I received notice last week that Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics was selected as the National Conference of Black Political Scientists' Du Bois Award given for the best book published on black politics within a two year period. I was blessed to be in a position to be on hand to receive the award personally. A few years ago I was this close to leaving the discipline, and not looking back. Now? I'm in a different place.
A couple of years ago I was on a panel with Michael Eric Dyson, Melissa Harris Perry, and Sherillyn Ifill, about Manning Marable's biopgraphy of Malcolm X. I thought the book was deeply flawed, and in fact think it is even MORE flawed now. However in my remarks I attempted to unpack what I called "the black box of cultural production". We tend to think that works of intellectual production come full blown from the mind of the people responsible for them. The reality is a bit more complex. Before we even take Marable's ideological flaws into account, we have to wrestle with the fact that he wrote substantial portions of the book on one lung, carrying a breathing machine around with him for the last several months of his life.
Stare in the Darkness wasn't produced under that type of duress. But it WAS produced under duress.
I think we should do more to unpack the stuff that goes into producing work, NOT in order to give more props to the people who produce them. Rather, we should do so to further democratize the process. I don't know how many people have attempted to write, to draw, to create, but stopped after hitting the wall…thinking that because they hit the wall they "obviously" didn't have what it took. I don't know how many people have attempted to write, to draw, to create, only to stop after losing the thread of what they were trying to say.
When the reality is that I don't know a single worker in this field who hasn't hit that wall. I don't know a single worker who hasn't lost the thread of their argument. The first substantive chapter of Stare got away from me so many times I lost count. And even now I kick myself that I called Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the Hip-Hop SOCIAL Action Network more than once.
You aren't alone.
We don't say that enough in our political struggles, we don't say that enough in our personal struggles, we don't say that enough in our productive struggles. But that's the reality. There aren't as many of us as we'd like, but there are more of us than we realize.