Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Missiles on the Blocks

This week we’ve heard that not only have the Olympics disrupted our transport system more than snow blizzards on top of autumn leaves, but that they also meant that our city is to be militarised, quite literally, out of the money this whole country, not just London, pays in tax. The Royal Navy have deployed their largest assault vessel, HMS Ocean, in Greenwich, Marines encircle our coast, in the city centre itself there will be 12,500 “Olympic Police, 13,500 armed services (2,000 of which fully armed), 5,000 specialist police, 1,000 in logistical support, not to mention the 7,500 private security forces roaming the street. A combined force of 23,700 security forces will restrict liberty for the “safety” of us all. Security on such a vast scale will be overseen by that beacon of democracy G4S, the private security company that has recently made inroads into schools, prisons and roads– big societing it up.

As if that wasn’t enough, Typhoon fighter jets and military helicopters will be in our skies, just to deter those terrorists that have no aerial power in their own countries, but of course have full capabilities to breach British aerospace. Add the cherry on top of the cake is of course the surface to air missiles that will be placed on top of residential blocks. While this may make that xenophobic, patriotic, Falkland war loving Brit feel safer at night, those with a little more sense and self-consciousness will move beyond inherited jingoism to feelings of caution, worry and dismay at the need to deploy such capacities for destruction to fight an enemy that at his worst operates using over the counter chemicals cooked in basements with crude equipment. The notion that such enemies can be fought with full military might is not only erroneous, as the Afghani resistance proves daily, it also evokes the great satire of Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stones scathing critique of over-militarised responses to terrorist threats.

The film starts with the destruction of Paris by American forces seeking to neutralise a jihadi with a suitcase. In response, missiles are fired and destruction is wrecked at comically disturbing levels. When I hear of the measures taken to keep London safe, all I can think of is that opening scene. Imagine a terrorist does make it through the net of GCHQ, Mi6, Mi5, Special Branch and the SO15’s intelligence. Does the aforementioned security infrastructure fortify London even slightly? I fail to see how. If I work on mainstream perceptions of this world, there’s some math that just doesn’t work.

Since 9/11, attacks upon Western power have come in numerous forms, but mainly suicide bombings. With the exception of car bombs, the only difference I can think of is the gunmen in Mumbai. Now, tell me how the jihadi at the gates can be taken out with a missile? I don’t think he can and I do not believe the measures of security that we will be subject to have been conceived with the quintessential “Islamist extremist” in mind. While some on the right will engage in fantasy and provide a long-list of conjecture over potential security threats that warrant such disturbing force, I think we must consider these measures as a message more than a response to need.

What we are witnessing is the normalisation of militarisation of our cities. We accept the surveillance infrastructure to keep us safe, we accept our actions being logged, so why not accept armaments on top of buildings? It’s not too far of a jump and has hardly been met with critical commentary. When such actions were taken in China, it was used as a stick to beat the central committee who were going mad with paranoia and continuing to “abuse human rights”. But instead of seeing this through the prism of state repression, we are made to feel that “our boys” provide us with comfort, their presence on our streets in the thousands embraced. And that’s the most troubling part – as we’ve seen countless times across this world, military deployments come quickly and are dismantled slowly. Imagine London is attacked – imagine the attackers breached security in a way that is sensationalised, imagine that the enemy at the gates was said to be upon us and knows more about the inner workings of our system than we thought. Imagine a world of suspicion. Imagine that as well as having your movements logged and your texts and emails read – you are also in the crosshairs of weaponry countless times a day. It is not the world we are living in, but it could be round the corner.

I do not believe this is the final stage in the building of the dystopia – it is merely a lunge towards it. The greatest threat London faces is embarrassment. With movement restricted around this city, an increased cost of living and a depletion of resources, the disenfranchised youth who were so combustible last summer will have powder kegs beneath them. The Olympics have long been a tool of dispossession and neo-liberalism and London’s 2012 is no exception. Public money has been pilfered into private hands and for generations the urban poor will be paying for their own displacement. Military deployments are about scaring the radical elements to make the elites feel safe. The Olympics is accelerating the processes by which London becomes a sanitised investors paradise, civil disruption would hurt the magnetising effect the Olympics would have on business with the Big Smoke. With the coalition’s austerity measures failing, they are reliant upon a lucrative Olympics to pull in the private businesses that their economic plan hinges upon. With recession being the consequence of their foray so far, there is very little room for complacency. London 2012 must generate money.

So, like the abusive father inviting friends over for dinner, certain punitive measures are put in place to ensure that once guests are in the house, everyone will act civilised – or will have hell to pay. That’s the message I take from the militarisation of my city – and like the petulant kid grown use to abuse from power – my response is this: go fuck yourselves.

Bob Marley documentary let down by its eurocentrism

I went to see ‘Marley’, the new and highly-publicised documentary about Robert Nesta Marley, at the Rio cinema in the heart of gentrified Dalston. While I enjoyed my green tea and organic chocolate bar (definitely a step up from pepsi and popcorn!), I found that being surrounded by trendy middle-class types only added to my sense of fear that the film was going to be annoyingly eurocentric and patronising.

But let’s start with the good parts. Doing justice to the legacy of Bob Marley in the space of two hours and 24 minutes is an impossible task. All things considered, the people behind the film did a pretty decent job. The archive and interview footage is nothing short of incredible. The production team must have gone to extraordinary lengths to get the level of access they got. The interviews with Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer, Lee Scratch Perry, Danny Sims and other important figures in Bob’s life are brilliant, and do a lot to explain how this giant of a man came to be who he was. For any fan of Bob Marley, the film is worth watching for the footage alone.

Unfortunately, the film is let down (as I knew it would be) by its eurocentric perspective. Let’s face it, the first feature-length documentary on Bob Marley should have been directed by somebody else. Kevin Macdonald is perfectly competent as a film director, but he is a western white liberal. The story of Bob Marley is the story of black suffering and strength inna Babylon; the story a great revolutionary activist; the story of a people stripped of their freedom, languages, religions and traditions, building a voice and a collective identity. In short, it is not a story that Kevin Macdonald is qualified to tell.

Bob was Africa-oriented. He considered that Africa represented the future for his people. And yet Africa is presented in the film as a continent of dictators and basketcase governments. The film gets a cheap laugh when Marley’s first visit to Africa – to give a concert in Gabon – is somewhat marred when the band realise that Gabon is “a dictatorship”. We see a picture of Gabon’s then president, Omar Bongo Ondimba, wearing a suit and looking slightly severe. Our collective prejudice requires no further information to confirm that this rarely-mentioned West African nation is yet another hopeless failure, its natural wealth squandered by incompetent, malevolent kleptocrats. This shallow treatment serves to strengthen the near-universal colonial prejudice that African people are not capable of governing themselves. No mention of the devastating impact of French colonialism; no mention of the oppressive neocolonial relations that sustain such a “dictatorship”. It all comes down to: Europeans are civilised; Africans are barbarians. It’s the narrative of the White Man’s Burden.

One of the most poignant moments of Bob Marley’s career was his performance at the Zimbabwe Independence celebrations in 1980, to which he was invited on the strength of his beautiful song, Zimbabwe, which became an anthem of the liberation movement (“Every man got the right to decide his own destiny / And in this judgement there is no partiality / So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle / Cos that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.”). Covering this event, Macdonald can’t help but take a pop at the leader of Zimbabwe’s hard-fought liberation struggle, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. There are long, drawn-out shots of posters showing Mugabe’s face, the obvious subtext being: Zimbabwe is a crazy African dictatorship, because only in a crazy African dictatorship would you find pictures of the Prime Minister on a poster. Apparently it is too far a stretch of the imagination to think that people would ever willingly display affection and respect for a man who personified their decades-long fight against apartheid and white supremacy.

Mugabe is considered by millions of Africans as one of the great heroes of the African cause, but that didn’t stop the trendy liberals of Dalston from booing at the footage of him making a speech. Tellingly, they were quiet just a few seconds earlier during the footage of Ian Smith – the apartheid fascist Prime Minister of ‘Rhodesia’ – making a speech saying that black majority rule would not be allowed “even in a thousand years”. Bob Marley must be turning in his grave.

Incidentally, London now has a statue of well-known state terrorist Ronald Reagan. That’s the type of hero-worship us civilised westerners prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given that he is one of the film’s producers – Island Records founder Chris Blackwell is positively portrayed in the film. He is shown as being very sensible and wise; the voice of reason. When one of Bob’s former band members claims that the doctors wanted to amputate Bob’s leg in order to treat the melanoma that had developed in his foot, Blackwell sets straight this slightly outlandish claim (the doctors only wanted to amputate a toe). The comedic timing of this scene confirms Blackwell’s role as the wise old white man. We hear about Blackwell the visionary businessman who knew just the right polish to add to the Wailers’ sound to make it acceptable to audiences in Europe. Very little is made of the fact that Blackwell used his colour and class privilege to build a fantastically lucrative career off the back of black culture. Blackwell’s sponsoring of the Wailers’ first album is seen as an act of great benevolence, but the film-makers choose not to explore the fact that Blackwell only had the money in the first place because he comes from a wealthy white family that profited from slave labour. Perhaps such difficult sociological issues will be addressed in the sequel?!

I also feel the portrayal of black Jamaicans in the film is somewhat one-sided and patronising. A few of the interviews don’t go past the level of showing ‘cool’, ‘colourful’, charismatic people who smoke a lot of high-grade ganja. I don’t think it’s done intentionally, but a middle-class white western audience is left with its prejudices intact. A different film-maker might have taken the perfect opportunity to highlight the deep understanding and experience of black Jamaicans and, in so doing, shatter some prejudices.

When you show certain images and footage without giving proper historical context, it strengthens prejudice. We see the leading politicians of the time, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, both of whom are (basically) white. Then we see the black ‘enforcers’ using extreme violence against each other. No mention of the real issues within Jamaican politics. No mention of interesting facts like how the CIA trained and armed the JLP gangs. So our existing prejudices (that white people are ‘thinkers’ and black people are inherently violent) are confirmed. This sums up my overwhelming feeling about the film: that it serves to reinforce rather than challenge prejudice.

Overall I feel the film represents a missed opportunity and fails to present Bob as the deeply revolutionary figure that he was. I hope some time soon a solidly afrocentric director and producer will step forward and tell this particular story from a different perspective – for the enjoyment and inspiration of the downpressed masses of the world, rather than western university students. In the meantime, go see the film in spite of its faults – the footage makes it a very worthwhile experience.

Lowkey: best wishes for the future

As you no doubt already know, Lowkey has decided to press pause on his rapping career, for the foreseeable future at least. Before deactivating his fan page, he wrote on Facebook:

After many months of contemplation I have decided to step away from music and concentrate on my studies. Maybe at some point I will get back into it again but at this stage I feel I should direct my energy in different, more helpful directions. The ego is a destructive thing and I feel this business and these social networks in particular have a tendency to feed it in an unhealthy way. I will be decactivating this page. Thank you for all those who have supported me over the years. See you on the other side people.

As Beat Knowledge has supported Lowkey since the site first started in August 2010 (I was lucky enough to write the first review of his album), I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Lowkey for his contributions over the last few years and to wish him all the success and happiness for the future. Knowing him personally, I have no doubt that he will continue to use his abilities to further the struggle of oppressed people worldwide. If music is not bringing him fulfilment and growth right now, then it makes sense for him to give it a break.

Despite a few disagreements I’ve had with him over the last couple of years, I have a lot of love for him and a great deal of respect for what he’s done. His effect on the music scene has been incredible. He has combined his lyrical ability with knowledge, a whole heap of honesty, and a love for the people. The result has been game-changing: he has created a path for UK artists to build a career in music, remaining independent, staying true to their beliefs, talking sense, and serving the people rather than the music industry. Tracks like ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Obamanation’ have been a major talking point, and have opened up the discussion of some important topics.

I’m sure Lowkey will be back with another album in the next few years. In the meantime, a million thanks for your contributions, and best of luck!

“Your voice, your opinion” – not so much. Bars For Change, extremism and islamophobia

The first two episodes of ‘Bars For Change’ (on police accountability and government cuts) were excellent. Jody McIntyre, Windfall Films and the various artists involved (including Durrty Goodz, Ghetts, Logic, Lioness and DVS) did a really good job giving voice to the opinions and frustrations of young people in our communities. The timing of the episodes was spot-on: the one on police accountability came soon after the high profile death in police custody of reggae star Smiley Culture; the episode on the cuts came soon after England’s streets exploded in spontaneous uprising against poverty, discrimination and marginalisation.

Unfortunately, the third episode, released this evening on YouTube, puts forward a very different message. Although it was originally planned to be focused around the rise of the fascist English Defence League (EDL), it seems Windfall Films made an executive decision to turn it into a film about ‘extremism’ in general. The result, I would argue, is a film that reinforces islamophobia and discourages political dissent.

Because of these problems, Jody McIntyre publicly dissociated himself from the film, saying on his Facebook page:

“I think a lot of people will be very disappointed with the Bars For Change film that will apparently be released this eve. This is what happens when attempts are made to co-opt voices of dissent.”

And further:

“The film Bars For Change have just released makes me feel sick. Racism and white supremacy, once again given a cloak of legitimacy…”

The program starts by uncritically quoting the government’s definition of extremist groups.

“Extremist groups oppose democracy, British law, individual freedoms, and respect for other faiths”.

The film-makers missed the opportunity to make the very obvious point that, given Britain’s role in illegal wars against Muslim countries, this definition is an excellent fit for the British state.

The show does a reasonable job of exposing the hypocrisy and idiocy of the EDL. Fascists are shown saying obviously stupid things. “I don’t want my children to grow up eating halal food.” (OK, well, don’t give them halal food then, you twerp). Where it goes wrong, however, is when the obscure Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) group is presented as some kind of dark-skinned equivalent of the EDL. A small group of Muslims is shown shouting the slogan “Sharia for UK” and then talking about how it is destiny that the whole world shall be ruled by Islam.

We then get the voice of reason from a “former extremist”, Matthew Collins, who comes out with this pretty extreme statement:

“The EDL and the MAC are exactly the same as each other. MAC don’t speak for the Muslim community; the EDL don’t speak for the English.”

The EDL and the MAC are *not* exactly the same as each other. The MAC is a tiny and obscure political scarecrow that has been frequently used by the right-wing press to make people terribly worried about these nasty brown folks that want to force the good people of England to wear burqas. The resulting hysteria feeds hugely into the culture of Islamophobia that divides our communites and that builds support for the wars being waged by the British state in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Muslim extremism is *not* a major problem on our streets; English fascism and Islamophobia *are* real problems. Muslims are being violently attacked, vilified and discriminated against.

Furthermore, English fascism and Muslim extremism are very different social phenomena. EDL-type fascism is simply the paramilitary extension of the existing racist, anti-poor, anti-immigrant power structure; its views are informed by mainstream ideology (read the Daily Mail and you’ll see what I mean). Muslim extremism, on the other hand, is a resistance identity, an interesting by-product of our society’s colonialist and racist mentality.

In fact, the Muslim ‘fundamentalists’ in this country are generally speaking inspired by those radical Islamic groups around the world fighting courageously against neo-colonialism (Hezbollah is a good example). It is worth noting that this radical Islam became popular in the wake of the crushing of the secular nationalist resistance in the Middle East, perpetrated by Arab ‘elite’ at the instigation of their western puppet-masters in Britain, France and the US. So if you look deep enough, even the presence of a few guys in England calling for Sharia law can be traced to imperialist policy and the thirst for oil!

The artists (Black the Ripper, RoxXxan and Mikill Pane) clearly try to steer the programme towards a positive conclusion of communities needing to unite, but the film-makers force it back towards a stern warning against all forms of extremism. Given that the only definition of extremism we have been given is the government-supplied one quoted above, doesn’t this message tend to support the status quo? Does it not perpetuate the myth of British democracy?

People called Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko extremists. They called Malcolm X, Huey P Newton and Angela Davis extremists. They called Nasser and Ho Chi Minh extremists. “Extremism is bad” is a dangerous message, because we live in a society which is ‘extremely’ messed up, and we may need some ‘extreme’ measures to move forward!

Imperialism is the ‘extreme’ domination of the world’s resources, land and people, by means of ‘extreme’ force. Move against it by any means necessary.

Jody’s statement can be read here.

Unbelievable police brutality at New York hip-hop event

Check this footage from Jay Diamond at an event last night in New York featuring Pete Rock and Smif-n-Wessun, launching their new album Monumental.

Police stormed into the event, shut it down, told people to leave and started beating people up. As Pete Rock commented on Twitter: “Black is not da favorable color in dat area i guess!!”

General Steele of Smif-n-Wessun gives a great breakdown of what happened in the interview he gives at the end of the video:

“You can witness it was jam packed, there was no fights, no confrontations. There was all kinds of people in there, from all over the place. There was music in there, it was going off, it was poppin’. Then the police came and stormed the place, telling us we had to get out. And then they started beating on people, telling us to move away. This is what goes on in New York City. New Yorkers get frustrated when the police come in and, instead of bringing order, they create more chaos. This is what NYPD does. They create more chaos, because they don’t identify with the people… These motherfuckers is the overseers of this land right here. We witnessing it right now. I guess they bored. They can’t find no rapists, killers and criminals, so they wanna fuck up the common folk, the party-goers, the hip-hoppers, the current revolutionaries of this time. Long live hip-hop, long live free speech, long live you guys out there.”

Again we see the true nature of the police: their main function is to intimidate people, to keep them in their place, to preserve the status quo of capitalism and imperialism. They are playing the same role in Greece (where they’re attacking protestors with tear gas right now) and in England (where we have seen several deaths in police custody in recent weeks).

Let’s give the last word to the late, great J Dilla…

A tribute to the great Gil Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron – the legendary poet, singer, revolutionary and musical innovator – sadly passed away on May 27th, at the age of 62. He was without a doubt a genius, and one of the most important cultural revolutionaries of our time, speaking from the heart about poverty, inequality, racism, apartheid, drug addiction and more. In the words of Dream Hampton:

Hip-hop did much to strip shame from poverty, but with songs like “Whitey on the Moon”, where he juxtaposed high health care bills, rat-infested apartments and late rent payments with space race budgets, Gil Scott’s songs restored humanity to America’s inner-city poor.

Heron was in many ways the key cultural voice of the black power movement of the 1970s, and he noted Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Huey P Newton among his influences. His combination of militant poetry and music served as one of the key precursors of hip-hop, especially in its conscious/political form. As the legendary Chuck D said via Twitter: “RIP GSH…and we do what we do and how we do because of you.”

When fans found out last year that Gil Scott Heron was booked to play in Tel Aviv, they formed a campaign to show Heron that to break the cultural boycott of Israel would be a violation of the principles he had upheld his whole life. To his great credit, he cancelled the gig.

Gil Scott Heron will be greatly missed, but his music and words will continue to inspire and educate.

If you haven’t got his albums yet, you need to catch up quick! In the meantime, here are a few highlights.

Tim Wise ‘White Like Me’ summarised in 15 tweets

White Like Me

White Like Me

As a random learning exercise, I tried to summarise Tim Wise’s excellent book ‘White Like Me’ in 15 tweets. I figured I’d post them here for posterity.

Here we go:

  1. We breathe racism – it’s everywhere around us. Therefore we all have to be constantly vigilant about our own prejudices.
  2. ‘Whiteness’ is a construct that was developed in the Americas in the 1600s to prevent the unity of black slaves and poor whites.
  3. Before that, people weren’t talked about in terms of white or black. Skin colour wasn’t considered a significant attribute.
  4. Laws were created, privileges were enforced. Whites were persuaded that their solidarity should be focused on race, not class.
  5. Race has no value from a scientific point of view, but it has become a sociological/political fact.
  6. Exceptions (Oprah, Obama) don’t prove the rule. There was a black millionaire in the US in 1911. Did racism not exist then?
  7. Many white people find it difficult to come to terms with the idea of white privilege, because it threatens their self-image.
  8. Privilege starts from day 1 – where you live, your family’s financial security, networks, inheritance, perception, education access.
  9. It is our human obligation to fight injustice. This struggle will never be truly finished, but we focus on playing our part.
  10. White people have everything 2 gain from fighting racism. Racism destroys US/English culture. We must develop a new inclusive culture.
  11. Silence is collaboration. Regardless of colour, we have clear responsibility to stand up to injustice perpetrated against others.
  12. If we can recognise that we’ve done wrong to the environment and take measures to fix it, why can’t we do the same with race?
  13. White people should set antiracist example in all areas. Expose racism. Refuse to worship a white Jesus. Boycott racist companies.
  14. White people should be willing to follow, not lead, in antiracist struggle. Respect that others have deeper experience of issue.
  15. Reject the Eurocentrism of mainstream education and press. Actively explore non-European history and culture.

Read the book; it’s great. Very refreshing and healthy to hear a middle class white male recognising white privilege as a problem.

Personally, I agree with the contents of the book almost entirely, but as always, remember to read critically and develop your own view.

Get the book for £7.73 on Amazon UK

Alternative (and cheap!) workout by Tempa T

Pure positive vibes from Tempa T, providing a great service for the community! He does a great job presenting as well – tons of personality.

Some book recommendations

A few people have asked me for book recommendations recently. Here are some books I’ve read over the past couple of years that I think are very much worth reading (assuming an interest in youth culture, people’s struggle against injustice and oppression, race, gender, empire, war, history and music).

I’ll keep this list updated with new books as I read them. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Huey P Newton – Revolutionary Suicide

If you only read one book about the Panthers, this should probably be the one. Huey’s autobiography is a detailed, moving and insightful account of the Panthers’ rise in the late 1960s. One of the most important aspects of this book is how the Panthers really united theory and practice (at a time when the rest of the left in the US was basically just a talking shop). The Panthers identified the real, actual needs in the community around which people could be mobilised, and they used theory to develop the way they addressed those needs. Another important aspect of this book is the idea that the restructuring of society is a process that starts *now*, not on the ‘day of a revolution’. Organising communities to address their own needs = laying the ground for socialism.

Ramzy Baroud – My Father Was A Freedom Fighter

A moving and hugely informative book that combines a personal biography with a very well-told history of the Palestinian struggle in general and Gazan life in particular. The type of book you don’t want to put down.

Tim Wise – White Like Me

Everyone needs to read this book. A brilliant, funny, incisive analysis of how white privilege, white supremacy and race prejudice work. It is especially compelling because it is based on the life experiences of a middle class white male, reflecting on how race privilege has affected his life. Honestly this is must-read.

Mumia Abu Jamal – We Want Freedom

There are literally dozens of Black Panther autobiographies and retrospectives out there. Mumia’s is, in many ways, the best (at least out of the ones I’ve read – and I’ve read a lot!). As well as giving a general outline of what the Panthers did and what made them so relevant, he also gives a very interesting critique of some of the problems that caused them to fall apart, as well as addressing some of the lesser-known aspects of the Panthers, such as their role in empowering women.

Jeff Chang – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

If you are into hip-hop, you really (really) should read this exceptionally good history of the hip-hop generation. I’m not going to go on about it here, because I’ve written a review, which you can read here.

MK Asante Jr – It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop

Another unmissable book related to hip-hop (and wider social justice issues). In my review I describe it as “a discussion document for a new generation (the ‘post-hip-hop’ generation) to help define and develop its role in the struggle for a better future.” Read the review.

bell hooks – Class Matters

A very thought-provoking work from someone who usually writes about race and gender issues, tackling the question of class hierarchy – how it affects our lives, how deeply it is ingrained in our society, and how it is bound up with race and gender. Although it is based on an analysis of the US, it definitely resonates for readers elsewhere in the ‘first world’.

Franz Fanon – The Wretched of the Earth

Not exactly easy to read (in the sense that it’s not very structured), but this book has so much insight about the colonial mentality, the psychology of anticolonial revolution, the dichotomy between the urban workers and the peasant masses, the million ways used by erstwhile colonisers to maintain oppression, and so on. Plus the overriding theme is very powerful – the idea that colonial slaves, so oppressed, so debased, can only make themselves real men and women through revolutionary violence against their oppressors. Get the version with Sartre’s introduction – it’s amazing.

John Hagedorn – World of Gangs

An eye-opening account of what gangs are, where they operate, how they operate and what function they fulfil in society. Moving away from the traditional narrative (based on how to ‘stamp out’ gangs), Hagedorn looks at the social reality that leads to the emergence of gangs, and the deep roots that many gangs put down; he arrives at a conclusion surprisingly close to that reached by the Black Panthers and other groups in 1960s USA: that the most effective form of intervention with regard to gangs is to push them away from violence in the community and towards fighting for social justice. Interestingly, he discusses hip-hop as a means to communicate this message. Tupac would be pleased!

Walter Rodney – How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

A passionate and essential account of how European colonialism and neocolonialism created what we call the ‘third world’, via plunder, the slave trade, and every form of political trickery known to man. A classic.

Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

If you want to understand the modern world of neoliberal free market madness, you need this book. An extremely well-written, convincing expose of the record of privatisation and deregulation that has led to a huge increase in the gap between rich and poor worldwide. I think Klein’s critiques of ANC and China are somewhat off the mark, but that needn’t detract from an excellent book.

Mike Davis – Planet of Slums

Not exactly feel-good reading, but very insightful and important. Davis documents the process whereby third world farmers are forced off their land and have to compete for limited economic opportunities in the cities. The result is a rapid increase in makeshift housing, vast unemployment, and rising levels of crime. The counterpart to this is the migration of the super-rich to high-security gated communities where they can exist free from the threat of all the violent crime and poverty. The worldwide slum population is expected to reach two billion by 2030.

Paulo Freire – The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This book is incredibly difficult to read! But well worth the effort in my opinion. Freire exposes the way that class society recreates itself within traditional education systems, and explores alternatives based on the idea of ‘teacher’ and ‘pupil’ becoming collaborators in a shared goal of moving towards freedom, constantly learning from one another and treating each other as equals.

Michael Dyson – Know What I Mean?

Dyson is *the* leading public intellectual on issues surrounding hip-hop. This book deals with some very tricky and contentious subjects – including ghetto authenticity (‘realness’), conscious vs slack, masculinity, violence, the generation communication breakdown, and more. Dyson stands out from most of the rest of his generation of intellectuals due to his focus on, and empathy with, the youth. He doesn’t fall into the trap of condemning the younger generation; rather he makes the effort to listen to them, understand them, learn from them, and try to open respectful and useful dialogue with them.

CLR James – The Black Jacobins

The definitive history of Haitian slavery and the Haitian revolution – the most successful slave revolt of all time, which led to the establishment of the first independent black republic outside Africa. CLR James gives a detailed and very well written history.

John Holt – How Children Learn

A departure here from issues of class and race! This is a really interesting book on early education, and a very human tribute to the innate brilliance of children. One of the first books that made me realise how completely warped our school system is, and how its most significant effect is to destroy children’s natural love of learning, replacing it with fear and individualism.

Robert Newman – The Fountain at the Centre of the World

I’m not much of a novel reader, but this is genuinely excellent. The writing is fantastic, the plot is intricate, and the message is important. In essence, this book is about collective action being the most fundamental aspect of human nature, and how individuals become truly human – truly free – by participating in collective action towards solving their own problems. Incidentally, if you haven’t watched Rob Newman’s ‘History of Oil’ show, stop what you’re doing right now, find it and watch it. Thanks.

Lloyd Bradley – Bass Culture

A lengthy but extremely enjoyable history of reggae, from ska to dancehall, taking in roots, lovers’ rock and rocksteady along the way.
Essential reading if you’re into reggae (or, I would argue, any of the UK dance music scenes that are hugely influenced by reggae – in particular jungle and grime). Along with the music, Bradley does a great job of providing the social context, so you also pick up important aspects of Jamaican history, including slavery, British colonialism, Rastafari, Marcus Garvey, Walter Rodney, independence, the JLP-PNP turf wars, the rise of the cocaine economy, and much more.

Phil Piratin – Our Flag Stays Red

Piratin’s book picks up a very similar theme to Huey Newton’s ‘Revolutionary Suicide’, but in the context of London’s East End in the 30s and 40s. This is essential reading for anyone with the slightest interest in community and anti-fascist mobilisation, and gives some important clues for modern-day activists trying to develop their strategies.

Benjamin Zephaniah: Gangsta Rap

A novel. Benjamin Zephaniah is a brilliant poet, novelist and activist. I am not a fan of the idea of the national curriculum, but this should be on it! It is immensely readable, uses very unpretentious language, and tells a story that is highly relevant and important for today’s teenagers about how the system uses our culture against us.

Eric Williams: Capitalism and Slavery

I read this about the time of the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, around which there was much self-congratulatory hype in the press. This book gives a very clear picture of the economic and political basis of slavery, and shows that abolition was not the result of terribly nice white men like William Wilberforce, but a combination of the pressure of slave revolts with the disappearance of the economic basis of slavery. It’s fairly difficult reading (it was Williams’ PhD thesis), but well worth the effort.

AL Morton: People’s History of England

Does what it says on the tin! Being a product of the British education system, I had a *very* limited understanding of British history when I left school. Morton gives a solid overview of English history from the first settlements on these isles up until the early 20th century (when the book was written).

Ilan Pappe: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Palestinian question. Pappe gives a huge amount of detailed evidence showing the true nature of the 1948-49 war – not a heroic David-and-Goliath “war of independence” by the zionists, but a large-scale ethnic cleansing and land grab.

Nick Davies: Dark Heart

Davies documents the intense poverty in which a significant minority of people in Britain live. The author’s descriptions are excellent, and he gives a very clear explanation of the relationship between unemployment and social degradation.

Karl Marx: Value, Price and Profit

The ultimate beginner’s guide to economics. Value, Price and Profit gives a solid overview of capitalist political economy. It’s reasonably easy to understand, and only a hundred or so pages.

Vladimir Lenin: Imperialism – the Highest Stage of Capitalism

We often talk about imperialism, but clearly a lot of people don’t know what it means. This book explains exactly what imperialism is and how it operates. Much has changed in the century or so since this book was written, but the fundamental relations Lenin describes in this book remain essentially the same.

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand

A moving and fascinating autobiography of one of the 20th century’s great heroes. Robeson gives a very useful account of the struggle for civil and human rights in the US in the earlier part of the 20th century, and positions it firmly within the context of the international struggle of oppressed people for their freedom (thereby leaving a weighty intellectual inheritance for Malcolm X, who took up this theme three decades later).

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

An incredibly powerful, inspiring book about how a man at the bottom of the heap – an uneducated, imprisoned small-time crook – turned himself around to become the most widely-recognised, eloquent and militant fighter against racism and for justice. Everybody needs to read this.

A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (contributed by Ameer Hamzah Hakim)

This autobiography is one of the greatest firsthand accounts of the brutality of slavery and the injustice of stealing a man’s freedom. It is a book about a slave who learned a skill so dangerous it frightened the life out of his white owners – a slave who learned how to read. It is often said an educated man will demand his freedom; the life of Frederick Douglass is a great example of this. Frederick Douglass is a true giant of history with a story that deserves to be read.

Akala Interview (2 Skinny Guys and a Camera)

Brilliant interview with Akala where he addresses some very deep issues to do with the music industry and the state of UK hip-hop. A must-watch. Big ups Mr 13 for asking some great questions!

Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow Mr 13 on Twitter
Follow DJ Bones on Twitter

Return top