperial power. Fascism in this case refers to the state’s ability to use the range of its power for specific assertions of its own protection but which have the parallel effect of advancing its hegemony. Thus, under the “USA Patriot Act” as in the earlier Smith Act and Walter McCarran Act, the protection of U.S. borders makes into a deportable offense “any fundraising, solicitation for membership or material support, even for humanitarian projects, of groups that are designated terrorist organizations by the secretary of state.” It also requires mandatory detention of a person certified as a terrorist if the attorney general or deputy attorney general has reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is a terrorist or has committed terrorist activity. It further allows that persons certified in this manner shall remain in custody irrespective of any relief from removal for which they may be eligible or have been granted. Along with this legal prescription, an intense control of a range of citizens on certain “watch lists” via the use of technology ensures the limitations of movement of a range of people whose ideological positions and identities are not consistent with the state.My work on the Caribbean/American scholar, Claudia Jones who with the communist party faced an intense barrage from the U.S. state in the 1940’s leading to her incarceration and deportation in 1955, has allowed me to make some important parallels between then and now. In even talking about U.S. fascism in this way, I am personally mindful of the danger of making public assertions that critique state power. Indeed critiquing state power has always been fraught with danger for the intellectual as for the activist.The easier approach is to critique those who have been historically the victims of state terrorism rather than the state itself. And this is in my view one of the unfortunate implications of the Gilroy Black Fascism project. Much of his argument in what he calls “generic fascism” turns on the issue of style and performance, not on active practices of power. So, for Gilroy, parades, clothing and rhetoric become the key elements in identifying this generic fascism. In his words:it is, however, to entertain the possibility of a profound kinship between the UNIA and the fascist political movements of the period in which it grew. These affinities can be approached via the idea of a common political style that usefully shades simplistic distinctions between ideology on the one hand and organizational strategies on the other (AR, p.232).Gilroy is able to make this move by basing much of his argument on an early critique of Garvey by C.L.R. James. Gilroy identifies a coda to The Black Jacobins, in which James had indicated that Garvey was ahead of Hitler and Mussolini in that he had “organized storm troopers, who marched, uniformed in his parades, and kept order and gave color to his meetings. Importantly, James subsequent revision of his position in A History of Pan African Revolt (1970’s/1994) escapes Gilroy or is conveniently erased. With the benefit of a subsequent assessment of the black movement, that he had spent considerable time analyzing, James instead was able to say that the Garvey movement had been able to mobilize more black people than anybody else and indeed that Garvey, full of shortcoming and contradictions, had actually unleashed a black consciousness movement and was therefore a central pillar of any Pan Africanist movement. Up until then, James’s Trotskyist politics had seen only workers as credible subjects of history. A re-assessment of black liberation movements in the light of actual practice allowed James to see that the Black movement itself had the capacity to change the world and that Garvey was absolutely central to any understanding of this movement.James in “From Toussaint to Fidel Castro” (1962) for example identifies “Garvey and Padmore” as the two West Indians able to move the emancipation of Africans internationally to the forefront and to make it one of the “outstanding events of contemporary history.”Garvey found the cause of Africans and of people of African descent not so much neglected as unworthy of consideration. In little more than half of ten years, he had made it part of the political consciousness of the world .... when you bear in mind the slenderness of his resources, the vast material forces and the pervading social conceptions which automatically sought to destroy him, his achievement remains one of the progagandist miracles of this century (The CLR James Reader, Blackwell, 1992, 300).The second person subjected to Gilroy’s critique is Zora Neale Hurston for her fascination with a Haitian colonel, a well-dressed, authoritarian figure for the same reasons, his military outfit, his desire to clear the beggars off the streets by building state farms: In Gilroy words again,The combination of bodily perfection and a firm political hand on the beggars and thieves is not, of course, enough to damn him as a fascist, but the resonance is a strong one...(235)While he asserts “I approach the concept of fascism with trepidation (144) because it links together so many different historical and local phenomena” and “I think that pursuing a generic definition of fascism is not only possible and desirable but imperative and we are obliged to distinguish between fascism as a historical development, a political and social movement, a rare pattern of government and a recognizable ideological and cultural formation,” (145), he nonetheless deploys the concept minus a clearly argued and developed set of analyses which would allow us then to see ‘black fascism’ as he wants to use it.Absent of a consideration of state practices of fascism, Gilroy deals with precisely that the “resonances,” the glamour of fascism as it were. His article in Transition does it pictorally, juxtaposing photographic images of the KKK in formation with the Garvey movement, the Fruit of Islam and the Masons with the Mussolini and Hitler armies in military dress.I want to assert that focusing on the semiotics of fascism: “style” fashion, rhetoric and then making the leap towards an assertion of black fascism is unacceptable...given the brutal nature of fascist practice. It is another version of a certain kind of “reverse racism” argument which asserts too that the victims of racism, once they organize or act against their oppression are automatically also practicing racists . In this way, the institutional practices of racism remain unaddressed.Let me conclude this section then by referring to one of the members of the Johnson-Forrest tendency, Grace Lee Boggs who comments on a visit to the Schomburg in her Living for Change. An Autobiography (1998),I visited the Schomburg collection in Harlem and red Amy Garvey’s compilation of her husband’s philosophy and opinions. It was exciting to discover that Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement had been inspired in part by the Russian Revolution. Lenin, said Garvey, had seized the opportunity of the crisis of the War to make the October revolution. People of the African Diaspora scattered all over the world, he thought, should follow Lenin’s example and exploit the post war crisis to recover Africa for themselves (52).The reference to the Schomburg, and the specifics of doing actual study and research on African Diaspora subjects is deliberate.To go to the Schomburg the repository of so much history of African diaspora without ‘tarrying there a while’ to do the type of research and communion required, and then to make baseless statements in the context of a conference on the Black Diaspora is a travesty. Similarly, to call Garvey a fascist without understanding the basic strategy deployed, the rhetoric of black leadership and the skill of mobilizing black populations to action on their behalf is also an amazing act of temerity. One has to ask then, why is Gilroy, minus the grounded research and thinking that has taken place in African American studies, so popularly deployed in the U.S. academy as the source of so much intellectual authority?2. Against Race or “You Just Feel Pain”Gilroy’s Against Race then is a new reworking of an already given argument that “race” is a biological fiction. Indeed, most scholars who have been following the debates on race have for at least fifty years understood that position. The work of Audrey Smedley (who I was fortunate to have as a colleague in Binghamton) in anthropology The Concept of Race in Western Thought has now become the basic common sense understanding of the American Anthropological Association’s position on race. And the recent work of the biologists on “race” has been fundamental. Indeed what has not happened is the large scale shifting of that knowledge to the general population. So, Gilroy’s “against race” cannot be simply that, an argument well made or better made elsewhere. Instead, Gilroy’s argument is that we must divest ourselves from “race” and “racial thinking” or what he calls “raciology.” Based on his notion that in popular culture “blackness can now signify vital prestige rather than abjection in a global info-tainment telesector” (36), Gilroy asserts that:I am suggesting that the only appropriate response to this uncertainty is to demand liberation not from white supremacy alone, however urgently that is required but from all racializing and raciological thought, from racialized seeing, racialized thinking, and racialized thinking about thinking. (40)The limitation in this reading may be his overwhelming emphasis on popular culture rather than the actual living conditions of the range of U.S.African Americans. His orientation towards the larger, philosophical debate i.e. the larger scientific trope ‘against race’ without an analysis of the effects of the practices of racism in key sites institutionally.It is significant then that Gilroy’s project is not “against racism” or the institutional practices of racism, but rather “against race. In other words, we do not get a series of “anti racist strategies” as has been done by a variety of other scholars and activists in the U.K. (Cambridge and Feuchtwang, eds. Antiracist Strategies, Avesbury, England), but rather that we must divest ourselves of “race.” The move to the U.S. is significant for it relocates him in a society which absolutely uses racial hierarchies via its media, police system, criminal justice system, academy, prison system, educational system and so on, one wonders who the “we” is identified here. Is Gilroy asking the victims of racism to then suddenly dispense with their acute ability to “read race” honed over the years of battling its effects. What do we do with the actual continuing practices of race and racism. In Gilroy’s understanding, we no longer feel the effects of racism, “We just feel pain!”In Oneonta New York in the mid 1990’s at the word of a white woman who claimed that a black man had broken into her house and cut himself as he left, all black men in the town were rounded up and interrogated and searched for a cut that matched what had been identified. SUNY-Oneonta at the request of local police, gave a listing (which they had already computer-generated) of all black male students. In this small upstate town, young black men were picked up off their jobs, on public transportation, in their dorms. A lawsuit was subsequently filed and I discovered recently was unsuccessful in its realization of compensation for the victims. Versions of the same proliferate and one is aware of countless versions of “racial profiling” of those the society defines as racially ambiguous. For the socalled “Arab” designation is also a reference to a range of peoples who do not fit the convenient polarized racial definitions and categories used in places like the U.S.The reverse racism argument we already know has been used successfully in places like Brazil where Blocos Afro like Ile Aiye organized because of exclusions, are made to feel guilty if they march without the participation of white Brazilians. It is an argument which while the actual practices of racism continue, has the temerity to ask its victims to somehow not organize, and leaves the state and its practices in tact while its black population is singled out for the most attack. And recently I noted that Gilroy’s position actually coalesces well with the “racial democracy” assertions in Brazil.Gilroy had instead offered the aesthetics of hybridity. Hybridity itself as a concept still turns on the original categories of “black and white” even as it attempts to assume the space of instability and ambiguity. So in our contemporary moment, Puerto Ricans are misrecognized as Arabs, and a variety of “mixed race” people then become subject to surveillance and interrogation. The ambiguous space is no longer ambiguous. Black radicalism is not seen as threatening, save Mumia. One witnesses the state and its cycles of capital as it reproduces and enforces its racial divisions appropriate to its interest. And in this context the threat comes precisely not from black radicalism but from the unmarked racially and culturally, now newly marked again.Transatlanticism as an intellectual experience and as a personal paradigm is an important consideration here. In the Gilroy case, the specifics of entering the U.S. space as a black intellectual weighs heavily given the various struggles for civil rights, for active participation waged by black scholars and activists. In this particular context, the hybrid space or the space of unambiguous biraciality yields reactionary practices given that the institutional context remains so brutal and often does not hesitate to mete out punishments to those who go against its entrenched positions. Gilroy’s final ideal of a planetary humanism may benefit more from the ongoing analyses of a scholar like Sylvia Wynter.Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?Misogyny, gangsta rap, and The PianoBy bell hooksFor the past several months white mainstream media has been calling me to hear my views on gangsta rap. Whether major television networks, or small independent radio shows, they seek me out for the black and feminist "take" on the issue. After I have my say, I am never called back, never invited to do the television shows or the radio spots. I suspect they call, confident that when we talk they will hear the hardcore "feminist" trash of gangsta rap. When they encounter instead the hardcore feminist critique of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, they lose interest.To white dominated mass media, the controversy over gangsta rap makes great spectacle. Besides the exploitation of these issues to attract audiences, a central motivation for highlighting gangsta rap continues to be the sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular. It is a contemporary remake of "Birth of a Nation" only this time we are encouraged to believe it is not just vulnerable white womanhood that risks destruction by black hands but everyone. When I counter this demonization of black males by insisting that gangsta rap does not appear in a cultural vacuum, but, rather, is expressive of the cultural crossing, mixings, and engagement of black youth culture with the values, attitudes, and concerns of the white majority, some folks stop listening.The sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. As the crudest and most brutal expression of sexism, misogynistic attitudes tend to be portrayed by the dominant culture as an expression of male deviance. In reality they are part of a sexist continuum, necessary for the maintenance of patriarchal social order. While patriarchy and sexism continue to be the political and cultural norm in our society, feminist movement has created a climate where crude expressions of male domination are called into question, especially if they are made by men in power. It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this "plantation" than young black men.To see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant "pathological" standpoint does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism. Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behaviors this thinking supports and condones,--rape, male violence against women, etc.-- is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the "heat" for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy.Witness the recent piece by Brent Staples in the "New York Times" titled "The Politics of Gangster Rap: A Music Celebrating Murder and Misogyny." Defining the turf Staples writes: "For those who haven't caught up, gangster rap is that wildly successful music in which all women are `bitches' and `whores' and young men kill each other for sport." No mention of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in this piece, not a word about the cultural context that would need to exist for young males to be socialized to think differently about gender. Staples assumes that black males are writing their lyrics off in the "jungle," away from the impact of mainstream socialization and desire. At no point in his piece does he ask why huge audiences, especially young white male consumers, are so turned on by this music, by the misogyny and sexism, by the brutality? Where is the anger and rage at females expressed in this music coming from, the glorification of all acts of violence? These are the difficult questions that Staples feels no need to answer.One cannot answer them honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination and the individuals (often white, usually male but not always) who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical looking at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, and misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism, if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame?More than anything gangsta rap celebrates the world of the "material, " the dog-eat-dog world where you do what you gotta do to make it. In this world view killing is necessary for survival. Significantly, the logic here is a crude expression of the logic of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. In his new book "Sexy Dressing, Etc." privileged white male law professor Duncan Kennedy gives what he calls "a set of general characterizations of U. S. culture" explaining that, "It is individual (cowboys), material (gangsters) and philistine." Using this general description of mainstream culture would lead us to place "gangsta rap" not on the margins of what this nation is about, but at the center. Rather than being viewed as a subversion or disruption of the norm we would need to see it as an embodiment of the norm.That viewpoint was graphically highlighted in the film "Menace To Society" which dramatized not only young black males killing for sport, but also mass audiences voyeuristically watching and, in many cases, "enjoying" the kill. Significantly, at one point in the movie we see that the young black males have learned their "gangsta" values from watching television and movies--shows where white male gangsters are center stage. This scene undermines any notion of "essentialist" blackness that would have viewers believe the gangsterism these young black males embraced emerged from some unique black cultural experience.When I interviewed rap artist Ice Cube for "Spin" magazine last year, he talked about the importance of respecting black women and communication across gender. He spoke against male violence against women, even as he lapsed into a justification for anti- woman rap lyrics by insisting on the madonna/whore split where some females "carry" themselves in a manner that determines how they will be treated. When this interview was published, it was cut to nothing. It was a mass media set-up. Folks (mostly white and male) had thought if the hardcore feminist talked with the hardened black man, sparks would fly; there would be a knock-down drag out spectacle. When Brother Cube and I talked to each other with respect about the political, spiritual, and emotional self- determination of black people, it did not make good copy. Clearly folks at the magazine did not get the darky show they were looking for.

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