This Week ::: OUR COMMON GROUND

This Week ::: OUR COMMON GROUND

“The Glitch in the Matrix”

This Week on OUR COMMON GROUND

“The Glitch in the Matrix”

OPEN MIC

Saturday,September 11, 2021 ::: 10 pm ET

Tune In: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk

Call-In & Listen Line: (347) 838-9852

In the arc of American history, Donald Trump’s election as the president of the United States is no shock. The functional preamble remains that all white men are created superior and those who subscribe to it are periodically compelled to stick it in the face of Black folks — and now brown and Muslim folks, too — even if it comes at considerable cost to the nation and world standing.

It did not matter that under Obama the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent from the 10 percent he inherited from Bush. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act insured millions more Americans than under Bush. It did not matter that many of Obama’s policies put money in the pockets of the working class, such as dramatically raising the federal salary threshold to collect overtime pay, or the Lilly Ledbetter Act for fair pay based on gender. Despite that he was so much like all Presidents before him. He was like them. The same kind of occupant of the WH, as Bush, Clinton, Kennedy. But, ultimately, they would elect an obnoxious, underachieving, corny, egomaniac conman to ensure that an Obama would never again usher shadows into their sacred places.

Since none of that mattered, all of Trump’s rhetoric about everything in America being a “disaster” was a smokescreen for the consolidation of crude white power. The majority of white Americans, a century and a half after the end of slavery, still spectacularly preferred economic uncertainty in exchange for returning Black people to their place and now sending brown immigrants and Muslims “back home.”

Early in the Trump candidacy an opinion columnist wrote in The Boston Globe that his “hateful nonsense, meant for white people who still think the country is theirs, is a death rattle for the most crude forms of white privilege.” I was hoping that his election would be as a death rattle for the snake, not for those whom the snake struck. Finally, and most disturbing of all, there was the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump last November, despite his record of governing incompetence – crystallized by the COVID-19 debacle – and toxic, divide-and-conquer political, to say nothing that he literally ran a global criminal enterprise out of the White House and throughout the government.

In the “The Matrix”, the film describes a future in which reality perceived by humans is actually the Matrix, a simulated reality created by sentient Machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. In Matrix parlance, red pills are those who are aware of the Matrix construct while blue pills are not. An often used admonishment to Black people to be realistic, clear about the political nuances of our citizenship.

The Matrix represents a system of control that operates completely in the mind. As a complex, machine-driven program, it appropriates any personal, political, or ideological leanings and renders them wholly false. It allows illusions but no action. The problem with the matrix that most people of control and power depend upon has a glitch. That is that Black people don’t believe in things, as Stevie Wonder reminded us in his awesome song, “Superstition, ” When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer. . . “ The matrix which encapsulates America is built on the superstition of American exceptionalism- a superstition of massive import.  Black people have taught this country the potential value and power of its own rhetoric around democracy. We have also taught them the lessons of its hypocrisy and fragility. Uncovering, exposing, and revealing. Demonstrating time after time that “we” are not who “we” say that we are. So many Americans are beginning to understand more and moving beyond the energy field of the matrix. The glitch in the matrix ?  Black people. We discuss it at OUR COMMON GROUND tonight.

“I’ll Be Listening for You”
Janice

‘Doing What He Loved Most’: Acclaimed Historian, Lecturer, and Pan-Africanist Runoko Rashidi Has Passed Away In Egypt :: ATL Black Star

‘Doing What He Loved Most’: Acclaimed Historian, Lecturer, and Pan-Africanist Runoko Rashidi Has Passed Away In Egypt

Posted byBy Niara Savage | August 5, 2021 

Historian and anthropologist Runoko Rashidi passed away on Aug. 2 at the age of 66 while on his annual trip to Egypt, his family announced in a statement on his website.

“He was on tour in Kmt, doing what he loved most. He will be greatly missed. Please allow his family the time and privacy needed during this difficult moment.” the statement said.

Historian and anthropologist Runoko Rashidi passed away on Aug. 2 at the age of 66 while on his annual trip to Egypt. (Photos: Runoko Rashidi/ Facebook)

Rashidi’s Pan-Africanist studies focused on Africans outside of the African continent before and after enslavement. Born in 1954, Rashidi was specifically interested in the African presence in Asia. The well-traveled researcher had visited 124 countries, authored 22 books, and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the Amen-Ra Theological Seminary in Los Angeles in 2005.

His recent works include “My Global Journeys in Search of the African Presence,” “Assata-Garvey and Me: A Global African Journey for Children” and “The Black Image in Antiquity.”

Rashidi spoke at major forums and conferences across the globe and had focused his research on the African presence in the museums of the world prior to his death. His lifetime goals included uplifting African people through history and the promotion of “knowledge of self.”

“History is a light that illuminates the past, and a key that unlocks the door to the future,” Rashidi sad about the discipline of history.

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Rashidi was set to speak at the first Pan African Heritage World Conference, a three-day hybrid and virtual event scheduled to run from Aug. 5-7 at the Association of African Universities in Accra, Ghana.

Rashidi has delivered speeches in 67 countries and was named to the Curatorial and Academic boards of the Pan-African Heritage Museum in 2020.

Rashidi explored the history of African people’s presence around the globe. In a 2014 account for Atlanta Black Star, he recalled meeting Guyanese scholar Ivan Van Sertima, who authored the book “They Came Before Columbus” that explored the presence of Africans in ancient America.

“I was honored to be in his presence,” Rashidi wrote about meeting Sertima in 1980. Upon learning about Sertima’s death in 2009, Rashidi explained, “You know, with Ivan’s transition (I could not write the “d” word), it seems almost like I have lost my bridge to those early years and those scholars who mentored and influenced me at that pivotal stage in my life.”

Rashidi also wrote about the African presence in the Roman world, and about Africans’ involvement in the slave trade.

Rashidi’s cause of death has not been made public. A statement on his website said updates will continue to be provided.

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::: Remembering Dr. Ronoko Rashidi ::: Saturday, August 7, 2021 ::: 10 pm ET

Tune In: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalkCall-In & Listen Line: (347) 838-9852

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis :: Pascal Robert 

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical AnalysisPascal Robert 

Pascal Robert a regular contributor to the online publication Black Agenda Report and is the current co-host of the THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST. He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice and INterLOCUTOR

04 Aug 2021

  

 Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis
Glen Ford

Glen Ford and the Need for Black Radical Analysis

Black radical analysis was the foundation of Ford’s work

Since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the fifty-year counter-revolution against the transformative politics that had reached their apex in the 1960s brought forth a constriction of the American political imagination. When Richard Nixon took control of the executive branch, he used appeals to Black capitalism to tamper support for radicalism among the emerging Black middle class. Thus, just as the hammer of Jim Crow segregation was lifted, the class schisms that would shape Black political life became sharpened. In the post-civil rights era, the Black working class and poor, whose labor as sharecroppers and domestic workers during Jim Crow became obsolete, were forced to confront a new set of social and economic maladies: deindustrialization, urban blight, mass incarceration, and heroine epidemics. Yet at the same time, the nascent Black middle class who benefitted from minority set aside programs, affirmative action, and foundation funded racial uplift programs emerged as the gatekeepers of Black politics. The consequence of Black politics becoming a predominately middle-class politics of elite management meant that the clarion call of the Black radicals, who from the earliest days of the American Republic fought against political lethargy, complacency, and collaboration with forces of Black oppression, was largely lost. Glen Ford, founding editor of Black Agenda Report, was one of the few exceptions to that rule.

Glen Ford was born in 1949 to two parents who had met as radicals in the post WWII era. Thus, he was exposed at an early age to people that did not simply fold under the weight of the status quo. Glen’s father was a storied Black media personality in Georgia, while his mother was a dedicated activist in all aspects of Black politics in New Jersey. Following their separation, Glen spent time with both parents mastering the respective skills of each. Indeed, Glen Ford soon became a noted radio and television personality in his own right, joining the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and subsequently living his life as an activist journalist.

The details of Glen Ford’s life are easily ascertained, but even accessing the facts of his many accomplishments distracts one from understanding what made Glen Ford so important to American society. Glen Ford was a journalist and thinker who was rooted in the tradition of Black radical analysis. Black radical analysis is the ability to look at the overall social and political reality of Black people. It is premised on understanding the forces of racial and economic antagonism that hinder that constituency’s emancipation. However, this is coupled with keen awareness of internal mechanisms, forces, structures, and individuals within the Black constituency which collaborate with the social, political, and economic establishment resulting in further subjugation of the larger masses of Black people. Such a realization may seem simple for many to fathom. Yet, the over-arching social consensus views Black people as a singular underclass without internal conflict or class stratification. Therefore, those who dare expose how internal social and ideological schisms among Black people facilitate ruling class subterfuge are not merely anomalous, but clearly exceptional. Some may ask, “What is particularly Black about this form of analysis?” I would respond that awareness of the social mechanisms within the Black constituency requires not only proximity to the constituency, but the capacity to have such analysis taken seriously by larger Black society without breeding the suspicion of it being created by racial antagonists. Does anyone believe that Black America would take kindly to the exposure of the limitations of the Black political class if they were mostly leveled by voices outside that community? Anyone who assumes as much does not realize how much ire and push back those who engage in Black radical analysis receive from those within the “community” who are blinded by the charade of racial kinship politics into believing most Black political actors work under unitary Black interest.

Glen Ford, starting at Black Commentator and eventually through Black Agenda Report, created a lexicon and analysis of the Black political class, the civil rights establishment, the Foundation/Philanthropy world, and the left flank of capital. He introduced a whole generation of online readers unfamiliar with such strident critiques to a deeper understanding of the type of neoliberal Black politics that became more common in the Obama age, while even Black activists and academics incorporated such analysis into their work. Before the regular publications of Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, and Margaret Kimberly one could only find such Black radical analysis in the books of a certain cadre of Black intellectuals and Black political scholars. Otherwise, one had to have personal access to the few Black radicals who kept such analysis alive during the fifty-year counter-revolution. What Glen Ford was able to do was take such trenchant analysis and popularize it. In doing so, consumers of online news media would begin to understand what was meant by terminology such as the “Black political class”, more notoriously, the “Black mis-leadership class.” At the same time, he was able to communicate the reality of the more cannibalistic neoliberal shift in American capitalism that took place during the post-civil rights era fifty-year counter-revolution. In short, he helped readers understand the disorienting waves of hyper privatization, de-unionization, gentrification, and public-school evisceration while such processes inflicted incalculable pain upon the laboring classes in general, and Black and Brown communities in particular.   

In the area of foreign policy, Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report stood alone among online publications in keeping the spirit of Black internationalism and Pan-Africanism that was once a common fixture of Black thought alive. A nuanced analysis of almost every political and economic crisis that affected the global Black diaspora was a regular part of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report’s weekly repertoire. Furthermore, challenging the exploits of American Empire in the Muslim word, Global South, and even Europe, was also well within the purview of Glen Ford and the Black Agenda Report crew. This level of global and domestic coverage made Glen Ford one of the most important journalists in an age when Black politics was sadly embracing the neoliberal turn in both economics and policy.

However, without a doubt the most important contribution of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report was to strike a massive journalistic blow against the curated Black consensus that supported the trojan horse, Robert Rubin hatched presidency of Barack Obama. My personal affiliation with Black Agenda Report developed from watching Glen Ford eloquently explain how the Wall Street Manchurian Candidate Barack Obama represented a threat to Black politics and Black people unseen in the modern history of the republic. Ford and his coterie were viciously attacked for exposing what only became obvious after almost fifty percent of Black wealth evaporated under the stewardship of the Obama presidency without recourse.

Therefore, not only did Glen Ford provide a critical service to Black America as a journalist, but he also provided a massive service to the burgeoning new left that developed in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sander presidential campaign by having a journalistic record that challenged both the neoliberal Wall Street pawn Obama, and the whole corporate bought and paid for Democratic party establishment. The importance of Glen Ford to contemporary American journalism and political commentary cannot be overstated. In the wake of his passing, I can only consider myself fortunate to have personally experienced his wisdom and political education through regular phone conversations when I submitted articles. This, combined with the close friendship I developed with Bruce Dixon, made the work of Glen Ford and Black Agenda Report not only politically significant, but personally crucial to my development over more than ten years as a writer and political commentator.  It is largely because of Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and Black Agenda Report that I have the foundation needed to engage in my own media project with Jason Myles on our show “THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST.”   It actually gives me a sense of honor to think that in some way, the work of Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon, who have both transitioned, can live on in the political commentary I bring forth in my work. In this way I feel personally enriched by both these men who dedicated their lives to the betterment of humanity. I salute their memories and hope to only improve upon the standard they have set. They embodied some of the best of what America has to offer in terms of political commentary and thought. Let us all recognize the importance of Black radical analysis in light of their passing.

Pascal Robert is an essayist and political commentator whose work covers Black politics, global affairs, and Haitian politics. His work has appeared in the Washington Spectator, Black Commentator, Alternet, AllHipHop.com, and The Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to the online publication Black Agenda Report and is the current co-host of the THIS IS REVOLUTION PODCAST, which is live streamed via Youtube and relevant social media on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9pm eastern standard time and Saturday’s at Noon. Pascal Robert is a graduate of Hofstra University and Boston University School of Law. 

Episode #2: Reparations: The Debt That Is Owed Series

Advocates and experts argue that on-going systemic racism has placed Black Americans at a disadvantage in everything from obtaining an education to being paid fair wages, purchasing homes, starting businesses, and passing down generational wealth — all components needed to achieve robust economic health.

Some advocates and experts say reparations are the answer. They would not only help eliminate wealth differences caused by systemic racism but are also “a form of compensation that would amount to healing,” William “Sandy” Darity, an economist and professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy told ABC News. The topic is controversial, even among the descendants. While arguments have been made that reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people could help restore economic balance in the nation, there is the outstanding question of how much should be paid out and to whom. So what exactly is owed?

Over our 34 years of live broadcasts, we have continuously brought advocates, economic experts, and activists in our discussions of reparations and reparations activism for descendants of the American chattel system. We have, in these discussions, underscored that reparations proposals must consider the economic contributions of free labor made within the hundreds of years of legal chattel slavery and continuing racial oppression up to today.

Episode #2: “Reparations: The Paradigm Shift”

Examining the demand for reparations through many eras of Black Struggle: Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, the Black Power eras and Black Lives Matters protests.

Saturday, June 12, 2021 ::: 10 pm ET

Tune In LIVE: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk

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ABOUT Dr. Rutledge M. Dennis

Rutledge M. Dennis is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He received his B.A. in Social Science and Sociology from South Carolina State University, and the M.A. and Ph.D in sociology from Washington State University. He is the editor/co-editor, and author/co-author of twelve books in the areas of urban politics, research methods in race and ethnicity, Black Intellectuals, W.E.B.Du Bois, the Black Middle Class, race and ethnic politics, comparative and theoretical approaches to race and ethnicity, marginality, bi-culturalism, Booker T. Washington, and more recently, Field Notes from the Black Middletown Study. He was presented the Joseph S. Himes Distinguished Scholarship Award by The Association of Black Sociologists, and the DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award, by the American Sociological Association.

What Good Is History for African Americans? | Boston Review

What Good Is History for African Americans?

MELVIN ROGERS

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. Photograph: John Sonderman

In the spring of 2012, we sat in the lobby of the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. My father, sister, and I had just left an appointment with his oncologist. My father was tired. He sat slightly hunched over in the chair with his arms crossed. His breathing was labored, and his head was slightly raised, looking ahead. We were waiting for my sister to return from handling some paperwork.

“Well, I think this is it,” he said.

“Oh don’t say that,” I responded.

He shrugged, as he often did, when there was little point in debating the reality of things.

Basic bodily movements consumed so much of his energy. But he managed to turn his head toward me: “Make sure your mother gets my money.”

“I will.”

“You did alright for yourself. You did what you were supposed to do. And you didn’t let the man stop you. I guess it’s all how you looked at it.”

All of this was my father’s way of telling me two things. First, it was my responsibility to take care of his affairs once he was gone. Second, he was proud of me. But his claim that I didn’t let “the man”—white folks—stop me was significant.

What America ‘really’ is, what it amounts to, is something that we can never know precisely. Indeed, worrying too much about it may miss the point.

My father was born in Union, South Carolina, in 1932. He was of a very different generation—a time when racism and exclusion were the hallmarks of daily life for black folks, especially in the South. He never fully let go of that past. It didn’t haunt him minutely, but to a significant extent it shaped his views about what was possible. For example, when I was a junior in high school, he began to wonder what trade I would take up. I told him I wanted to go to college and he responded with familiar language: “The man ain’t gonna let you in his school. You need a trade so you can open up a storefront. Am I wrong?”

I pushed back quickly: “I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just don’t know if you’re quite right.” We disagreed, and, as he had done on the occasion of many other disagreements, he shrugged.

My father was not trying to destroy my dreams; he was trying to put them on solid footing, properly connected to the reality he thought we lived. I understood this even when I thought he was wrong. I admired it in him, and I loved him for it. To have him, confronted with the certainty of his end, tell me that I did “alright” for myself was, to say the least, an important moment for the both of us. But for him to suggest that the possibility of my success was partly tied to how I looked at things was even more significant. He was acknowledging an important difference between us—a difference between his past and my present.

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Since the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, we find ourselves confronted daily with the enormity of our racial reality. The killing of black men and women by police officers, the arms of the state, is not the only thing. Black Americans continue to struggle disproportionately in employment and education. The depth of these problems led journalist Ta-Neshi Coates to describe the situation as the logical and natural consequence of what American society is about. In The Atlantic in 2013, he observed:

When you have a society that takes at its founding the hatred and degradation of a people, when the society inscribes that degradation in its most hallowed document, and continues to inscribe hatred in its laws and policies, it is fantastic to believe that its citizens will derive no ill messaging. It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended.

In his recent book, Democracy in Black, Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., reinforces this claim when he remarks that valuing white people more than others in this country is “in our national DNA.” Glaude’s book is a sober reflection on our racial reality. On the one hand, it seeks to explain the deep-seated nature of racial disregard that distorts the outlook of both whites and blacks. On the other, he tries to distill from anti-racist activism the energy to reimage the values that orient American life. Unlike Coates, Glaude aims for a radical transformation of American society. But it is not clear what one is to do if one begins with the notion that the nation’s DNA makes it unresponsive to the pain of non-whites, especially blacks.

Little can be denied in Coates’s and Glaude’s analyses; it is fashionable these days, and understandably so, to wear one’s despair on one’s sleeve. After all, since the founding of this country we have seen white supremacy mutate and evolve to frustrate progress toward racial equality. Claims of white supremacy’s death—of the post-racialism supposedly evidenced by Barack Obama’s presidency—have proven premature. In the failures of Reconstruction, the eruption of lynching in the South from the 1880s through the 1960s, the rise and fall of Jim Crow, and the reconstitution of Jim Crow in the carceral state, American society has found new and inventive ways of reminding black Americans of their unequal worth.

There is no need to be naïve. The success of some black Americans in no way indicates what is possible for all black Americans. But the persistence of racial inequality demands a response. And as my father understood near the end of his life, how we respond depends on how we see our racial reality. In other words, how we frame the problem is a critical choice.

We—and here I mean black Americans engaged in struggle as well as white Americans who stand in alliance—must confront some crucial questions. Can American democracy only work if some are privileged while others are oppressed, or are we justified in our hopes for a truly inclusive and fair society? Is American democracy constitutionally at odds with our goals, as Coates seems to suggest? Or might it be conducive to building a society in which we all can live equally and at peace with one another?

How we answer these questions depends not only on which histories we consult, but also the weight we accord to the ones we use. In our historical calculus, we might emphasize the reconstitution of white supremacy, but we could just as easily emphasize the ways in which it has been foiled through multiple waves of racial inclusion. Those who embrace the former as our “true” racial reality find themselves trying to prove to those of us who have benefited from racial struggle why our success is illusory or, at best, temporary. But those who locate America’s identity in its resistance to white supremacy have another problem. They are often unable to see the evidence of systemic racism, or they readily describe it as anomalous, foreign to the structure of our institutions. If the first posture seems unsatisfying because it denies human agency and gives the past too much power over the future, the second risks turning a blind eye to the ways white supremacy is often bolstered by institutional support and state violence. Both sides fail to distinguish between the somewhat different tasks of studying the past and narrativizing the past in a way that is useful for moving society in an auspicious direction.

What America “really” is, what its history amounts to, is something that we can never know precisely. Indeed, worrying too much about this may miss the point: we ask such questions of the past less to understand who we have been than to aid us in making decisions about who we should become. This is, we might say, the aspirational quality of the American imagination. The best of the tradition of anti-racist struggles in the United States, including our current Black Lives Matter movement, is nurtured by this idea.

We should stop trying to pinpoint the “true” or “real” identity of the nation as it relates to the status of people of color. Rather, the only question worth asking, if an inclusive democratic society is our goal, is how we should interpret the history of our racial past in order to sustain our hopes. Responding to this question will capture what democracy has always been about: people trying to determine for themselves the kind of society they want to inhabit. This is a utopian—dare I say revolutionary—impulse because it sees democracy as an exercise of our moral imagination, struggling to be realized in practice. We need not look despairingly upon the past because it overdetermines our present; neither do we need to see the past as anchoring a long arc of justice or an inevitable march toward progress. We can instead say simply that there is work to be done and it is ours to do. This is our trade.

Source: What Good Is History for African Americans? | Boston Review

How Black Composers Shaped the Sound of American Classical Music | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

How Black Composers Shaped the Sound of American Classical Music

A new project seeks to elevate artists like Harry T. Burleigh and Florence Price, whose work has been ignored by white audiences

Harry T. Burleigh
Musician Lara Downes aims to highlight the work of composers like Harry T. Burleigh, photographed c. 1938. (Granger)
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM

Classical pianist Lara Downes knew she was onto something profound when audiences began to react to her show-closing rendition of “Fantasie Negre,” a 1929 composition by the African American composer Florence Beatrice Price. Instead of relying on motifs typical of the time period, Price injected a new musical influence by adapting the melody of the soulful spiritual “Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass.”

“People would go nuts,” recalls Downes. “It was this sound that people hadn’t heard before.” Although Price was the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra, her works remained outside the mainstream of classical concert music, not to mention beyond name recognition of the most casual classical music fan. Downes, who also hosts Amplify with Lara Downes on NPR, first came across Price’s music in the mid-aughts, in a dusty library copy of a collection of compositions by Price and her contemporaries.

Downes’ new project, Rising Sun Music, aims to reframe the history of American classical music by embracing its diverse origins and composers of color like Price, while building a more inclusive future for the genre. The project, created and curated by Downes and assisted by veteran classical music producer Adam Abeshouse, is a series of newly recorded works written by black composers—including many works that have never been recorded before—performed by Downes with guest artists. She plans to release one song per week to streaming platforms, with a new theme every month, beginning February 5.

During an era when American popular music was defined by Aaron Copland’s sweeping fanfares and George Gershwin’s cinematic melding of styles, African American composers brought their own heritage to their music. Inspired by social and artistic movements in Harlem and Chicago, musicians like Price or Harry T. Burleigh took spirituals, a form borne out of a mix of African traditions with Christian themes, and enshrined them in the lexicon of concert performance music. Burleigh’s composition “On Bended Knees,” for example, notably quotes the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Lara Downes
Lara Downes’ new Rising Sun project hopes to reframe the history of American classical music by embracing its diverse origins and composers of color. (Jiyang Chen)

Such overt references in classical and concert music to spirituals, notes Horace J. Maxile, Jr., a music theory professor at Baylor University whose musicology work centers on African American composers, often came in the rhythms and note choices.

“There could be actual quotes of spiritual tunes, or [they could] allude to the spiritual by way of their melodic content,” Maxile says. “There could also be evocations of the dance by way of lots of syncopated rhythms and snapped rhythms that feel like stomp, clap, stomp, clap.”

That Downes had never encountered Price before finding the library book, despite training at conservatories in Vienna, Paris and Basel, Switzerland, sent her deeper in search of composers of color, and Americans in particular. But for Downes, the daughter of a Jamaican-born father and a Jewish mother who had lived abroad since her teenage years, her quest was as much a search for her own identity.

“I had just come back to this country by myself without my family,” who remained in Europe, she says. “I was living in cities like Berkeley and New York and sort of processing myself through the eyes of other people and just having all of this input about what it means to walk in the world as a person of color.”

Downes’s childhood in California was preoccupied with loss; her father fell ill and died when she was 9 years old. Growing up in a white environment in San Francisco, she says, left her filled with questions about the part of her family she had lost—questions that led her to trace the larger arc of American identity on her 2001 album American Ballads, and then on America Again in 2016, which included her studio performance of Price’s “Fantasie Negre.”

While studying in Europe, where she walked in the footsteps of composers like Beethoven and Mozart, she says she felt the contradiction of feeling at home playing the piano eight hours a day while also being an outsider twice over—both as an American and as a person of color. Likewise, she found that works by American composers were generally ignored by European conservatories.

“Studying in Europe was the first time that I encountered this kind of bias against a certain type of American music,” she says. “I remember wanting to play something American, and … they didn’t know anything about American music. I think they had vaguely heard of Aaron Copland, maybe, but I remember wanting to play ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and it was laughable that I would do such a thing.”

When it came to black composers, the situation she found back home wasn’t much different than the strictures she faced abroad. Maxile says that could be due in part to how classical music is tied to class and race in America. The early consumers of classical music were wealthy Americans with access to leisure tied to European culture and its composers; those associations persist today. For conductors of American orchestras and other classical performing groups, these realities, among others, factor into how they select music for performance, which exacerbates the problem of black composers’ anonymity.

“What are you going to program—are you going to go to the things that are going to get people in the seats, and your wealthy donors, or are you going to take a couple of chances?” posits Maxile. “I think some conductors might be wrestling with that. Some are taking some chances and doing some innovative programming, and putting some things out in schools and that kind of thing, but there’s also that go-to clientele, so to speak, that you might have to continuously cultivate.”

With Rising Sun Music, Downes is expanding on her recent explorations into black classical compositions. Last year, her twin releases, Florence Price Piano Discoveries and Some of These Days, highlighted Price as well as pioneers like Burleigh and Margaret Bonds, the first African American to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a composer and arranger known for her collaborations with poet Langston Hughes.

Downes will begin her series with the theme “Remember Me to Harlem,” a nod to the importance of Harlem Renaissance composers such as William Grant Still, the first African American to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera, and Eubie Blake, who co-authored one of the first Broadway musicals written and directed by African Americans. The monthlong February run is also a tribute to her father, who grew up in Harlem and attended the same church as Burleigh.

The church, of course, had a large influence on the work of pioneering black composers, and not only in the religious sense. At a time when African Americans owned little real estate, churches were one of the few spaces where they could congregate, collaborate and perform. “The church was a central place for cultural development as well as spiritual, and social, and educational development as well during those years,” says Maxile.

Price, who will be featured in March as part of the “Phenomenal Women” theme, wrote compositions based on spirituals from the black church, choosing to embrace her roots instead of writing music that adhered to a more Eurocentric tradition.

“It’s an intentional thing… and it’s a surprising thing, because already you’re a woman [and] nobody’s going to take you seriously as a composer,” she says. “Now you’re a black woman, and twice they’re not going to take you seriously as a composer. And you still make that choice.”

Rising Sun Music, which borrows its name from lyrics of the “black national anthem,” the unifying spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” comes along at a time when Americans are divided along racial, political and class lines more than at any moment in the last half-century. Downes says she wants to set people on a journey of discovery to understand the roots of American classical music, where it has traveled and who it has connected along the way. She hopes it can help others in the same way her journey into the works of black composers brought her to understand her own American identity.

“We’re all just feeling this urgency to find the places where we come together, right? That’s the only way that we can heal all this division,” says Downes. “When you hear the music, you hear that. You hear that we’re all connected, and you hear a song with different references or context or memories than I do. But it’s the same song, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Source: How Black Composers Shaped the Sound of American Classical Music | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

Why History Matters: the Legacy of Slavery – CounterPunch.org

Why History Matters: the Legacy of Slavery

 

Slave auction block, Green Hill Plantation, Campbell County, Virginia, Historic American Buildings Survey – Public Domain

Many Americans watched as Joe Biden marked his Inauguration Day celebration with a brief presentation before the statue of Abraham Lincoln, invoking the Civil War as an historical moment when the nation triumphed over deep division.

When recalling Lincoln, many New Yorkers may remember the famous speech he gave at Cooper Institute (aka Cooper Union) in February 1860 calling to limit the extension – but not the end – of slavery.  It was a critical campaign speech that helped him secure the Republican Party nomination for President.  In November, he was elected, and, in December, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union.

Unfortunately, few American – and likely very few New Yorkers – will recall that Lincoln’s speech was strongly attacked by city business leaders and the Democratic Party, many assailing him with the racist slogan, “Black Republican.” More important, Lincoln’s election sparked a strong movement in the city, led by Mayor Fernando Wood, to join the South and secede from the Union.

This is one of the many important historical stories retold in an informative new book by Jonathan Daniel Wells, The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War (Bold Type Books). Slavery was formally abolished in New York State in 1827, but the slave trade lived on in the city until the Civil War. Wells argues that the slave trade persisted in New York City in the decades before the Civil War because it was the capital of the Southern slave economy.

The city’s business community of major banks, insurance companies and shipping industry financed and facilitated the cotton trade. Many of the leaders of this community played a decisive role in city social life and politics, including control over the powerful Democratic Party. Together, they backed the authority of the Constitution’s “Fugitive Slave Clause” – and later Fugitive Slave Acts (1793 and 1850) — guaranteeing slavery. Equally critical, city police, leading lawyers and judges (state and federal), with the support of the growing Irish immigrant community, colluded with organized slave “kidnappers.”

The slave trade functioned in two complementary ways. First, northern free Blacks — including young children — as well as self-emancipated former slaves who fled to New York from the slave states lived in fear of being kidnapped by organize slave catchers (often city police officers) and transported south into slavery. Second, “slaver” ships regularly stopped in New York harbor with numerous African slaves hidden on board as cargo to be sold as part of a lucrative, if illegal, business.

In pre-Civil War New York, the police were underpaid and made money through accepting bribes as well as by securing lucrative rewards from seizing and sending alleged “fugitive” Black people to the South or a fee for the sale of a captured free Black person into slavery. Because the courts were run by the Democrats, graft and corruption were accepted judicial procedures. Any Black person could be seized — walking on the street, working on the docks, at home in the middle of the night and even kids on their way to school – and accused of being an allegedly run-away slave. Most judges were notorious racists who thought little of Black people and were eager to go along with police charges.

The city’s powerful pro-slavery movement based its support for Southern slavery and slave kidnapping on the Constitution’s “Fugitive Slave Clause” (i.e., Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3). It stipulated that “no person held to service or labor” would be released from bondage in the event they escaped to a free state, thus requiring northern free cities like New York to return the self-emancipated to their southern enslavers.

In 1793, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act that added more enforcement teeth to the original Clause, explicitly stating that owners of enslaved people and their “agents” had the right to search for escapees within the borders of free states. Henry Clay promoted what was known as the “Compromise of 1850” that strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act to forestall growing talk of Southern secession. The revised act compelled citizens to assist in the capture of runaways and denied escaped people the right to a jury trial, among other actions.  The new act was met by fierce resistance in many anti-slavery states, including upstate New York. The new act was adopted as the Underground Railroad reached its peak as many self-emancipated former slaves fled to Canada to escape U.S. jurisdiction.

The author grounds much of his narrative around the life of David Ruggles, a courageous Black abolitionists and journalist.  He was born in Connecticut in 1810 when the spirit of the Revolution still glowed. At age 16, he moved to New York and became an abolitionist activist. He was a prolific contributor to newspapers, including his own paper Mirror of Liberty, published numerous pamphlets and contributed to abolitionist papers like The Liberator. He named “The New York Kidnapping Club” and published a list those he believed participated in kidnappings. Going further, he boarded ships in the harbor in search of Black captives or for signs of participants in the illegal slave trade.  He also hosted the wedding of Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray at his New York home after they fled Maryland.

Ruggles helped forge the Underground Railroad, thus assisting self-liberated fugitives to safety in the north or to freedom in Canada. He was joined by a small but activist antislavery community that included Horace Dresser, Arthur Tappan, Charles B. Ray and Elizabeth Jennings. He ran a bookstore and was physically attacked, his store burned; he was hounded by the police and even briefly jailed. Sadly, by his 30s, he was nearly blind and moved to Massachusetts.

In 1837, Ruggles helped found the New York Committee of Vigilance, a biracial organization opposed to the kidnapping of innocent Black residents as well as self-liberated former slaves. The abolitionists were a small but activities community that regularly protested when a Black person was kidnapped and petitioned for jury trials in the cases of those arrested as fugitives. Not unlike today’s supporters of Black Lives Matter, Black and white activists in pre-Civil War New York claimed that law enforcement was mostly little more than legalized racism.

The Kidnapping Club reminds readers that New York was a pro-slavery city even as the nation was engulfed in the Civil War. Wells recounts how the city’s leadership joined with the growing movement in the South to promote secession. While the South seceded and New York (white) citizen voted against Lincoln’s election, the city remained part of the Union.

However, built-up anti-abolitionist sentiments exploded in the 1865 Draft Riot that saw Union soldier from the recent Battle of Gettysburg march on the city to suppress the uprising in which the Negro Orphan Asylum burned, numerous churches destroyed and about 100 people died, many of them Blacks.

Without acknowledging the racial conditions of New York during pre-Civil War era, especially the horrors inflicted by the “kidnapping club” and the role of the police and judiciary, one cannot fully understand – nor can society truly address – the complaints raised by the Black Lives Matter movement today. Racial oppression and suffering leave a deep and enduring scar that only true social change can remedy.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

Source: Why History Matters: the Legacy of Slavery – CounterPunch.org

How Slavery Changed the DNA of African Americans – Pacific Standard

Our genetic make-up is the result of history. Historical events that influenced the patterns of migration and mating among our ancestors are reflected in our DNA — in our genetic relationships with each other and in our genetic risks for disease. This means that, to understand how genes affect our biology, geneticists often find it important to tease out how historical drivers of demographic change shaped present-day genetics.

Understanding the connection between history and DNA is especially important for African Americans, because slavery and discrimination caused profound and relatively rapid demographic change. A new study now offers a very broad look at African-American genetic history and shows how the DNA of present-day African Americans reflects their troubled history.

Slavery and its aftermath had a direct impact on two critical demographic factors that are especially important in genetics: migration and sex. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a forced migration that carried nearly 400,000 Africans over to the colonies and, later, the United States. Once in North America, African slaves and their descendants mixed with whites of European ancestry, usually because enslaved black women were raped and exploited by white men. And, more recently, what’s known as the Great Migration dramatically re-shaped African-American demographics in the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1970, six million blacks left the South and settled in the Northern, Midwestern, and Western states, in hope of finding opportunities for a better life.

How this turbulent history shaped the genes of African Americans has been unclear because, until recently, most genetic studies have focused either on populations from different geographical regions around the world, or on Americans with European ancestry. Fortunately, African Americans are now being included in these studies on a larger scale, and several long-term studies have collected genetic data on thousands of African Americans, representing all areas of the country. In a recently published study, a team of researchers at McGill University in Montreal turned to this data to take a broad look at the genetic history of African Americans.

AFRICAN AMERICANS WITH A HIGHER FRACTION OF EUROPEAN ANCESTRY, WHO OFTEN HAVE LIGHTER SKIN, HAD BETTER SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES AND WERE THUS IN A BETTER POSITION TO MIGRATE TO NORTHERN AND WESTERN STATES.

The researchers focused on nearly 4,000 African Americans who participated in two important studies, both sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The Health and Retirement Study consists of older volunteers sampled from urban and rural areas across the U.S., while the Southern Community Cohort Study focuses on African Americans in the South, particularly areas that have a disproportionately high burden of disease. Together, these two studies are among the largest sources of genetic data on African Americans. Importantly, they represent a geographically broad sampling of the African-American population, which is critical for outlining the patterns of genetic history.

The researchers first looked at what fraction of African Americans’ genetic ancestry could be traced back to Africa. Not surprisingly, the data shows that, for most African Americans, the majority of their DNA comes from African ancestors. The results also show that essentially all African Americans have some European ancestry ancestry as well. The genetic mix of African and European DNA, however, follows a striking geographical trend: African Americans living in Southern states have more African DNA (83 percent) than those living in other areas of the country (80 percent). Conversely, African Americans outside the South have a larger fraction of European DNA. Even within the South, this trend holds: Blacks in Florida and South Carolina have more African DNA than those living in Kentucky and Virginia.

One explanation for this geographical bias could be that interracial marriages have been less frequent in Southern states. But this explanation appears to be wrong. The McGill researchers found that most of the European DNA among blacks today probably entered the African-American gene pool long before the Civil War, when the vast majority of blacks in the U.S. were slaves living in the South. The genetic patterns observed by the researchers suggest that, for at least a century before the Civil War, there was ongoing admixture between blacks and whites. After slavery ended, this interracial mixing dropped off steeply.

The implication of these findings won’t be surprising to anyone: Widespread sexual exploitation of slaves before the Civil War strongly influenced the genetic make-up of essentially all African Americans alive today.

But this poses a puzzle: If African Americans can trace most of their European ancestry to an era when America’s black population was overwhelmingly confined to the South, why is it that African Americans now living outside the South have more European DNA?

The researchers propose an interesting answer. They argue that the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South was genetically biased: African Americans with a higher fraction of European ancestry, who often have lighter skin, had better social opportunities and were thus in a better position to migrate to northern and Western states. Though it will take further evidence to show this definitively, the McGill researchers’ results imply that, even after the end of slavery, discrimination that varied with shades of skin color continued to influence the genetic history of African Americans.

Do these genetic findings matter to anyone other than historians and genealogists? The answers is yes — studies of genetic history like this one are important because they help explain why blacks and whites often have different genetic risk factors for the same diseases. African Americans are disproportionately affected by many common diseases, and while much of this is due to poverty and limited access to good health care, genetics plays a role as well. If African Americans are to fully benefit from modern health care, where diagnoses and treatments are increasingly tailored to a patient’s DNA, it is critical that we understand African Americans’ genetic history, and how it contributes to their health today. In other words, we need to understand not just the cultural and economic legacies of slavery and discrimination, but the genetic legacy as well.

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