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. Continue reading “James Carr’s dark ends”
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. Continue reading “Solidarity and cultural politics”
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. Continue reading “Slavery, memory, property”
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? Continue reading “Michael Crabtree as racial remainder”
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. Continue reading “Memory of Lumumba”
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. Continue reading “Race, racism, and thinking with philosophy”