“Gramsci’s strategy for resisting and eventually overcoming the power of the capitalist class in its most advanced nations, and thereby for deeply democratizing those nations, rested on his conviction of the need to challenge and displace the cultural dominance and leadership(=hegemony) of their ruling classes with a coherent and convincing alternative vision of how society might organize itself. He argued that over the two centuries of its expansion and consolidation, capitalism maintained and organized its leadership through agencies of information and culture such as schools and universities, the churches, literature, philosophy, media, and corporate ideologies. The perspectives on the wider society generated within these institutions often produced, he proposed, an unquestioning view of the world that took the status quo as inevitable and ruling class power as founded on that class’s unique, self-evident ability to run the nation successfully(whatever that critiques of the class’s individual members).
Thus, although the system was also powered by its economic mechanisms and shored up during political crises by the use of police, courts, jails, and ultimately the military (=the state in classical Marxist sense), mass hegemonic institutions such as those listed were, so to speak, its first line of defense, its outer ramparts. At the same time, their cultural influence emerged over protracted periods of time, not–outside of a fascist scenario–through some centrally orchestrated plan.” – “Radical Media: Rebellious Communication And Social Movements”, John D.H. Downing
“I just take time to make these few things clear because I find that one of the tricks of the west, and I imagine my good friend…or rather that type from the west…one of the tricks of the west is to use or create images, they create images of a person who doesn’t go along with their views and then they make certain that this image is distasteful, and then anything that that person has to say from thereon, from thereon in, is rejected. And this is a policy that has been practiced pretty well, pretty much by the west, it perhaps would have been practiced by others had they been in power, but during recent centuries the west has been in power and they have created the images, and they’ve used these images quite skillfully and quite successfully, that’s why today we need a little extremism in order to straighten a very nasty situation out, or very extremely nasty situation out.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)
The use of public intellectuals and popular figures to espouse the cultural hegemony of the established ruling class as we have seen in earlier paragraphs is a well-documented and implemented tactic and procedure throughout the history of capitalist structures. The Obama Administration’s propaganda against Edward Snowden stretches beyond governmental and political influence, entering the US Black public conscious through the attacks laid out by Melissa Harris-Perry through her show eponymously branded by her bosses at MSNBC– the Comcast owned cable “news” network. The impact of her broadcast due to her position in academia, and in US Black feminist circles –as well as simply being a US Black person on television in some ways– is reflected in many, enough at least, US Blacks regurgitating Barry Obama’s sentiments of Edward Snowden being some “young hacker” and not a “hero”. What belies the lack of critical thinking and reveals an emotional loyalty–primarily based on a racial loyalty, a fictive kinship response—is that Melissa Harris-Perry does not address whether or not Edward Snowden’s information about the NSA and US Government spying on its own population is accurate, which would be more in line with a journalistic and ideological posture that assumes a need to protect the democratic nature of the body politic.
Where I sense the difference of the US Black’s manipulation by US Black bourgeois interests and those of other working classes by ruling groups is the lack of identity and a history that erupts with debate even in establishing a proper nomenclature to label the exact group of people we are discussing. (Whose Black is it any way, right? Exactly.) On the topic of recuperation, US Blacks have seen Malcolm X’s image placed on a stamp in an era where Chuck D states, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” An announcement of pride in the fact that hero worship–a factor of cultural hegemony–presented by the ruling class marginalizes the images of others if they represent US Black radical thought, thus providing a clear indication of who or who is not considered representing “US Black radical thought”. Where the cognitive dissonance and the locations of dispute often arise are in the convoluted goals, visions, principles, and values that weave themselves in an intricate yet contrasting psycho-social tapestry. The daughters of Malcolm X should want their father– a man killed in front of his family for his staunch stance against oppression at home and abroad– to be recognized in the manner standard for a person with a legacy at that stature. Yet, far from simply an opportunistic co-opting, the “watering down” or “white-washing” of his image does seem to occur the more we weave it into the USA body of sacred images, or simply popular culture.
I feel this way not only about Malcolm’s image on a US postage stamp, but also in the lines and album covers of hip hop artists. KRS-One’s, while one of the genres’ most prolific and politically activated pioneers and masters, allusion to Malcolm’s concluding sentence in his Oxford debate with his record titled, “By All Means Necessary”– while introducing the discussion into the hip hop lexicon– works to provide it without context. This is where the tapestry begins to weave into the complicate design. KRS-One uses the image of Malcolm X defending his home against envious former students and disciples in the Nation of Islam as well as the FBI for an album cover and we are left to assume just who KRS-One is defending what appears to be his apartment from. Interestingly enough, without KRS-One posing for the album cover in the posture that initially was what I am sure a deathly stressful and traumatic moment capture in photograph, but has become iconic, many US Black youth would not have entered into a research process to find out where KRS-One gleaned the inspiration.
“I’m not for extremism in defense of that kind of liberty, or that kind of activity. They take this man, who’s a murderer, and the world recognizes him as a murderer, but they make him the prime minister, he becomes a paid murderer, a paid killer, who is propped up by American dollars. And to show the degree to which he is a paid killer the first thing he does is go to South Africa and hire more killers and bring them into the Congo. They give them the glorious name of mercenary, which means a hired killer, not someone that is killing for some kind of patriotism or some kind of ideal, but a man who is a paid killer, a hired killer. And one of the leaders of them is right from this country here, and he’s glorified as a soldier of fortune when he’s shooting down little black women, and black babies, and black children. I’m not for that kind of extremism, I’m for the kind of extremism that those who are being destroyed by those bombs and destroyed by those hired killers, are able to put forth to thwart it. They will risk their lives at any cost, they will sacrifice their lives at any cost, against that kind of criminal activity. I am for the kind of extremism that the freedom fighters in the Stanleyville regime are able to display against these hired killers, who are actually using some of my tax dollars which I have to pay up in the united states, to finance that operation over there. We’re not for that kind of extremism.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)
Hip hop itself being somewhat of a driving utensil of Habermas’ offentlichkeit— in whatever 1980s Reagan era media model that would take the form of– could be attacked for co-opting and reversioning from the original intentions of US Black cultural artifacts once the imagery of Malcolm is introduced (reclaimed?) by KRS-One. Malcolm’s defense of the oppressed to seek their human rights has been reinterpreted by many in the Hip Hop community as a criminal mantra akin to the ideals of “the ends justify the means.” Those “ends” typically referring to capitalist standards of success as opposed to more classless societal goals, of course. From Spice 1’s lyrics on his 1992 album stating, “By any means necessary, I must make my money” to Jay-Z’s intro to the “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia”(2000),” Watch it my niggas, I’m trying to be calm but I’m goin’ get richer, through any means, with that thing that Malcolm palmed in the picture.” It would be slightly remiss of me to leave out the most recent at the date of this writing use of the image of Malcolm by Nicki Minaj.
The question for me to answer in time is how exactly does one misappropriate a culture that was handed down to them or that they are, by virtue of that culture’s loose membership, a member of? At what point do these cultural artifacts belong to US Blacks, and at what point do they not? If they are to be treated as sacred, who is tasked with the training of others on which are sacral and which are not? Where does one go to pick up their application to apply for US Black Trainers Of Proper Custom Acknowledgement and where do they pick up their check or compensation once hired? Who is tasked with the defense when these sacred images are defiled? If Malcolm X did not have vigilant daughters in that regard–or at least in the instance of Nicki Minaj– who would be obligated to defend his honor?
I feel it would be absent minded of me to not ask about the elephant in the room here: if Nicki Minaj is guilty of sacrilege for using a very publicly available and widely manipulated image of Malcolm X, then what is the charge against Manning Marable? Surely, the usage of the photo by Ms. Minaj cannot be a greater disservice than a man paid by White academic institutions to pry into a man’s police records to find out if he was lying or not, or is it? Where are the guidelines of the US Black Board Of Customs with regard to US Blacks selling information gleaned through snooping and prying? And who is elected to govern over these Blacks in their decision making?
And whose “Black” is it anyway? Whose Black is it when there are no official US Black political society infrastructure that are not implements of the greater White society political society? Whose Black is it when there are no institutionalized US Black civil society constructs that are not implements of the greater White civil society? Nicki Minaj cannot be held at bay without threats of US political society—namely the court system—being called in. So, again, I ask: whose Black is it anyway?
“I think the only way one can really determine whether extremism in the defense of liberty is justified, is not to approach it as an American or a European or an African or an Asian, but as a human being. If we look upon it as different types immediately we begin to think in terms of extremism being good for one and bad for another, or bad for one and good for another. But if we look upon it, if we look upon ourselves as human beings, I doubt that anyone will deny that extremism, in defense of liberty, the liberty of any human being, is a value. Anytime anyone is enslaved, or in any way deprived of his liberty, if that person is a human being, as far as I am concerned he is justified to resort to whatever methods necessary to bring about his liberty again.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)