Radical Black Cities

When The Public Archive published Radical Black Cities on September 17, 2012, we wanted to mark the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street while highlighting what we saw as Occupy’s racial limits. In our view, Occupy had a restricted, almost liberal, vision of the havoc that whitesupremacy, neoliberalism, and police militarization have reaped on Black city life while its fetishization of white autonomous political practice displaced the long history of Black urban resistance and the sustained, patient work of Black community organizing. We could not have imagined, however, that just a few years later, the issues neglected by Occupy would explode in Ferguson, Missouri and quickly spread throughout the United States. Black youth and their allies forced the question of extrajudicial police murders of Black women and men onto the public. They exposed the dispossesive logics of the political economy of whitesupremacy, the normalization of state-sanctioned, anti-Black racial terror, and the horrific precarity of Black life. And they pushed the question of radical Black cities, suburbs, and exurbs to the forefront of current debate – all the while demonstrating the exuberance and energy of Black insurgency.

This version of Radical Black Cities offers a summer’s list of recent books engaged with both the predicament of Black city life and the history and practice of pan-African protest. We begin with two texts that are direct responses to the current crisis: the US Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, just released by the New Press, and historian and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s forthcoming From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation: Racism & Civil Rights (Haymarket Books). The DOJ’s report (whose diaspora doppelganger is, perhaps, the South African government’s Marikana Report [pdf]) documents the sordid workings of Missouri’s most famous police force. Taylor’s monograph offers an early attempt to historicize the present moment through a critical accounting of a movement still in formation and the underlying conditions sparking its emergence.

Meanwhile, two publications out of Chicago – a city whose successful grassroots push for reparations for the victims of police torture bequeath us with an inspired hope — distill the possibilities and potential of the work of radical publishing alongside local movements for social justice. Melina Fries’ The Red Summer Self-Guided Walking Tour: Chicago is a spare and disturbing but ultimately enlightening cartography of the history of racist violence in Chicago, in particular the violence of the summer of 1919. Chiraq and its Meaning(s), edited by educator and activist Miriame Kaba and the youth justice organization Project Nia, is a moving and sharply poignant compilation of statements documenting how young Chicagoans view and interpret their city and its largely negative representations. Both books were issued in elegant Risograph editions by independent publisher Half Letter Press, an imprint of Temporary Services; both offer a welcome alternative to the banality and market-driven backwardness of mainstream, corporate media while speaking to the critical importance of community control over representation.

Also out of Chicago, geographer and prison activist Rashad Shabazz examines the everyday, gendered functioning of carceral power in the Windy City in Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity. Shabbazz’s book joins a number of recent critical accounts of the “carceral state,” including the latest issue of the Journal of American History, guested edited by Kelly Lytle Hernández, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and Heather Ann Thompson and dedicated to the theme of “Historians and the Carceral State.” It’s an important issue, one whose impact will ripple far beyond the historical profession. The Journal’s publisher, Oxford University Press, has done the right thing by offering it for free online – no fees, no need for an institutional subscription. Every single essay in the issue is worth reading but we will reserve special mention for Donna Murch’s contribution, “Crack in Los Angeles: Crisis, Militarization, and Black Response to the Late Twentieth-Century War on Drugs, which promises to re-orient and revise our knowledge of LA in a way we haven’t seen since “The City of Black Angels and City of Quartz.

The question of the carceral also emerges in the debates over immigration and the punitive policies towards migrants, as seen in the recent work of sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza and architect Tings Chak. Golash-Boza’s Deported: Policing Immigrants, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (NYU) connects the recent record-breaking US deportation numbers to the merciless whims of the free market; Chak’s Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer) reveals the hidden and often times unknown institutional spaces of immigration and deportation. While the story of detention and incarceration is largely one of misery, Gladys and Jamie Scott offer the rare narrative of redemption. The Scott Sisters: Resurrecting Life from Double Life Sentences (Candy Publishing) recounts the story of the dubious convictions that put them away for life and the long struggle for their release, albeit on parole.

Claudine Rankine’s Citizen has been rightly celebrated for fusing innovative poetics to a fierce and unflinching political commitment to Black life. Yet the prominence of Rankine’s work should not obscure that of other lesser-known but equally important poetic interventions. In this regard, we have belated discovered Jaamal May’s extraordinary Hum (Alice James Books). Dedicated in part to the “interior lives of Detroiters,” Hum vibrates with a fevered and fervored urgency that captures the existential registers of the postindustrial Motor City. Similarly, in Troy, Michigan (Future Poem) Wendy S. Walter offers a stunning rendering of the politics of race and class, violence and geography that draws on the hallucinogenic urbanology of Italo Cavino’s classic Invisible Cities. We’re looking forward to Walter’s genre-defying explorations of the conflict and cunning of place in Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal (Sarabande Books).

A number of recent titles have explored the histories of power and resistance in the cities of Africa and the African diaspora. N.D.B. Connolly’s A World More concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago)is a hard-hitting, beautifully written account of the long history of racial capitalism, real estate, and the production of space. In Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life in Colonial Libreville (Ohio) Rachel Jean-Baptiste explores the colonial politics of gender and intimacy in urban Gabon while Abosdede A. George’s Making Modern Girls: A History of Girlhood, Labor, and Social Develompent in Colonial Lagos (Ohio) is a pathbreaking account of the practices of the state and social reformers in creating the social worlds of youth, gender, and work. The late Kaye Whiteman’s Lagos: City of the Imagination (Cassava Republic) is an unapologetically besotted love-letter to a city overdetermined by it representations. Alain Mabankou’s Letter to Jimmy evokes a pan-African Paris through an encounter with the writing of James Baldwin. Marc Matera’s Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (California) examines the urban history of Black internationalism in the context of imperial decay.

Finally, Colin Palmer’s Freedom’s Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica (UNC) offers a comprehensive retelling of a watershed conflict in Jamaica’s anticolonial history while Noor Nieftagodien’s The Soweto Uprising examines the June 16, 1976 student revolt, and its subsequent repression, that marked a turning point in the struggle against Apartheid. Nieftagodien draws on an archive of oral histories of South African youth while examining the role of Black Consciousness and school-based organizing in shaping the character and form of the revolt. With their radical accounting of the history of Black revolt, Palmer’s and Nieftagodien’s monographs can be placed alongside a range of texts – from the new edition of Ida B. Wells, Lynch Law in Georgia and Other Writings (On Our Own Authority! Publishing) to Akinyele O. Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU) to Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns – all of which eloquently demonstrate that Black resistance matters for the preservation of Black lives and of Black life.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive

Mentions: Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism. Erica Hunt, Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes. Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. Savage. Katherine McKittrick, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Jean Juares, A Socialist History of the French Revolution. Lisa Lowe, On the Intimacy of Four Continents. John Keene, Counternarratives.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. 2013. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: Newark, 1967.

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