Golden Fire Part II: In a 90s Kind of World

 Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.

Oprah Winfrey

Do what you want girlfriend cuz it’s yo world

Queen Latifah

U.S. capital formation, which has been pretty high in the ’90s and very high in the late 1990s, is what is being financed by the savings of the rest of the world, generally poorer than ourselves, because our deficit on current account, chronic deficit, is their surplus, and they have been willingly bringing that to the American market.

Paul Samuelson

Smoldering Fire

You probably never thought about the fire smoldering inside of you to make an impact on the world and how hot that fire actually is.

Especially not now. 

Right now, you’re a doe-eyed teenage millenial or maybe you’re a college-aged Generation Xer and it’s Thursday night.

You hear the soulful crooning and you knew it was time for one of your favorite shows. The woman sang:

“In a 90s kind of world, I’m glad I got my girls.”

It’s time for Living Single. Queen Latifah’s voice is inspiring you.

“Do what you want girlfriend because it’s your world.”

You feel like it’s your world. There are well-rounded, rich, complex characters on TV. You see yourself in Khadijah, Régine, Maxine and maybe even Sinclair.

Maybe you turn on your computer after the show and you’re running Windows 95, the dominant Operating System on millions of PCs like yours. 

Maybe you’re surfing the nascent Internet, using Netscape Navigator or America Online. The world is at your fingertips.

You’re wearing colorful clothing, you’re living out loud, you’re watching glossy music videos with $500,000 to $1 million dollar budgets, directed by guys literally named Hype.

Money is flowing everywhere as William Jefferson Clinton’s much vaunted “budget surplus,” has led to the largest peacetime economic expansion since WWII.

Fire Strikes

Meanwhile in the Ghetto, you’re community is fresh off the LA Rebellion that many call a riot and perhaps the Craig Mack remix of “Flavor in your Ear,” was so glossy, your friends so dope, your life so fun, that you missed the 1994 Crime Bill being passed under that same President Clinton and championed at the time by a man who will run for president in the year 2020, Senator Joe Biden, D-Delaware.

A companion bill is passed in California with a “three strikes,” provision tailor made for men you may know, or men who know people you know.

But you’re independent and headstrong and you are thriving and you are following all the rules, taking no shorts and kicking ass and taking names.

The micro for you is an incredible sensory experience and you’re going places.

This is perhaps why you may have watched the murders of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur and the subsequent non-events of justice with a somber ambivalence.

Yet the same year Tupac is killed, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed. There’s no correlation of course but there is telling symmetry to it.

Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the biggest deregulation in half a century and led to monopolies in the telecommunication and entertainment spaces that will never be undone. You are now part of a captive audience

Susan Crawford Discussing “Captive Audience”

The ostentatious nature of the videos you see, the champagne, the success, Oprah’s book club, the Dotcom boom, the information superhighway, all make these pivotal congressional bills of the decade you’re in seem inconsequential.

Who could have known?

After all, behind every Sean Combs and Shawn Carter, there is a Sylvia Rhone and Mona Scott, doing their thing, like you’re doing your thing.

Cultural Combustion

Music, Entertainment, culture, are your analgesics, they are where your passions lie. And if your passions don’t lie with these, they are a security blanket in an uncertain and volatile political and economic space.

As the decade comes to a close, perhaps you are settled in your career, ready to start a family or have started one already. You are thriving. It’s still your world.

In that vein, the dotcom bubble bursts as over valued and under funded companies burn up in glittery ashes. George W. Bush is elected by Supreme Court Fiat to start the new millenium.

A year after that, you watch the towers fall and no matter your political persuasion, it moves you, it’s a fire burning for all to see. A recession follows this terrorist attack.

You are now off-ramping into a Global Pandemic and it is nearly 30 years later and only now do you see the pattern, the cult of self, the quaint-to-glossy programming that made you hopeful, the promise of America simultaneously showing you what’s broken and what shines and what creates the shine.

You never thought about wanting to consume while being consumed did you?

Well, that’s what fire does, sis.

Golden Fire

The body pays for a slip of the foot and gold pays for a slip of the tongue.

– Malawian Proverb

See she fine and she fly,

and she fire,

got a smile bring a shine to your eyes.

And she lit and she thick and she fit,

hella thick stacking chippers.

-Free! Mason Jar

The clear and present societal ascension of U.S. Black Women and Women of the African and Caribbean diasporas in all fields of human endeavor presents as the shiniest two sided coin in the history of civilizations.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, Black women — presumably a loose configuration of Black American women and women from the diaspora – are second only to hispanic women in employment growth between the eve of the last Great Recession in 2007 and 2019.

Employment rates for Hispanic women — between 25 and 54 — increased by 2.2 percentage points, since May 2007. Black Women came in second, adding 1.6 percentage points in the same period.

To be sure, these gains can be considered remarkable given the overall trajectory of Black women the world over in the past 500 years.

However, to keep the discourse even, one must flip the proverbial coin and let it spin back to 1971.

It was that year that many historians and cultural critics consider the birth of modern neoliberalism in the west. 

President Richard Milhouse Nixon took the country off the gold standard, removing the peg of solid gold to the U.S Dollar. And for the first time, the nation lived on thin-air credit. 

This is significant turn of events because it happened just as Women’s lib was taking off on the backend of the Vietnam War and it was a year before Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to run for the highest office in the land.

The industrial malaise, oil crises, and lack of skilled labor opportunities that followed, catapulted black women into all areas from clerical to paraprofessional, to professional.

The 1980s saw the rise of Oprah Winfrey, the 1990s, Halle Berry and a new visibility for a new black aspirational elite emerged. 

The heady, high-rolling 1990s ushered in wealth reflected in Hip-Hop and in the bourgeoisie circles.

Visibility, respectability and representation was the new freedom, the culmination of the civil rights movement, buttressed by rampant consumerism and street violence among the impoverished classes.

In the post-Patriot-Act new millennium, the black community still has Oprah now with her own network and the Queen of Pop Beyonce as bellwether of Black Female Achievement.

Tack on the significant gains in political office by Black American and diasporic women and the gains look astonishing on television.

Flip the coin again and you see an equally astonishing gap in home ownership and net-worth for the community as a whole. 

The Brookings Institution found in February of 2020 that based on 2016 data a typical white family had a net worth of $171,000, compared to $17,150 for their Black counterparts.

Heads: We win, in pictures, on television, in movies, in pop culture.

Tails: We find ourselves losing in an irreconcilable neoliberal project where the cult of self and the glimmer of personal achievement obscure the mean and median of Black life in the Global North.

Black Women the world over, uplifting stories notwithstanding, have families.

Scholar Adolf Reed, Jr. quipped in a 2018 Baffler article titled, “The Trouble With Uplift,” that a “race-conscious or antiracist discourse, historical exploration in popular culture was less important than the propagation of tales of inspiration and uplift.”

It is that uplift, that perceived mobility, those inspirational stories, those incremental gains, those glossy diversity brochures and lustrous profiles and photo shoots that obscure the tale of the tape of systemic inequality. 

Such is the neoliberal spectacle.

When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that he feared he had integrated his people into a “burning house,” it is important to note that in the Global Pandemic-era in the Global North, that house burns in a spectacular flame of molten gold. 

That gold is either melted down and sold to the highest bidder or stands still – burning slowly with an alluring light illuminating the spectre of growing economic inequality, climate change and the potentiality of the totalitarian reign of political whiteness. 

It is a light we cannot turn away from in the coming months and years, it is a golden fire.