Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?
Mumia Abu Jamal.
City Lights Open Media Series.
San Francisco: City Lights Books.
202 pp., $15.95.
The core of this book, the author’s ninth from prison and fifth collection of commentaries, is at the end: “To Protect and Serve Whom?,” a 2015 pamphlet for the Black Lives Matter movement. Abu-Jamal’s Black radical, revisionist history of the Civil Rights Movement that centralizes the blood and anger of young people is in his deceptively simple agitprop style. In that pamphlet, briefly post-scripted for the end of the Obama era (“As far as the Black Lives Movement is concerned, by raising their voices under the Obama period, they established their sound integrity—and perhaps it may be seen that it’s possible that they should have yelled louder”), he reminds his symbolic charges that movements come from oppression and will guarantee violent resistance.
In the pages that precede his extended meditation, Abu-Jamal compiles his brief commentaries about the justice system and Blacks from 1998 to 2016, a time spanning from President Bill Clinton to President-elect Trump, from Death Row to his release into general population to his fight to get the Hepatitis C treatments he finally got two months ago. He has constantly used writing to fight for life—a craft the 63-year-old began at 15 as a member of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party. The fact that his writings about police brutality in 1969 are not different from his writings in the late 20th and early 21st century does not show his intellectual stagnation, but America’s bloody consistency.
The columns list the roll call of victims in real time, from Abner Louima to Travyon Martin and beyond. This is a book containing examples of, as one column called it, “legalized police violence,” killings and abuse “you pay for….every time you pay taxes, endur[ing] this every time you vote for politicians who sell out in an instant.” To Abu-Jamal, “Americans are blind to everything but color” because “United States history is a history of denial.”
Abu-Jamal may no longer be “The Voice of the Voiceless” in the social media-era, a world now filled with scattered prophets of digital rage worldwide. However, the lifelong rebel’s compiled writings are still important because he shows the difference between progressive movements and radical movements: the latter believes that America’s systems need either radical reform or revolution. His intellect and talent remain directly in opposition to America because America has proven it is opposed to Black and brown people.
The Prey of Gods.
377 pp., $15.99.
In the multicultural South Africa of 50 years from now, expertly carved out from the ether by Drayden, a Black American woman, the future belongs to those willing to grasp it with both hands and at least one foot, to feel the fear and evolve anyway. The fact that most of the identity struggles the main characters experience are (now considered) universal does not take anything away from Drayden’s superb skill in making them flesh (and metal, and….). Zulus and walking Ancestral trees mingle with demi-gods and sentient robots, while the pitfalls of both pop celebrity and drug abuse take new, fascinating societal forms. The novel, one that proudly wears its LGBTQIA gender orientation politics as a full body-length tattoo, takes waaayyy too long to get to a loooonng climax, but ultimately satisfies, its last-minute twists turning a well-established (hetero white male), sometimes-dense literary genre into post-modern, not-ashamed-to-be-accessible, post-feminist pop art. When the characters finally interact and transform, the reader happily devours the book’s pop-culture-inspired gumbo. Drayden has written a sci-fi novel that, for the most part, owes neither Isaac Asimov nor Octavia Butler; it’s a new product for the 21st century fan who wants and needs a fun, culture-based read.
Other than my many hours reading Marvel (and some DC) Comics, the happiest moments of my childhood were always Bat-Times.
Here’s the block that got cut out, about the biographer and the his approach:
If there is ever to be a Hall of Fame for post-World War II American biographers, David Garrow has worked undeniably hard for his statue. The energy and sweat required of a great biographer are present. The book’s promotional material says Garrow does research worthy of Robert Caro, the man who has devoted half his life to writing about Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the hype is right. His thousands of resources include The Chicago Defender and several weekly newspapers, which allows him to use facts and statements others have forgotten. He had access to an incredible amount of detail, and decided to use (almost all of) it, to give the reader almost a month-by-month portrayal of 46 years.
Since the fable is so well-known, Garrow needed to perform a tragedy to give the reader a reason to re-visit this territory. He constantly prepared the reader for disappointment, showing that the potential compromises were there all along under the winning smile and Black Kennedy mystique: “[W]hile the crucible of self-creation had produced an ironclad will, the vessel was hollow at its core.”
The so-called hot news of the book—that Barack Obama, a young, over-educated, tall, handsome, single Black man, had a lot of sex before he got married and that he asked his serious live-in girlfriend, a half-white, half-Japanese woman named Shelia Miyoshi Jager, to marry him—is a complete yawner. The story that Garrow tells as he outs Jager is that Obama broke up with her because he needed a Black woman (World History, meet Michelle Robinson) to be a successful Black politician. So what that he asked another woman to marry him? Choosing a wife is a life-effecting process, not just a political one. It is possible that Obama made the decisions he did for purely Machiavellian reasons, but it is equally possible that Obama, a Half-rican, purposely chose a one-hundred-percent American Negress so he could have an authentic Black family. Just because he loved Jager doesn’t mean he was supposed to spend his life with her, and just because they wanted to marry doesn’t mean history was somehow thwarted by ambition.
Garrow is filled with critique—of Obama and of crush-ing Obama journalists and biographers. In his blistering epilogue, Garrow skips the most obvious reason his presidency was impotent: the intent of the Republican Party to oppose him on everything, from the administration’s first day. The epilogue is so intent on being critical—and it should, considering it’s about a man constantly compromised in ways he sees as pragmatic and necessary—it seems not to care where the criticisms originate. Meanwhile, Garrow ignores the most biting Leftist jabs. Strange choices for a left-of-center author. Garrow finds every disappointed friend, every Obama enemy, every teacher and influence he can, and includes them along with seemingly every colleague who at any point praised him. Jager accusing the president of political cowardice is the high-note of a critical symphony.
DC finally found its superhero alchemist formula. In this particular case: take the best parts of 2011 Marvel Films’ “Captain America,” but make them five times better. Wrap in a Greek mythological mosaic photographed like a fable and, in the World War I scenes, very old war footage. Add a thrilling, fun, full story–a war film with great characters and dialogue. Don’t try to hide from the racial/sexual dynamics. Mix until it explodes on-screen. Then flip the bird to Marvel Films. 🙂
“Wonder Woman” is the equal of “The Dark Knight,” arguably the greatest Hollywood superhero film ever made. That’s the highest compliment I can give this film. If this fall’s “Justice League” is just three-quarters as good as “Wonder Woman,” DC will have represented itself well.