Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics represents an attempt to examine the neoliberalisation of black politics. 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. What’s the 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 best short books on neoliberalism on the market. However it’s as if race and racism doesn’t exist. I find this astounding because I believe the record is pretty clear that in the United States and other nations the neoliberal turn doesn’t occur without racism.
The two intellectual tendencies Race Matters and A Brief History of Neoliberalism represent–an approach to politics that doesn’t take either politics or political economy seriously, and an approach to neoliberalism that doesn’t really take racism seriously–are rife at a moment when we clearly need a different approach.
2. Why Punctum?
I probably could’ve published this book with a standard academic press, or with a standard trade press, but I decided I did not want to do so.
In part because of the political economy of publishing. In some ways the nature of publishing is changing underneath our feet–while I was probably one of the first black folk to have my own website (within two years of Race Matters’ publication I had a University of Michigan hosted website), I couldn’t have possibly imagined that writing something in a space like this could potentially reach over a thousand readers. However at the same time the publishing world, just like the rest of mass media, is dominated by only a few corporations.
What does that mean for the type of work we do?
It means we have to be more attentive to these dynamics when we make decisions about publication, as publishing with radical presses increases the potential audiences these presses have, increases the resources they have.
It also means that we should think a bit about digital rights management and the possibilities different DRM models present us. Speculative fiction writers like Corey Doctorow and Warren Ellis have seen the writing on the wall so to speak, and have written works that are freely distributed online.
Card-carrying academics with tenure like myself who tend to write books, have to find ways to get our ideas out that don’t solely rely on academic presses and the institutions connected to them, because they tend to be hostage to some of the same forces driving the consolidation of the mass media. And also to create more space for intellectual production that isn’t tied as much to professional advancement.
So I published with Punctum books. They are going to publish a regular book (which should be out early Fall 2015). But they’re also going to release an electronic version that’ll be free or close to it. I might be the first black intellectual to attempt something like this, and I’m not sure how it’ll work out. But I believe in the folks at Punctum, and I really want the ideas to travel.
3. Wait. Did you write “free”?
Yes. As of right now if you want a full free PDF version of Knocking the Hustle please go here click on the “name your price” link and type “0.” That’s it.
4. Are you done with standard academic books?
No. I believe the process of peer review helps hone arguments and develop them in a way other forms do not. And I believe that books published in academic presses tend to be better because they go through a harder sifting process. My next two books–Live and Let Die (a book about black biopolitics) and Off to Battle (a book about Detroit) will likely be published by standard academic presses.
5. Where does the cover come from?
As with the cover for Stare in the Darkness I shot it, on July 28, 2010 as part of my 2010 365 project (I think the cover for Stare was shot on February 1 of that same year). I gave this and two other pictures to Punctum and this was the one they chose.