All posts by btownthinking

The Black Panther Paper @ 50

bpissue one cover

Fifty years ago today, on April 25, 1967, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense published the first issue of its paper. They published to publicize the case of Denzil Dowell, a black man killed by the police in North Richmond, CA. The BPP would publish the paper for several years. At peak circulation reached into the hundreds of thousands and found its way around the world. It provided important funds for the party, an important source of information, and required collective work that made community relationships. It wasn’t a perfect paper–it had didactic content, was sometimes used for personal attacks, etc.–but no paper is. Take the time to read some issues… whether you are enthusiastic or skeptical, you may be surprised by what you find. The Black Panther  stands as one of this country’s most significant communication efforts in the history of the long fight against racism and in the long quest for the liberation of black people, other oppressed people, and a just world. It lit the imagination for freedom. Happy 50th B-Day to The Black Panther!

You can download the issue here: BPINS_1967_4April

(There are a lot more resources on the history of the paper, and there are of course all of the issues of the paper, which have mostly been digitized. @ me if you have questions about where to go.)

Ode to Draymond

The King James Version
was completed in 1611
seven years after the King
commissioned a new English translation
for Church and King.
All splendor and allegiance to the King.
Words become law.
The flowery word of creation
actually the testimony of disciples
actually the translation of clergy
become the word and law of the King.

But underneath, what is there?
What do Kings speak?
What do clergy speak?
What do disciples speak?
The King’s law is no law. It is only words.
Never let them fool you.
Peel the layers and there is nothing but life.
Nothing but the life of the human being,
the one, and all.
Only life—the one, the all–is holy.
The lowest among us speak; it may be you,
on some days it is the 35th pick of the 2012 NBA draft;
who says, who has always said, who will always say,
until the end of time,
because we are alive,
Thou shalt not step over us.


to see the disappearance

who can say what might have been avoided

who can say what is unjust

they disappear, vanishing slowly from sight as they walk

down the street into the distance like a film’s slow fade out

and somewhere there is a record of life lived

which may be a child or a friend

or a backyard redwood fence built

or a child’s initials scratched into wet concrete 30 years ago

or a tree or bush planted

or a song once sung alive in the memory of another

or photo in a yearbook in a library

or in a drinking glass or necktie or LP that was donated to the goodwill, now in someone’s kitchen or closet or record collection

or a chair left on the street for someone to gather

or a burner—blues, reds, pinks—with crisp yellow outlines and 3D down and to the left

a graffiti piece that fades on a wall somewhere

or has been painted over

traintracks or rooftops or an alley

or under a freeway overpass




to find traces of


–an archaeologist

who is actually just a kid


to find a scratch into the earth of what the world once was

and if we are to survive

that kid will have to read that scratch

and make us know what it means

and make us know why it matters

and make us know that those scratch-makers

were the doers and builders and imaginers

we dream of

[for AJ, rest in piece, and for all the bay area graffiti writers who are or who once were–your presence is required and loved]

Writing Literature, Writing Race: Syllabus

Below is the description and course reading list for a writing class I designed and am teaching in Spring 2016 in the English Department at UC Davis.

English 003: Introduction to Literature: Black and White and Read All: Writing Literature, Writing Race

Race is read all over: thinking about race and, especially, thinking that is shaped by ideas about race, is global and constant, from college campuses in the United States, to Paris, Brazil, South Africa, just about everywhere. Though each location and social situation is unique in its thinking about race, race is something we think we “see”; it can shape what we think we know about particular human beings; it can shape our behavior and treatment of others; it can affect our life circumstances, opportunities, and hazards. But what is “race”? We often use the term “race” to refer to groupings of humans who share (or seem to share) distinct physical phenotypical traits. And in practice race is also often used to refer to cultural traits. But in both of these cases, after scratching the surface there are many complexities and contradictions that make simple categorizations quite problematic. Why? Race is a social construction, meaning simply that “race” is an idea created by humans to explain or understand the world. So some scholars argue that racism—as expressions of how people are thinking about race—is not only a useful way to understand “race” as a socially constructed idea but perhaps its defining characteristic: racism makes race. Race (and other social constructions) is a flexible concept that change over time and place, and can differ depending on the society in which they are used. As a social construction, we can look to an unlikely place to better understand race: literature and culture, expressions human experience and human thought. The creative expression of literature shows us what people see, think, and imagine about their world in particular places and times. Importantly, literature is not simply about recording knowledge; literature makes new knowledge that shapes society. So literature also creates understandings of race. Thus, to write literature is also to write race.

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Literature and Citizenship: Syllabus

[Image from Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (1946)]

Below is the description and course reading list from the syllabus for a writing class I designed and taught in Fall 2015 and Winter 2016 in the English Department at UC Davis.

English 003: Introduction to Literature: “Go Back to _____!”: Literature and Citizenship

In the summer of 2015, when Donald Trump told Univision reporter Jorge Ramos to “Go back to Univision” (i.e. “go back to Mexico or X-Latin-American country”) he used rhetoric and expressed ideas that are neither new nor uncommon. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. Even in the few months since then, debates about who belongs where, what they should look like, sound like, worship like, think like, etc.—who they should be—are everywhere in this country and world. In a globalized world, questions about citizenship and belonging are of the highest importance, not only in the technical sense of laws but also at a very deep philosophical level. Who are we? And how is this shaped by our relationships to other human beings? What are those relationships? How are they formed, perpetuated, dissolved, and transformed? In this class, we will examine how writers have used literature to represent and think the meaning of citizenship, belonging, nationhood, movement, migration, inclusion, and exclusion.

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Policing and Race in the Black Humanities: Syllabus

Below is the description and reading schedule from the syllabus for a class I designed and am teaching during Summer Session 2015 at UC Davis, through the Humanities Program.

Humanities 002B: American Humanities Forum: Justice or “Just Us”: Policing and Race in the Black Humanities, from Slavery to the Present

Course Description and Objectives:

Protests that began in the summer and fall of 2014 (and that continue) over the killing of black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner by white police officers in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY have made the intersecting issues of police conduct and race relations highly visible. But the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter does not announce a new problem or movement—indeed, it follows a much longer history of anti-black racial discrimination by law enforcement that ranges from disrespectful misunderstanding to brutality and homicide. And current activism follows a much longer history of protest and resistance to racially discriminatory law enforcement.

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