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Photo by Fernando Lopez of People’s Media Front

I live across the street from a former housing project in New Orleans. It’s now turned into “mixed income housing.” There’s a police jeep outside of nearly every major building and I’ve been told by a resident that there’s a cop that lives in every one of those buildings. That resident also told me that there’s literally a curfew and rules around how folks can gather. The first few years of living there I thought half the apartments were empty because the neighborhood was such a ghost town. I’ve never seen a Black working-class neighborhood in my city be so quiet. This is a former New Orleans project where some of your greatest (and loudest) cultural contributions come from — like bounce rap, twerking, etc. Before the projects some of these same neighborhoods helped foster jazz, second lines. But now due to paranoid fears of what the natives might do in neighborhoods that have already been stolen from them and gentrified, the people have been muted and their culture all but killed. Meanwhile, our every move is watched with a police precinct up the block (as is the case for more than one housing project turned “mixed income housing development” in New Orleans) and occupiers living amongst us. …


lest you be lassoed by the hood boy/ be noosed back to the wretched limbs of your family tree / lest all you try ghosting come back haunt yo’ happy home/ creep up your children’s spines like that crack-head did ya mama’s fire escape/ that one night in Brooklyn/ just a vagrant truth looking to be fed/ might set flame in they hearts/ turn it kitchen and whip they bloodline like it’s stir fry/ leave embers in they throat/ turn they mouth trap house till they open it and you get all the smoke

got a whole gang gang of ancestors & tar babies blackening they speech/ tap dancing & war chanting on they teeth/ got a li’l Harriet in there/ li’l CLR with a splash of Garvey/ Ii’l Rodney, Huey and Sabrina with a pinch of Pookie for good measure/ some Sambo & Hambone up in there too…


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Obama’s Kill LIst by Emory Douglas

War is big business. PERIODT. It’s never about patriotism. It’s never about nationalism. It’s never about pride in your homeland, father or mother country. Hell it’s not even about self-defense. What it’s about, what it’s always been about, is one nation brutalizing the shit out of another nation to rob its resources and/or make the other nation work for it for the other nation’s benefit. Sounds like a jack move to me. But hey, what war isn’t rooted in enough violence and theft to be interchangeable with a good old fashioned street robbery? What capitalist business ain’t a hustle? And it’s only gotten worse in the last 100 years of American empire. …


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What’s Capitalism?

Capitalism has the power to eclipse our vision, to remove our eyes and replace them with dollar signs if for nothing else, by repeating the same lie a million times until the whole world believes it.

So first we need an understanding of capitalism, what it is and how it functions in order to properly diagnose why words like socialist and democrats will never mix with it. Let’s start with an etymological breakdown of the word capitalism. The root word capital means money that is accumulated to be used to invest to exploit the labor of workers to accrue profits. The suffix ism means philosophy or belief system. So capitalism can loosely be understood as the belief in capital, aka money used to invest to exploit labor. Now you would think that any body could see that a society set up on the belief in accumulated money instead of the actual human beings that the society is designed by and for is doomed to fail. But god forbid we see what’s right in front of us. Capitalism has the power to eclipse our vision, to remove our eyes and replace them with dollar signs if for nothing else, by repeating the same lie a million times until the whole world believes it. And if not the world at least enough people to dominate everyone else with their propaganda. And who are these purveyors of propaganda you might ask? …


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Brooklyn circa 1991

When I’m eleven in the sixth grade I learn the weight of a Tupperware lunch case. Correction: I learn the weight of a Tupperware lunch case at a Brooklyn public school in 1991 where all your friends eat free lunch. A public school where your friend Kareem casually shows you his razor blade under the lunch table. The razor blade his brother Lateef, aka infamous tag artist MACK of the Decepts told him to carry for protection. Maybe my lunch case, too, is a form of protection. An incessant reminder that I am not and never will be one of “those boys.” …


The other night I found out that my Great Grandmother’s brother was a hustler named Romalus. Heard he was the man when it came to running numbers in New Orleans and that nothing moved on Rampart St. without him knowing about it. Known for adorning both his hands in diamond rings and even a diamond or two in his teeth, Romalus used to pull his black Cadillac up next to his kinfolks’ house in the 7th ward, not too far from where I live now, step out his ride and stunt like the neighborhood superstar he was. All this told to me by my third cousin Pierre. When I responded to the breakdown Cousin P was giving me with, “Ohhh so he was a gangsta!” he kind of shyly waved the term off. “No, no, I think he would’ve preferred — more like…” “Businessman?” I finished for him. He laughed and nodded it off a bit. No matter. I had heard enough to confirm all I needed to know. …


I don’t necessarily need to leave the country to explore the richness of Black culture in an Afro-colonial setting.

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Step off the plane and make my way to the CTA train station adjacent. First marvel at the giant spinning fans whirling above me. Then ogle the massive cylinder funneling down towards the black tunnel awaiting the approaching train serving old America vibes. I could be somewhere in the 50s, or on set of an 80s movie emulating 50s vibes.


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Still (nigga) from Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” video. Rings prescient now…

There’s this grainy old tape of Biggie Smalls when he first came out in the early 90’s. In it, he’s got his arm hanging casually around the shoulder of one of the rappers from an infamous group at the time named Onyx. His eyes are characteristically low, one cockeyed as he looks into and simultaneously away from the camera. “Yeah,” he says,”we coming after all you Big Willie crackers…” and he continues on about how he and his generation of rappers plan to make their big come up into riches through the rap game. His fellow Brooklyn “God MC” Jay-Z was still a few years from catching up with him as a household name. But in that brief moment, Biggie had already told us everything we needed to know about what his cohort Jay-Z and all of the up and coming rappers of his day would mean to the rap game and ultimately (Black) American culture at large. For that matter, Biggie had just unwittingly defined an ethos for an approaching generation or two of black folks (especially men). …


there’s this white boy sitting next to me on the plane. his angsty hands keep flashing towards the window too quickly. jerky motions that jut out just near my face as he points towards the window i’m sitting next to. the boy sitting next to him is brown with short straight black hair. the two of them hit each other back and forth. do as young boys do. i try not to keep score. try to ignore my mind as it does what it’s inevitably bound to. which is tally who hits who more and who initiates the hitting. but my mind has a mind of its own. …


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Descend upon Cartagena and first take note of its humble skyline. Feeble grasps at the height of a city’s ego, its own meager measure of capital and industry. The backwash of which spills into the ocean, which is noticeably less turquoise than the waters that led to it only 30 minutes of flight earlier. Near the city’s coast, the waters are slightly more slimy green, bearing a tinge of the residue of commerce. Nonetheless, it whispers of home. For a city boy like me, it echoed of a bite size New York, an only slightly smaller New Orleans. Meanwhile the dilapidated roofs in shadow of the skyscrapers reminded me of Salvador (aka Bahia of Brazil), but a little cleaner, less beat down. …

About

A Scribe Called Quess

The Ellisonian Basement is a collection of my writings on Blackness & visibility in the post-modern world, OR Duboisian double consciousness under surveillance.

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