Town Cartography: Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle

“Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern [Western] breeze.”

-Billie Holiday (performer) and Abel Meeropol (writer), “Strange Fruit” (1939)

“It’s my brother, my sister./ At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a railroad made of human bones./ Black ivory/ Black ivory”

-Amiri Baraka, from “Wise, Why’s, Y’z” (1995)

“7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.”

-Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Platform and Program” (1966)

Chinaka Hodge‘s recent work, Chasing Mehserle, first at the Intersection for the Arts (and then for another few performances at Z Space), ends at the beginning. Or at the ending. It ends in the ocean. With ancestors lost, found, never lost, never found. The ocean is for O–the ocean is for O-s-c-a-r: Oscar Grant.

Our guide, in charge of this chase, this hunt, is  Watts Trustscott (played by Michael Wayne Turner III); he announces himself to be a cartographer: he introduces the Town–the town that you know is THE Town if you are in, from, of the Bay (the name of this blog and my hometown is/needs the “B”). He runs down neighborhood names while projected images of Oakland  street maps swirl and float in the background. But Hodge is the real mapmaker here, a surveyor not only of space but time, drawing lines that connect, that show us the topography of Oakland after Oscar Grant–more accurately, the topography of Oakland after Johannes Mehserle. In this Town, Watts, unable to set foot off his front steps, watches as blond white girls whizz through West Oakland on bikes, heading… home?–heading to the buildings they now inhabit on blocks that Watts knows well, the cartographer he is, and yet is afraid to venture onto.

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Putting the Humanities to Work: The Human Tool

Thomas Martin, The Circle of Mechanical Arts, London (1813)
Thomas Martin, The Circle of Mechanical Arts, London (1813)

(Attended the first day of the culminating conference for the UCHRI initiative “The Humanities and Changing Conceptions of Work”. The day was addressed to graduate students, “Making the MA/PhD Work Post Graduation: A Career Workshop for Humanities Graduate Students”. A few thoughts…)

Graduate students in the humanities ARE the humanities.

During a panel that also featured the director of UC Press and the chief counsel for CA Department of Industrial Relations, the departing director of Cal Humanities Ralph Lewin shared the anecdote/joke/nightmare: in the process of looking for a new job, he spoke with a headhunter who said, “so on your resume you have all of this experience in the humanities… and I have no idea what that is.”

I have now been to two programs addressing the question of what to do with the humanities PhD post graduation besides teaching in higher ed (the tenure-track, the adjunct, the two-year school). In each I have heard a great deal about identifying and marketing our transferable skills (or fluencies or literacies, if you want) to those beyond the academy. In our current economy, a knowledge-based economy, the humanities PhD is well positioned, or so goes the argument. Our job prospects open up, the career possibilities multiply. All we have to do is reframe the resume, match up our skills with the keywords of job announcements: help employers see more clearly the work we can do, the tasks we can complete.

Continue reading Putting the Humanities to Work: The Human Tool

school’s out

I hear as

though the gurgling rush

of a river, the children streaming

down oregon street

approximately 3 oclock

after school

opens the flood gates

releases the prisoners

releases the spirits

emotions emerge as concrete-sharpened cuss words

the hurt, volume knob all the way up

they watch and listen to each

other, to the slayings they only just avoid

the laughter all the meaner because

they themselves have only narrowly

escaped the fate, for now, 

that awaits, as surely as

sun rise sun set

our young Amerikkkan girls and boys

in berkeley, california, usa.