Below is the conclusion to my essay “Vernaculars of Home,” in which I explore James Baldwin’s conception of language. In the essay, I argue that Baldwin’s defense of what he calls “black English” works as an epistemological and ontological account of African-American subjectivity. This account links black English to the sorrow songs, and so to long-standing accounts of how sound and musicality function as the foundation of the African-American intellectual tradition – which, in turn, links Baldwin to Douglass, Du Bois, Locke, and others. The full essay can be found HERE (in draft form, of course, with all those caveats in place). Photos in this post are not in the essay, but are included here just for decoration. » Read the rest of this entry «
On the anniversary of his passing, I’m posting here part of a piece I wrote on the occasion of his passing for Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy. What follows is an excerpt from that short essay. The full PDF of the article can be downloaded HERE and is open access, so no paywall is present and no password is needed. Rest in peace, Professor Glissant. Thank you for a genuinely remarkable life of writing and being. » Read the rest of this entry «
Happy 112th birthday to Langston Hughes. A few items in memory: one video of Gary Bartz’s interpretation of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (thanks to Chike Jeffers for the link), a reading of “The Weary Blues” to jazz accompaniment in 1958, and a passage from Haunting and Displacement on Hughes’ complex relation to Africa and America. » Read the rest of this entry «
One of the pleasures of the shuffle setting on my music player is random re-discovery. James Carr, a Memphis legend and mystery, showed up a few days back and I’ve had his music on repeat since. He is such a special singer, one of those incredible figures from Memphis’ small label tradition: Goldwax, Stax, Hi. I’m a Memphis nationalist when it comes to music. James Carr makes that nationalism feel justified. He’s that special. The well-known line (in the 901, anyway) that a Carr B-side beats any other Memphis singer’s A-side rings pretty true, if you ask me. » Read the rest of this entry «
I’ve never been a fan of how Pete Seeger renders American folk songs. His voice and musical arrangement never connected with me much at all. The voice is a bit too soaring and the arrangement a bit too, I don’t know – that thing you can’t quite name, but is how you feel and connect with musical pieces. And all of that completely misses the point once you stop thinking about personal taste, playing a song on your devices, and start thinking and remembering. Seeger died at 94. That’s a good, old age for a guy who played even older songs for so many years.
What seems more to the point, especially now at his passing, is how Seeger represented a blend of cultural politics and social commentary. » Read the rest of this entry «
Like many people interested in African-American studies and the history of the slave trade, I was thrilled to get the announcement from Readex that a huge bundle of materials from 1820-1922 had been digitized and would be made available shortly. It’s worth reading their words here, because this is an amazing set of materials, really. But it’s also worth thinking more deeply about this moment in terms of property, memory, and the meaning of an archive. First, though, the collection. » Read the rest of this entry «
I hesitated to write about what can now only be called The Richard Sherman Incident. I hesitated because the rhetoric and meaning of it all was so fraught, and it seemed, and still does seem, that there are obvious ideas I find deeply offensive (the racialized language of “classy,” “classless,” and the like) and that I’m drawn to (critique of that racialized language, appreciation of trash talk in professional sports). But as I read through all of this stuff on blogs, social media, and sports journalism outlets, I did have a question: what has happened to Michael Crabtree in all of this? How can we talk about him? Or is talking about him impossible? And, if it is impossible to speak about Crabtree, then what does that say about our discourse on race and cultural politics? » Read the rest of this entry «
Today, 17 January, is the anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. Saying it is the 53rd anniversary isn’t a particularly round date, but, like every anniversary, it is a moment to pause and think about the memory of someone who has passed. And perhaps we ought to take a moment to read through now declassified documents from the U.S. government about covert actions before and after Lumumba’s brief moment in power. » Read the rest of this entry «
Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver lay out some critically important ideas in their “Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?” essay in The Stone at the New York Times website. The information is frightening, if not entirely surprising: the criminal justice system penalizes African-Americans in ways that reveals both institutional racism and mass political disenfranchisement of Black people. The numbers tell much of the story and ought to horrify all decent people. The numbers clearly have that effect on Stanley and Weaver and that shows in the earnestness of their prose and analysis.
At the same time, it’s worth asking some follow-up questions about how African-Americans appear in their essay, an essay dedicated not just to numbers and trends, but also to philosophical analysis. » Read the rest of this entry «
The time of social media events is short, so writing a few words on Ani DiFranco’s apology (or apologetically toned press release) is at this point probably already out of date. Still, the talk around her event – a now-canceled plan to host a retreat at a plantation house – raises the most American of questions: what does it mean to be here, to remember where we are, and how do we situate ourselves in relation to the pain of the past? And, of course, what does it mean to apologize? » Read the rest of this entry «