Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics (FAQ) (Updated)

Tweet This week I sent the final draft for Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics to Punctum Press. The book represents an attempt to examine the neoliberalisation of black politics in black churches, predominantly black cities, and in urban education policy. While there have been books written on neoliberalism before, as well as books on black politics, this is to my knowledge the first book written for a broad audience that tackles both. I thought I’d take time to deal with the inspiration for the work, as well as my interest in Punctum as opposed to a traditional academic press or a standard trade press. 1. Inspiration I think of Knocking the Hustle as a response to two books, and two general tendencies. The books are Race Matters by Cornel West and A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey. Both were written in response to crisis–in West’s case the Rodney King verdict (and subsequent rebellions), in Harvery’s case the Iraq incursion. Both were written for broad audiences. Both were relatively brief. I had significant problems with West’s book. I didn’t (and still don’t) believe the biggest problem black people face is “black nihilism” nor do I believe the best solution to the problems black people face is “the love ethic”. Furthermore while I am critical of black elites, I think West’s habit of putting forth some courageous leader/intellectual/political figure as a standard that we all fall far too short of is more the result of an overly romantic approach to history rather than a careful reading of it. I had fewer problems with Harvey’s book. Indeed I think it’s probably one of the...

Is Obama becoming the President Blacks Wanted?

Tweet On Thursday July 18, David Greene of NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed me for about a half hour or so on the shift in President Obama’s rhetoric on race and racism. Although I haven’t performed the “for real for real” type of analysis to definitively show that a shift has occurred, it’s worth comparing. Here’s the commencement address he delivered at Morehouse College in May 2013. 1 Download as mp3 Tuesday July 15 (the same day Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me was released)2 he delivered a powerful speech to the NAACP detailing the pernicious effects of the prison industrial complex–the most powerful speech on the issue a president has ever delivered. Below, the speech.3 The next day, the show aired. As I noted in the interview we don’t hear any of the “no excuses” rhetoric when he’s talking about reforming prisons. No sense that prisoners are in jail because they didn’t keep their pants up, no sense that prisoners are in jail because they made excuses instead of doing hard work. David Greene probably selected me for a couple of reasons. The first is that I was one of the few folk of color to routinely appear on NPR, through my work on News and Notes and then Tell Me More. But secondly he interviewed me on the same subject in March 2012. The President is undoubtedly constrained. The institution of the presidency was designed to be constrained, by the legislative branch, and by the judicial branch. And he’s 4 constrained by his desire for re-election, and then even in his second term by his desire to see his party keep the office. These constraints are...

In Honor of Mary Stewart

Tweet Approximately 52 minutes ago at 4pm July 10, 2015, Mary Stewart retired from the University of Michigan after 42 years of service. At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year I wrote the following letter to the University on her behalf: To Whom It May Concern: My name is Lester Spence. I am currently an Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. I entered the University of Michigan as part of the first post-BAM III/UCAR freshman class in the summer of 1987. I matriculated from the University of Michigan in 2001 having received not only my bachelor’s degree (in 1991) but my PhD as well. For almost 15 years I was not only a student on Michigan’s campus, I was deeply involved in the lives of black students. As an undergrad I was on the executive board of my dorm’s minority student association, the Black Greek Association, the Black Student Union, and then one of the founders of the Association of Multicultural Scientists. In honor of the work I performed for the University of Michigan I received the African American Alumni Council’s Ten Under Ten award. Since leaving the University, I’ve received awards for my scholarship (my 2011 book Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics received the W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Book Award), for my teaching (in 2009 I was awarded Johns Hopkins’ Excellence in Teaching Award), and for my work in Baltimore (Urbanite Magazine named me one of their Changemakers in 2012). I wrote the bio above to provide context for my letter of support for Mary Stewart. As someone...

Quick thoughts on the Baltimore rebellion

Tweet I’m juggling a number of things right now as I write this, and it’s possible some of the details are wrong. If you’re reading this for information verify through other sources and if there are large errors please note them in the comments. At approximately 12:30pm a letter was distributed suggesting that the Bloods, Crips, the Black Guerrilla Family, and the Nation of Islam had gotten together to declare war on the Baltimore City Police Department. The BCPD declared the letter a legitimate threat. Sometime after that, a meme was distributed suggesting Baltimore school kids engage in a “purge”. The concept of the “purge” was taken from a movie with the same name, depicting a dystopian scenario in which for a short period all rules are suspended. At 3pm police appeared in full riot gear at Mondawmin Mall. Mondawmin is a major transportation hub for the city and for the city’s school children–because Baltimore Public Schools don’t have their own bus service kids use the city bus, Metro, and Light Rail to get home. The police decided to prevent kids from accessing the buses they use to get home, confining them to the Mondawmin area. The steps the police took to protect themselves, exacerbated an already tense environment. Certainly preventing high school age children–who are already prone to take risks, already prone to believe themselves invulnerable, and already prone to being harassed by police officers–created the conditions in which a riot was more likely to occur. Tweet This...

Thoughts on Dyson, West, and the Black Public Intellectual

Tweet Recently Michael Eric Dyson penned a strongly worded critique (severe understatement) of Cornel West in The New Republic, basically arguing West has become a thin shell of his former self. Dyson, who owes his career to West, is one of the many black intellectuals/media spokespersons who’ve fallen into disfavor with West over the past several years as a result of their relationship with President Obama.1 Reading it a day after I talked about black popular culture in my second semester Black Politics class, I’m reminded of the early 2001 furor over then Harvard President Larry Summers’ critique of West when West was at Harvard 2, and much more recent discussions over whether Beyonce was a feminist, whether a New York Times article on Shonda Rhimes was racist, and whether Ava Duvernay should’ve received an Oscar for her movie Selma. Some might argue that I shouldn’t be so reminded. This is much more politically motivated than the others and should be read not just as an attack on West but as an attack on the anti-Obama tendency (such as it exists) among black intellectuals in general. I don’t believe this piece was politically motivated. There are politics to consider–it isn’t a coincidence that one of the co-editors responsible for the piece used to work on The Melissa Harris-Perry Show, and of course there’s Dyson’s own political history with West to consider. But the politics at play here are not the politics of Obama’s War Room. However, let’s say that it was. Would the stakes increase if Dyson’s piece weren’t written against West as much as written against the anti-Obama tendency (again, such as it exists)? No....