This past weekend, we learned the sad news that our young brother comrade from our All African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) New York, U.S., chapter, had suddenly made his physical transition. Steve Deslouches - who we called "Steevie" - a mere 26 years old, was gone.
I first met Steevie in May of 2015 at our annual African Liberation Day commemoration observed in Washington D.C., U.S. I was working to help build our Oregon A-APRP chapter at the time, but I was asked to go out to D.C., and Philadelphia, and serve as our keynote speaker for both African Liberation Day programs in each of those cities. Steevie came up to me after my presentation to express his excitement at the information contained in it and the passion in which he felt it was delivered. I was equally impressed by the fact he had caught a train from New York just to come down to the program by himself. I also joked with him that his physical appearance and demeanor reminded me of long time A-APRP Central Committee member Macheo Shabaka - who ironically, we also lost in July of 2018.
One of the principle rules I've learned about successful organizing over the years is the absolute importance of follow up. This is a minor, yet critically important element, that is missing from most work. I've always viewed revolutionary organizing within a hostile capitalist society as a struggle of gaining any and every advantage that you can. Consequently, I've always tried to pay special attention to follow up. What I've learned from this focus is most of time when you collect people's contact information, which I often do, and follow up with them, regardless of your efforts, you most often never connect with them again. My belief is the reason for this is most people are ready to complain and/or pontificate about our problems, but very few people are actually ready to consistently engage to do anything about our problems. That's why I was so impressed with Steevie after that African Liberation Day program when he beat me by reaching out to me first. We talked, mostly electronically, throughout that summer. He often had questions about my writings on this blog. He wanted me to refer books to him. He had questions about how to go about organizing the A-APRP in New York City.
In October of that same year, I saw Steevie again at the Million Man March event in Washington D.C. There were about 10 brothers there from the A-APRP from various chapters throughout the U.S. We met that morning and spent that entire day passing out or organizing materials and having conversations with thousands of our people. It was a great day and I recall spending hours on our feet working with Brother Steevie and the other young organizers.
After the Million Man March Steevie and I continued to stay in contact. We would talk every month or so. Eventually, he began to open up to me some, articulating some of the personal struggles he was battling with. He was very forthright and honest about his challenges which was refreshing in this day and time when truth and justice are so often completely divorced from day to day reality. I'm no expert on much of what he shared with me, but he expressed that he wanted to continue to hear from me the things that inspired me to do this work. How I continued to overcome the negativity. How I managed to stay positive about the work and my own personal walk through life in a backward society. I tried my best to give him what he wanted.
The last couple of times I talked to Steevie, a few months ago, we talked for quite some time. He was actively working on a plan for himself and I encouraged him to do whatever he needed to do to move forward. I was always impressed with his honesty and willingness to listen to those around him. To me, he represented the exact potential we have within our young people to rise up and overcome the oppression we experience. Here was a young person who was so committed to seeing things improve for us. A person who was willing to struggle to better themselves to be in the best position to make their best contribution. A person who wanted to take advantage of every resource around them to help them on their journey. I was honored that Steevie felt I could in some way enhance his efforts.
When a tragedy like this happens, without any details (because I don't have any), the normal response is to wonder if we have somehow failed this person who succumbed and thinking that makes us sad. It's making me sad, but as I've thought about Steevie all weekend, I've come to a different analysis of this unfortunate situation. The stark reality is that this system has always, and will always, come to destroy our people. Its working to destroy everyone, but the African masses will always represent the most serious threat to capitalism simply because that entire system is based on our oppression not just in one part of the world, but throughout the entire planet. There are no people more widespread on Earth then we Africans and our systemic oppression is the exact reason why this is so. The capitalist system attacks us physically by using state institutions to repress us e.g. police, social services, prisons, etc. It attacks us other ways physically by confining us to the slave diet that is causing our health epidemics worldwide. And, it attacks us psychologically by treating us as if we are less than human. For many people, this becomes more than they can handle. This is why its so very important that a central core of our work is always to reaffirm the humanity of our people and of all of the world's populations.
I'm heartbroken about losing Steevie. I'm heartbroken about all of the loss of life that could be avoided, but I'm going to use this to encourage myself to continue to remember my humanity and your humanity, because this humanity is our best weapon against the forces that are trying to destroy us. I didn't know Steevie very long, but I'm going to tell myself that this is how he would wish us to honor him going forward.
This precious African child - seven year old Jazmine Barnes - was murdered Sunday by some deranged European. He pulled the trigger, but the problem, and the solution, is bigger than just reacting to this tragic individual act. Its time for us to get organized to stop this madness once and for all. And, if you don't think we can, then you are unwittingly a part of the problem.
Like most of you, I'm absolutely outraged by the news that some infected European roach shot and killed an African baby. That another human spit wad kicked a one year old African baby. That even another piece of horse manure grabbed an African femme youth working at a capitalist fast food restaurant. And, all of this within the last week or so. Of course, this type of terrorism happens against our people daily and has been happening to us for centuries (for those of you who wish to reduce this to just the result of the present idiot in D.C. All his election has done is release the toxins that already flow in this backward society).
In this world dominated by the economics of capitalism, where profit supersedes the importance of people's needs, we have all had it drilled into us for the last 100 years that socialism is a bad thing. We can easily use the word "drilled" because all one has to do is ask for a comprehensive definition of socialism to find out the people who say they oppose it find it extremely difficult to provide anything that could even pose as a definition for what socialism truly is. And, we hear the constant data proclaiming that people read more in 2019 than ever, but those statistics don't explain the quality of material being read. In other words, a person taking those reading surveys can count a dime store romance novel as reading a book as much as a comprehensive analysis and history of socialist movements. What I'm saying is you don't see people everyday reading about socialism, yet the degree and passion people have in talking about it would suggest otherwise. In response to that contradiction, what we wish to do here is challenge that dilemma.
Everyday, everywhere on Earth, somebody European is coming into spaces with African people (or Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, etc) to express their perspective that nationalism is a primitive form of human consciousness. Even most of these people who claim to support national liberation for colonized people still see any semblance of national identity as reactionary and contrary to forward human progress.
I don't celebrate Christmas. I'm not a Christian. I'm not a Muslim, or Jew, or a practitioner of any organized form of spiritual worship. Christmas in industrialized capitalist countries, of course, has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus beyond the name meaning a Mass for Christ, or the birth of Christ. The capitalists wanted to make this holiday so much about spending your hard earned money with them that they even organized to make the holiday commemorated on December 25th, the end of the year, despite overwhelming evidence that Jesus wasn't born anytime close to December. What this month does do for capitalists is provide the largest shopping environment at the end of the calendar year, providing capitalism with a dependable revenue boost at the end of the year.
There's no shortage of ignorance in any capitalist society. And, since this country is the center of world capitalism, its stands to reason that despite the undeniable reality that information is everywhere around us, ignorance is the standard in this society. Actually, ignorance is actually celebrated here. I'll give an example. Whenever I've spoken and/or written about the topic of our LBGTQ communities, I've received simple questions from the most simple minded among us asking and/or "accusing" me of being gay. Although I do think that is a very stupid way to respond to any type of analysis, I'm not offended when that happens because I've spent my entire life working for unity among African people. And, when I say working for it, I mean making sacrifices, suffering the worse type of disrespect, and many, many other things most of you will never have any idea about. I and others choose this path because we are committed to making contributions towards alleviating the oppression our people experience. Our commitment has led us to take studying our circumstances very seriously, That study and that work have helped us develop a very selfless approach to everything that we do. Its definitely not perfect, but its without question a consistent effort.
Wait for it. Are you ready? Its not Nelson Mandela. Certainly, its not some silly answer like Barack Obama. Not even close. Of course, we don't claim to have done a formal survey on this. We haven't conducted a scientific experiment on this question. Our assessment is going to be entirely based on our understanding of African politics over the 25 year period in question and informal discussions with Africans everywhere.
Saturday night I paid $65.00 USD to see Ice Cube. Actually, I wasn't really going to see him. Also performing at the show was the classic old school group Zapp who I have loved since I bought their first album in 1980 as an 18 year old. I owned all their albums and since it always seems like 90% of hip/hop, at least the so-called West Coast "gangsta rap" is Zapp (Roger Troutman), and Parliament-Funkadelic samples, I will always enjoy Zapp. E-40 was also performing. His music defines reactionary, but if I'm honest, when I was at my lowest point of self-sufficiency in Oregon in 2010, 2011, listening to his music reminded me of the Califonria/Bay Area, which reminded me that's where I came from, which reminded me how I've come through much more than what I was dealing with at that time. So, for that, I wanted to see him too, because hearing his music live was going to be some sort of therapeutic thumb in the face to my struggles seven/eight years ago. And, because of the reasons given above, I was ok through Zapp and E-40's performances so that by itself was worth the cost of the ticket.
What I want to talk about though was Ice Cube's performance. He was the headliner and he spent almost twice the time on stage than any of the other performers mentioned previously. Now, I listened to Ice Cube once he left NWA and went solo. At that time, he was being mentored by former Nation of Islam National Representative, New Black Panther Party founder - Khalid Abdul Muhammad. By the time Ice Cube released "Death Certificate" in 1991, I was happy to plop down my - whatever it cost - for that CD. His approach was angry and extremely anti-woman and patriarchal, but most of us, including the many African women engaged in my organizational life at that time, collectively decided to forgo criticism of his unforgivable anti-womanism because of the strong anti-white supremacy statements that were expressed in virtually every song on that album. I'm not excusing that decision. Its not anything I'm proud of, but up to that point, no one else had figured out a way to express the raw anger of inner city Africans than what Ice Cube articulated on that album. His analogy of a European (white) man kidnapping Africans in his car to the slave trade was genius. "My Summer Vacation" is the story of so many Africans locked up in this country's illegal prisons. "Man's Best Friend" is still poetic justice on African gun rights and "No Vaseline" remains one of the very best dis records in hip/hop history. And without question, the best portion of that record is the end when Ice Cube viciously assaults the late Eric "Eazy-E" Wright for meeting with the Republican National Committee as a fundraiser for the just departed George Bush Sr. "I'll never have dinner with the president, and when I see your @ss again I'll be hesitant!" Pure genius! I'm not mentioning any of those songs filled with patriarchal lyrics because quite honestly, I don't really know them. I skipped over them 100% of the time, but the ones I've mentioned, I played often. Never in front of my then young daughter and any other children in my presence because Cube's constant use of the n word was just not something we have done since the 1970s. Those political lyrics though. "A Bird in the hand (crack) is worth more than a bush (the president) to convey how Africans know they have better odds dealing drugs than trying to play the capitalist game...No matter what anyone says, that's genius. That's the core of what hip/hop is on all levels, despite its shortcomings. During those early 90s, Cube surpassed Public Enemy, KRS-1, and other "political" hip/hop voices in some ways because of his ability to capture that anger. His music wasn't about intellectually dissecting racist society. It was about sticking a 45 caliber pistol into uncle sam's mouth and squeezing the trigger and I loved it!
Even with all I've said about Ice Cube's music in the early 90s and its impact on me, I wasn't under any illusions before Saturday night. The Ice Cube of "Death Certificate" was a young man in his twenties. The Ice Cube of today is a middle aged man who has become the maga capitalist mogul who has distributed blockbuster movies like the "Friday" and "Barbershop" franchise series along with several even more mainstream movies in recent years like "Fist Fight". He's become a major mainstream capitalist star who can be seen in commercials and on ESPN breaking down NBA basketball games with uncle Shaq and Charles. Khalid Abdul Muhammad is a very distant memory for Ice Cube so I knew before Saturday that the chances of Cube performing anything produced during his "angry" years (1990 to 1994) were slim to none. And, my prediction was 100% accurate. The only song Cube performed that could even be suggested as political was his recently released anti-Trump song which of course he would sing, he just released it. The most basic business sense would require him to perform it everywhere he goes, but his short version of it along with his immediate disclaimer after that song of "I'm finished with political stuff...I just want to have fun!" clarified how a song calling for Trump to be arrested may seem radical to those who didn't hear Cube's albums in those early 90 years. Arresting the president pails in comparison to someone who rapped that "the white man puts us in prison for doing everything he does to us - robbery, murder, rape..." Instead, Cube's entire presentation Saturday night was titled heavily towards his "Westside Connection" west coast "gangsta" theme of the late 90s. Why? Because the "gangsta" stuff is safer for him with his current mainstream image. The question why anti-woman (one thing that has never changed in his music) and Africans killing each other lyrics are much more socially acceptable than rap commentary about racist police terrorism and oppression against African people is an entirely different conversation all to itself. I will say that African people have no collective value to this system. Never have and never will. Consequently, if you understand that, it shouldn't shock you in the least that us being dehumanized is entertainment in this backward capitalist world and any commentary challenging that narrative is about as valuable as a song calling for safe passage for every roach people see in their houses.
What I would like to ask everyone to consider is how it is you can claim this country has free speech and democracy when the only way you can become a big selling artist in this country is to tow the line and produce "art" that disparages our people and our culture? That disrespects our women and non-men? None of that is an indication to me of a society where the masses decide the direction of their lives (the definition of democracy) or have the ability to speak to the issues of the times.
The truth is the fact this is the reality is a reflection of the lack of political education in this society. There was no mass uprising Saturday night when his performance ended, missing all of his political material. People seemed quite pleased with "Put Yo Back Into it" and "Up in the Club" compared to "No Vaseline." Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Ice Cube probably has some desire to perform some of those early 90s songs. I say that because I didn't miss his off the cuff comments several times Saturday night about how "they want to blame everything on us!" but until we demand that our culture be represented in ways that uphold our struggle for justice, that day where artists say what they want, and more importantly, what many of us want, is never going to happen.
Sekou Ture, in his classic work "Revolution, Culture, and Pan-Africanism" said that culture is the tool in which oppressed people arm themselves to battle colonialism. I'm an author who writes fiction books that are focused on Africa and our African liberation struggle. Books that present women as full human beings. Books that don't reduce our struggle to one of being anti-European, but clarify that our enemy is the capitalist system. So, based on the challenges I have getting my books out there, I understand why the Ice Cube of 2018/19 is not the Ice Cube of 1991. Everyone who reads them, confirms the quality of my literary fiction. Quality isn't the issue or the defining characteristic. In today's popular culture, that defining element is the products ability to sell and that ability is determined based on the lacking political consciousness of the masses of people. In other words, as long as the masses are willing to settle for nonsense than the entertainment industries will produce nothing except nonsense. Ice Cube's movies are all stacked with nonsense so he clearly has learned that lesson. To be successful, you have to appeal to the most base element of people's consciousness. People don't want to think, they want to laugh as if people are too simple to do both.
In recent history, we have the examples of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and the political hip/hop era of the late 80s, early 90s, to prove that the consciousness of the people dictates what the artists put out, not the other way around. In 1968, James Brown had to produce "Say It Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud" because the masses of Africans demanded music making that sort of statement. That's what people wanted to hear and despite the fact it was reported that Brown refused to even say the "I'm Black and I'm Proud" part of the song (the children say that part), he was still a smart enough business man to know the record would advance his career. And LL Cool J was equally as aware in 1990 when he was booed from the stage of a show in his native New York because people felt his player lyrics were out of touch with the consciousness of the times. He said so himself. So, don't tell us the masses don't make history. The capitalist system works overtime to keep us confused. Or, maybe you believe it was a complete coincidence that the Isley Brothers recorded songs like "Harvest for the World, Fight the Power" and "The Pride" in the early 70s compared to "Between the Sheets" in 1984. The difference? The consciousness of the times. The activist focused early 70s compared to the me first/only 80s. My point is all of this is the result of what people want and demand, not the artistic focus of individual artists.
So, no, I didn't enjoy Ice Cube's performance. Not because I expected him to perform my songs. As I said, I knew he wouldn't so that's not what bothers me. What's irritating is how easy it is for the majority of us to accept such regular slaps in the face without the slightest flinch on our part.
Like everything else in this extremely backward society, the lack of analysis around domestic violence has permitted the problem to be defined based on how it serves the interests of the person(s) articulating the issue. In other words, domestic violence, like virtually everything else, is defined as a arbitrary phenomenon that can be articulated and defined whatever way fits the narrative of the person doing the talking. So, in this dysfunctional environment men can be considered just as much survivors of domestic violence as non-men. Without question, there are certainly men who are legitimate sexual assault/domestic violence survivors, but revolutionaries always want and need to be systemic in evaluating social situations. As a result, we develop an analysis that is informed by objective data, not just our personal feelings. That analysis tells us that history, especially understanding the history of the development of class structures, has an intricate tie to violence against non-men. And this violence is perpetuated through the culture of patriarchy. That means the conditions impact all of us. Or, even those of us who identify as men, are impacted in adverse ways by this systemic assault against non-men. I will describe my exposure to this unfortunate problem. Hopefully, no one is triggered by this description and if this is a possibility, you should probably stop reading here. The point of recounting this story is to continue on my path of personal recovery from the dysfunction of my youth and to express the point that this unfortunate problem doesn't benefit men in any way and nor are we separated from its impacts of us.
When I was eight years old, living in San Francisco, I lived in a tenement building with my family. We had an extended family that included my maternal grandmother, my oldest sister, her husband, my physically disabled maternal aunt, my mother, father, and other sister. At that time, my male role models were my father and my brother in law, my sister's husband (she was 11 years older than I). She married at 18 and I think I understood some of the challenges they had. The constant struggle for them to find employment (obviously, they were living with my parents), especially my brother in law. I knew this because previously, they had lived in a unit downstairs, but finances forced them to move in with us. I remember the stress of all of us living in those quarters together. I wasn't aware of the distinct tension that existed between my sister and her husband. All I knew was I used to love sitting and listening to my father and brother in law talk. It was my first male role modeling. They would talk about family life. Besides profanity, these conversations were usually G rated and a lot of what I learned about my father, who seldom talked to me, I learned from these observations. I knew he considered my brother in law his friend and they often socialized and had drinks together sitting at our kitchen table.
One day my father I picked me up from school as he usually did since he worked graveyards. And, as was the typical process, he dropped me and my sister off at our residence so that he could drive down and pick up my mother from work. On this day as we drove up in front of our building, there was my brother in law standing there. I recall thinking it odd that he would just be standing on the street, instead of being inside, but I remember my dad honking at him and then I recall him walking on down the street, away from our residential building. This meant the only people inside were my grandmother, wheelchair bound aunt, and my middle sister and I. No sooner did I get inside and start eating the campbells soup my dad had left for me than the doorbell rang, repeatedly. I remember my grandmother buzzed it and in spilled my sister with my brother in law tackling her. My grandmother screamed at him, our little cocker spaniel dog was barking and I was losing my mind. At first, I tried to tell myself they were play wrestling. They were still teenagers and they often rough housed, but as I watched him strike blows against her I realized this was for real. Meanwhile, my grandmother was grabbing a steak knife and making her way down the stairs to defend my sister. At this point, my brother in a law pointedly told me to go into the bathroom and lock the door. Well, we were trained to listen to our elders without hesitation, so I did what he told me the do, terrified or not. Once in the bathroom, I heard the repeated pounding. I heard my grandmother pleading, screaming at him to stop. I heard our little dog barking. For my eight year old mind, my entire stability as a human being was being ripped apart. My brother in law, one of my male role models, was supposed to love and support my sister in my mind. He was supposed to respect her? I had no storage place to file this assault. What I've never said to anyone before is in my panic and confusion, I picked up a can of house spray sitting there and with the matches sitting there I lit a match and as a distraction, I thought it would be a good idea to see what would happen if I sprayed the spray into the small flame. Anything to distract me from what was happening outside that door. I sprayed the match and the flame increased 10-fold.
Eventually, my grandmother succeeded in getting my brother in law off my sister and out of our place. I'm not joking with you when I tell you that where I come from, we don't call the police. That was never a consideration, but I distinctly recall that once my parents returned there was a long debrief. Once they determined that my sister didn't need to see a doctor she was cared for and they lamented on and on about how my brother in law, knowing the daily routines in our family, waited intentionally for my father to leave and for my sister to arrive. I recall my mother and father getting some people together and going out to scour the streets for my brother in law. They never captured him and I never saw him again until about 30 years later at my nephew's wedding (the child of my sister and brother in law, my sister had my nephew at the time of the assault, although I don't remember where he was at the time). As I became an adult, I had always told myself I would harm my ex brother in law if I saw him, but as I saw him at that wedding, he was a much older man with his own health issues and he and I never even bothered to interact.
What I don't remember or know the answers to is what impact the attack had on my sister, who I remember having great potential at that time. She was able to type about 140 words a minute which in those days was a major skill. After that incident she continuously struggled with addiction and holding a job for the rest of her life. In 2013 she unfortunately met an untimely end. I'm not blaming that specifically on that attack. I'm saying I don't know what impact it had on her. I also don't understand how I didn't burn my entire face off that day because by all rights, I should have, but I escaped unscathed. Some people would attribute that to some spiritual intervention, but I refuse to believe something like that because I'm not that self-centered. There are people all day everyday who are much more deserving than I could ever be and horrible things happen to those people all the time. I prefer to believe that the variables and factors that happened to line up for me that day, as they have on many other occasions (and on many occasions they haven't). Instead of thinking I'm some sort of specially blessed individual, I believe whatever reasons I escaped serious injury, or death, that day, I have to use that as an impetus to continue to do good work. I don't know what impact the attack had on my parents or other sister because we never discussed things like that in our family. I do know that besides my mother and I, my entire family suffered from addiction. And, today, besides my middle sister and I, everyone else is deceased, and my surviving sister has a multitude of heath issues. As for me, I recall a feeling that my sister's life had little value. I remember feeling like I was helpless to do anything to help her. And I know I felt like my life had absolutely no meaning.
All my childhood beliefs vanished that day. I know I felt that day, and I've felt ever since, that the entire experience was unfair and harmful to my sister, my middle sister, my grandmother, me, our dog, my parents, and everyone else. We had a trust that evaporated that day and just like several thousands of years ago, a man figured out that by exerting his ability to physically dominate someone, he could express power for himself. I know that as a little boy in a racist society, I wanted to learn how to have a power of my own, but that day, I realized as I have for the rest of my life, that I definitely saw achieving power in that traumatizing and dishonest way as cowardly and harmful. Maybe that day also signaled for me that we cannot achieve the power we are looking for as individual African men. We have to do it as a part of a collective effort to empower the masses of people that respects and supports non-men out in front. Maybe that day did that. Maybe not, but I know that I've never felt fear and uncertainty more than I felt it that day. I wasn't the target. I'm a man, but even at eight years old, I realized this is a destructive way for men to interact with non-men. I also learned that day that when these assaults happen, they traumatize the woman being attacked, any other people who are there, and any people who are not there. We are all traumatized until we figure out how to evolve through these difficulties.