Building on the Black Radical Tradition: Jeneé Darden Interviews Gaye Theresa Johnson

But it is also a tribute to the late Cedric Robinson, a UC Santa Barbara professor of Political Science and Black Studies who died last summer at 75. You describe Cedric Robinson as an “intellectual giant.” He had a major influence on race theory, and has inspired many scholars. Theory does not create social movements. Racial capitalism is a major theme in this book and a powerful term. Robin D. The world is changing, but some things are the same. The future of Black Radicalism can only happen if we have an awareness of the past. GAYE THERESA JOHNSON: No one is free if black people aren’t free, if Dreamers aren’t free, if people discriminated against because of their sexuality aren’t free. You only have to believe in freedom for everyone because that’s what the Black Radical Tradition gives us. He had a local television show about third-world issues. The book also looks at how the Black Radical Tradition has influenced movements domestically and internationally, such as in Hong Kong and Palestine. It just has a different face. It’s not really a new monster. You don’t have to be black to believe in Black Radicalism. But you have to know what it means, because the people dealing with that stuff are talking with you. SEPTEMBER 15, 2017

AS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN these days, I mentally prepare myself when turning on the news or logging onto social media. Kelley wrote in the foreword for the 2000 edition, “I can say, without a trace of hyperbole, that this book changed my life.” Robinson’s work challenged Marxism for its Eurocentric focus on movements and for not recognizing the roles black people have played in creating change and resistance. They describe it as
a tradition of resistance honed by the history of racialized, permanent, hereditary, and chattel slavery that formed the contours of civic and social life in the Americas, Europe and Africa [and that] produced an enduring vision of a shared future whose principal promise is the abolition of all forms of oppression. It hasn’t always been recorded or written into the history books. Social movements make our job possible. The Black Radical Tradition is more than just a story of survival despite oppression, it is a story of how African and African-descended people have created intellectual and cultural traditions from their lived experience across the diaspora. I was at a retreat for black women where Alice Walker spoke. How does racial capitalism relate to Black Radicalism? There’s a history and tradition hidden by the constant barrage of media pundits and a national narrative that black people have come a long way, the arc of freedom is always upward, and many of the problems we have are of our own making. It’s extraordinary that he wrote from Santa Barbara, which is an example of the wealth gap. And we have. He coined this as the Black Radical Tradition. ¤
Jeneé Darden is a journalist who covers women and race on her blog Basically she said, we’ve been through this before. We see it in various parts of black life and expressions of blackness such as art, fashion, and music. How does it hurt the Black Radical Tradition when black scholars disconnect from the community? We have a responsibility to honor that history, but we also need to create new forms of struggle. It’s also a place where Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and all of the issues he wrote about at the time were on full display. Rapper Kendrick Lamar is referenced in this book, for instance. That awareness of how capitalism works has gotten far away from us in relating it back to our struggle. What is the future of Black Radicalism? She is working on a book about African-American sexuality and literature. He was a community-engaged scholar. If you’re talking about Black Radical Tradition and the ways people are trying to get free, theory is important. Robinson is revered in academic circles and had a great influence on many scholars. For Futures of Black Radicalism, co-editors Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin build from Robinson’s work defining the Black Radical Tradition. Absolutely, it’s very diverse. We need intellectuals. Futures of Black Radicalism presents a collection of essays by contemporary thinkers, scholars, and activists who address that very question. Within the black culture, we have different views of how to fight oppression. ¤
JENEÉ DARDEN: Black Radicalism has inspired other historic movements. The Black Radical Tradition is not a monolith, right? If you’re doing this in the academy, that’s just the name of the game. If you think about it, the most important mission/vision of social justice has come from the Black Radical Tradition. The academy has never been a place that’s welcoming to the study of Black Radicalism. That’s amazing. Co-edited by Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin, the collection reflects on the past, present, and future of black resistance. I do think it’s harmful, when Black Studies departments, or the study of Black Radicalism, veers too far. G. Why? Various scholars in the book mention that Black Radicalism is not just about marching. And it explores today’s relationship between Black resistance and anti-capitalism in this global economy. One essay expands on Robinson’s critique of intellectuals who distance themselves from oppressed people once they enter academia. He decided not to elevate himself in that way. Contributors note that we see racial capitalism in the prison system, gentrification, housing, et cetera. But he was not popular, like a Michael Eric Dyson or a Cornel West. It’s here. He argued Black Radicalism is influenced by African culture, along with the history and experience of black people in the West. I spoke with co-editor Gaye Theresa Johnson, an associate professor of African American Studies and Chicano/a Studies at UCLA. In 1983, he broke ground with his book Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Kelley, Angela Davis, Fred Moten, George Lipsitz, and many other luminaries. There’s been an incredible emergence of struggle that has pride in intersectionality, is sensitive to the issues of sexuality and feminism. Police unlawfully killing African Americans, the president “jokingly” encouraging cops to use more force, rising housing costs pushing out long-time Angelenos, our failing education system — we’re up against so much. Racial capitalism is about understanding that capitalism can continue in its present form because it relies on racism to divide people, commodify them, and perpetuate its own power. We have to be aware of what we are challenged by and burdened with. She explained the significance of the book for this time. Before his death, Robinson chose scholars to contribute to Futures of Black Radicalism, including Robin D. He and his partner, Elizabeth Robinson, were legendary for their activism. Black people have always had a vision for how to achieve this kind of justice in society. How did our ancestors survive racial injustice during their time, and how do we get through it today? That doesn’t mean you have to be living on Skid Row to understand. Trump energizing white supremacists came up. But I’m sure for some people, seeing the words “black” and “radicalism” together in the title will stir fear. Then I turn to health news and think, no wonder black people have such high rates of hypertension. But how do we come together, to actually live that, going forward? The Black Radical Tradition is indeed present in the most visible social protests of our time, but it is also found — and sometimes more meaningfully — in alternative sources of inspiration that speak to everyone, like music, spoken word, and visual art. You consider yourself a community-engaged scholar. Cedric’s career and his choices reflect that. But it has always made history. They saw it all. When Trump won, I wanted to apologize to my parents because my parents graduated from college in 1969. All of those things obscure a much more dynamic and significant history for all of the times that we’ve been responsible for the nation’s definition of what freedom is. As far as people feeling some kind of way about the words “black” and “radical” together — all of that has been generated from the created fear of what they think black people are. G. We really need to follow that.