Liberation List & Reviews of Books, DVDs, Music

Bling: A Planet Rock (Blood Diamonds), DVD Review

To watch this DVD, I'm struck by several things. First the amount of contradictions and confusion expressed by African Americans at the exploitation of Africans. When hip-hop celebrities Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan, Paul Wall and Tego Calderon travel to war-torn Sierra Leone, West Africa they're confronted with the origin of the "bling"---flashing of lots and lots and lots of diamonds. Paul Wall is even in the diamond business with his partner who travels with him. On one hand I believe that they didn't understand the depth of the misery and blood that the diamonds were mined under and on the other, one has to ask how they couldn't know or suspect. Then when you listen to the three of them, Calderon in his low key, often silent but deeply insightful comments comes off as the smartest, you realize that ignorance is the norm to some celebrities. I was having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about Rihanna or Lindsay Lohan or Lil' Wayne or Pick A Star and I pointed out that when we see younger people/celebrities exampling such bad behavior we're often watching barely high school educated people coping with bigger concepts in life. We're very rarely watching college educated, worldly people who are thinkers and readers and philosophy students, who just happen to be celebrities. Bling makes this so glaringly obvious that it becomes a spotlight on celebrity buffoonery.

Sierra Leone endured a horrendous civil war in the late 1990's, the prize and instigator being it's many diamond mines that had been exploited since the 1950s by European companies. The people literally imploded onto themselves turning children into killing soldiers, amputating the limbs from children and adults alike, raping tens of thousands of women and killing hundreds of thousands more. Already a country teetering between development and desperation, the country was torn asunder. Ironically one of the poorest towns, Kroobay, Freetown is where many African slaves were taken from in the 1800s. The dark irony of rappers standing on that side of the coast, the vista beyond breathtaking but surrounded by victims of neo-slavery suddenly suggested to me as a shattering of a people. Splintered across 10,000 miles the African exploited have become the African-American exploiters and the Americanized exploiters return to discover that this is the birthplace of their own exploitation.

Confronted with the atrocities of war refugee camps and amputee towns and then even a diamond mine the celebrities are forced to really examine their own complicity in the horrors, particularly when several Africans rightfully and righteously lash out at them for essentially being voyeurs at their pain. The diamond mine owner, Jan Joubert confronts them with the question of if he's employing 450 Africans and paying the government 5% of profits and the town itself 10% of profits, how is he still responsible for the abject poverty? That perhaps they need to expand their scope and look at the full system of exploitation and question themselves and the Sierra Leone government, which one could argue he knows they neither have the courage, resources or wherewithal to do thereby maintaining his tenuously secure position as a dealer to diamond addicts like them. Absent from this film is the Sierra Leone government's explanation for what's occuring, in fact the country seems almost bereft of any ruling body and teetering on full collapse. Suddenly, the participants are left with their meager view and resources against what is a worldwide system of greed and exploitation. When Raekwon argues with the mine owner how can he allow this poverty to exist he lets slip that he and his friends love diamonds and the owner simply looks at him and nods because the answer is apparent---I give you and yours what you crave and because suddenly your craving is exposed as having blood on it you're mad at me. The Demander is suddenly trapped by the shrug of the Supplier.

The beginning of the film interviews briefly, too briefly rappers but then amazingly pimps as to the image that diamonds and grandiose, ostentatious signs of wealth projected into communities of color that were consumed with poverty already. Poverty then created a deep desire for wealth and diamonds became the expression of having made it, having triumphed beyond it. Kanye West courageously points out the addiction to not looking poor when you've come from poverty. And we're left with looking at African American men most the legacy of African slaves enslaving African people on the other side of the ocean. This is great film for looking at that full circle impact and discussing what is the difference between the raped and the rapist.

Thank you!

Kyle Phoenix

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I'm biased on two areas with the work of Octavia Butler. One, I've read all of her work---short stories, novels, and interviews so I've really come to enjoy her overall thesis of art. Two, she passed away so this is one of the last full text from her which makes it bittersweet. It's wonderful to see her take a shot and twist at vampirism, much like Jewelle Gomez's work with an inversion of race and sexuality being at the heart of said twisting.

From Publishers Weekly: They need human blood to survive, but they don't kill unless they have to, and (given several hundred years) they'll eventually die peacefully of old age. They are Ina, and they've coexisted with humans for millennia, imparting robust health and narcotic bliss with every bite to their devoted human blood donors, aka "symbionts." Shori is a 53-year-old Ina (a juvenile) who wakes up in a cave, amnesiac and seriously wounded. As is later revealed, her family and their symbionts were murdered because they genetically engineered a generation of part-Ina, part-human children. Shori was their most successful experiment: she can stay conscious during daylight hours, and her black skin helps protect her from the sun. The lone survivor, Shori must rely on a few friendly (and tasty) people to help her warn other Ina families and rediscover herself. Butler, keeping tension high, reveals the mysteries of the Ina universe bit by tantalizing bit. Just as the Ina's collective honor and dignity starts to get a little dull, a gang of bigoted, black sheep Ina rolls into town for a species-wide confab-cum-smackdown. In the feisty Shori, Butler has created a new vampire paradigm—one that's more prone to sci-fi social commentary than gothic romance—and given a tired genre a much-needed shot in the arm.

It's hard for me to simply recommend this book alone because I think of her work in terms of the whole career arc and because she was working on starting this into a series of books similar to Parable of the Sower. In many ways while powerful, her strong legacy highlights how incomplete this is. Which makes it bittersweet, we're left with an anticipation for something that will never be fulfilled. But we're also left with an incredible text. In thinking about that, I forestalled reading this book for a year after her death because I wanted the last one to be really special. It in no way disappoints. I even took my time with reading this---I could've done it in a few hours but instead I took a chapter or two at a time and really spent time with the sparseness of the text.

What is most delightful in someone who has a level of mastery tackling a subject is you get to see the standard thought of vampires put through the gestalt of Butler's creativity. Delving in Shori being not just a vampire but the benevolent potential inherent in such an intimate relationship makes us look at symbiosis. Butler has always had a way of using a simple premise, a simple sci fi-ness to her plot or characters and exploiting that in amazing ways. You won't be disappointed at what vampires can be and do when you look at them through the prism of mastery and race. May of you will also see this as a homage to Jewelle Gomez's work, The Gilda Stories. Take some time and go through all of Butler's work and then try out Gomez. The trip into the light of fantastic mastery will dazzle you.


Thank you for reading,

Kyle Phoenix




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Book Review: The African Origin of Civilization Myth or Reality

This is an important book to society. To all societies. I often have discussions with my students and when I'm in my own classes, my professors and classmates about this system of race that has been created and foisted upon us. Even more often I hear adults of color tell younger people that Black people built the pyramids. What they're trying to do is engender a sense of historical pride and identification with a viable, valuable and incredible creation. This is good. The problem often comes when the younger people don't want to know or don't care/identify with this model. This too is natural. The psychology of people of color is divided with a part of the older generation still residing in the challenge, perspectives and concepts of the Civil Rights Movement. More, more than 50%, of the newer generations don't see, want, nor have the same value attitude towards this information. This too is natural. Why? Because our society has shifted, as societies do, and integration means that we're no longer segregated in our self-perceptions. Bluntly, race, while evident is not the totality of my and younger generations self perception because we've been more integrated into the overall society than our parents our grandparents. But this doesn't mean that there still shouldn't be a deeper origin of humanity that includes all of the segments that we have now isolated down to "race".

Cheikh Anta Diop (29 December 1923 in Thieytou, Diourbel Region–7 February 1986 in Dakar) was a historian,anthropologist, physicist, and politician who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture. He applied his scholarship to the examination of Africa and it's historical place and the racial impact upon the world. The African Origin of Civilization was first introduced to me passing back and forth in front of my parents' bookcases as a child. I didn't read and engage it until my undergraduate Teacher's Asst. position for Carlene Hatcher Polite. Every semester she would set this book and another as the text for Black Literature 300 level classes.

Later visiting my parent's home I would see that we always had this book, I was just the only one in the family who hadn't read it. Why does this matter? I think it matters because when I look at my parents who were members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, I come from revolutionaries. Who were informed and strengthened in revolutionary thought. Therefore I am comfortable in my self, my identity, my sexuality, my religious and political views being revolutionary. This context of parents and mentors passing onto me such an important book allows me to one day sit with my children and teach them about events thousands of years ago,traceable step by step, like a pre-cyberspace Twitter feed, to the root, the Kunte Kinte, as Carlene would say, of who they are.

This is another piece of literature that falls into that special category I tell my students about, a Patience Book. Take your time with this, tracing through history, past the often repeated perspective of American history, ack past European history and see that there was a full, vibrant, intelligent, viable world thousands of years before. We often exclude African and Asiatic history opting to allow ourselves to believe that Earth, time, civilization began in a manger between a couple who are the ultimate Maury Povich, who's my baby daddy episode, instead of piercing the veil and seeing. Not merely looking but truly seeing the culture, the languages, the foundation materials from Africa of what we now deem a good civilization.

Thank you,

Kyle Phoenix




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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on The Kyle Phoenix Blog (Liberation List Selection)


One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick.
A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara on The Kyle Phoenix Blog (Liberation List Selection)

The Salt Eaters
by Toni Cade Bambara

Set in a town somewhere in the South, here is the story of a community of black people searching for the healing properties of salt who witness an event that will change their lives forever. Some of them are centered, some are off-balance; some are frightened, and some are daring. From the men who live off welfare women to the mud mothers who carry their children in their hides, the novel brilliantly explores the narcissistic aspect of despair and the tremendous responsibility that comes with physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall on The Kyle Phoenix Blog (Liberation List Selection)

on The Kyle Phoenix Blog 
(Liberation List Selection)

“Astonishingly moving.”—Anne Tyler, New York Times Book Review

“A work of exceptional wisdom, maturity, and generosity, one in which the palpable humanity of its characters transcends any considerations of race or sex.”—Washington Post Book World

“There is no limit to the kind of readership to which this novel will appeal.”—Booklist

Avey Johnson—a black, middle-aged, middle-class widow given to hats, gloves, and pearls—has long since put behind her the Harlem of her childhood. Then on a cruise to the Caribbean with two friends, inspired by a troubling dream, she senses her life beginning to unravel—and in a panic packs her bag in the middle of the night and abandons her friends at the next port of call. The unexpected and beautiful adventure that follows provides Avey with the links to the culture and history she has so long disavowed.


Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Parable of the Sower

When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister's young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny... and the birth of a new faith.

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