Erica sits down with Dr. Jared Ball to talk about the battle of ideas in popular culture and propaganda in the internal colony.
Erica: So Peace Peace Peace. I am excited about this one. We have a special, special guest, Dr. Jared Ball. Jared, do you wanna introduce yourself?
Jared: Sure. My name is Jared Ball. Professionally, I teach Africana and media studies at Morgan state university. I work with Black Power Media and everything else about me and other work can be found at imixwhatilike.org. I like to consider myself —- I just came up with a new phrase— an insufficiently active member of a number of different organizations and a supporter of many others. A big advocate of grassroots political organization and militant social movement making. And that’s about it. Father, husband, all that good stuff, and I’m honored to be on this platform. So thank you very much for the invitation.
Erica: Yeah, not a problem. I wanted to have a conversation with you because, I know I tell you all the time that I love your first book, but that was really my first introduction to your work through Dr. Charity Clay. She had a #SayWordBC, which was a book club that was on Twitter way, way, way back, and we were reading I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto‘ and you were the first author I remember since I’ve been a part of that book club to come and engage the reading with us. More importantly, I remember being enthralled with the book because I grew up in a very, very large family so there’s always a variety of things being watched. So naturally I consider myself a pop culture expert, but two things shifted my view of pop culture (or maybe rather the use of it). I remember I discovered a video of bell hooks discussing pop culture and critical thinking and then shortly after that, I got my hands on your book. And you were just laying out (what I like to say were) the colonial aspects of the industry or the entertainment industry and how that shifted not only how [entertainment] is made, but how it’s consumed.
So I know you’ve been self-critical of the book for personal and editorial reasons, but I just wanted you to speak to maybe the inspiration for the title and what motivated you to write the book.
Jared: So, no, I’ve always been very humbled by yours and Dr. Clay’s early support of the work. You all did exactly what I was hoping would be part of what people’s reaction to it would be; trying to make use of it and further it or radicalize and organize with help from it. In fact, I did use to fantasize (because it would be a little paperback) that people would, in the way I used to carry other people’s work, be shoved in people’s pockets as they were doing some of the most radical activity. That was kind of the fantasy. But I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto was my attempt to collapse my intellectual interests and what I was learning through the graduate program (getting the PhD in journalism), and what I had learned through the Africana studies and research center under the directorship of James Turner, and my efforts with a grassroots political organization in DC —- Shoutout to Organize Coup!— to develop, at the time, the rap music mixtape CD as an alternative communicative journalistic network. Ultimately, an emancipatory journalism project. The short of it is that once I had learned through a lot of others— all the luminaries of activist and radical thought— and come to, more or less, the conclusion that Black people in the United States should be conceived of and interpreted as and seek to respond as an internally held colony, everything else just sort of fell into place. And then I just noticed in all the literature, that I was either being forced to read or interested in reading, that there was a constant reference to structural issues, or maybe the colonialism of some subset—- like “the colonialism of language” or “the colonizing art form” or “the colonizing politician” or whatever, but without ever really thinking about, “well, why are these things colonizing? What makes them colonial? What makes a media project colonizing?” Well, it’s the colonialism and the relationship, that colonial relationship, that precedes all that that nobody seemed to be writing about. And certainly not in terms of what was considered Hip Hop studies at time. And then almost nobody on another level was looking at the role of the mix tape. And I was always a huge fan of the mix tape and thought it did reveal all these things about communicative networks and the role of media. So I was just trying to say, “let’s use the mixtape in that particular aspect of hip hop history.” And because I was in a communication and in a journalism grad program, how was this (in terms of communication) exposing those colonial ties and in that relationship.
I am incredibly self-critical about a number of aspects, a number of things about the book. But what I remain almost equally proud of is the attempt to do something that I think may be still kind of seminal in that, look at the mix tape and how internal colonialism impacts the producers of those mixtapes and the cultural expression more broadly. Anyway, that’s it. So again, I’m always thankful to you and others for having been supportive of that work.
Erica: Yeah. I think it really helped me understand colonialism on a very basic level because, at that time (especially on Twitter), it was very popular to “decolonize” everything. But I don’t think people had a concrete understanding of colonialism. And primarily because [the book] was based on the entertainment industry (and I just knew all about that) the particular arguments that you were making about record labels and artist sovereignty, I don’t think that is something that I’ve come across and it really put things in perspective.
I remember that you noted that artists were encouraged to go after consumers for theft as a way to distract from the actual theft occurring in the industry. But now that the industries have learned to adapt and they sort of stamped out the mixtape era that I valued (I remember datpiff.com and those places) that just are sort —- I mean, they still exist, but not in that same way. Do you still see the same sort of artist/consumer relationship existing with these streaming services? Cause I’m thinking about the ways artists sort of place an onus on consumers to not use the services (even though they’re essentially affordable) without really challenging the people who are actually paying them little to nothing.
Jared: Well, so some of this in terms of—- I would need to be caught up on some of the details I’m sure. But from what I have seen over the years there has been some pushback from major artists. Taylor Swift got a lot of attention, obviously. But other people pushing back on the way Spotify and all these other online platforms take advantage of the artists.
And it’s been revealed that by now they’re paid less per digital download than they were per sale back in the day. So for artists to make any real money using these digital platforms they have to get ridiculous amounts of— hundreds of millions of spins or downloads or streams to make any real money.
So there has been some pushback on that. And so part of what you were asking about was the argument that I and others were making at the time that in the rock world with Lars (whatever); the drummer for Metallica was like leading the charge against his audience is illegally downloading his music and saying, “you’re killing our careers ——-
Erica: with Napster, right?
Jared: With Napster and all that other stuff. And there were some— I wanna say they, at one point, I seemed to remember they had Missy targeting the black audience saying, “you know, when you bootleg our stuff, you hurt us.” I think Mary J was under one of those commercials and stuff like that. And I’m like, there’s no way you will convince me that the amount of so-called “illegal piracy” is having more of a negative impact than the initial contract you signed with these people in the first place. I mean, there’s just no way. Anyway, so it was,just kind of clear that they were being used in the RIAA, at the time. The Recording Industry Association of America, something like that. They were the lobbying watchdog for the music industry and they were hiring these people to produce these commercials. I seem to think that because the industry has done so well at taking over the digital platform space and the so-called above board, legal internet, I haven’t seen that kind of pushback. I don’t see it happening as much lately, in terms of artists coming out to target pirates and all this other kind of stuff. What I have seen, again sort of to the contrary with the Taylor Swift example, is they come out to challenge the industry a little bit, encouraging some reflection. And then I know Talib and and Yasin Bey came out with their album on an alternative platform to try to highlight the contradictions there which seem to be more appropriately focused at the industry itself. So I’m just wondering if — and I don’t know, I haven’t thought enough about it— I’m interested to hear what you think, but I I’m wondering if that’s because the companies have done so well at taking over the digital space that the only thing left to target, to rationally make an argument for, is the handful of corporations doing that. But I haven’t seen enough of — I still, particularly when I talk to students in the classroom, I still don’t hear enough of an analysis evolving out of all that criticism beyond the sort of vague what we always know.
It’s like the industry is shady, this, that, and the third. But in terms of revealing that relationship, which is so important to me, I don’t see it rising to that level. And then, with relative success and the promotion of the relative success of enough black artists, and certainly the white ones, I think that there’s enough of a propaganda wave coming from the ruling elite to convince people that despite what you might hear from Taylor Swift or Kanye West, or somebody complaining here or there, this is still the best avenue and/or maybe you can do it as an independent on the internet and do it independently and use the wonderful technology of the internet. And now with NFTs and blockchain, you can go off and you can circumvent the industry, which is a new wave of that propaganda. I think there’s enough of that to deflect away from the observable critiques against the industry that have been made
over the last few years.
Erica: I think, interestingly enough, you see artists now getting — they’re making investments into these streaming services. Like sort of, if you can’t beat ’em join ‘em.
Erica: I know Joe Budden talked about artists needing to unionize. Yeah, I think you made some really good points. I’m thinking about the ways that the streaming services have gone and just watching how people are attempting to adapt to it. Like Tidal, for instance. Tidal was supposed to be the breakthrough thing for artists and Tidal does not pay their artists just the same. I mean, Kanye West is still trying to get his money from Tidal. So I can’t even say they pay at least a bigger artist, but you do have that stream of well known entertainers …
Jared: And Tidal might be better than Spotify. And Spotify might be better than iTunes or iTunes might be better than iHeart Radio. Whatever. But it’s still leading up to, “you need hundreds of millions to make any real money.” So you need to be enormously famous or whatever to do well. And the amount of people who make nothing is overwhelming. So, you know…
Erica: So I’m gonna pivot just a bit. Still talking about the book, but not maybe so much about that portion. You also have a particular focus on black media in the book that I recognize in your overall work. So I just wanted to know if you could speak about the utility of publications like Essence and Ebony and how they framed your understanding or just a mass understanding of what black life is supposed to be.
Jared: Well I think, especially now I think it’s just a major problem of how do we— The commercial black press has just gotten away with a ton because it can present itself as being the alternative and can present itself as leading the charge on certain liberal issues or popular cultural issues. But what they’ve really adhered to is a very black capitalist logic and have really attempted to preserve themselves. And when people really look into the histories of the black press carefully beyond the headlines (pun intended) it’s really very clear that there has been this internal struggle over, “we want that bourgeois black version of a white middle class lifestyle. And if we need to full-on sell out radical endeavors or just simply suppress them or omit them, so be it.”
And whenever there’s a criticism, they can just easily come back and say, “we’re doing everything we can. We do all this. Well, we represent ‘this’, we’re at every ‘that’.” That’s really what I think has emerged for me as a kind of a crisis in how people interpret the black press and what they have done historically. And I think, too, particularly today, they get credit for having done what has happened almost 150 years ago at this point. But there— it isn’t that the black press doesn’t now, or has not ever done important things and played an important role in black communities. But that point about class and it’s, again, adherence to black capitalism and ultimately a white bourgeois fantasy of what black life can be is, I think, having a negative impact on black political consciousness. But it’s very difficult to raise that critique and have it be moved anywhere. In part, because the black— I’ll say this, anyone who’s been honest about there ever having been at, for instance, a national association of black journalist conference will recognize, in vivid real time, that ultimately what everybody there is doing is trying to network to get jobs in black commercial and ultimately white commercial presses.
And that general trajectory creates obvious contradictions and problems for what the output of the median journalism will be.
Erica: Right. I think careerism is what happens to politicians too. And when people say, “local politics matters,” and then they don’t consider that a lot of these people have careerist sort of aspirations. So yeah, they’re gonna start locally, of course. You start at the ground. But that doesn’t mean they intend to stay there.
Jared: Just quickly, but it also means that people even trying to do real— honestly well meaning; there are people who get caught up in the black press and local black politics who think and honestly mean to do well. But what it also says is that the structure that they’re working in isn’t gonna let them. So you go into those structures and then you are held in that space or kicked out. But there’s no pathway up and that’s all those glass ceilings that everybody talks about in every category.
Erica: I was gonna say, that leads me to my next question because in April when I messaged you, I wanted to have this conversation with you primarily because of your appearance on The Revolutionary Blackout, alongside BPMmembers, and it was something that you noted in a discussion about Good Times, no less that made me think about something that I had wrote for Hood Communist around that same time called Culture Wars and The Lessons We Still Aren’t Learning. But the in piece that I wrote, I’m speaking specifically about the late 80s era of political commentary TV. So while the context of our discussions may have been different, (or what we were talking about may have been different), I felt like we were both speaking to the political use of media. So I would like for you to expound on that. Is TV ever just TV? What about black TV? And is there even such a thing?
Jared: Yeah. The short answer is, I don’t think— I’m more convinced now than I’ve ever been that no, there’s —
There was a line Fanon wrote years ago somewhere something like “ nothing is unconsciously racist.” That was his point or it was something like that. In a colonial setting there are no accidents. There’s no like, “oh, that poem, we didn’t really realize that we were saying” Everything is intentionally consciously anti-black, anti-African, racist, colonialists. And I think that way about — there is no… Again, even the specific maker of a TV product or a radio or media product who may themselves think, “I’m trying to just do something good” or “I’m just trying to have some fun” or “I’m just trying to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Even that is reconstructed or construed in the form that the colonial setting requires. So it’s always gonna be used for that purpose. And, to me, conscious, unconscious, subconscious is irrelevant at this point. And that’s why I keep saying, “especially when we like it.” What was his name? James Richardson was the professor’s name. We didn’t agree. He was my professor back in undergrad. We didn’t agree on anything, but he did say, “you must interrogate your preferences.” And I’ve always credited him for that. I’ve always loved that phrase, “interrogate your preferences.” Especially when we like something, we have to be very clear about what is it that it’s targeting in us and how is it delivering that colonial message in such a way that we’re saying we like it. ’Cause I just don’t think there’s nothing (and maybe even at this point) that’s not even attached to the commercial institutional process. I think in so many cases, the tentacles of colonialism and the construction of perspective makes everything we’re doing some form of whatever, but not certainly these mainstream products. There’s no way. And then again, the more I’ve learned is that so much of it is consciously done for that purpose. The state, the corporate world, the advertising world, the alphabet agency groups are all—- I mean, they spend so much time and energy and money and effort into studying and involving themselves and manipulating, that we can’t — Yeah. So nothing is free of that context.
Erica: Yeah. I’m currently reading June Jordan’s Civil War book. And there’s a piece that she has in there where she talks about a movie called The Cool World, which I’ve never seen.
Erica: No, The Cool World, I think it’s an actual movie.
Jared: When did she write this?
Erica: She wrote this…
Jared: I’m thinking something wrong.
Jared:Yeah it would’ve before. So this would’ve been way before what I’m talking about. Anyway, I’m sorry.
Erica: It was written by Warren Miller, a white man (she intentionally points that out). But what it does— it made me think about one of my favorite movies. I love, I love, love, love Claudine. Love. But the way that she talked about it, they just basically picked up these kids off the streets of Harlem to act out their lives, in a sense. But when she interviewed those kids, there was a disconnect. They understood their role, but then also was seeing this as a good thing or positive thing because it wasn’t outright racist. So they— in talking to the leading actor (who was plucked off the street), a lot of what he was saying was he just hoped that this opens doors where he can get into a better school possibly (because he liked reading). This helped him. People on the set were giving him books to read and then he was hoping, “well eventually maybe I could become an actor,” but like everybody on the set sort of knew, “that’s not really gonna happen for you.” That kind of thing. And then even the storyline of it; It’s one of those— it’s about a child who if he was only given these opportunities, he could have succeeded, but he didn’t have these opportunities so his life went this way and that was basically the actor.
And I was thinking about Claudine and the subtle messaging, the anti-radicalism of the son (they made the son like he was absolutely nuts). So even when these movies are supposed to be, I guess for us, in a sense (because the difference with Claudine, there was like more black hands on it, but there was all white people in the background somewhere). And that’s why I thought about the Good Times thing that you were saying because it’s just like the way that we are given (especially in that time) like Cornbread, Earl and Me. I know all those movies by heart but when you think back it’s like, “what was the actual use of those movies?” Especially during that time where there was so much happening on the streets. So I think about that a lot.
Jared: So I agree. I do too. I need to watch Claudine again.
I need to go back. Maybe it’s been you, but for some reason, I feel like that film’s been brought up.
Erica: Probably me. I’ve been on a whole campaign
Jared: Probably you. Yeah, you’ve created an echo chamber. Yeah. But I do think about, so on the positive side, I think that folks like you and I, and others could survive some of that media and still get to where we are politically, as maybe rare as we might sometimes think it is, I think is the hope. And it reminds me of why they do so much to produce all that. Because they know that if they— it has been said, if they lift the foot off our neck that much more, so much more would erupt. And that’s why I think so.
But certainly the clarity with which those in power have, with a great degree of forethought, laid out this idea that we have to, from their perspective, shape a media environment that’s gonna help us manage this thing otherwise there’s gonna be continuous problems. And we have to also remember there’s just so much even in just those few examples, the Hollywood, the media system emerged, again, largely because the elite white folks in this society wanted a “politicized entertainment.” Entertainment distraction for the masses that would keep them out of the opera houses, away from ballet, away from the elite physically, and intellectually, artistically, et cetera. So again, from the beginning, and it predates this as well, but from the beginning just of this country, the whole context was arranged specifically for these purposes and then tailoring itself to black people. It took on a very colonial purpose. So again, there may be a broad project of needing to address itself to a number of different communities, but when black people are involved, that’s where that colonial process kicks in.
And we can see all of it playing out in these examples alone. White people controlling the stories that will be told of the colonized, even as the colonized are involved. And that example, the way you were describing that film (which I’m not familiar with. I’m gonna go see it later), The Cool World, it kind of made me start to think of that film Kidz. Like a black version of that film, that disturbing film Kidz (that I know bell hooks was critical of in that piece you mentioned earlier), that is still kind of traumatizing to think about. But that whole thing of, “we’re gonna pretend like we’re grabbing reality from the streets and from the experiences of these people,” and the trauma and all the other things that are involved, they’re being created is ignored. Or I don’t know, dismissed anyway.
Erica: Or they send them right back to the trauma.
Erica: And the thing for me with Claudine is, it’s a particular messaging, right? You have all this criticism against the welfare state, but then you also are making the son who takes action against said state, like he’s out of control. He’s just — it’s a growing pain. “This is just what the youth do. The youth protest, but they’ll grow up and they’ll get over it,” type of messaging . But it all seems very liberal to me, in hindsight, because they do make the criticism against the welfare state. That’s clearly what the movie is about. But to an extent. Like, “don’t do nothing about it. Just complain.” That sort of thing.
Jared: Oh, I’m just looking it up now. Lawrence Hiltons is in this, too? I didn’t remember that. This dude Lawrence Hilton Jacobs. I mean, this dude has been in like every major event of my media life. Claudine, Cooley High.
Jared: Welcome Back Cotter
Erica: one of my favorites, by the way. Like I mentioned, I watch almost everything. I have cousins who are significantly older than me, so I watch all of that and then TV land. So yeah. I Dream of Jeanie. All that.
Jared: Keeps it all around. That’s right.
Erica: But yeah—-
Jared: I didn’t mean to suggest earlier that you were my age, my bad.
I wasn’t saying— I was saying we overcame this media.
Erica: No, I know, but I do have close cousins who are — so in raising and watching me, I’ve come to see a bunch of things I probably had no business watching. But that’s why I always say it wasn’t until your book that I started to be a little more critical. I had opinions about what I watch, but now even as I’m watching Housewives of any one of the franchises, I’m like, “there goes that anti communism.” You can spot it now. And it’s very subtle, but they would always pluck the one immigrant from Vietnam or the one immigrant from Bosnia that had to run away, you know? But now they’re super rich and wealthy cuz they left communism. [Stuff] like that. It’s always that sort of tale. So you could see it now. Where I’ve been watching Housewives since— I think it started like 2006 or something and I think it’s only in these last couple years and I’m like, “Mmm. What’s the politics of Bravo?”
Jared: In the schools, they do the same thing. They’re literally— and again, I struggle with my major contradictions sending my children to these schools, but they still use the same (literally the same) books that they gave me, they’re giving my children. In particular that one book about the Chinese immigrant, the girl that escapes Mao’s China and comes here and is successful. They gave me that book. So I’m saying, they’re not even writing new stuff. They’re not even always updating the stuff. They’re literally regurgitating. And as you say, that is definitely a running theme. They’re like, “who can we find from Eastern Europe or the East that we can hold up (as a subtle or not so subtle) reminder that capitalism is.”
Anyway, just very quickly to that last point you were making, I have to admit that having a precursor in Africana studies and sort of that 1 0 1 revolutionary literature that I had read before graduate school, it was really reading from the Western European, the white writers themselves, (the foundations, reading the research, hat early communication studies research) actually reading it in that sort of raw source way that really clarified it the most. Because it was, for instance, a lot of that early debate, wasn’t about making our media Powerful. It was in what ways? That was the only debate. There was no room for, “they don’t do anything or it’s just entertainment.”
It was really all about an argument over how much of an impact and how manageable was that impact. But they were always very clear. Even those who seem to be critical of the project were critical from a pro-American pro capitalist. “We wanna perfect the messaging. So we don’t ruin this perfect democracy we’re creating,” type stuff. I mean.so yeah. Anyway, that’s it.
Erica: So emancipatory journalism, can you define it for people? And how do you understand your own contributions in that field? For instance, is critique of black media or black capitalism (or crypto even), is that emancipatory journalism or is it simply just being a hater
Jared: Well my work, at this point, is largely just being a hater because really—- I gotta be honest because the reality is that as I understand the work, and I’m getting this again originally from Hemitt Shaw, an article he wrote in 1996 in which he was saying was that all of the prevailing wisdom around “developmental journalism” or “civic journalism” or all the more liberal notions of the role of journalism in society were ignoring the colonial context and were not being derived themselves from among the colonized.
So he was saying emancipatory journalism was a (I simplify it largely to say) philosophy of journalism that says those who are in organized struggle produce media and journalism that honestly (and with principle and research and substance) presents an argument that justifies their organizational work and encourages other people to join it.
So it is decidedly anti-colonial. But that important component (and why I’m saying I’m not fully adhering to it) is that you really are supposed to be an active member of an anticolonial organizational effort producing your work as a part of that, almost exclusively, and to the extent, I think, that anyone is outside of that role, you move more into critique and haterism. And as much as I’m a proud hater (and think of its most positive sense) ultimately I do think
it is sliding farther away from what is, I think, true about emancipatory journalism. So it’s perfect and I think it is helpful in terms of understanding a black press or media or for anyone to assess media that claims to be representing their interests.
To what extent is the media being produced by those radically organized to materially change your lived experience? And if it’s not, you can make use of it. You can enjoy it, You can whatever with it. But I think you have to recognize it as not participating in that emancipatory project. So I think it makes it easier because and it makes it easier to go from saying, “Hey, I like this black press story because it’s showing a positive portrayal of black people in some way,” but I’ll also have to be real that it’s not advocating, it’s not representing a certain emancipatory— It’s not advocating freedom. And it’s largely (probably) doing this in a way that will still allow it to attract white advertising revenue which I think has to be much more of the lens people use to assess media targeting them. Because that’s actually a point, too, that I didn’t fully address earlier when you asked, “What is black media?” We always have to—- and again I get a lot of this from, Dr. Todd Steven Burrows who led me into this years ago, is that black media have to be understood as: Is it Black media that’s owned by black people, but maybe still black capitalist and commercial? Is it black media that’s white owned, but targeting black people? Is it black media because it’s variously owned, but has black people in it? So in other words, is Byron Allen’s weather channel “black media” because it’s owned by a black man, but doesn’t have black people in it. Is it targeting necessarily black people? That has to be part of the assessment and then when you look at it through an emancipatory journalistic lens, you can more easily clarify what is what and, I think, that’s important and harder to probably do now than ever.
Erica: Yeah, I do see the distinctions that you made. Yeah, those are big. Those are major distinctions though as far as writing and then writing for a purpose. Especially if the purpose is to get people into organizations, get people organized. I think that’s distinctly different from just reporting. That question about black media, I think could also be extended to, “what is the black community?” Because I think that that’s a struggle in itself. Like when we talk about community, who are the people that we are speaking about? To what extent? To what end? Because we’re not a monolithic group.
Erica: And everybody don’t have the same aspirations for liberation. I do have one last question for you, You have countless hours of work being critical of cryptocurrency, but for me (I know people like give you shit about that) I do see that as a natural progression of your work from, I Mix What I Like to Myths of Black Buying Power to the research you’ve accumulated and provided on cryptocurrency. Would you say that the underlying theme of the work that you do or the work that you’re trying to accomplish has been political power? And if so, can you explain how that may correlate with your latest project, The After Party?
Jared: So, yeah. And I’m glad I don’t—- In terms of my limited amount of work in this world, I think the critique of cryptocurrency is exactly as you said, logical. It’s a logical extension.
I don’t see how anybody would be confused by that because the whole point for me has always been (going back to why I Mix What I Like) how does the messaging not comport with the material reality? That’s the underlying theme of actually everything (probably everything) that I do. And so I don’t approach Buying Power, entertainment, cryptocurrency as an expert necessarily in those particular fields or areas, so to speak. But I’m looking at them in terms of how they’re messaged and how those messages often don’t relate to the lived experience, materially. So a lot of it through hip hop early on was, “Hey, hip hop has liberated us. It’s browned the country. It’s led us to Obama. It’s created a multi billion dollar annual industry.”
And I kept saying, “okay, but the south Bronx is literally poorer today than it was in 1970.” The black community still has nothing. Latin America— I mean whoever has contributed to hip hop is no better off. And the only people that seem to have money are a handful of artists and a handful of the colonized and then a whole bunch of white folks. So the same thing, Buying Power. I’m not an economist, but the messaging kept saying, “we’re doing better. You can get free, you can do this. You can use your money.” Little bit of research later and a look at, again, the lived reality. It’s not matching up. Same thing with crypto invest. “And we can Bitcoin our way to liberation.” And I’m like, okay, a little bit of research and the same patterns exist: accumulation of wealth, organization of the messaging, talking points, same bullet point talking points, propaganda, psychological warfare. Organized multi force, multiplication, multi-level messaging. Whatever. All of those things are happening. So I look at the data or out my window and I see the conditions are exactly the same. So I go back to where I started with the anti colonial analysis and it reaffirms it, it doesn’t contradict it. The colonial lens suggests just these patterns will occur. They will reaffirm each other.
So it’s not like— again, as I saw once explained of the dialectic: It’s not that your wheel hits the ground and is not moving in the exact same spot, but that line on the tire ends up on the same spot, even as the tire has rolled ahead on the surface. So in other words, it’s not exactly the same, but we still have a lot of the same repeating and predictable outcomes. And that’s really it. I go back again to the point of the only way I’ve understood the issue and those I’ve tried to study have argued. The issue is that if you want to end the colonial relationship, the colonize have to be organized and there has to be a variety of confrontations. So with the After Party, I’m simply arguing that it’d be this sort of electoral confrontation. If we’re going to vote, if we’re going to engage in electoral politics, we have to do so (regardless of the party we engage or the topic or the politician) as an organized base or organized population, clear about its situation and clear about its goals and clear about the platform planks it wants to support and how it wants to engage its electoral strength, to the extent it exists. In other words, to sort of break the pattern of “lesser evil” voting, of single issues voting, of all the other forms of manipulation that I think occur as we’re constantly told, “the only pathway to freedom is through the vote,” which is obviously questionable. That’s sort of how I’ve tried to streamline my thoughts on that, you know?
Erica: Yeah. And then I was thinking too, that (just, even based on your work) the people or the mechanisms used to push people to vote has been the “buying power”, now the people who are promoting cryptocurrency. So it’s the same sort of circle of people. When I make the criticisms, when I write about it, it’s not so much a celebrity driven thing because pundits, too, are now celebrities. Joy Reid is practically a celebrity in my household. Right? Let my mother tell it. So, now we have all these people that are filling in, taking up spaces. That’s language of representation. “The first black.” I was just showing my cousin earlier today, a clip of Kamala Harris and I was like,” what does she even be talking about now?” What does Kamala Harris even say now? It’s like two different Kamalas, in a sense. It’s like pre-election and post-election Kamala Harris. But then to what extent are we better off? New York City’s increase in rent is 3.5% by October.
Erica: Yeah. There’s a black mayor. you know? So like when you said the South Bronx is, I just came from the South Bronx. I was just in Castle Hill yesterday. It don’t look no better. It looks the same. So I don’t know.
Jared: but real quick, real quick—
Erica: All these rappers are from that area, but the area itself still negates —- that sort of criminal criminalization of the youth. They have nothing really for those kids out there. And they’re over-policed, there’s no jobs. So the situation has not gotten better, but there are a lot more people coming from the South Bronx that are releasing videos and trying to get put on, because that seems to be the only trajectory. Because there are no jobs for these kids. So for your argument about what hip hop has not done, there’s a lot of things that are supposed to be liberating for us that has not done. Because I don’t think people are grasping things at the roots or they’re perfectly okay with surface level increment– small wins.
Jared: So let me just, I just want to ask just quickly. What is the messaging? How are they justifying a rent increase right now?
Erica: Oh, they’re not even bothering justifying not in that way. No, they’re not even trying to give a reasonable— I mean, outside of the landlords. Because they have not increased rent in quite some time, it has been an issue for them.
Jared: Oh, they gotta make up for the COVID.
Erica: Right. So they have to make up the difference. And then with what happened in the pandemic with the rent freezes and things like that. So they’re trying to make up the difference with the increases. But most of these landlords are corporate entities anyway, these days. So there’s not like it’s a face to face person. They will have managers with the places, but you’re not —–
Jared: And of course, if they’re not corporate entities, it’s encouraging that they go after their lost revenue from the poorer, like downstream, as opposed to anywhere up, like they’re not going to people they know —
Erica: Right. Yeah. Or sell your house while they’re still in there. So that’s, that’s also been going on. They’re not really trying to justify it. I don’t think they’re— I think we’ve reached a point that they don’t care to justify anything. They’re not trying to make this decision for what they’re not doing. We have not seen a stimulus check that was promised to us since January of last year. And nobody feels the need to speak to that or say anything about that, because it’s over…
Jared: you know what? That’s deep. you’re right. I don’t even hear that being raised anymore. You’re right now. Sorry, I didn’t mean to take us down that —
Erica: No, no no. I mean, that’s part of the After Party because I value your work. I know you think I give you a hard ass time (and sometimes I do…maybe). Maybe I do. But I do value your work. Because I think it set me on a path to think about things differently and I’ve since engaged in different things and expanded the way that I look at things because I’ve been introduced to that book. I know that “Myths” is your great work. But this first book, I really felt like if you read that and then read Myths, you can see there’s a through line of your work. And then with the cryptocurrency and the things that you’re doing around that, it’s the same sort of extension, for me, it is an extension of Glen Ford’s ‘black misleadership’ , the writing that he did on it. And then the scholarship that you do on the figures, it helps me understand and explain your colonialism. It helps me explain it to my nephews and stuff when they talk about artists and when they talk about these things. So I value that and I think that If we’re talking about these characters and these buffer class and these neo-colonial foot soldiers, basically if we’re talking about them then the point of talking about them is for political power or it should be that. We should start breaking away from these things instead of doubling down or seeing ourselves as it. Because I do notice when you mention, “what is black media”,per se, is it Byron Allen? But people will go to bat for Byron Allen because he’s “one of us.” So
Jared: And when he went to the Supreme court, he ran that line or that lie. So they’ll claim it on our behalf. When Puffy went on his revolt TV corporate money grab, he ran the whole thing, “Black media is being underserved by the corporate advertising, the white advertising.” And it’s like when did Puffy— where is all this black radical— ? Like when do you —-?
Erica: Monique did it, too with her Netflix deal. I would — people that I knew was telling me they were paying Monique pennies and I’m like, is $1 million pennies?
Jared: I get, it’s not what’s her faces’ money. Yeah. She like, what’s her name?
Erica: Certainly not the white people, but I think that, I think so long as we continue to do that, “Well, what about the white people?” that that sort of leads to how we get trapped into supporting things we shouldnt be supporting necessarily.
Jared: Our beloved Morgan State
Erica: I dont reaclll any of these people fighting for 15. I don’t recall any picket sign or I’ve never seen any of these people fight for 15, but somehow their fight becomes ours. And I think what your work does is sort of expose why. Because they can’t attack above.
Jared: Yeah, they can’t. No, they can’t. And we have to be, I think we do have to be, analytically, fair to them in judgment as we struggle with their behavior.
But like I was just saying, our beloved Morgan State—- you all have done great work on the role of Morgan and HBCUs and all of this, but the public messaging is “we are serving black people,” right? “We’re doing what others won’t do for black people.” And it’s a little more complicated than that.
Erica: You have celebrities who have not gone to college or haven’t gone to school, one of the things that they always say is that they would go to HBCU just for the aesthetics of it. They wanna be a part of the band. They wanna go to the football game, they wanna go to homecoming. They love the aesthetics of an HBCU, which is why nobody really digs deep into exactly what’s going on at HBCUs. I know for all my nieces that go to A & T and Howard —- this is a HBCU household right in here. But they’ve gone because of that aesthetic. What it means to be a Howard Bison. Not necessarily because of anything academic, it wasn’t necessarily anything that they seen academic. But the prestige of it, what it’s known for.
But it has as many cracks and holes as a PWI. I guess we could argue, it’s probably more insidious in that way, because it looks like us. So we don’t expect it.
Jared: I’m still getting the responses to my project on that. And I don’t think any of them, to your point make mention of, “I went there because I knew I could pursue this sort of political or intellectual or any sort of educational program.” It was, “my momma went there, my daddy. Everybody’s an alpha, everybody’s a Delta. I wanted to do the step. I wanted to be around black people.”
And I get all of that. I do like, honestly, that I don’t directly have to interact with any white person. I enjoy it. But, that can’t be confused into some liberationist project either. And then, Actually, if anything, it reminds of the neo-colonial aspect of it, because damn like it’s all these black people and all this stuff is going wrong.
Erica: Right and then I think about if students are going into these schools with that mindset and then they’re getting trained and sculpted and sent out to go work for Raytheon and go work for AFRICOM. So yeah,
Jared: I remember Kip Ward went to Morgan and I got that email years ago now, But they said would you help construct a communicative— construct messaging to positively spread the message of AFRICOM (something like that). And I just said, “I don’t think we should be doing this.” I didn’t even say it that hard. I remember I just raised the question. “Should we even be doing this?” Because the question was, how will we shape this message for, I think it was Raytheon or Lockheed Martin in relationship to African — something about AFRICOM was the point. And I remember just asking, “should we do this?” Not even getting into, “let’s not”, just should we be doing it? And that was the last message I got on the whole project.
Erica: Yeah. I was gonna say they put you right off the listserv. Took you right off.
Jared: Delete. Let’s move on. But to circle back, I mean, that’s the point. That’s the level of thought that is put into all of the messaging and the communication around everything and best believe that for all the emails that I would’ve seen, or my colleagues would’ve seen, there were other emails going to other outlets saying, “how can we create? How can you write this into your script? How can we create a nice commercial? Hey, you over there, can you create— ?” They have an endless budget. So, I mean, they’re just reaching out and throwing money all over the place to get—- And then even to the point you were making about the videos being made out of the Bronx and about celebrities, et cetera, this, all of what we’re talking about, reaches down to these YouTube streets and these podcast streets and all these streets where people that aren’t even — just by chasing algorithmic advertising already sets people up in one thing.But if you want sponsors and if you want real support for your media, you gotta shape yourself to these projects. And a lot of people’s channels are blowing up and being funded by these entities (sometimes on the low, sometimes not. That encourage seemingly an astroturfing of the media environment, really. Like, it seems like all these organic things are popping up and whatever, but just as often, they’re the tentacles of all this elite money and manipulating money and the colonial project is found it’s right there.
Erica: right. And then with all the information about how much the state is involved in every single social media space, we need to also be a little more mindful because we don’t know exactly — we can’t really pinpoint unless we do the power mapping ourselves— Who’s responsible? Where the money’s coming from? Like there’s a host of debates people get trapped in for days online. And then the source of the debate is so — when you see where it started from, it’s like, “we could have just ended this three days ago.” But I think there is a whole thing to manufacture that sort of thing. I know I give people shit about, “that’s a distraction” and all that, but I do think when online there’s more validity to that. There are things that I do see that are probably set out in motion to be the distraction. uh, you know, name because for the last, well, I
Jared: Well I remember years ago, I know his birthday just passed, Kwame Ture said he understood if he was the enemy, he would be surveilling him too.
Jared: He would’ve put himself —- I think this all the time, if I was them I’d be doing all the stuff and more that they’re doing. Sock-puppeting. Wouldn’t you? How easy would it be to create an account and drop on somebody’s timeline and be like, “Kwame Nkrumah ain shit” and then just watch fall apart. Yeah.
Erica:They do that all the time though for days.
Jared: Yeah,that’s what I’m saying. Of course they would do that and I would expect that they would do that. And that’s why I keep saying (I know it’s vague and insufficient and you know better than I do) I think really in these media spaces our overt works should only be about the vague encouragement that people join organizations.
Jared: And then when you’re in those spaces between protocol, being in work regularly with people, you can start to more likely avoid all of that. I mean, that’s the only option we have. You’re not– we’re not gonna be able to out-maneuver this online. That’s not realistic despite the claim. That’s part of the same consistent messaging. Just like rappers used to tell me, “I don’t need Sony anymore because I can drop a mixtape and hit the streets on my own.” Or then it became, “I don’t need them anymore because I can go online and I can put my joint online. I don’t need them anymore.” And it’s like okay, okay we got the mixtape. You got the radio, you got the internet, you got these platforms. Oh, and what’s happening? Oh, everybody still broke. Everybody still gets ripped off more than ever. Oh the communities are poorer than ever. Oh, surprise, surprise, surprise.
Maybe there’s another problem. There’s an underlying thread here. That’s not being considered because all the messaging keeps coming back with, “you don’t need to organize. You could just tweet” and “you don’t need to organize. You could just start a podcast” and you don’t need to— this is the other thing (I’m gonna stop here) that I’ve really seen. The more I’ve paid attention over the last couple years to YouTube and whatnot. You don’t need to humble yourself and spend even years quietly going to meetings, studying, listening before even opening your mouth. Like that’s not even a consideration anymore. Now it’s the exact opposite. It’s like, “oh, I have my very first thought. I’m gonna start a YouTube channel or a podcast and open up a stream and I’m gonna get on this and I’m gonna be on that. And then I’m gonna catch a good algorithm and I’m gonna be rich and things.”
Erica: Right. And that’s ultimately the goal, though. Ultimately, I feel like that’s where everybody—
Jared: it’s amazing.
Erica: We are so deep into austerity policies that people just —- they’re gonna make more reactionary decisions where it’s gonna be more individualism and less about the collective because we’re being squeezed like that. And as organizers, one of the criticisms that we can self-criticize about is that we have yet to have built an apparatus to support those people that are being squeezed up, you know? So without nothing being built then we ought to expect that people are just gonna be more individualized and more individualized and more reactionary because we’re— they don’t have a space where they can unpack that, they can build through that. We don’t even have our own institutions yet.
Jared: So look, you know this area a little bit, at least, andI know it’s not science, but a few years ago (when I made a point of it), I saw for the first time in my life, I saw white people begging on the corner in Howard County, Maryland. And I was like —-that was my doomsday alert right there. I was like, “I’ve never seen a white family begging for money in Howard county, Maryland.” I said it’s a wrap. I said black people must just—– Anyway, obviously it’s that much worse, but the collapse is on us. Start reading revelations (I’m just playing). But seriously, this is bad. So you’re right about the austerity thing. And, um, right. Um, so
Erica: No, I appreciate you. And I appreciate you coming on because like I said, I value your work and a lot of what. How I try to implement it or when I do tell people to read your books or read your work, a lot of it is so that we can start looking towards exiting, looking towards the after party. Even if it’s not so much the electoral portion of it, there has to be some sort of building being done.
Because it’s just gonna get worse and worse and we are severely out-organized. So we gotta start thinking about what community control looks like. What does liberated zones look like? How do we obtain that? But I don’t think that we can do any of that if we are not even understanding the subtle colonialism or the overt colonial tactics. Which I think — music is music and tweets are just tweets and we’re just here for the fun and everything is about joy because organizers are apparently joyless, it becomes less about what needs to be done and more about—- I actually don’t even know what it’s about right now. So that’s why I value the work that you do because at least it pinpoints or you can sort of power map and track, “Okay. So this has always been a thing and this has always been going on and they adapt cuz the state fundamentally will always adapt.”
Jared: Look, when I read years ago that there was payola in 19th century sheet music, I said, “damn, these fools are not playing.” These fools are not playing. So listen, I just wanna thank you very much. I deeply appreciate you all, as well. And you, in particular. The hard time you give me is appreciated. And I just wanna point out that I’ve been a fan of Hood Communist since before I even knew it was you. If you remember, in one of our early communications, I was like, “which name is which?” And it turned out that they were both yours. Yeah. and I thought ‘Hood Communists’, both in politics and branding was brilliant. So I appreciate you all and wish you continued good work and success.