Category Archives: Editorial

Turning Ye Off

Kanye West

Kanye West

By Free Radical

On Friday, Kanye West released his eighth solo album, entitled simply Ye. The rollout was as enigmatic as he is. In April, he announced that he would drop it along with a slew of other projects on his G.O.O.D. Music imprint. Since then, Kanye has made a number of questionable moves that forces us to wonder, as we have done plenty of times before, if he is a mad scientist or just mad. Is he a political buccoon or has he hatched an ingenious plan that will all be revealed on his new album.

For the first time ever,  I won’t be around to find out.

I’m not buying, streaming, or supporting the new album or the man himself for the foreseeable future. And this pains me greatly. I’ve listened to every Kanye album since the (better) bootleg version of his College Dropout debut was released. And there have been missteps before, such as that dumb ass confederate flag jacket he used to wear. But other rappers who I rock with, such as Andre 3000 have done this stupid shit before, and I’ve been able to chalk it up to them failing miserably at being provocative. But Ye’s actions are unforgivable. They are politically immature. They are dangerous.

To recap, 1) In November 2016, West told an audience at one of his concert in California that had he voted in the last presidential election, he would have chosen Donald trump. 2) He met with Trump the following month to discuss what he called “multicultural issues.” 3) In May 2018, while on TMZ, he revealed his belief that slavery was a choice. 4) Later that month there was the Donda’s House debacle. Rhymefest, a fellow Chicago rapper who was also creative director of charity founded by Kanye and named after his late mother, accused Yeezy of abandoning the organization and saying “Fuck the youth of Chicago.” 5) Even on the very week of Kanye’s album release, his wife, Kim Kardashian, controversially met with Donald Trump to discuss criminal justice reform.

Now there is nothing wrong with Kardashian’s curious concern over this very important issue. However, Trump has a history of inviting very high profile people of color (or their spouses) to address issues that affect their communities rather than seeking experts on the subjects. Figures like Kim Kardashian, Steve Harvey, Ray Lewis, or even Kanye himself get very little in return but a photo op which actually benefits Trump even more and allows him to appear more sympathetic to people of color when we all know he is not.

However, Kanye, forever whimsical, seems to be ignorant of this and he can literally afford to. He knows that there is a sizable number of people, even with all of his theatrics, that will still listen to his album. In fact, he may get some new fans from the alt-right, who like Trump, love “free thinking” Negroes as long as they don’t challenge the white supremacist status quo.

So with that said, on some levels I can support Kanye’s advocacy of “free thought.” As I, and many other Black folks choose to deny him patronage, I hope he is equally enthusiastic in his support of our “free choices.”

Starbucks’ Secret Ingredient: Gentrification

By Free Radical

A protestor at the 18th and Spruce Starbucks.

A protestor at the 18th and Spruce Starbucks.

The arrests last week of two men at a Philadelphia area Starbucks for doing little more than being Black has captured the nation’s attention, garnering millions of views on social media. The two men were refused use of the coffee shop’s bathroom and were asked to leave when employees realized they had not planned on immediately purchasing anything. For some unknown reason, (perhaps it’s known, yet irrational nonetheless) staff members called the police who arrested and detained the men for hours before releasing them.

The outrage that was sparked from this clear example of racial profiling has caused a public relations nightmare for the Seattle based company. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson flew to the East Coast to personally apologize to the two men and has called for 8,000 of the coffee shops to close on May 29 so employees can undergo racial bias training. Though Johnson took full onus for the incident, the manager who called the police no longer works for the company. The CEO also took to social media to promise further policy changes.

Yet I am certain that Johnson does not have the wherewithal to make the necessary changes to prevent another unfortunate episode such as this from happening (don’t believe me, a similar occurrence that took place at a Torrance, California Starbucks in January surfaced earlier this week). Johnson is in the ironic position of actively participating in a problem that is simultaneously bigger than him.

Starbucks, with few exceptions is a White space. And police have historically protected White spaces and other sites of privilege, making seemingly innocuous interracial interactions potentially explosive and life-threatening.

I always get the sensation when I’m in Starbucks, like this scene was not meant for me. The vibe, the tone, the energy caters to White people. Admittedly, these “feelings” can be reduced to my personal idiosyncrasies. Yet, there are mounds of empirical data that supports my intuition.

The Starbucks where the arrests were made is located on 18th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia. In 2013, the median household income of this Central City West area was $63,709 according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study. The average household income for the entire city is almost half this amount at $36,836. In 2014, the average price of homes sold in the area where the Starbucks is located was a whopping $770.000.

Yet among this wealth, there are stark inequalities. In 2015, Philadelphia had the highest rate of deep poverty among the largest ten cities in the United Sates. The City of Brotherly Love has deep pockets of wealth and large islands of poverty, sometimes bordering each other. Gentrification is largely to blame.

Before becoming a bastion of wealth, the Central City West neighborhood where last Thrusday’s incident occurred was nearly all Black just fifteen years ago. Yet poorer Black residents were pushed out by more affluent Whites who were able to pay the higher rents and mortgages for the opportunity to relocate closer to downtown.

What often accompanies these new migrants are Starbucks and other businesses (also see Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc.) that on the surface have built ostensibly progressive brands, yet engineer Black residential displacement and reify maldistributions of wealth. A study of residential areas by Zillow showed that homes located near a Starbucks rose by 96% from 1997 to 2014 as opposed to just 65% for homes further away.

Gentrification not only brings a sea of White faces and high priced businesses, but also an increased police presence to protect these entities. Black people, which may have once dominated the area, now become outsiders, as was the case last Thursday. The actions of the Starbucks employees on 18th and Spruce St. was not an anomaly, it was a function of the hypersegregated, classist, environment of urban America.

So though well meaning, the work of CEO Kevin Johnson will almost inevitably be ineffectual. It is too easy, too convenient, simplistic, and quick. The real work is helping to reshape the American urban landscape. Hopefully we will soon see the day when coffee shops are no longer seen as more important than the lives people who were displaced to put them there.

In Defense of Brother Benjamin

By Free Radical

Benjamin Crump

Benjamin Crump

Just days after the Sacramento police riddled Stephon Clark’s body with bullets, the family of the 29 year old father of two hired the highly decorated attorney Benjamin Crump to represent them. I must admit, a sense of deflation about the Clark family’s decision was heaped onto the anger I felt about yet another unarmed Black man killed by law enforcement.

Benjamin Crump has come to represent many things since he first hit the national scene in 2012 when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin. He has been viewed as a crusading attorney who has provided pro bono legal counsel to families that have had their loved ones taken away by the white supremacist American state. He has become a celebrity seen at news conferences, rallies, and forums representing not only the families of victims but also larger movements for much needed criminal justice reform.

But along with this, he has also come to symbolize defeat (so much that it took a long time for me to realize that he does not represent families in criminal prosecutions of police. His specialty is civil cases that often take place after the criminal trials.) Crump has come to personify a sort of foregone conclusion and a reminder that Black lives do not matter in the American judicial system. A reminder that White people, and especially the police state have a monopoly on justice (or injustice) in this society. So perhaps you can understand

Keep Your $1,000 Hush Money

By Free Radical

In an ostensible show of support to the Republican tax reform passed at the end of 2017, several businesses have given their employees bonuses to celebrate what they claim to be a new era of economic prosperity.

In highly-publicized fashion, companies from Walt Disney to AT&T to Home Depot have given their employees one-time bonuses ranging from about $200 to $1,000. A much smaller group of other companies have offered other incentives such as FedEX, who has promised to increase employee compensation, and Honeywell, who pledged to increase its 401k contributions.  Apple has agreed to give some employees $2,500 in company stock and even pay $38 billion to return hundreds of billions it had horded in overseas accounts to avoid US taxation.

Undoubtedly, the bonuses will be welcome to the estimated 1.3 million employees who will receive them. Hell, I wish I had jobs at several of these companies so I can cash in multiple $1000 checks. But even in doing so, I would be clear of what is really going on. I hope that you are too.

These measures aren’t what sustainable economies are made of. According to USA Today, the total bonuses make up a $1.3 billion. While this may seem like a lot, companies will save an estimated $75 to $100 billion in paying taxes with the new Republican tax plan. So of course companies don’t mind shelling out $1,000 chump change bonuses that almost pay for themselves in free publicity.

Broken down, the bonuses only equal $85 per month. Most folks have cell phone bills that are more expensive. You definitely won’t build wealth off of a mere $1,000.

An appropriate question is what will companies do with all of their savings? Based on right wing ideology, companies will reinvest their additional revenue into the economy to create more workers and more consumers. However, time and time again, this logic has not panned out.

Unequal distributions of wealth have been the primary cause of the greatest economic dislocations of the 20th century (Great Depression) and so far in the 21st century (Great Recession). If you’d think that today’s modern day robber barons were attuned to history, you’d be wrong. A recently published report by Oxfam has shown that in 2017, even before the tax reform has kicked in, 82% of the wealth produced in that year went to the world’s top 1%.

If companies fail to reinvest their profits back into the economy, it usually falls on government. Yet, according to Donald Trump’s budget plan, it is not the role of government to provide a social safety net. His budget proposal released last year aimed for double digit cuts in transportation, education, housing and urban development, and the Army Corps of Engineers (remember Harvey and Irma?). Nearly 30% cuts were targeted for the EPA and international aid. Apparently, Trump’s America First priorities don’t account for the fact that global economic crises impact the United States too, because the country is, in fact, part of the world.

In any case, we must be mindful that these one time bonuses are merely hush money and are in no way a substitute for holistic, transformative economic restructuring. The current status quo is far from sustainable. And when shit hits the fan, it falls hardest on those at the bottom of the totem pole.