This year for Halloween I will be the tortured soul herself, Ms. Billie Holiday. I have considered dressing up as her in the past, but have always decided on something else. I originally wanted to be Josephine Baker, another subject I have considered time and time again, based off of a childhood love for her and the inspiration I get from this photograph:
My version would have less boobie exposure of course. I am against the ridiculous charade of overly sexed up costumes that women decide to don once they reach high school age. Its not clever or interesting. I think dressing up is fun when you put actual thought and creativity into it. That said, I never give myself the time to craft a costume based off of this famous photo so I always put Ms. Baker back on the shelf. Yet again, this year I find myself a few days before Halloween scrambling to figure out what or who to be so Billie it is. Won’t be too difficult based off of my general love for a vintage aesthetic; my evening wear tends to be some cross between Billie Holiday, Frida Kahlo and Chaka Khan. Ill try to embellish though.
I have loved Billie since I was a little girl and watched over and over again Diana Ross do a decent job playing her in Lady Sings the Blues. I have never been the biggest Diana fan. I mean…I got love for 1970’s disco Diana, and The Supremes had good songs….But, I just never got into Diana Ross like I love other vocalists, such as Nina Simone, Mavis Staples, Billie Holiday and list goes on and on. I also never thought she made a good Billie. Her presence inside and out comes off so wiry and weak; it never encapsulated the roundness and womanliness of Billie Holiday to me. But I can’t hate on Lady Sings the Blues it was definitely a regular in my household, partly based off of my mothers love for Billy Dee too.
I have always loved Halloween. It always fills me with this youthful and magical energy. Even when I was a kid whenever this time of the year would come around I would begin to get excited with this anticipation for the unknown; it was as if something amazing was on the horizon that I could feel coming, but didn’t quite know what it was yet. I think these feelings I get are associated with Falls in Sacramento, which are the best. Sacramento is covered with tree’s that become the most beautiful reds, yellows and oranges during the fall season. The weather is perfect too; the august heat begins to give away to a cool crispness that isn’t wintery yet, but a sweater at night is appropriate. I have fond memories throughout my adolescence into my adulthood of Sacramento Fall experiences: from being a kid riding my bike up and down my block attempting to jump over fresh piles of leaves and trick or treating; to the teen years of quiet, contemplative walks by myself, headphones in my ears, and notepad to write and draw in my bag. This time of the year is so wrapped up in the different stages of my development yet it will always take me back to a feeling of youthfulness and my beloved birth city…it also reminds me of the deep love I have for my mother. Despite the chaos of my childhood my mother always provided for us and made holidays special with fun and traditions. To this day she still goes all out with decorations during the holidays. I have not been home in months, but I am sure if you go to my mothers house you will find fake spider webs in the bushes, gravestones in the front yard with bloody limbs coming out of the ground, and a scarecrow on the porch as well as some scary creature that will say creepy things to you when you walk up on the porch and trigger its motion detector. And even though we were poor my mother always made sure we had a creative and cool costume. I remember one year I wanted to be a red die (singular of dice) so she got a box and painted it red with white dots and cut a hole out of the top and bam I was a die. So wonderful that woman.
But this year I will be Billie and I am looking forward to it. Lots of festivities, my comrades Salvadorean family party with a ton of free Salvadorean food (yum!), Marxist Feminist group, and my dear friend and comrade from LA will be paying us a visit here in the Town so it should be quite a delectable weekend!I hope all of you out there in the land of the interweb have a wonderful and safe weekend as well! <3
Last week I was watching the incredible and inspiring film Basquiat, about the painter Jean Michel Basquiat played magnificently by Jeffrey Wright. I was struck by a scene where he is getting interviewed by a sleazy reporter played by Christopher Walken. The dialogue goes like this:
Interviewer (Christopher Walken): Do you consider yourself a painter or a black painter?
Basquiat: Oh I use lots of colors not just black.
If you are Black and an artist you most likely have asked yourself, ‘am I an artist or a black artist?’ Growing up I was so frustrated by the notion of a separate category for Black people. I remember being offended in third grade when we were learning about inventors. We only got exposure to Black inventors in a book solely dedicated to ‘Black inventors’, and the general, euro-centric writing and history on ‘inventors’ focused on White inventors and their contributions. Fueled by the racism of my teachers and my peers I was determined to prove that Black people were not only just as good as Whites, but better. I was offended by the notion of giving us sub-categories; it felt otherizing and reminiscent of Jim Crow separate but equal. However, as I continued to develop I became conflicted, because I saw merits in staking out our own identities and perspectives in the world in terms of politics and culture. A type of self-othering I suppose, but in a radical sort of way that reflected our self-organization and struggles for freedom in this oppressive world. Within myself I saw the necessity to distance myself from the power structure of this country and define myself as a Black woman artist struggling against it. I did not want my art to be absorbed by bourgeois norms; I did not want it to be commodified. I wanted it to be a conscious statement against a system that seeks to otherize me for profit so I fit into its racist, sexist division of labor. My framework begin to change. I no longer needed acceptance by the racist capitalists to prove I could play their game better then them. I wanted to destroy their game. And that is when I began to understand the importance of identifying as a Black artist; an artist for the people.
That said, when I walk into Borders Books and check out their ‘Black Literature’ section I am reminded that capital will always try to steal our art and re-create it through the process of commodity production and sell images of digestible ‘Blackness’. The white Bourgeoisie has always stolen our culture, broke it down, consumed it, then vomited it back up in a product to sell and make money off of, and for the right amount they have always been able to exploit Black artists and include them in the production. Look at the plethora of shitty rappers on the radio or modern-day minstrel/mammie movies, such as Bringing Down the House or Soul Plane. This has been happening since the time of slavery with the popularity of the minstrel shows. But it became very clear during the historical period of the Harlem Renasissance, where a thriving community of Black artists were producing influential paintings, poetry, jazz, novels, dancing, ect., most of the nightclubs and galleries were owned by the White petty bourgeois and many Black artists were financially supported by White benefactors. This obviously influenced what type of artist and art got exposure. Artist who expressed radical or controversial ideas that differed from the dominant norms were marginalized and struggled to survive. A perfect example of a controversial figure was Zora Neal Hurston, my favorite writer. In a time where male writers dominated the scene and presented a certain image of ‘Blackness’, which largely showed Black people as victims of the brutal and violent racist system, she rebelled against it. She was a fiery, Black woman, who chose to write about other fiery , Black women, and depicted the strength and humanity of Black people rather than victimized them. There’s a reason why Langston Hughes poems (less radical ones of course) will occasionally pop up in public school text books, while Zora died impoverished and unknown in an unmarked grave.
Even today radical Black writing gets little exposure, due to the dominance of the bourgeois White publishing companies. And I can’t help wondering why the Black writers we do get access to get published over others. For an example, why is Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, which depicts a Black man raping his daughter, more interesting to the White Bourgeoisie than other ‘Black’ novels? What is it about the way she represents Black people that appeals to White people more than other writers. Don’t get me wrong, I have mad respect and appreciation for Morrison, but as a struggling artist living under a racist sexist capitalist system, I must question the nature and conditions of Black artist being accepted by the Bourgeois art world.
In Karl Marx’s brilliant work German Ideology he has a section called “Artistic Talent Under Communism.” One specific quote always stood out to me so here it goes:
“In any case with a communist organization of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from division of labor and also the subordination of the artist to some definite art, thanks to which he is exclusively a painter, sculptor, ect., the very name of his activity adequately expressing the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labor. In a communist society there are no painters but at most people who engage in painting among other activities.” (emphasis added).
I agree with the general sentiment of this statement. I believe under communism labor will not be an exploitative process, but actually be about the free development of the creative capacities of a human being. However, Marx was missing a racial analysis that demonstrated the way the class is impacted differently by this division of labor. The Black artist is subordinated to a racialized local and national narrowness that distinguishes her/him from the White artist or worker. Jean Michel Basquiat was aware of this as the quote above demonstrated with his sharp response to the ignorance of the reporter. He was aware of the ways the art world seeked to tokenize and exploit him; use his ‘Blackness’ to create their own idea of what ‘Black’ or ‘Street’ art is. One line from the movie described Basquiat’s art as “art from the gutter.” He sought acceptance as an artist, and wanted to challenge dominant/ignorant representations of Black artists, but he was also simultaneously implanted and isolated in this world. Here’s a video of him and Andy Warhol towards the end of his career.
What strikes me about this video is in the beginning of the interview when Basquiat talks about Black imagery in paintings. He says they are not “portrayed realistically…or enough in modern art.” He also speaks on the invasion of the Bourgeois world in art spaces. He says he doesn’t know if the “stereotype of the artist in the studio quietly working” exists anymore, due to the constant camera’s and media in the space documenting the work process. He is commentating on the commodity production of art, which requires art dealers and gallery owners constantly checking in on the artist’s art to make sure they are producing profitable pieces; then there is the bourgeois media pushing for interviews and photo shoots. What is saddening to me is that even though Basquiat is critical of this circus he is still in the video posing and playing the game that ultimately destroyed him and his art.
Another example of a Black art form that is constantly being commodified presently and historically is hip hop. There has always been a difference between the way hip hop has been presented in the bourgeois media and what is actually happening in the streets and in our communities. When I first moved to Oakland I was struck by the difference between bay area hip hop and the hyphy movement and how it is portrayed on the radio and in music videos, and what I saw happening in my neighborhood. I was always intrigued by hyphy, because it had its own style and language, but I also found it to be silly as well. Then I started spending more time in East Oakland and experiencing the vibrant art being created by the youth: the resourcefulness of the grafitti writers constructing their own black books and creating new styles; the skilled mechanical and crafty work of scraper bikes; the colorful style of dress; and the incredible turf dancing which at times is a combination of ballet, modern dance and break dancing and pop and locking. There is energy and art being made in the hood that the media and the corporate art/entertainment industry hasn’t exposed. They only want to depict Oakland youth as thugs, drug dealers or gang bangers; not brilliant, innovative young thinkers. This turf video from the deep demonstrates just that.
Where I am at today with my position on the Artist vs Black artist dichotomy is that I am both. Cop-out answer? Not really. Commodity production invades both territories and I am aware of that and outright reject bourgeois art spaces and Black art spaces that attempt to boureoisify themselves. Art has always and should always be an expression of the people not the oppressors; it must be revolutionary through the style and ideas it expresses as well as the ways it is used. Therefore, I identify as a Black woman artist because I am defined in this world as a Black woman in the division of labor, but I don’t seek to be complacent in this position. I identify as a Black woman for myself not the system therefore my art must express this rejection of such a system. It is vital that artists link up with other artists, who share the same principles. Just as the working-class must become united and organize itself as fighting class for itself against the oppressors; we as artists must do the same thing and see our art as a tool against the system not within it.
My love of soul and Jazz and the 1970’s has always influenced the hip hop I listen too. Obviously jazz, funk and soul are the roots of hip hop, but some djs tend to use them more as a sample source then others; Pete Rock is a perfect example with his frequent use of obscure jazz samples. Pete Rock and CL Smooth are a classic hip hop combo that represents that jazzy 1990’s sound that I love, and will continue to bump at parties today. Their third and final single was a song about relationships called Searching; its a good song in and of itself, but it’s title and sample are from the classic song Searching by funk, soul, Jazz composer Roy Ayers. Ayers began his career as a jazz musician, but by the 1970s began to move over to Jazz-funk and later R&B. He got critical success for composing the soundtrack to blaxploitation film Coffy, starring Pam Grier. Another favorite of mine and sample source for Mary J. Blige’s My life is the classic Everybody Loves the Sunshine. I love creating a certain vibe wherever I am; whether it be kickin it by myself painting, kickin it with people at a party, making out with someone on my couch, I want their to be a chillin vibe always. These 2 songs create that soulful people vibe. Check it out!
This saturday at noon in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland there will be a protest for justice for Oscar Grant that has been organized by the ILWU Local 10, and built by workers, activists, revolutionaries, community members, college and high school students. ILWU local 10 represents the longshoremen workers, a majority black worker local that has experienced police brutality on the job, which also fuels their interest in organizing a political rally and possible work stoppage against state violence. The union is known for their militancy, and has shut down the ports before for political issues, such as Mumia, South African Apartheid, and recently stopped shipment of Israeli cargo.
It is nice to see organized labor and community members becoming involved in political issues, such as the police murder of Oscar Grant, especially right before the sentencing comes out on November 5th. But what is especially important is what happens after November 5th, because a movement against police violence must go beyond Oscar Grant. Not that Oscar Grants murder isn’t important, because it is. It sparked a movement here in Oakland, and continues to politicize people. That is important. However, Black and Brown men and women, immigrants, and queer people are regularly harassed, beaten, deported and murdered by the pigs. Gang injunctions in West Oakland, North Oakland, and Fruitvale are targeting Black and Brown youth, and criminalizing them much in the same way that anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 targets immigrants. The other day one of my students, a 13 year old, told me how he was harassed by the pigs when he was attempting to tag a wall. The pig grabbed the collar of his shirt, spit on it and used it to wipe up the paint, nearly choking him in the process. This type of abuse goes down daily in the Town, where working-class Black and Brown youth live or should I say survive, because it is hard to live when you are constantly under attack by the pigs. You go to Piedmont or Berkeley you don’t see this type of harassment and abuse by the cops to affluent white kids.
WHY IS THAT?!
These aren’t isolated cases of bad cops and racism. No, this type of systematized state violence is how the system functions and keeps us in check within this oppressive division of labor, because they know they are fucking us over. This is the nature of the racist and sexist capitalist system we live in. It functions on a small group (the rich) owning everything while we (the working-class) are forced to work till we die just for a few crumbs from their pie. Then they pin us against each other to compete and fight for these crumbs when we need to be fighting the entire system and taking the pie back for ourselves. That’s whats going to give us justice. That’s what revolution is, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it. Revolution! Malcolm wasn’t afraid; Fred Hampton wasn’t; Assata wasn’t. We wear their images on shirts, but do we know what they stood for? And what some of them have died for?
Now I see people wearing shirts with Obama’s face on it. What is he doing for Black people and poor people in this country? Nothing. Meanwhile he is saying there is no money for schools and healthcare, but there sure is a hell of a lot of money to kill poor Brown people in the Middle East. There are billions of dollars to wage war, bail out banks, and the bourgeoisie so why do Black and Brown children die everyday from curable diseases in this country? Why do schools close down everyday? Why are homes being bulldozed while people and families are forced into the streets? Why is food dumped into the ocean or burned to the ground when people die from hunger? All of this happening in a country that is supposedly founded on freedom and democracy. Freedom and democracy for who?
This brings me back to the true nature of this system and its historical roots in violence and bloodshed. The true nature of this system is built around profit. The rich get richer while we have nothing but our ability to work till we can’t work no more. They brought my ancestors over here on slave ships, forced them to work this land, and build up the wealth of the rich. They used the KKK to keep the division of labor in check, and terrorize our communities, make us afraid of rebelling. This KKK transitioned into the police force, which exists to serve and protect the rich, much in the same way the KKK was used to protect the rich slave holding class.
Slave women had a more severe experience due to the patriarchal nature of their oppression; they were oppressed and exploited as slaves and as women. They were raped and forced to reproduce the slave population; women lost all control over their bodies. The patriarchal nature of capitalism and how it works with racism is not discussed enough when we are analyzing systems of oppression in this country. It’s not just about racism and it’s not just about state violence happening to men. The violent colonization of Black and Brown women’s bodies is key to keeping this oppressive system intact. The massive amounts of rape and sexualized violence that happens to women combined with the massive cuts to healthcare and reproductive services demonstrates the states continual control over our bodies and reproductive capacities today. Women of color also face direct violence from the state and are terrorized and murdered too, but are often not included in the picture or discussion of who is under attack by the pigs. The roots of our oppression today are grounded in the racist and sexist experience of slavery in this country and we will continue to face this oppression until we tear out these roots and plant a new tree.
I am focusing largely on the Black experience, but this isn’t just a Black issue. Although the police and prison system do run deep in our communities, Latinos and Asians have had a similar experience of colonization and exploitative oppression under the global system of capitalism. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in the United States government taking a huge chunk of Mexico’s land, mainly what is now California and New Mexico, and forcing indigenous Mexicans to work and develop US industry. Today amidst all the anti-immigrant legislation and sentiment that is coming from the bourgeoisie, there is still a huge reliance on cheap, immigrant labor to do all the agricultural work and jobs that most ‘Americans’ would not want to do. Chinese immigrants were brought over to help build the transcontinental railroad, and faced extreme acts of violence and anti-immigrant legislation. The United States government has always relied on colonization and immigrant labor to produce a highly exploitable workforce for maximum profit all the while fueling the masses with anti-immigrant and racist ideology to enforce such a racialized division of labor.
Our sweat is the salt of the earth, our blood is in the soil. This violent oppression has built the wealth of this country for the rich…not for us. Our we going to continue to be exploited, oppressed and murdered too? Are we going to continue to allow them to profit off of this oppression, which they have been doing since they stole this country from the indigenous peoples? Hell no!
We need a revolutionary change and that will only happen through uniting and self-organizing as an oppressed class against our oppressors: the rich ruling class. No matter how many Obama’s we vote in no real change is going to happen until the people decide there is a different way to live; a way of living that is grounded in the collective development and health of the community not just the individual wealth of the rich. We can get there and one of our first steps should be to use the tools of the oppressors against them as we fight back as workers, students, women, queers, and colorful folks. People should come out to the protest on October 23rd in downtown Oakland, and shut down their schools and workplaces on November 5th, much in the same way immigrants did on May 1st 2006, where immigrants self-organized a boycott to protest the anti-immigrant bill HR 4437. Nobody went to school, work or shopped; instead a million people gathered in downtown LA and effectively shut down the city. This heroic and inspiring act by the working-class and immigrant populations in LA stopped profit and business as usual forcing the politicians to listen to their demands and the legislation was defeated. If we are going to get justice for Oscar Grant and ourselves we must engage in such militant actions here. Don’t shop, go to school or work on November 5th; lets send a message to our oppressors that we won’t let them continue business as usual while our people are dying in the streets from police violence and are struggling just to survive while they profit off of it all. And as we move forward beyond November 5th and any other number of activist dates we need to start thinking of the bigger picture, and of bringing political clarity to the Black and Brown working-class of Oakland. This involves exposing the truth and contradictions of the system so that people know that the only change were gonna see comes from the action of the oppressed against the system.
We built this country, but we built it for the oppressors. Now its time to take it back!
I love digging online and looking up the obscure samples of the dj’s that inspire me. Especially my main man Dilla. He is incredible at sampling the most obscure music, and using it in such creative ways to create new songs. He really represents the essence of hip hop to me. I want to get in the habit of posting every week a new hip hop song with a banging beat and post the original song the beat is sampled from. Who better to kick it off with then J Dilla himself. This track, Milkmoney, is off the 2009 album Jay Stay Paid, which was released after he passed away in 2006. It’s a compilation of all the beats and tracks he was working on while he was hospitalized. This song is amazing, and the Kenny Loggins sample is incredible. I am not a fan of Kenny Loggins, but the original song, Make the Move is pretty worthwhile to listen to by itself…at least the first minute to hear the weird vocal effects on his voice. It is also noteworthy that the Loggins song is off the soundtrack of the classic movie, The caddyshack (<3 Bill Murray still). J is able to skillfully use the vocal sample to create a dope beat that I haven't been able to get out of my ears for days. I would suggest listening to Dilla first, then the Loggins, then the Dilla again. But that's just me yall can do your own thang. Enjoy!
Im new to the blogging thing, and have had a somewhat hostile or at least cynical attitude toward it (some of this based around my luddite tendencies), but have recently become intrigued by the idea of having one so BAM here it is!
Welcome to my brain…it’s focus resides around politics and culture…the unity of my being. Here you will find raw writings, beats, political musings, the funk, textiles, poetry, the marxism, art, feminism, and that sweet soul.
Please accompany me on this journey as I learn to navigate basic web design, and open myself up to the vast network of the internets, a process that both excites and scares me.
There will be a lot of home truths along the way, some more digestible than others. But what I am constantly reminded of is that even though life is painful and can be quite disappointing there is always the fun of sheer human experience and interaction like kissing in the dark….