[Port-au-Prince, January 12, 2010, 16:53.]
Image: Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince à Haïti (1922). Source: Gallica.
[Port-au-Prince, January 12, 2010, 16:53.]
Image: Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince à Haïti (1922). Source: Gallica.
1. Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism (Black Classic Press). Thanks and praise are due to Black Classic Press for reissuing Garvey and Garveyism, Amy Jacques Garvey’s remarkable biography of her husband, the Jamaican pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Originally self-published in Kingston, Jamaica in 1963, Garvey and Garveyism is among the most lucid and inspired accounts of the rise and fall of the man and movement. But it is much more than a straightforward history of a “great man” of Black nationalism. Garvey and Garveyism is also the testimony of a woman who, in failing health and with diminishing resources, shouldered the everyday logistical burdens of the single greatest Black political organization in history while upholding its long-term legacy. As such Garvey and Garveyism is a heart-wrenching and bittersweet story of pan-African love and struggle.
2. Lester K. Spence, Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics (Punctum Books). Lester K. Spence’s Knocking the Hustle is the book many of us have long been waiting for. Spence analyzes contemporary racism through the lens of hardnosed political-economic critique while offering a radical interpretation of neoliberalism that accounts for the structuring forces of whitesupremacy. Brilliantly caustic and eminently readable, Knocking the Hustle unravels the culture of insecurity, precarity, and dismal entrepreneurialism that has marked out the terrain of Black political life in a world completely turned over to the market. Necessary reading.
3. Project Nia, Chiraq and its and Meaning(s) (Half Letter Press) and Baltimore Teens, The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary (Research and Destroy). Two monographs from independent publishers offer a welcome alternative to the banality and market-driven backwardness of mainstream, corporate media while speaking to the critical importance of Black community control over representation. Edited by educator and activist Miriame Kaba and the youth justice organization Project Nia, Chiraq and its Meaning(s) is a moving and sharply poignant compilation of statements documenting how young Chicagoans view and interpret their city and its largely negative representations. Meanwhile, The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary – a compilation of tweets from Baltimore youth beginning the day of Freddie Gray’s death – is a smart, raw, and eloquent statement from a group too often derided, as “thugs.”
4. Mia E Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara Savage, Eds., Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (UNC). Comprised of fifteen essays by Black woman historians and literary scholars, Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women recovers the neglected, marginalized, and often-times dismissed intellectual production of Black women thinkers from across the African Diaspora. Included are essays on Black women writers and educators, religious leaders and social reformers — a group who, taken together, shatters the traditional parameters of intellectual history while forging a radical intellectual tradition. Pathbreaking.
5.Frantz Fanon, Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, Jean Khalfa et Robert J.C. Young, eds. (Éditions La Découverte). While the past year has witnessed the publication of a stunning number of new studies on the life and thought of Frantz Fanon, arguably the most important is the volume Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert J.C. Young. Compiling Fanon’s psychiatric writings in a single volume, Écrits reinforces Fanon’s reputation as a critic of colonialism while demonstrating his literary agility across genres. Included in the volume are Fanon’s doctoral thesis, essays and commentary from the newspaper of the Blida-Joinville Hospital (where he served from 1952-1956), occasional pieces from the FLN newspaper El Moudjahid, and a number of plays. An extraordinary study of the connections between clinical praxis and revolutionary praxis, Écrits adds weight to the case for Fanon’s continuing importance.
6. Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Cornell). Political scientist Robert Vitalis has turned from his studies of the Middle East to write a trenchant history of the birth of US international relations and the counterculture of Black thought that accompanied it. In White World Order, Black Power Politics, Vitalis demonstrates the role of racist thinking – from evolutionary theory to social Darwinism to racial anthropology — in the emergence of twentieth century US foreign policy doctrine. A the same time, he shows how a constellation of scholars at Howard University, including Alain Locke, Ralph Bunche, Rayford Logan, Eric Williams, and Merze Tate (the first Black woman professor of political science in the United States), contributed to not only the early history of Black Studies and African Studies – but attempted to establish an institutional and intellectual edifice for a radical Black Internationalism. Written with energy and verve, White World Order, Black Power Politics recovers a critical chapter in the counterhegemonic history of Black Atlantic thought.
7. Dagmawi Woubshet, The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of Aids (Johns Hopkins). Dagmawi Woubshet’s The Calendar of Loss is a stunning and much-needed tribute to those who died in the dark, early days of the AIDS epidemic. Woubshet reads the archives of the writers, poets, and performance artists of the eighties and nineties, giving pride of place to the brilliant, elegiac political and aesthetic interventions of figures including Melvin Dixon, Thomas Glave, and the neglected Haitian-American poet Assotto Saint. Sorrow songs, elegies and obituaries are Woubshet’s texts in this book of mortuary hermeneutics, but so too are the art of AIDS orphans from his native Ethiopia. Together, they combine for an astonishing meditation on mourning – and a fitting tribute to the dead.
8. Edward Paulino, Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign Againt Haiti, 1930-1961 (Pittsburgh). Edward Paulino’s Dividing Hispaniola is an inquiry into the modern history of antihaitianismo in the Dominican Republic that demonstrates the importance of Dominican class relations in shaping the national cultures of race during the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo. Paulino shows how an urban elite, supported by US imperialism, mobilized an anti-Haitian sentiment for their own economic interests in conjunction with the demonization of what Trujillo cast as a creeping, belligerent, and degenerate Haitian state – a state that threatened Dominican whiteness. Dividing Hispaniola offers a serious, deeply researched account of the origins of modern-day Haitian-Dominican relations and the contemporary crisis of citizenship faced by Dominicans of Haitian descent – and of Black Dominicans – that upends the poorly formulated liberal stories of an inter-island squabble among estranged siblings.
9. Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (UNC). The recent history of capitalism vogue amongst historians of the United States has belatedly discovered a link between capitalism and slavery. It has not, however, realized the place of Black women in the history of slavery and capitalist accumulation – or the writing by Black women on the history of capitalism. To that end, Sarah Haley’s No Mercy Here is a timely, astute, and provocative intervention. Drawing on the historiography of Black feminism, Haley examines the lives and labor of Black women in Jim Crow Georgia, focusing on the regimes of terror, violence, and incarceration that shaped their worlds and defined their incorporation into the market economy. In gut-wrenchingly vivid prose, Haley also unearths the histories of Black women’s resistance to racial capitalism and patriarchal subordination – sweeping aside, in the process, much of the work on the history of capitalism that has come before her. Crucial.
10. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, Eds. (SUNY). What can be said about Barbara Smith? Over more than forty years she has cemented her reputation as an activist, organizer, editor, scholar, and writer. She was a founding member of the National Black Feminist Organization, the Combahee River Collective, and Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She edited the anthology Home Girls and contributing in no small measure to the theoretical development of Black Studies, Black Feminist Studies, and Black Queer Studies. In Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn me Around editors Alethia Jones and Virgnia Eubanks have compiled a collection of interviews, oral histories, editorials, essays, and statements that document every moment of Smith’s political and intellectual history. It’s an incredible archive of Smith’s work, one whose lessons and insights are as important to understanding the Black struggles of the past as they are to those of the present.
Mentions: Max U. Duvivier, Trois etudes sur l’occupation Americaine d’Haiti (1915-1934) (Memoir D’encrier). Paolo Friere, Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau (Bloombsury). Aisha Finch, Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-44 (UNC). Brian Meeks, Critical Interventions in Caribbean Theory and Politics (Mississippi). Natasha Lightfoot, Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation (Duke). Robert A. Hill, Ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume XIII: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1921-1922 (Duke). Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec: L’armée indigene: La défaite de Napoléon en Haïti (Lux éditeur) Nelson A. Denis, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s colony (Nation Books). Dawn Lundy Martin, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life (Nightboat). The Mandeeq.
Image: Mayme A. Clayton, Portrait, 1973, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Library, UCLA.
[Andrew Cyrille: Brooklyn-born avante garde jazz drummer of Haitian descent.]
A fireside chat with Andrew Cyrille, Jazz Weekly (date?)
Body and Soul: An Interview with Andrew Cyrille, Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (2010).
Interview with Andrew Cyrille, Intakt Records (2003).
Andrew Cyrille: DownBeat interview: directors cut (2004).
Andrew Cyrille: Art Science, Part 1, JazzTimes (2011).
“All That’s Rhythm!” A Chat With Drummer Andrew Cyrille, Washington City Paper (2012).
Dialogue of the Drums: Andrew Cyrille, The Black Perspective in Music (1975). [Paywall]
Beloved Brethren of the African Lodge:
It is now five years since I delivered a charge to you on some parts and points of masonry. As one branch or superstructure of the foundation, I endeavored to show you the duty of a mason to a mason, and of charity and love to all mankind, as the work and image of the great God and the Father of the human race. I shall now attempt to show you that it is our duty to sympathise with our fellow-men under their troubles, and with the families of our brethren who are gone, we hope, to the Grand Lodge above.
We are to have sympathy, but this, after all, is not to be confined to parties or colors, nor to towns or states, nor to a kingdom, but to the kingdoms of the whole earth, over whom Christ the King is head and grand master for all in distress.
Among these numerous sons and daughters of distress, let us see our friends and brethren; and first let us see them dragged from their native country, by the iron hand of tyranny and oppression, from their dear friends and connections, with weeping eyes and aching hearts, to a strange land, and among a strange people, whose tender mercies are cruel,—and there to bear the iron yoke of slavery and cruelty, till death, as a friend, shall relieve them. And must not the unhappy condition of these, our fellow-men, draw forth our hearty prayers and wishes for their deliverance from those merchants and traders, whose characters you have described in Revelation xviii. 11-13? And who knows but these same sort of traders may, in a short time, in like manner bewail the loss of the African traffic, to their shame and confusion? The day dawns now in some of the West India Islands. God can and will change their condition and their hearts, too, and let Boston and the world know that He hath no respect of persons, and that bulwark of envy, pride, scorn and contempt, which is so visible in some, shall fall.
Now, my brethren, nothing is stable; all things are changeable. Let us seek those things which are sure and steadfast, and let us pray God that, while we remain here, he would give us the grace of patience, and strength to bear up under all our troubles, which, at this day, God knows, we have our share of. Patience, I say; for were we not possessed of a great measure of it, we could not bear up under the daily insults we meet with in the streets of Boston, much more on public days of recreation. How, at such times, are we shamefully abused, and that to such a degree, that we may truly be said to carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads.
My brethren, let us not be cast down under these and many other abuses we at present are laboring under,—for the darkest hour is just before the break of day. My brethren, let us remember what a dark day it was with our African brethren, six years ago, in the French West Indies. Nothing but the snap of the whip was heard, from morning to evening. Hanging, breaking on the wheel, burning, and all manner of tortures, were inflicted on those unhappy people. But, blessed be God, the scene is changed. They now confess that God hath no respect of persons, and therefore, receive them as their friends, and treat them as brothers. Thus doth Ethiopia stretch forth her hand from slavery, to freedom and equality.
Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Brother Prince Hall [ca. 1735-1807].” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Guest post by Jemima Pierre.
July 28, 2015 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the landing of US Marines in Haiti and the beginning of a military occupation of the Black Republic that lasted until 1934 — nineteen years in total. With its massacres of Haitian peasants, its control of Haiti’s finances, its suppression of the Haitian press, and its dissolution of the Haitian legislature – all backed by a combination of Jim Crow ideology and Monroe Doctrine exceptionalism – the US occupation represents a searing annotation in the history of Haitian sovereignty. Yet the memory of the US occupation sits awkwardly in the context of the Haitian present where a new, second occupation of Haiti is currently in its eleventh year. It begs the question posed by @public_archive, “How do you memorialize occupation in the middle of occupation?”
The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is a multi-billion dollar military occupation that has had in any given year between 6000 and 9000 military troops and police in addition to thousands of civilian personnel. While there is no civil war in Haiti, and while crime rates are higher in other nations in the Western hemisphere – including Jamaica and the U.S. – MINUSTAH has had its illegal mandate renewed and extended every year. During this second occupation, the US and its allies, France and Canada, have been able to install another puppet government, the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly. Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January 2015, has opened up Haiti to radical economic fleecing, including the giveaway of land and the Republic’s gold and mineral resources. He has also diligently worked to reinstate the Haitian military. And in a horrific parallel to first US occupation of Haiti, MINUSTAH has committed numerous acts of violence against the Haitian people – including rape and assassination. MINUSTAH is also responsible for bringing cholera into the country, a disease that has killed more than 9000 Haitians and infected hundreds of thousands. Despite the deaths, and despite the evidence proving their culpability, the United Nations has enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
While the current occupation was initiated and continues to be largely funded by the U.S. and the United Nations, Haiti’s sovereignty has been extinguished by a multiracial coalition of Caribbean, Latin American and African countries. This may be the most sinister and least talked about aspect of the occupation, but it is perhaps the one that most requires our attention and contempt. In the first instance, there is Brazil. Brazil has been in charge of the military wing of the occupation since its inception. It has spent upwards of $750 million on maintaining military control. For Brazil, the country in Latin America with the largest Black population and a supposedly leftist government, Haiti is its “imperial ground zero.” Brazil has used its contribution to the occupation of the Black Republic to demonstrate its credentials as a regional power and to show the Americans and Europeans that it is ready for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. For Brazil, Haiti is also a training ground for domestic security and enforcements; its Haitian forces return to the country and deploy the tactics of military terror on its own poor Black and Brown favela dwellers.
The second occupation’s new Black leadership is, however, as egregious as Brazil’s involvement. The head of the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti is Sandra Honoré, of Trinidad and Tobago. A career diplomat and former ambassador to Costa Rica, Honoré takes up the post previously held by Mariano Fernández Amunátegui of Chile. Her deputy is Carl Alexandre, an African-American attorney who previously worked as the “Resident Legal Advisor” for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. This Black leadership is accompanied by a multinational military force made up of a number of South American, Caribbean, and African countries, including Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Jamaica, Grenada, Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, Niger, and Mali.
One-hundred years after US Marines landed in Haiti, it seems like the entire world has colluded to undermine the sovereignty of the world’s first Black nation. Under these circumstances, we cannot memorialize Haiti’s first occupation without rebuking those responsible for the second.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at pierrej[at]ucla.edu.
Image: Rear-Admiral W. B. Caperton and Haitian leaders, Port-au-Prince, September 18, 1915.
Et seul un petit soldat obscur, Pierre Sully, se fit tuer, la carbine au poing, en défendant l’accés de son post au marines de l’amiral Caperton. Nul autre ne “brigua l’honneur d’une si belle mort.” Aussi personne n’a-t-il aujourd’hui le droit de jeter l’anthème aux autres, puisque tous ont survécu à la honte.
Dantes Bellegarde, Pour une Haiti heureuse (1929)
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.
Image: Newark, 1967.
THE PUBLIC ARCHIVE. Educator and writer David Austin is among the foremost chroniclers of Pan-Africanism, Black Power, and West Indian intellectual and political history in the Americas. He has three books to his name: A View for Freedom, an oral history of the late St. Vincents-born, Montreal-based cricketer and organizer Alphonso Theodore “Alfie” Roberts, You Don’t Play with Revolution, an edited collection of CLR James’ Montreal lectures and talks, and Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in 1960s Montreal. The winner of the 2014 Casa de las Americas Prize in Caribbean Literature in English or Creole, Fear of a Black Nation was recently translated into Spanish as Miedo a una nación negra: Raza, sexo y seguridad en el Montreal de los años sesenta and into French as Nègres noirs, Nègres blancs: Race, sexe et politique dans les années 1960 à Montréal.
Fear of a Black Nation is a book of burning relevance to our times. Its analysis of surveillance, sex, and the security state, on one hand, and race, revolution, and repression on the other, provides a historical perspective on modern-day, state-sponsored regimes of anti-Black terrorism and crypto-fascist intelligence gathering — from carding to Bill C-51 and from stop and frisk to the NSA. Austin does not stop there, however. He also documents the transnational and cross-racial Black-led political and literary movements of the 1960s and unearths the fervent connections between Quebec and the Caribbean and Montreal and the Black world. An extended interview with Austin titled “Research, Repression and Revolution: On Montreal and the Black Radical Tradition” was recently published in the CLR James Journal. Here, The Public Archive happily offers the unpublished outtakes of that interview – including Austin’s thoughts on CLR and Selma James, on Blackness and the politics of nationalism in Quebec, and on the connections between Montreal, Haiti, and the greater Caribbean.
It has been noted that CLR James wrote almost nothing on Haiti’s political world post-1804. Following this, I’m wondering if you could say something about the relationship of the Anglophone Black World to Haiti and Haitians in Montreal during the late 1960s. In Fear of a Black Nation, you briefly mention individuals such as Elder Thébaud and Philippe Fils-Aimé, but was there a connection between West Indians in Montreal and anti-Duvalier Marxists?
This raises some interesting issues. First, although the book was released in the late spring of 2013, if I had a chance to do it over, and with more time, I would have benefitted from more recent work on the Haitian left in Montreal and would have had more to say about Montreal as an important home of Haitian intellectuals and political figures, many of whom worked alongside Anglophone Caribbeans. There is, for example, historian Sean Mills’ impeccably researched work in the Canadian Historical Review on the Haitian deportation crisis, and his forthcoming book examines the presence of Haitian political and literary figures in the Quebec. What I did in a very limited way is touch on the links between members of the Haitian and Anglo Caribbean and Black left by alluding to individuals such as Max Chancy, Elder Thébaud, and Philippe Fils-Aimé, but this is far from sufficient. They all worked closely with people from the Anglophone Caribbean in Montreal. I wish I had known more about the Chancy family. As Désiree Rochat has researched, Adeline Chancy was very active within the Haitian left (see Rochat’s La vie caribéenne au Québec: L’histoire des années 60, 70 et 80 en photos/ Caribbean life in Quebec: A pictorial history of the 60s, 70s and 80s, published by CIDIHCA). Chancy played a major role in establishing institutions that served the Haitian community, including La Maison d’Haiti, when Haitians were migrating to the city in large numbers in the sixties and seventies. She was one of a number of Haitian women who were active in Haitian community politics, and she also assisted James in preparing the presentation that he delivered during the Congress of Black Writers on Negritude. Max Chancy was a well-known Haitian Marxist who also fled the Duvalier regime in Haiti and made a home in Montreal where he continued to be politically active as a Haitian exile while teaching. He and Adeline were part of a tradition of the Haitian left, a long intellectual tradition of thinkers, writers and organizers that also left a mark on Quebec society through their intellectual-political and cultural presence, and as educators and builders of institutions.
At the risk of romanticizing the past, which is always a danger, it has become apparent that there was a lot more integration in the 1960s and 1970s between the Caribbean communities, but that this has changed quite dramatically in more recent times. This may have something to do with Quebec politics, which has become largely divided along linguistic lines (English and French); and as a result of the human geography of the city in which Francophones largely live in the east and north of the island and Anglophones largely in the west and south. Language, culture, and one’s sense of community – including what media a person accesses – largely determine which Quebec and Montreal we experience. There are middle grounds where cultural and linguistic groups meet, and today the definition of who is an Anglophone and Francophone is shifting, as is the definition of what it means to be a Quebecer. For example, I teach in a English college in Quebec, but many of my students are Francophones and I often have Indigenous students in my classes, alongside people of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, all of which makes for interesting conversations at times about memory, history, and national identity.
Continuing on this theme, one of the striking features of Fear of a Black Nation is your mapping of the connections between Antillean, African-American, French Canadian, and Anglophone Caribbean literary and political movements. It recalls the evocation of what Brent Hayes Edwards has termed the “practice of diaspora” yet while Edwards focuses on the discursive lags occurring during cross-Atlantic acts of translation and interpretation, you present something altogether more dynamic and eminently more political. Can talk about the challenges and difficulties you faced in writing across the Anglophone-Francophone divide? And can you say something on the role of Aimé Césaire and other French West Indian writers within the French Canadian literary and political imagination?
I think Brent Edwards notion of diaspora as a practice represents an important step in thinking about diaspora in a more dynamic way, and allows us to think about this practice and its politics in different contexts. This said, the Quebec context is unique in that not only were Caribbean women and men reading the three Martiniquan theorists you mention, but so too were French Quebecers. Quebec is such an interesting province. In addition to Indigenous peoples in the territory, it consists of migrants: the French who colonized and displaced Indigenous peoples and forced them onto reserves and residential schools, and the English who later colonized the French. The French majority is now the dominant power, but following the conquest of 1760, the British assumed power in the province and its French majority became a kind of “lost tribe” of France and treated like an inferior minority by the English in Quebec. The period of the “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s, which in so many respects was everything but quiet, began a process of making French Quebecers master “chez nous” as they put it, in their own homes. As a result, over time the English minority that once dominated Quebec economically and politically have become a lost English tribe among the Quebec majority, a tribe that often harkens back to the good old days like in Gone with the Wind. But French Quebecers, or at least many among the power-elite, still project a fear English Canada’s political and cultural domination. In the meantime, Montreal Anglophone’s Black community has become a lost tribe too in relation to Blacks in the rest of Canada, though it is true that Francophone Blacks (and these categories can be quite fluid) do not fair much better in Quebec. All of this, plus the contrived fear of the cultural and religious values and practices of growing numbers of people of Asian and Middle Eastern descent embodied in the Quebec Charter of Values that is being promoted by the Parti Québécois government – all of this has made for a very peculiar, tense, and volatile situation within the current context of Quebec nationalism.
Quebec nationalism has become increasingly parochial and exclusive. Today official nationalism has assumed xenophobic forms in which the presence and authenticity of non-French Quebecers is constantly being called into question. This is not simply a linguistic issue in terms of preserving the French language in Quebec in relation to English Canada, or about preserving French Quebec culture. These are important considerations, but it is obvious that, as the French Quebec population continues to decrease in relation to the rest of the population, there is a fear, especially in Montreal, that it will both be outnumbered and be absorbed or racially mixed out of existence. In other words, Quebec nationalism also operates on the level of biology and biopolitics.
The late Hubert Aquin is arguably Quebec’s most important writer, and he was very influenced by African independence movements and was involved in the production of several films on the subject in the 1960s. But in addition to African struggles, Aimé Césaire along with Édouard Glissant and Frantz Fanon played a very important role in Quebec in the sixties and seventies. This role has essentially been forgotten or omitted, and is very instructive in terms of understanding the selective nature of Quebec’s recent nationalist history. French Quebecers read these thinkers in the fifties and sixties in French before their writing was widely available in English in North America. Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to My Native Land [pdf] was profoundly important to some of French Quebec’s most important writers and poets such as Gerald Godin, Paul Chamberlain, Andrée Ferretti, Yves Préfontaine, and Pierre Vallières. Vallières authored the famous book Nègres blancs d’Amerique (The White Niggers of America), a book that was very much influenced by Fanon’s writing on decolonization and race. Like other members of the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ), the leading nationalist organization of the sixties, he was also profoundly shaped by the Black Power movement in the U.S. and anti-colonial struggles in Africa and other parts of the world. Part of Fanon’s appeal as Quebec attempted to free itself from control of the English elite and the Catholic Church in the province was his critical analysis of nationalist leaders and how they betray the majority of the population once they assume power. The FLQ was also attracted to Fanon’s analysis of violence and they carried out a series of bomb attacks and kidnappings of a British diplomat, James Cross, and a Quebec Liberal politician, Pierre Laporte (Laporte was eventually killed in their custody). I would suggest that the FLQ misread Fanon’s analysis of violence as, although Fanon does not disavow it as part of anti-colonial struggle, he also discusses how colonial conditions make forms of violence, including fratricide, inevitable as colonialism itself is a violent process.
Glissant’s influence in Quebec was different because he actually had a physical presence in Montreal and was a close friend of Gaston Miron, one of French Quebec’s most important poets and literary figures. Miron was a Quebec nationalist and Glissant engaged Miron and other French Quebec Writers in discussions about the use Joual, French Quebecers version of Creole, in literature, comparing it to the use of Creole in literary circles in Martinique, both languages having roots in rural regions. Glissant understood French Quebecers as an oppressed group, but was fully aware of the conditions of Indigenous peoples in Quebec who had been colonized by the French and British and stopped short of referring to the French in Quebec as a colonized people. When we add this to the fact that Quebec nationalism was also very much influenced by anti-colonial movements in Africa and other parts of the world, along with the Black Power movement in the U.S., it is obvious that there clearly needs to be a new narrative about the history of Quebec and Quebec nationalism. French Quebecers came to see themselves as nègres blancs, or the white niggers of America. But this raises the question of the invisibility of actual nègres in Quebec at this time, at least prior to the Congress of Black Writers and the Sir George Williams protest.
During your interview with Selma James at her home in London in 2004 you discovered you were the first person to interview her about C.L.R. What came out of the interview in terms of her personal reminisces of James, about their relationship? And given Selma James’ commitment to the wages for housework campaign, did she speak of CLR’s relationship to feminist organizing and the politics of gender?
I think that it is a shame that she has not been interviewed more, or at least that was true at the time. I know that there is a tendency to write without conducting interviews with individuals but in this case, this tendency also has something to do with gender and race. Selma James is a woman, and is white and she perhaps does not fit with the perception of James the autonomous Caribbean, Black, Marxist intellectual. We know that James was a brilliant theorist with extraordinary intellectual gifts. But it is also true that he had collaborators, and his chief collaborators in the U.S. during what was in some respects his most fertile intellectual period were women, including Grace Lee Boggs and Raya Dunayevskaya with whom he was in constant dialogue. As James’s wife, Selma James is seen as less of a collaborator. This, coupled with her no-nonsense political outlook, have perhaps made potential interviewers leery, but to the detriment of understanding her, her work, and James’s historical legacy. Selma James was very important to C.L.R. James in terms of encouraging him to think seriously about gender and power relations between women and men. As much as she was devoted to C.L.R.’s ideas, her work and ideas also informed his and she is obviously an important thinker in her own right. Walter Rodney understood this and in Walter Rodney Speaks he made a point of discussing her importance to the London study group in the James home in the early sixties.
It is worth noting that Selma James’s work played a role in Canada, collaborating with former CLR James Study Circle (CLRJSC) member Anne Cools who had become quite close to C.L.R. James and who had helped to raise funds for her legal fees after she was arrested for her role in the Sir George Williams protest. Cools was essentially the only women who played an active intellectual-political role in the small CLRJSC group. She later became an important feminist in Montreal, collaborating with French Quebec feminists and women across Canada. She is also said to have established the first or one of the first women’s shelters in Canada. Anne Cools did not write much and has been largely written out of Canada’s feminist history, in part because she became quite conservative. But you cannot un-write history. In a short article, “Womanhood,” (published in the February 1971 “Black Spark Edition” of the McGill Free Press) she discussed the unequal relationship between Black women and Black men and argued that there could be no genuine liberation without addressing this issue. I think this essay is a critique of her male peers in the Caribbean Conference Committee and the CLRJSC, of Black and Caribbean politics in Montreal in general.
Within the parameters of what I was writing about in Fear of a Black Nation, I tried to very consciously address the gender imbalance in my own writing and to seriously think about the roles that women played in that historical moment (1960s and 1970s); how both women and men understood their roles and the roles of the opposite genders; and without dismissing the reality that gender and sexuality exist on spectrums or represent gradations of being as opposed to fixed anatomical or sexual categories. Several theorists were very helpful as I worked through this. The work of Carol Boyce Davies, especially Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject, was helpful in terms of thinking about the relationship between feminism, gender, and black identity. So too was the work of Audre Lorde; and Angela Davis’s book, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billy Holiday, which framed these singers as important women’s voices, feminists in their own right, but without the title. The work of Saba Mahmood was very helpful, especially her book The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject which argues that women are able to exercise degrees of agency and autonomy despite male dominance within Islam in Egypt. All of these theorist, including Natasha Barnes, Belinda Edmondson and Patricia Hill Collins, whose Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and Politics I had read as a university undergraduate. I also have to add Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal and Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. These books and authors were important, not only in terms of attempting to understand male dominance and how women have been historically been pushed into the background of social movements, but also why, for example, women who played active political roles in movements or groups often minimized their involvement when I interviewed them, deferring to the roles that men had played in the movement. I was also very fortunate to have a loose circle of friends and colleagues in Montreal who were also thinking about these questions and with whom I could discuss these ideas. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of that kind of discussion.
Over the years, you have become close to the economist and former New World Group member Kari Polyani-Levitt. What is the nature of the influence that she has had on you, personally, and how would you assess the legacy of Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada in Canada?
I have known Kari for nine or ten years now but have known of her for much longer. Her name would come up in conversations about the Caribbean left and Caribbean thought in Montreal and economic policies in the Caribbean in the sixties and seventies, and in relation to Lloyd Best and other Caribbean economists that lived or sojourned in Montreal during that period and with whom she collaborated. I sought her out in relation to her work on the Caribbean and her involvement in the New World Group. In fact the essay that developed into the book Silent Surrender was first published in the New World journal. Lessons from the book have definitely been lost or ignored by economic policymakers in Canada. Silent Surrender argued that Canada was essentially capitulating to U.S. economic interests and that this practice would have dire consequences for Canadian autonomy. This was written long before Free Trade and today Canada’s economy is more embedded than ever with the U.S.’s which now relies on Canada’s oil reserves in the Tar Sands of Alberta, as an example, for much of its oil, and the oil is extracted using the hazardous fracking or hydraulic fracturing method that is threatening water supplies and the general natural environment.
Kari’s reflections on the Caribbean and Canada in the sixties and seventies have been helpful for me in terms of understanding that moment in Montreal and in relation to the Caribbean where she spent a good portion of academic and professional life. After a while, we began talking about other issues, including her father, theorist Karl Polanyi, and economics. Kari serves as a constant reminder of the importance of economic questions and her most recent book, a collection of essay entitled From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: On Karl Polanyi and Other Essays, is very helpful in terms of understanding the historical context that has brought us to the current juncture in global economics and neoliberalism. So much of what is written today in the social sciences speaks about social phenomena as if it is divorced from economics. Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade become about race in-and-of-itself, ignoring the fact that the slave trade was part of an economic system for which Black labor assumed a central role. This is why today there is so much difficulty accepting that Black labor and Black laborers do not simply produce surplus labor, but in the post-plantation and post-plant era, have become surplus laborers in many respects, many of whom live behind prison bars or are tied up in the judicial system because the labor force cannot absorb them and because, as the Civil Rights and Black Power demonstrated in the 1960s and 1970s, they represent a potentially transformative force and catalyst. This represents a modern crisis, but not a new one, and it is part of the afterlife of slavery in the Americas, Du Bois’ unresolved problem of what to do with manumitted Black labor whose physicality is sometimes desirable, but whose overall presence by-and-large is seen as an unwelcome threat. This is not without contradiction as Black popular culture is embedded in the culture of the Americas; but even then, the writing is perhaps on the wall in terms of White surrogates whose emulation of Black popular culture demonstrates that the Black reign in this domain potentially has an expiry date.
For you what is most relevant in James’ writing and thought for understanding the situation of Blacks in contemporary Canada?
“Allow me to say once that this recognition of my work and of all of it by a group of West Indians centred in Canada seems to me to have political implications of far more than a merely national significance.” ~C.L.R. James to Robert Hill, December 31, 1965.
That’s a hard one. From the quote, James obviously had some sense that interest in his work in Canada was significant, but he doesn’t elaborate. I think James’s belief in the underclass and the ability for ordinary people to organize themselves for change as shapers of history is important. This is what happened in Canada in the 1960s, but I mention Montreal in particular because James was connected to people that were involved in both the Congress of Black Writers and the Sir George Williams protest as a result of his sojourn in Canada in 1966-1967. Rinaldo Walcott has written an insightful unpublished paper, “Within the ‘archipelagos of poverty’: CLR James, Sylvia Wynter and ‘wasted lives,’” in which he applies Sylvia Wynter and James’s work to the Canadian context. He draws on a 1971 statement by James about the indelible presence of Blacks in England, a country whose fate is tied to that of a growing Black population that refuses to accept second-class status. Rinaldo then suggests that James’s remarks can be applied to Blacks in Canada. James thought about Caribbean people as a new people – I am trying to avoid the word modern and the implications of the word modernity – who, shorn of certain cultural-historical “baggage,” engendered the possibility of creating a new Caribbean society. But I think we can say that of the Black diaspora in general and this notion of the Black “modern” is akin to what Richard Iton suggests about the political implications of diaspora precisely because of its essential homelessness in In Search of the Black Fantastic. Blacks in Canada live in a kind of liminal space in which, despite an over three hundred-year presence in this country, are yet to be acknowledged as full citizens. But, as Iton and Walcott’s more recent work suggests, and James’s work implies, we need to think beyond conventional notions of citizenship entitlements and inclusion and towards how our experience can be channeled in ways that encourage us to work toward creatively recreating society, refashioning it through our own self-activity in ways that radically transform its current destructive social and environmental course, and with a vision that extends beyond nation states. This is part of what the diaspora’s history tells us – that our struggles have often been at the forefront of human struggles for emancipation, or at least cast light on human possibilities, even though this is rarely acknowledged.
*It should be noted that a historical error creeps into the CLR James Journal interview that was missed by editor, interviewer, and interviewee. Austin states that CLR James co-wrote Facing Reality with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs. In fact, Facing Reality was co-written with Cornelius Castoriadis and Grace Lee Boggs. We thank Professor Robert Hill for bringing this error to our attention.