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Subcultre Running Wild

By Alf Mayer
March 18th, 2018

Alf Mayer on a hot book by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.

The thing with the youth, that was quite different. Teen Ager, then still hyphenated, were the barely domesticated inhabitants of a wild alien planet. Juvenile delinquents. A danger to the general public. Horst Buchholz became a star in 1956 " Die Halbstarken ". Marlon Brandos / Lazlo Bendek's " The Wild One " was called in German " The Wild " (1953). "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" Brando is asked. He replies, "What've you got?"

Unlike the cherished successors to the throne and the sticky understanding of today's guardians, the post-war world of the 1960s to 1970s was full of young people who fled their parents' lives and worlds and tried to beat them in every way. Outsiders, Teenage Jungle, Teen Age Mafia, Violent Streets, Teenage Tramps, Roaring Boys, Teenage Terror, Odd Girl Out, Marijuana Girl, Bikie Birds, Terror Go-Round, Black Leather Barbarians, Satan Was a Lesbian, I nvasion of the Nymphomaniacs, The Young and Violent, We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against. And above all: Play it Cool. That's the name of just a few of the titles.

From down under you can see subcultures better

The Australians Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre dedicated themselves to this wild time - subcultures are better seen from down under, and there are (also a pleasure in my travels) the "garage sales" and Salvos stores of the Salvation Army still in the smallest nests often decorated with small jewels. You can still find good finds there, beyond the internet and ReBuy. Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980 with over 400 covers and more than 70 individual contributions from 20 experts of popular culture gathers such treasures, is also interdisciplinary and international research. It is the first study to give an overview of how post-war youth culture found its expression in the mass medium of cheap paperbacks - the pulps - and was exploited at the same time (with a perspective on the US, UK, and Australia). Let's not talk about it: The sensationalism of the media and the business of the media houses were fueled by the hype of all sorts of youthful aberrations. Common principle to this day: You stir up the fears and worries that you deserve. (BILD boss Julian Reichelt calls something like that "headlined".) Peter Doyle characterizes such Youthsploitation in his preface as a " panic refrain ":

In the late 1940s, early 1950s it was juvenile delinquents, of course. Then came beatniks. And bikers. Gays and lesbians. Hard-dope fiends. Later on, hippies and counter cultural types, mods, rockers, surfers, skinheads, youthful revolutionaries. Trippers, pot heads and ravers. Rock musicians and groupies. Nearly always the subculture what characterizes as a kind of cultivating freemason-like quasi-conspiracy or secret society. "

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The lyrics themselves have pulp quality

Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre are on it. The change is generous, her over-sized trade paperback is extremely readable. Some of the lyrics have no information content, even pulp quality, they scurry away. And there are creams such as portraits of early Harlan Ellison and Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), by Lawrence Block, Colin Wilson, Sol Yurick ( The Warriors ), Malcolm Brawly, or the interview with Marijane Meaker, aka Vin Packer, whose a specialty the so-called "confessions" were. A quote:

"So I wrote some 'confessions'. I was very good at them, because all of them had an interesting title that would pull the reader in, and then make sure the story did not live up to the title. For example, I sold what I called 'I Lost My Baby at a Pot Party'. Teflon pot people come to the house for a demonstration, and while they are on the door ... "

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The Dolly, Dolly Spy and other surfers of the time

There is Ernest Tidyman (of Shaft -fame), who also wrote Flower Power (1969), there is Samuel Fuller with 144 Piccadilly , there are Charles Manson-inspired "Satanic Slaves", there is John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee in dress In Indigo among the hippies, Brad Lang writes detective novels with a hardboiled hippie, there's the Surfer Spy Pulps by Patrick Morgan, there's Warren Murphy's Destroyer # 13 on Acid Rock . Stewart Home spent years researching the footsteps of Richard Allen, Mike Stax is particularly familiar with the British beat and rock fiction of the 1960s, representatives here about All Night Stand by Thom Keyes and groupie by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne. Adam Diment is treated in two contributions, his British dandy spy is also too interesting ( The Dolly, Dolly Spy , 1967, etc.). Only Lovers Left Alive by David Wallis is considered a rock 'n' roll version of The Lord of the Flies . And then there's Jane Gallion, who calls herself a 'fuckbook writer', wrote novels like Stoned and Biker , worked for Los Angeles Pulp publishers Essex House and Brandon House, and was responsible for countless sex books, such as Coito Ergo Sum . Humor, of course, was a difficult thing, according to the letter she wrote, as her boss repeatedly emphasized: "Jane, he said, you can not laugh as a man and at the same time have a stiffener."

And then Andrew Nette digs out a very interesting pulp author, Gunther Bahnemann, a native of Germany, a forefather of the Queensland that Candice Fox travels to Crimson Lake nowadays. Bahnemann, who became a deserter in Rommel's army, was imprisoned in Australia for seven years, writing about the underworld he knew. His Pulp novel Hoodlum appeared in 1963.

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A great social unconscious

Rock 'n roll, hot boxes, car racing, leather jackets, potheads, hippies, lesbians, surfing spies, girls gang, anything queer as you want to be , the book bursts with surplus energy and the desire to find expression through style, fashion, Music and language, revolt and protest. The many covers are just one aspect. Pulp fiction, as Susan Stryker noted in her Queer Pulp, Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (2001), "functions as a great social unconscious. Fantasies of wish fulfillment are abolished here as well as desperate desire, despised desires, small disappointments and treacheries, irresponsible violence, doubts or marginalization. "

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats charts how beatniks and hippies, skinheads and punks, street gangs, junkies, rockers have become sensational themes, showing the fear and the lust for subculture. The chapters speak for themselves:

Teenage Jungle: Pulp Fiction's Juvenile Delinquents
Beat Girls and Real Cool Cats: 1960's Beats and Bohemians
Party Girls and Passion Pits: The Pulp Fiction of Sydney's Kings Cross
Love Tribes: Hippies and the Pulp Fiction often called Late-60s and Early-70s Counterculture
Groupies and Immortals: Pulp Fiction Music Novels
Wheels of Death: Pulp Biker and Motorcycle Gangs
Cults of Violence: 1960s British Youthsploitation Novels
Outsiders: Late-60s and Early-870s American Pulp and the Rise of the Teen Novel.

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Pulp literature as a mirror of society

Above all, Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre appreciate the immediacy and the intimate proximity to the respective subject in the Pulp novels. Pulp literature as a mirror of the voyeuristic society - as well as all the subcultures in which it plays. The skirts short, the hair longer.

nice sticking it 9780987412201 Girl Gang, Biker Boy, and Real Cool Cats will receive a sequel at the end of this year, a political one. Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre have looked at the post-war political movements, from Black Power and the Ant-Viet Nam Movement, gay activism and feminism, left porn to science fiction, with JG Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Octavia Butler, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, Chester Himes and Brian Garfield as well as a billion unfamiliar names. The title: Sticking it to the man. Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 .

The authors: Iain McIntyre, like Andrew Nette, lives in Melbourne, is a writer, musician and radio maker, specializing in activism, popular culture and music. His publications include How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protest, Graffiti and Political Mischief-Making from across Australia (2013), Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Blast in Australia and New Zealand (2010), Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-1970 (2006). And he was one of the compilers of Down Under Nuggets: Original Australian Artyfacts 1965-1967 (CD, 2012).

nice gunshine neucover-smaller Andrew Nette, whom you could already meet in our CulturMag annual review 2017 , is internationally one of the best connoisseurs of pulp literature. Pulpcurry is the name of his visitable website. Even young, he was fascinated by the paperbacks that his father read and collected; He was particularly impressed by Carter Brown , the Sydney-born author Alan Yates, to whom we owe pulps with divine titles such as agriculture and fornication . Andrew Nice's first novel Ghost Money (2012)   plays in Cambodia, his Gunshine State is a hardboiled heist novel that can compete with Richard Stark's Parker, Garry Dishers Wyatt and Wallace Strobys Crissa Stone, plays in Queensland, Melbourne and Thailand and is urgently needed. Andrew Nette was one of the founders of Crime Factory Publications in Melbourne, whose forge, for example, came from Hard Labor (2012), an anthology of Australian short crime fiction. One of my treasures is LEE (2014), a collection of stories inspired by cinema icon Lee Marvin. Andrew Nette is very active in journalism. He is currently writing his PhD on the history of Australian pulp fiction and is working on the sequel to Gunshine State . At CrimeMag he will appear more often in the future.

Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette: Girl Gang, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980. Contributors include Nicolas Tredell, Alwyn W. Turner, Mike Stax, Clinton Walker, Bill Osgerby, David Rife, JF Norris, Stewart Home, James Cockington, Joe Blevins, Brian Coffey, James Doig, David James Foster, Matthew Asprey Gear, Molly Grattan , Brian Greene, John Harrison, David Kiersh, Austin Matthews, and Robert Baker. PM Press, Oakland 2017. 334pp, $ 29.95.

nice vg images PS. Of course, there was always the possibility that the whole world would be blown up by the H-bomb, but this idea was too powerful to be even more frightening. At least there was no depression now, no air strikes, no food rationing. It was no longer the main thing to stay afloat - no, the teenagers could finally file their claims ... Now that life was easier, they started rioting. - This is how Frank Göhre and I described in the chapter "Seeds of violence. The movie "The Time of Evan Hunter's novel Seed of Violence and the film of the same name. The novel made Salvatore Albert Lombino, who grew up in Harlem and the Bronx, a bestselling author. The Blackboard Jungle (1954) was his first success and processed autobiographical experiences with wild students. MGM quickly made a film of it, with Glenn Ford besieging teacher Dadier. 'Rock Around the Clock' by Bill Haley & His Comets became a world hit through the film. (See Frank Göhre & Alf Mayer: Cops in the City, Ed McBain, and the 87th Police Station : A Report , Culturbooks, Hamburg 2016.)

hunter cover g-man Westlake Getaway car Cover.big Reading ahead with CrimeMag :
(13) The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives
(12) Peter Blauner: Proving Ground
(11) Mike Ripley: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
(10) Stephen Hunter: G-Man
(9) James Ellroy's Photo Book: LAPD '53
(8) Richard Price: The Whites
(7) Dominique Manotti: Noir
(6) Chuck Logan: Falling Angel
(5) Death Goldberg: Gangsterland
(4) Gerald Seymour - a portrait
(3) Donald E. Westlake: The Getaway Car
(2) Garry Disher: Bitter Wash Road
(1) Lee Child: Personnel

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Men in Prison: A Review

By Vittorio Frigerio
Anarchist Studies
Volume 26, Spring 2018

In 1912, young Victor Serge (he was then 22 years of age) is sentenced to five years in prison in France. It is the price to pay for having been too close to the group of colourful characters that met in the offices of the anarchist newspaper L’Anarchie. And in particular, for his friendship with members of the so-called ‘Bonnot gang’, the ‘tragic bandits’ whose feats as motorised bank robbers stun the French public and make ‘illegalism’ fashionable within anarchist circles.

In 1930, living in the Soviet Union, disillusioned with the obvious failure of
the Russian Revolution and expelled from the Communist Party, to which he had adhered out of enthusiasm for what seemed at the time like the true way to social progress, Serge takes to writing. Amongst the few volumes he will produce in those years, that will be sent to French publishers as Stalin’s cone of silence has descended upon him, is Men in Prison, a clear-eyed, profoundly humane account of life in the French penal system and of the people Serge met during those five long years – both the prisoners and the various representatives of the state’s repressive apparatus. Thirty-six chapters of varying length give either portraits of fellow inmates, information about the details of everyday life behind bars, or reflections on the effects of forced promiscuity, forced isolation, forced labour and an infinite number of petty regulations that seem designed to make life as unbearable as possible for those caught in the machinery of justice. It is hard to indicate some chapters as being more interesting than others, as they are all marked by the same sober and dispassionate sense of observation, the same strangely distant lucidity, as if what he is talking about happened to somebody else. But it did not, and Serge – in between comments on the prisoners’ obses- sions, dreams and stratagems for survival – also reveals what the experience did for him as a writer, teaching him to see beyond appearances and to guess people’s fate: ‘I, too, learned how to probe the faces and hearts of newcomers. I know if they are going to live [...] I read death in them with an awful clarity [...] I can’t explain this intuition [...] These were not the tricks of a disordered imagination, but the results of keen observations, too complex to be analyzed, as well as of an inner experience confirmed many times over’ (pp114-5).

These are pages that are often very hard to read, and all the more so because the author manages to make his point without ever having recourse to sentimen- tality or trying to tug on the reader’s heartstrings. His descriptions are almost pathologically detached and he lets the facts speak for themselves. One has to wait for the very last pages, when the time comes to tell about his discharge, to find out about his true feelings: ‘The bolts are still locked, but I already feel free, sure of myself; somewhere, within me, there is a calm hatred, like a still ocean. I will turn it into strength’ (p202). Never does this perfectly justified hatred cloud Serge’s portrayal of the banal horrors of prison life. And occasional deadpan remarks highlight the absurdity of the penal system and some truths that the state would rather not advertise: ‘Guards and inmates live the same life on both sides of the same bolted door. Policemen and crooks keep the same company, sit on the same barstools, sleep with the same whores in the same furnished rooms.

They mould each other like two armies fighting with complementary methods of attack and defence on a common terrain I have learned from long experience that, if there are any differences of mentality and morality between criminals and guards or policemen, they are generally, and for profound reasons, all to the advantage of the criminals. Even when it comes to everyday honesty, the compar- ison leads to that conclusion. Most of the guards and policemen I have run into were themselves thieves or crooks, sometimes pimps’ (p37).

Richard Greeman’s translation is flowing and natural, and his introduction will be most useful for those readers who meet Serge for the first time. A foreword by David Gilbert, described as ‘an anti-imperialist political prisoner’ in the US system, shows that things may not have changed as much as one could have hoped since a century ago. Like much of Serge’s other writing, this should be compulsory reading for anybody interested in matters of social justice or in the history of anarchism.

It is also quite simply a great experience for its sheer, great human honesty, that comes across in observations such as this: ‘And isn’t it a kind of fascination mixed with pain that makes me write this book? Old chains which have tortured us dig so deeply into our flesh that their marks become a part of our being, and we love them because they are in us’ (p117).

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Victor Serge's Author Page | Back to Richard Greeman's Page

The Movements of Movements - A Review

By Rabin Chakraborty
March 16th, 2018

The book titled - “The Movements of Movements -Part-1: What makes us move?” is about worldwide people’s movement as well as of the people who are involved in those movements. It is a compilation of essays, edited by Sri Jai Sen, and written by people who are either actively involved in the movements or are close associates of the movements.

In his excellent introductory note, the editor gives a broad outline of the book by stating that - “This book is about people in movement; it is about women and men who feel moved to do something about the world around them and about the social and political movements for justice and liberation that they form.

 …In a way, it is more than this. It is an attempt to present (and to see and to hear and to feel) the extraordinary drama of the flow of social movement taking place across the world in our times, that we are so privileged to be a part of or to be witness to, perhaps more than ever before in history”.

The editor invites readers “to consider this book as a space where movements themselves are speaking to each other, and where they can perhaps grow through their interactions, learning from their exchanges. Through this we all—including those of us in movement—can perhaps move towards a fuller understanding of the deeper meanings of movement and of their potentials and limitations, individually and collectively, and of the worlds of movement around us”.

Movements are taking place everywhere -in Asia, in Africa, in North America, in South America, in Europe, in Australia. There is surge of movements at the moment. In this connection the editor quotes the famous historian Eric Hobsbawm as - “our world today could well be said to be going through an Age of Movement, including birthing new movement that is increasingly independent of traditional social and political institutions (such as unions and political parties) and/or that is forging new institutions, and that is daily taking new shapes and struggling to rebuild the world in new ways”.

People revolt and they revolt for varied reasons. Revolts and movements are happening across the globe of refugees and migrants, impelled by war, economic devastation, and now also the impacts of climate change; movements among indigenous peoples; movements among peoples of varied sexualities towards gaining and defending their freedoms; movements challenging the arrogance and criminality of ‘development’ and of neoliberalism; movements challenging authoritarian­ism and the increasingly authoritarian and profoundly anti-democratic tendencies in supposedly democratic societies under neoliberalism; movements against war; movements among structurally oppressed peoples such as the Dalits of South; movements of faith, especially among peoples who believe that values integral to their beliefs are being corrupted and/or overwhelmed; and continuing movements among women fighting for equality, justice, and respect. The list is long.

A whole set of new movements world saw during the last decade. They include the movements that toppled dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and then Egypt (2011); the Occupy movement in North America and then across Europe (2011); the indignados movement in Spain (2011); the massive rebellion against EU-imposed austerity programmes in Greece and the anti-corruption movement in India (both also in 2011); the massive students’ protest against fee hikes in Quebec, Canada (2012); the growing assertion by indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (‘North America’) (2012), including the Defenders of the Land and the Idle No More movements; democratisation movements across Africa; movements that have rocked Turkey, Brazil, and Romania (2013) and Hong Kong (2014). All this, aside from the countless continuing, sustained, even if less publicised move­ments all over the world by social movements, student organisations, trade unions, and political formations, and locally among ordinary peoples everywhere.

We may not be fully aware of the details of these movements. The book like this opens up the window to hitherto unknown movements with its intricacies and about the people connected to them. There are altogether 26 pieces of essays including the ‘Introduction’ and the ‘Afterword’. The essays are divided in three Sections. The first section titled as ‘Invocations’ contains a poem by Shailja Patel and the introduction – ‘The Movements of movements: An Introduction and an Exploration’ by the editor.  

The second section titled as ‘Movementscapes’ contains 7 essays giving the sketches of certain key features of the landscape of contemporary movement in the world from 1968 till about 2010 written by people belonging to different movements from various parts of the world. Some of them are from indigenous people and some from the settlers. The intention is to get fundamentally —and structurally—different views of the landscape they inhabit and see. It is the same world but seen through different eyes and different experiences.

In the third section titled as ‘The Movements of movements: The Struggles for other World’, there are a wide range of sensitive and reflective portraits of movement, several of which are critical discussions of how different movements move (and/or have moved) in different contexts.

Finally, the book ends with the ‘Afterword’ titled as ‘Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements’ by Laurence Cox that reads across all the essays in this book and critically engages with several.

It will be wrong to believe that the nature and spirit of all these movements are same. This cannot be so, since these movements are of the people scattered over different geographical parts of the globe. They have different social and economic background and also, they have their own history and cultural background. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the meaning and understanding of common idioms of movements of the people at different places would differ in character and in content. Here comes the necessity of dialogue between movements to know each other and to mitigate differences. The book is intended to create a space for such dialogue.

So, the book is not just to tell story of the movements in the style - ‘my movement is best, my line of action is best, or my theory is best’. It is more on expressing one’s movement in a way so that others may understand it, may relate to it and even may learn something to emulate it.
Let us look into some of the essays as example. David McNally in his essay – “From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets of Seattle: This Is What Democracy Looks Like” traces the events followed by the guerrilla movement called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in January 1994 which occupied the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the old colonial capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, declaring that NAFTA was a ‘death sentence’ for indigenous peoples and peasants throughout Mexico. It was a direct revolt against globalization. In subsequent period there was a series of uprising in France in 1995, in East Asian countries due to calamitous economic collapse sweeping through one East Asian economy after another in the course of 1997-98, and finally the blocked of Seattle streets in Washington by the activists of ‘Direct Action Network’ in November 30, 1999 to protest against holding of WTO convention.  

According to the author the strength of all such movements lies in their reliance on the self-
activity and self-mobilisation of “thousands upon thousands of oppressed people. New notions of politics, new senses of the possible, are created in the heat of such struggles. The emphases on direct action, on participatory democracy (often organised through mass assemblies), and on the festive and celebratory side of political protest, distinguish these as truly popular movements, upheavals that are reclaiming and improvising upon great traditions of mass insurgence. In the streets of Cochabamba, Oaxaca, Paris, Seoul, and elsewhere, one hears the irregular rhythms of popular revolt. Freed from the constraints of bureaucratically-dominated electoral politics, these movements are reinventing a language and poetry of resistance. Utilising mass strikes and uprisings, land occupations, popular assemblies, and direct democracy, they are carving open the spaces of opposition to globalising capitalism”.

In his essay titled - "Storming Heaven: Where Has the Rage Gone?” Tariq Ali discusses about the period starting in 60’s. According to him the resistance of the people of Vietnam against US forces ignited the imagination of the more radicalised segments of the Sixties generation around the world. They started believing that – “If the Vietnamese were defeating the world’s most powerful state, surely we, too, could defeat our own rulers”. So, a storm swept the world in 1968. The author believes that the spirit of 1968 didn’t die. He goes on narrating the incidents followed by the Paris uprising throughout the world from his own experience as an associate of the magazine -The Black Dwarf. 

He brings in the debate on the future of socialist movement after the debacle of Soviet Union. He lamented that – “The epochal shift that took place in 1989 relegated most things radical to the museum of horrors. All revolutions and all revolutionaries became monsters, mass murderers, and, of course, terrorists. How can the lyrical sharpness of politics in 1968 be anything but alien to the spirit of this age that has followed?" He closes his essay with the words – “Were the dreams and hopes of 1968 all idle fantasies? Or did cruel history abort something new that was about to be born? Revolutionaries—utopian anarchists, Fidelistas, Trotskyist all sorts, Maoists of every stripe, etc—wanted the whole forest. Liberals and social democrats were fixated on individual trees. The forest, they warned us, was a distraction, far too vast and impossible to define, whereas a tree was a piece of wood that could be identified, nurtured, improved, and crafted into a chair or a table or a bed. Now the tree, too, has gone”.

A large section of people on earth numbering about 350 million distributed over 70 countries who are stamped as ‘Indigenous people’ or ‘Aboriginals’ or ‘Native Americans’ by their colonizers and settlers are struggling to resist further dispossession and disconnection. The basic spirit of the indigenous people, all that is held sacred, their sources of connection to their distinct existences and the sources of their spiritual power are threatened. To them relationships to each other, communities, homelands, ceremonial life, languages, histories etc are the sources of their spiritual power. These connections are crucial for them to lead a meaningful life. But, the contemporary form of colonialism is obliterating their very way of life through various means.

The essay titled – “Being Indigenous: Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism” by Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel discusses strategies for resisting further encroachment on Indigenous existence by Settler societies and states—as well as by multinational corporations and other elite organisations controlled by state powers and elements of the imperial institutional network. They also focus on how Indigenous communities can regenerate themselves to resist the effects of the contemporary colonial assault and renew politically and culturally.

Anand Teltumbde in his essay -"Dalits, Anti-Imperialist Consciousness, and the Annihilation of Caste" asserts that in the era of globalization, the Dalits in India which constitutes one sixth its population could be a natural ally of anti-imperialist movements. But, the left in India could not use this force in their fight against imperialism. “Dalits are the worst victims of imperialism—internal as well as external— and they are therefore inherently against any kind of imperialism”.  It is significant to note at this point that according to the author the imperialism is not only external, it is internal too.  “In class terms, they should be considered as the organic proletariat of this country. Although afflicted by caste divisions, the history of suffering has forged a workable identity for them. Nowhere in the world would such a large mass of have-nots be so readily available for radical change!” Again, at the same time, he appreciates the fact that it is not the case that Dalits would automatically rally against imperialists. Conscious effort is needed for this.

He recognizes also the fact that the “The Dalit movement today is hopelessly fragmented among self-seeking leaders. These leaders are a kind of comprador to the community, brokering the interests of Dalit masses to the enemy camp. This realisation is slowly dawning on Dalits but in the absence of any alternative, they still passively throng to these leaders and lend them legitimacy. These leaders are wise enough to keep parroting the issues that still appeal to Dalits”.

The essay titled – “The Tapestry of Neo-Zapatismo: Origins and Development” written by Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson is an excellent piece of writing from which we get to know the course of development of Zapatista movement in its entirerity. It gives a detailed account of how EZLN, or Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberation National) came into being in 1983. It is a good lesson to know that movements do not fall from sky. Actually, the course of events leads inevitably to some action in the form of a movement. Zapatista movement is an ideal example for case study about movement, as a huge quantity of literature and documents in the form of articles, interviews, video, etc. on its course of development are available.

The essay – “Ecological Justice and Forest Rights Movements in India: State and Militancy—New Challenges” - by Roma and Ashok Choudhary is on the struggle of forest people in India. Forest and forest-lands are the places of natural habitat of adibasi, moolnibasi and various other indigenous groups of people, which are, again, the places of natural resources in the eyes of Indian state and national and international corporate houses. The forest people are in constant struggle to save their habitat from the hands of those organised looters. A detailed account of this struggle from the days of colonial rule till the rule of independent India can be found here. Both the authors are close associate of the struggles of the forest people for several decades. So, it is good to read the experience of the people belonging to the movement.

There are two essays on ‘feminism’/’women’s movement’. One is – “Open Space in Movement: Reading Three Waves of Feminism” by Emilie Hayes and the other is - “International Feminisms: New Syntheses, New Directions” – by Virginia Vargas. Emilie Hayes gives an excellent account of the history of the development of the women’s movement since early twentieth century. The entire period of the history of women’s movement can be seen as divided into three distinct phases, and these phases in course of time came to be known as first, second and third wave. This distinction is made based on the basis of the nature of understanding of the problem as well as the nature of demands arising at different times. Then she elaborates how the localised movements got internationalized and how the opportunity to exchange ideas in the platform like World Social Forum (WSF) helped to conceptualise the movement better. The ‘Open Space’, according to author, means an atmosphere which is “socially horizontal” with “no leaders” and relatively undirected “without an owner”. “There is no official spokesperson, no central hierarchy, and the only shared commitment is an opposition to neoliberal globalisation”. She tells us that - “While open space within the feminist movement has allowed for the expression of dissent, which has in turn helped to build a more inclusive feminism, it has also created fractures within the movement”. She adds – “However, the strength of second- and third-wave feminism has been their self-awareness and self-criticism, which has allowed for the identification of shortfalls and the continued revitalisation of feminism and feminist theory. It is when all feminist voices are part of the dialogue that feminism will truly be able to move forward”.

The essay authored by Virginia Vargas on the other hand traces the course of development of this movement in the light of her experience in Latin American countries. In this part of the globe the concept of the feminist movement grew according to its social, political and cultural experiences. It underwent changes with the change in development paradigm in the different parts of that continent. She elaborates how this movement was integrated with the International Movements and also discusses about how movement was benefited through dialogues with other movements at the international forums.  

The special feature of this book is that it allows space to the movements of the people of different religious faiths as well. It appreciates the fact that the people of different religious faiths are confronting the onslaught of modernity. There is clear division within the people of each group, - Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and other smaller groups, on the question of adjusting with the modern ideas of democracy, justice, etc. One section of the people is trying to adhere to the old tenets of the religion, whereas the other section is trying to make an adjustment with the modern ideas keeping essential message of the religion intact.
Lee Cormie in his essay “Re-Creating the World: Communities of Faith in the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds” gives an account of how different alliance and council of Churches came into being during last forty to fifty years and how they took side with the movements on various issues like hunger, inequality, neo-liberal globalisation, etc.

There are two essays on Political Islam. Interestingly, instead of narrating the movement as such it narrates the life and acts of two Muslim rebels to give the idea about the movements in the name of Political Islam. Houtart, in his essay “Mahmoud Mohamed Taha: Islamic Witness in the Contemporary World”, narrates how the turn of events changed the course of life of a university educated young engineer to take stand in favour of the founding values of these religious movements. His aim was to - “rediscover the prophetic character of Islam, to underline what it could provide in a world of deepening inequalities, suffering under the blows of global capitalism, and to contribute to peace and reconciliation in torn and ravaged countries”.

The vision of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha about society, according to Samir Amin, is that “the ideal society that must be the objective of social struggle, the society that creates the most favourable conditions allowing for the individual human being to undertake his own fight to move closer to God, the society without which faith will remain a victim of the limits society imposes upon the blossoming of responsible individual freedom, can only be a socialist and democratic society”.

Roel Meijer, on the other hand, in his essay – “Fighting for Another World: Yusuf al-'Uyairi and His Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution” gives an account of the Islamic Movement in different parts of the world. According to him, of the different trends of Islamic Movements, al-Qaeda is the group which follows the most modern political ideology and movement. So, he chooses to track the course of development of this movement “by examining the vivid and powerful writings, life, and life practice of Yusuf al-‘Uyairi, a key activist, strategist, and theorist in the radical Islamic movement”.

My task was to introduce the book and for this I picked up a few articles for discussion quite arbitrarily. There are other pieces which are equally important and interesting. But, to limit the size of the article, I refrain from mentioning all of them.

The editor reminds us at the beginning of the book that it is not a “comprehensive encyclopedia of movement today, or even an up-to-date reportage of all movement that has recently taken place or that is taking place today. ... Rather, this book is merely one attempt to bring together some outstanding essays that help us all to perceive the larger world of movement, and to begin to understand it; and to make this book a space where conversations between movements begin to open up, at different levels”.

Before I close, I must draw attention to the essay – “Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements” under the section ‘Afterword’ by Laurence Cox. It reflects “on the meanings of this collection as a whole, offering independent, detailed, and critical perspectives on points of divergence and convergence among these movements and what they reveal about the dimensions, scales, and magnitude of changes that are today sweeping the world”. 

An important aspect of the book which needs special mention is that each and every author gives a long list of articles and books as reference at the end of the essays. It is indicative of the extent of labour put by the authors in writing the essays and also indicative of the extent of the debate and discussion in this regard that is going on throughout the world. This collection of the references at the end of the essays taken together is really a treasure of this book. 

I’m sure that this book will be useful to those who want to know about the trends of ongoing movements worldwide. It would also be a good lesson for them to know how the ‘culture of dialogue’ between different movements may help to re-discover the meaning and scope of their own movement. The benefit of such a practice is appreciated by almost all the authors of this book. Many of them acknowledged in unambiguous term that they have benefited by debating on the differences in their views in the platform of WSF. It helps them in improving their understanding about various aspects of their own movement.

Another lesson one may get on reading this book is that a practice of dialogue with other movements is a way to some extent to do away with the ‘we are right’, ‘we are the only’, or ‘we have all the truths’ kind of syndrome.

Buy The Movements of Movements | Buy The Movements of Movements e-Book now | Back to Jai Sen's Author Page

(H)afrocentric Comics in

by Matt Thompson
February 16th, 2018

Re-spawn. Its been on since dawn.
Illustrated Man check your king with a pawn.
Don’t know where but I send ’em
Make my posts now on Anthrodendum

Hey, ya’ll its been a minute but now I’m back with another installment of Illustrated Man, my semi-irregular series where I discuss comic books and illustration from an anthropologist’s point of view. I had ten posts at our old place Savage Minds, now here’s my first in our new home.

We’re starting things off with a piece I received through my work with the Virginia Library Association, (H)afrocentric, written by Juliana “Jewels” Smith and illustrated by Ronald Nelson. A trade paperback collecting the first four issues was published by the reliably righteous PM Press in 2017. Ask for it at your favorite independent comic or book store, or order a signed copy straight from the publisher.

Following the trials and trevails of a multi-complected crew of outspoken west coast undergrads, (H)afrocentric does an excellent job of tackling serious issues without taking itself too seriously. The star of the show is habitual line crosser Naima Pepper, her habit of getting up on a soapbox (will it be one high heeled boot… or two?) becomes a reoccurring sight gag. Rounding out the loyal crew is her grumpy brother the musically inclined Miles and gender bending best friend Renee. Comic relief comes from Miles’ boy, El Ramirez, whose Latinidad offers a consistent counterpoint to black perspectives and priorities, and entrepreneurial duo Kwame and Rahsaan, who just want to sell you some herbal tea and preach on ancient Egypt.

Set in Oakland, California, in and around the fictional Ronald Reagan University, our story opens with the (H)afrocentric crew facing the reality of rising rents and gentrification. Not unlike Selma Jezkova, Bjork’s character in Dancer in the Dark, Naima is prone to flights of fancy where the otherwise straightforward, realistic fiction of the narrative breaks down into alternate realities and imagined futures. In one of these moments of inspiration Naima rallies her friends into taking action, here to organize a block party to fund the creation of an anti-gentrification website,

Throughout the reader is treated to comic commentary, witty one-lines, word play, silly gags, and Naima’s romantic day dreams, all of which genuinely calls to mind the deep hanging out and playful bullshitting of college students. At the end of their escapade, as the cops close in turning their block party into a “blockade party”, it becomes clear that Naima and her friends haven’t really been able to achieve their lofty goals. They have not single handedly stopped gentrification in Oakland. Reality crashes the party and the crew has to find solace in the partial, the incomplete.

In the fourth issue, for which Julianna Smith won a 2016 Glyph Award for best writer, things take a turn towards magical realism, the madcap, and the zaney, with the addition of a fairy godmother character. In this story each member of the crew has easily set up sweet summer internships, with Naima struggling to reconcile her political passions with her professional and academic needs. POOF! The fairy godmother appears to grant her wish and Naima finds herself interning at an organization specializing in “racial translation.” Her job: to explain blacks to white people. Several soapbox moments later and its clear that things aren’t going quite as smoothly as Naima hoped.

The story ends with the introduction of a time machine and all crew piling on board to cries of “Get on the bus!” before zapping off the page.

Like many, many other comics, the first book of (H)afrocentric starts off a little rocky as it lays out the origin stories of the team members. The art is also a little inconsistent as the creators experiment with how best to express the characters’ diversities in a black and white printing. But by the fourth issue much of this has been ironed out leaving me very optimistic for the future of (H)afrocentric, especially given the change in tone to include more cartoony elements like time machines and magic.

Blurbs and blogs have frequently drawn connections to the Boondocks but I’m not really sold on that comparison. Here I’m not talking about the TV show, but the strip as captured in “Because I know you don’t read the newspapers” and “Fresh for ’01… you suckas”. Those were fish-out-of-water stories with two kids from inner city Chicago transplanted to the suburbs. They were more topical and focused on satirizing current events. While there is a weekly (H)afrocentric strip, this graphic novel length work is brainy and subtle, more radical in its politics than the Boondocks, and, at times, a little more uneven in its quality than Aaron McGruder’s early books. However, I am very, very interested to see where this story is going next and/or what other works these creators will share.

(H)afrocentric should be of interest to anthropologists seeking to learn from marginalized peoples about how they are taking control of their own representations. With the first story about gentrification and the second about the impossible task of the translator I could see this being used in the classroom in some contexts. A little further afield into cultural studies, this would be a good way to teach students to read creative works as embedded in social material processes.

Buy (H)afrocentric | Buy (H)afrocentric e-Book now | Back to Juliana "Jewels" Smith's Author Page

(H)afrocentric Comics in

By Christina Vortia
February 3rd, 2018

I really loved this.
"(H)afrocentric is the best of Boondocks, without crusty misogynoir. It's the best of Chappelle, without uncritical transphobia. It's the best of A Different World and Atlanta without commercial breaks every eight minutes selling you colorful sugar and fried meats" - Kiese Laymon
No better words could ever describe this comic that is funny as hell, sharp, and unapologetic af.
Naima is the activist. The woman wears a tank top sporting a picture of John Brown under "Ally" in big bold letters and totes a portable soap box, she is the biracial "woke" sistah who is tirelessly fighting for the cause on the campus of Ronald Reagan University. Her girlfriend, Renee, is a fashionista who uses her wardrobe to challenge gender biases. Miles is Naima's musically inclined brother, always ready to burst her lofty revolutionary ideals. El is the overworked Mexican American student, trying to both help his family and do well in school. As Naima attempts to plan a Block party, she runs into a cast of characters and scenarios that is satirical of millennial college culture. There's a website developer who's also addicted to social media...there are the crunchy granola white students who know how to install solar panels and appropriate black culture, and then there's the hip hop head obsessed with kemetic energy and Wu Tang. By volume 4, Naima is grappling with her desire to be a revolutionary but also still land internships and gainful employment. She's then visited by Miss Fairy who holds a startling resemblance to Fannie Lou tights. Miss Fairy hooks her up with a job pulled straight out of Baratunde Thurston's How to Be Black by interpreting the behavior of black people to white people... The challenge: Can Naima answer the questions without getting on her soap box and ruining the gig?
These characters were so fresh, unlike any I've seen in a comic before. Completely relatable, downright hilarious, and so damn smart. I'm not sure when the next volume is due out, but I'll be waiting on it. I totally could see this as a show, filling a void left gaping and wide when Aaron McGruder was ousted from Boondocks.


Recommendation: Read it! You'll thank me later.

Audience: Millennials and Up

*I borrowed the eBook version of this comic from my library Hoopla account.

Buy (H)afrocentric | Buy (H)afrocentric e-Book now | Back to Juliana "Jewels" Smith's Author Page

Diario de Oaxaca in Comics Grinder

“Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper

Comics Grinder
December 12th, 2017

Peter Kuper is one of the great cartoonists and any book by him is a treat. In this case, you have a highly creative individual out and about for two years in a most stimulating environment, Mexico, specifically in Oaxaca. What could be better than his sketchbook journal of his two years there? The paperback version of his “Diario de Oaxaca” recently came out from PM Press.

Pages from “Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper

Kuper follows his heart and stream of thought to deliver page after page of enchanting work. He has a special multi-colored pencil that he uses. The lead in the pencil is made up of various colors. That allows much greater spontaneity as he can instantly shift the pencil to get a different color and then another and so on. He seems to have most fun with creating work that has that look of being on the fly–but can also be a mix of a long day, or night, of contemplation.

The sense of excitement and discovery is palpable. In a similar quick manner, he jots down numerous observations in prose as well. The joie de vivre takes a decidedly sober tone as Kuper finds himself covering a fight between strikers and government troops that left more than 20 people dead, including American journalist Brad Will. The end result is that Kuper manages to capture both the light and the dark of Oaxaca in an extarordinary collection of dispatches.

“Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico” is a 208-page paperback with full color artwork throughout. For more details, visit PM Press right here.

Revolutionary Mothering in The Journal of the Motherhood Initiative

By Reena Shadaan
Journal of the Motherhood Initiative
Spring/Fall 2017

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines is a powerful and deeply personal collection that illuminates the challenges and revolutionary practice that is mothering in the context of capitalism, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and imperialism. The editors—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams—dedicate the collection “to all the revolutionary mothers and all the revolutions they’ve created, because mothering is love by any means necessary.” This theme is echoed throughout the collection. In poignant narratives, the contributors share their stories, as they reveal the diversity that is mothering—an important challenge to the overstated narrative of white, middle-class motherhood.

Gumbs, Martens, and Williams pay homage to the mothering praxis of feminists of colour decades prior, as Revolutionary Mothering is a reflection of and builds upon this foundational work. Likewise, Malkia A. Cyril and Esteli Juarez open the collection by recollecting the embodied resistance passed down to them. In fact, Loretta J. Ross, co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, writes the preface to the collection. Ross dis- cusses the revolutionary work of Black women, who founded the reproductive justice movement—the fundamentals of which are present throughout the anthology. As Gumbs writes, “Those of us who nurture the lives of those children who are not supposed to exist, who are not supposed to grow up, who are revolutionary in their very beings are doing some of the most subversive work in the world. If we don’t know it, the establishment does” (20).

The second section, “From the Shorelines to the Front Lines” looks at mothering as bridgework – between divided communities, between activist theory and activist practice, and between oppressions and radical futures. Alongside other poignant essays and poems, this section includes Cynthia Dewi Oka’s “Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis,” which declares the “Manifesto for Revolutionary Homemaking” – a call for justice, decolonization, healing, and collective responsibility. In addition, Victoria Law reflects on the transformation of her political work through motherhood, and Tara Villalba and Lola Mondragón reflect on the radical labour of mothering, which creates “seeds of ... radical work” (77)—the children who will continue the cycle of resistance.

“The Bottom Line” is the third section of Revolutionary Mothering. Here, the contributors discuss the violence of mothering in neoliberalism including the diminishing narrative of scarcity (Autumn Brown), the difficult choices that are made (Norma Angelica Marrun, Rachel Broadwater), and the pain that this system can inflict (Vivian Chin, Layne Russell). But underlying these narratives are themes of strength, relationship, and hope (Christy Na- Mee Eriksen, Noemi Martinez). As China Martens writes in the introduction to “The Bottom Line,” “Children are Hope. Hope is the current, changing, moment, living, rising, being born, and resisting” (84).

The fourth section, “Out (of) Lines,” is introduced by Gumbs, who re- minds us that motherhood is systematically denied to Black mothers, immigrant mothers, and LGBTQ mothers. However, the practice of mothering is a different matter: “Mothering is a queer practice of transforming the world through our desire for each other and another way to be” (116). In addition to other powerful pieces, “Out (of ) Lines” re ects on LGBTQ mothering. This includes Katie Kaput’s reflections as a trans mama, and Ariel Gore’s resistance to the American nuclear family. As Gore writes, “I find it amusing that to be a threat to the nuclear family, all one has to do is live happily (or in honest depression) outside of it” (143).

“Out (of) Line” is followed by “Two Pink Lines,” which includes several pieces that explore transformation via mothering. For instance, Lisa Facto- ra-Borchers reflects on childbirth facilitating a new feminist praxis. Likewise, H. Bindy K. Kang writes as a “radical mama” (177), transformed by the birth of a daughter in a complex dynamic of patriarchy in aspects of Kang’s culture, alongside cultural racism and patriarchy embedded in the state. The collection ends with further pieces that explore themes of transformation, as well as resilient, hopeful futures rooted in love (“Between the Lines”). Ultimately, Revolutionary Mothering is a powerful collection of stories that affirm mothering as the bridge to radical futures.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats in The Newtown Review of Books

By Michael Jongen
The Newtown Review of Books
March 8th, 2018

Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette have created a loving homage to pulp fiction with its lurid covers and taglines.

This book, lavishly illustrated with pulp covers, is itself a beautiful thing. Its own lurid green cover features a number of pulp images such as the defiant stare of Mama, the chaos of The Spungers, the romantic mood of Hippie Doctor and a cyborg-like Charles Manson staring out from The Hippy Cult Murders.

There are around 400 full-colour covers reproduced in the book, many of which have not been reprinted before. These are a joy. Accompanying them are over 70 essays and in-depth interviews and previously unpublished articles. The layout invites instant perusal and encourages readers to dip into whatever takes their fancy.

Come for the covers — some of which may be familiar or indeed inspire a Proustian moment — but do stay for the essays. These are well researched, informative and fascinating. In his Foreword Peter Doyle looks at the successions of youth subcultures and how the post-World-War-II tabloids flourished in an atmosphere of ‘panic refrains’. (A business model which still seems to work if the tabloids’ current fixation with ‘African crime gangs’ is any indication.)

In the late 1940s, early 1950s it was juvenile delinquents, of course. Then came beatniks. And bikers. Gays and lesbians. Hard-dope fiends. Later on, hippies and counter cultural types, mods, rockers, surfers, skinheads, youthful revolutionaries. Trippers, pot heads and ravers. Rock musicians and groupies. Nearly always the subculture was characterised as a kind of cultish freemason-like quasi-conspiracy or secret society.

I went immediately to the last section of the book, devoted to the late 1960s and early 1970s, which looks at the rise of the teen novel. In Something in the Shadows we are introduced to Marijane Meaker who, I realised, was the woman who as ME Kerr wrote Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, one of the seminal YA novels (alongside SE Hinton’s The Outsiders) from this period. This is a fascinating look at the introduction of ‘realism’ to children’s books and the beginning of the YA genre. My librarian colleagues who studied under the wonderful Stella Lees will recognise how schooled we were in this emerging literature and will find this a fascinating read. Frank Bonham, Kin Platt and Go Ask Alice are also featured and the backstories of these writers are intriguing.

Meaker relates how she and children’s writer Louise Fitzhugh would lunch and exchange tips about their genres. In 1972, under the name Ann Aldrich, Meaker wrote two gay novels, including the gloriously titled Take a Lesbian to Lunch. I learned more about Meaker in the chapter on Ann Bannon, who published in the lesbian pulp genre.

Bannon speaks of a tentative approach to Meaker, who encouraged her writing:

It was kind of a fan letter. I did not realise she was getting them by the bushel from young women all around the world, but she responded … She said, if you have a manuscript and you can visit me, then I’d like to see it and maybe you can get to meet my editor. This was of course music to the ears of an aspiring young writer, since one of my perplexities had been how to get into print.

It is the writers’ stories that fascinate me. Bannon’s books began being reprinted each decade. On her enduring popularity Bannon muses:

Like my readers, I really thought what I was writing was ephemeral literature, although I wrote it as best I could. I understood the rules, and the rules were that these were throwaway books … Critics ignored us and we flew beneath the radar, which is probably one of the reasons we were allowed to exist. So I had no real belief that they would have a life beyond their initial 6-12 month period of publication.

In the 1990s Bannon was working in a university and owned up to being the author of these pulp titles when her students began submitting Masters and doctoral dissertations on her alter-ego. She suggests that the novels have acquired a very different readership than those ‘who were originally seeking anything about the lesbian experience’.

Another trope is the writers who disappear. Teddy Boy by Ernest Ryman, published in 1958, is tame, however it makes the link between poverty and youth crime. We are informed that history has no record of Ernest Ryman, but the personal histories of these writers of pulp literature are truly fascinating.

There is so much to love in this beautifully curated collection of covers, essays and extracts. There are sections devoted to the novels inspired by the badlands of Sydney’s Kings Cross. Hippie culture is explored, and its evil twin, the hippie cult murder pulps based on the Manson Family. Surf culture is explored by Patrick Morgan and his series featuring William (Bill) Cartwright aimed to cover ‘Surfing. women and whenever possible poking a crooked finger in the hairy eyeball of the establishment’. Librarians will be very familiar with the backstory of our anti-hero; he is the prototype of many a popular series written for the middle grades.

This book is a powerful history of the literature that was written for and about the marginalised. It is our history and I am grateful it has been published in such an inspiring format.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Using Racist Images to Combat Racism and Encourage Resistance

By Paul Von Blum, JD
March 2017, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p382

For many years, in my UCLA classes and in presentations throughout the United States and the world on African American art, I have started with several examples of egregiously racist images from popular culture. From the thousands available, I often select such repulsive examples as “Darkie Toothpaste,” “Nigger Head Golf Tees,” and minstrel-like items from the Coon Chicken Inn, a fried chicken restaurant chain in the Pacific Northwest from the 1920s through the late 1940s. These grotesque racist caricatures are the visual foundation for my long-standing argument that African American art, in substantial part, constitutes an effective body of resistance to the dominant narrative of American history that conceals or understates the political and human implications of slavery and its progeny.

For my student and other audiences, I regularly recommend the Jim Crow Museum of Racism Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. This remarkable museum is the largest publicly accessible collection of racist artifacts. It consists primarily of memorabilia from the segregation era from the South, although many of the objects were distributed and widely available throughout the entire country. The chief objective of the museum is to highlight these objects to foster dialogues and understanding of historical and contemporary racism in America. It is an invaluable resource for scholars, journalists, and activists.

Understanding Jim Crow represents the Museum in book form. This is especially useful for readers who are unlikely to make a trip to Michigan to see the collection in person, however valuable such an experience would be. The volume contains several outstanding components, making it a splendid contribution to African American Studies and many cognate fields. Like the Museum itself, the book should attract multiple audiences, from academic specialists to lawpersons.

At the outset, the author, David Pilgrim, chronicles the personal story that was the genesis of the museum he founded. He grew up in the Deep South as that region began to transform from its overt segregation to its more benign but still institutionally racist environment. Chapter One is intriguingly titled “The Garbage Man: Why I Collect Racist Objects.” Professor Pilgrim details his life story that catalyzed his desire, indeed his obsession, to collect the racist objects that later developed into the museum he founded.

As an undergraduate student at Jarvis Christian College, a small historically black institution, he learned from his professors what it meant to live as African Americans in a rigidly segregated society. It involved surviving as second-class citizens in every detail of daily life, where racial inferiority was understood and regularly enforced. Pilgrim began to see the close connections between racial oppression and the ways that Blacks were portrayed in popular culture as buffoons, apes, savages, and sexually voracious idiots and monsters.

This recognition impelled him to collect artifacts that reflected and reinforced this racist system. As a graduate student at Ohio State University, he acquired many items, mostly inexpensive, and he developed a deeper appreciation of his African American identity and obligation to work on behalf of his people. He credits his graduate school encounter with Paul Robeson’s Here I Stand as a major source of his consciousness.

In 1991, he visited an elderly Black woman who had a large collection of Jim Crow related objects. Seeing her massive collection, Pilgrim was appalled at the pervasive distortion of African Americans he discovered there. He describes it as a chamber of horrors, but he continued to visit her until her death. Those experiences reinforced his desire to continue purchasing and collecting racist objects, including musical records with racist lyrics, children’s games with dirty and naked Black children, items with Sambo imagery, and anything else he could personally afford. This was the genesis of the museum at Ferris State University after he became a member of the Sociology Department faculty there.

Much of the text of Understanding Jim Crow consists of an analytical treatment of the stereotypes deployed against African Americans over the years. He addresses the common stereotypes including mammies, Toms, picaninnies, tragic mulattos, jezebels, coons, brutes, bucks, and others that a racist society has created and perpetuated throughout its history and popular culture.

His treatment covers most of the popular culture forms, including films and television. Pilgrim’s treatment of television’s use of racist caricatures for well over half a century, in fact, is a damning indictment of the medium that hundreds of millions of people watch on a daily basis.

His account is a powerful complement to Donald Bogle’s Toms, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks, the iconic history of Blacks in American film. The present volume is richly illustrated with examples drawn from the Museum’s collection. These images are mostly shocking and disgusting; they add a dramatic visual presence to the specific textual analysis that the author elaborates in his book. They vary in content and include examples that are merely stupid caricatures of Black men, women, and children to thoroughly grotesque images of lynchings and depictions of African Americans as animals.

The common element is that these depictions normalize millions of human of African descent as entirely inferior beings. The central point is that these images, disseminated repetitively, lead the majority population to reinforce and rationalize their destructive attitudes and their conduct toward their fellow human beings. Popular culture is not a trivial adjunct to the course of history; rather, it plays a central role in producing and perpetuating the patterns of oppression that have scarred and despoiled our history for four centuries. That realization is the most significant theme emerging from this important book.

Understanding Jim Crow also has two other features that contribute to its overall excellence. The first is an insightful Foreward by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. Gates’s essay discusses the meaning and impact of a museum devoted to presenting the stereotypes of Black people as shiftless, guileless, terrified, conniving, and other horrific clichés that have dehumanized them over the centuries. He acknowledges his initial misgivings about visiting the museum and his understandable reaction that some of the objects understandably “turn the stomach.”

But Professor Gates makes an especially important point about why the Jim Crow Museum is such an invaluable resource. He acknowledges that some or even all of these memorabilia might unwittingly contribute to the brainwashing of actual and potential racists and might normalize violence through repetition in that setting, despite the warnings from the wall text and museum guides. Gates argues persuasively, however, that these racist objects can actually promote a healing power and engender a new commitment for anti-racist action.

He makes the case effectively: “Instead, by confronting our fears, we learn to master them, and from that learning comes the wisdom to see a nemesis like Jim Crow for what it really was––a systematic attempt to undermine a people, by framing and justifying, their second-class status. . . .”

We need not hide from these racist signs and objects. Instead, we need to expose them to the light of day in order to have a fuller if more disconcerting sense of the past. Then––and only then––can America move towards genuine equality and racial justice.

The final segment of the volume is the most engaging. It reproduces a colorful mural by African American artist and Ferris State University professor Jon McDonald. Entitled “Cloud of Whiteness,” the 2012 artwork in the Museum features a moving tribute to some of the people who sacrificed their lives during the Civil Rights Movement era. This striking mural complements perfectly the disgraceful imagery in the Museum itself. Like the objects in the collection, it also encourages viewers to probe deeply and reinforce collective memory about recent U.S. history.

Seventeen figures of Black and White victims of racial violence are pictured in the clouds, hovering over the landscape. Their faces, situated in the heavens, look down upon the earth. They remind audiences that they gave their lives in the eternal struggle for freedom. Many of these figures are well known and have dramatically entered the annals of recent historical memory. Iconic leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all of whom were assassinated in the prime of their lives, are prominently displayed in this magnificent mural.

So too are other significant martyrs from that era, who are generally well recognized among civil rights activists and historians: James Reeb, the white Unitarian Universalist minister who died after being savagely beaten by racist white men in Selma, Alabama in 1965; Viola Liuzzo, a wife and mother from Detroit who was shot to death by Klansmen while transporting civil rights marchers between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama in 1965––she was the only white woman martyred during that era; and Michael Schwerner, James Earl Cheney, and Andrew Goodman, who were tortured and murdered by Klansmen following their bogus arrest in Mississippi in 1964.

Still others pictured in McDonald’s mural also paid the ultimate price, but their specific names have never had the name recognition of the other martyrs in the artwork. On September 15, 1963, Ku Klux Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, just a few weeks after the historic March on Washington. Although this horrific event galvanized national attention on racist violence in America, few people now remember the names of the four young girls who died in that bombing: Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson. The mural memorializes them and reinforces the reality that racism is no abstraction, but rather a malignant force that can kill real human beings.

Finally, this powerful artwork highlights four other African Americans who lost their lives and who are not on the public radar: Johnnie Mae Chappell, a wife and mother who was murdered in 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida when several young white men, during a period of racial tension, decided to “get a nigger”; and Delano Herman Middlelton, Samuel Ephesians Hammond, and Henry Ezekiel Smith, African American teenagers killed by police during a civil rights protest in 1988 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. They too join the others and achieve a level of immortality through this brilliant example of public mural art.

“Cloud of Whiteness” makes perfect sense in the setting of the Jim Crow Museum because it encourages visitors to understand that racist popular culture is inextricably linked to racist violence. Above all, it encourages a deeper understanding that resistance is the hallmark of African American history. The book itself effectively underscores that message. The recognition of the power and significance of resistance, at the dawn of the Donald Trump administration in 2017, has never been more important for all people of goodwill.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dr. David Pilgrim's Author Page

Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
March 5th, 2018

Sociologist and museum curator Pilgrim provocatively confronts racist stereotypes using objects from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which he founded in 2012, at Ferris State University, in Michigan. The array of objects he presents that caricature black people as simians, watermelon-lovers, mammies, and worse—figurines and postcards, paperweights and ceramic plates, toys, T-shirts, sheet music, buttons, children’s books, a ticket to a hanging—brazenly exemplify racist notions. In their mundane variety, Pilgrim writes, they serve as “shorthand ways of saying that black people are others, specifically, Lesser Others.” Pilgrim presents the objects as a sort of genealogy of stereotypes that he argues still persist today. For example, he notes the subtle differences between a “coon” and a “brute” (the former reserves his violence for other black people, a characteristic popularized in “coon songs” from the 1880s, which used black-on-black crime as a form of entertainment, while the latter characterizes black people as innately savage) and connects the stereotypes behind them—that Black men are violent—to contemporary culture: “Black men, like Michael Brown or the looters televised after his death at the hand of police officers... are still portrayed as brutes or beasts,” he writes. The book draws on film, music, literature, social science, and ample history to survey how white supremacy operates, from 19th century minstrel shows to the Obama monkey memes of the past decade. The graphics featured throughout will likely cause more than a little discomfort, but that’s clearly the point as Pilgrim boldly challenges readers to confront racist taboos. Color photos.

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