Monday, July 31, 2006

Hindi v. Hindu: Owning Up to My Cultural Ignorance

This morning I was searching for a particular comment on my novel Divas Don't Yield. Sometime ago I had inadvertently came across a blog by a lesbian author who was concerned about the character Hazel's subplot. To paraprhase her comment, she said that she while she was enjoyiing the novel so far but remained wary of another storyline where the gay gal is secretly in love with a straight friend. This is something that always worried me about the novel even when it was a screenplay called Interstates. Since I decided to devote this Monday to cyber housekeeping, I wanted to locate that blogger and write her to say, "Hey, don't hesitate to call me out if I messed up."

Yeah, I do things like that, and boy, did I have to own up to more cultural ignorance than I bargained for this morning.

In my search, I came across a completely different blog called Four Lucky Feet. The author is a South Asian woman named Mathu Subramanian. She was reading -- and loving -- Divas Don't Yield until the end when I introduced the femme lesbian South Asian character Trishna. While flirting with Trishna, Hazel asks her if her name is Hindu.

What Hazel should have asked, writes Mathu, is whether Trishna's name was Hindi. Hindu is a religion. Hindi is a language. I thought the word Hindu was used to refer to both the religion and the language, and I was dead wrong. And in making this stupid mistake, I spoiled my own book for an appreciative reader and possibly alienated a community with which I only wanted to build alliances.

Should I contact the author and tell her about her mistake? Mathu writes in her blog. Will she be receptive, or will I come off as uptight or crazy? Should I just get over it and realize that no one is ever going to really get what its like to be me, and that every character that resembles me either drives a range rover through the suburbs or cooks lamb curry through her tears over her abusive husband? Should I write my own feminist hip hop novel with a South Asian protagonist, even the closest Ive ever gotten to gangstah is listening to my students debate the relative hotness of Beyonce and Aliyah? Or am I whining over something completely unimportant, and should I just get over it and move on with my life?

To read my comment on Mathus blog, click here and scroll down. In a nutshell, I apologize for the mistake, commend her for speaking her truth and appreciate that she called out my error without attacking my humanity. Oh, and I correct her equation of hip hop with "gangstah."

Despite my best intentions, I took a risk when I attempted to be inclusive in my storytelling and include characters from communities that I do not know that well. I dont regret that risk although I do regret the mistake. Not because just because it was stupid and embarrassing but also because other readers who do not catch the mistake may duplicate it. I think artists should take such risks but only if we are as willing to be held accountable for our misrepresentations as we are accepting of kudos for our accuracy. If were unwilling to do that if we believe our good intentions should absolve us from legitimate criticism when our ignorance can result in more confusion or misunderstanding then we should step aside and let other communities tell their own stories.

I also share this story in the hopes that others will follow Mathus example. Speak your truth, allow others their complexities as human beings. Theres a fundamental difference between assuming the responsibility of educating people who clearly dont bother to educate themselves and giving a sisterly tug on the coattails of someone who has demonstrated her desire to be an ally. You bet that as I continue writing my multiple-part commentary on street lit, I will keep this lesson in mind.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Latina Interview Uncut

On page 64 of the August issue of Latina (with Eva Mendes on the cover), there' s a brief Q&A with me about my latest novel Burn. Due to space constraints, the email interview I conducted had to be drastically edited. However, I saved the email so you can read all the interesting questions and my full answers. Just read on.
1. How does Burn feel like a departure from Black Artemis' last two books? Has the message changed? Has the female protagonist?

All Black Artemis novels have three elements: a complex female protagonist, an aspect of hip hop culture and “film noir” sensibility. What makes Jasmine – the main character in Burn – unique is that she’s very much an anti-heroine. ‘Chacha, she’s self-destructive! At the beginning of the novel, she’s committing suicide. It takes an interesting revelation for Jasmine to find the will to live and take control of her life, and that’s always one underlying message in all my books, too. So in that sense, no, it’s not different from Explicit Content or Picture Me Rollin’, but Burn does have the most ambitious – and darkest – plot and conflicted “shero” to date.
2.What kinds of broads and dudes encompass the world of this book? How would you describe the world they live in?

Graffiti writers, street walkers, bail jumpers. . . Burn is the literary equivalent of an Abel Ferrara flick for women of the hip hop generation. God, that sounds arrogant. OK, that’s what I hope it reads like. You have Jasmine Reyes – a prostitute turned bail bond agent. There’s Dr. Adriano Suárez whose God-complex reaches an all-new high… or low depending on where you stand on what he’s up to. He’s got to be my most seductive villain yet. Honestly? I’m not sure I could resist him myself. And let me not forget Felicidad Rivera, the transgender woman who hands down is the most self-actualized character in the book.

3. Burn has got a lot of elements of an old fashioned gritty New York detective story; fast talking characters, suspenseful plot. How did you come up with the setting and feel for Burn?

Wow, that’s a tremendous compliment because that’s what I was going for when I wrote it, and yet when I was finished I wondered if I hadn’t taken on more than my chops could deliver. Unlike Explicit Content and Picture Me Rollin’, Burn is the one Black Artemis novel that is actually based on my life experiences. Whoa, let me elaborate. By that I don’t mean I was ever a prostitute or a man. I’ve never done graffiti although I kind of regret that. See, how the bochinche starts. J Anyway, the idea for Burn came to me over a dozen years ago when I was working for the Vera Institute of Justice as the deputy director for two alternative-to-incarceration programs, one of which was a nonprofit bail bond agency in the South Bronx. Folks involved in the criminal justice – no matter what side of the law they’re on – have got to hustle to get what they want whether that’s to make an arrest, win a conviction or get an acquittal or at least a get-out-of-jail free card. And hustlers don’t move slowly. Hustlers always have an ace up their sleeve. New York is a city of hustlers, and as a New Yorker, I say that with an immense amount of pride.

4. There’s a lot of inside knowledge about the criminal justice system in Burn. And you once considered law before becoming a writer. Did you do any special kind of research while writing the novel?

I always do quite a bit of research in many areas when I write my novels, but for Burn most of it was focused on two areas. Even though I worked for that ATI program and understood how the bail process worked in New York City, I had to learn how a for-profit bail agency operated. I also conducted a great amount of research into graffiti subculture since that’s an important element in the novel. Having worked for quite a few social justice organizations before becoming a full-time novelist, I came to Burn with some understanding of several issues: gender identity, HIV/AIDS, immigration reform. . . you know, sometimes how much I raise in one book surprises even me.
5. If Burn were to be made into a movie...what type of film would it be..(a cross between what kinds of films), and who would play Jasmine?

Great question! Burn is my fourth book, and the most cinematic of all, I think. I see it as a cross between a John Grisham/Michael Crichton thriller and, like I said before, an Abel Ferrera or maybe even an old school Martin Scorcese flick. Updated with a strong hip hop sensibility though. A feminist King of New York. And ideally, I’d like Tia Texada in the role of Jasmine. The entire time I was writing Burn, I saw Tia as Jasmine because she shared so many personality traits as Sgt. Cruz (the character Tia played on the show Third Watch.)
6. Are there any elements of Jasmine's character in Black Artemis?

God, I hope not! She’s so self-destructive. Wait, let me backtrack and give that more thought. OK, we’re both quite feisty, unapologetically smart, pretty resourceful. Hmmm. . . the more I think of it, the more I realize we do have in common. But just in good ways, or at least I think they’re positive traits. I have no doubts some folks would disagree with me, but like Jasmine, I don’t give a rat’s ass. I insist on being happy on my own terms which is something Jasmine has to learn the hard way. And I accomplish that by working on my “stuff” so my “stuff” doesn’t work on me, LOL!

7. What's next for Black Artemis/Sofia Quintero? And what's the craziest thing that has happened to you in the last year ( re:your personal life/professional/both)?

I’m writing, writing, writing. I co-founded a multimedia production company called Sister Outsider Entertainment, you know, just taking the initiative into turning some of these novels into films. In the meantime, my creative partner Elisha Miranda and I are developing an ensemble series for the N. Sort of a Latina Sex in the City for twenty-somethings. I just published my first novel in the chica lit genre under my real name called Divas Don’t Yield, and I’m working on the second one. I have two novellas-in-progress, one for an anthology about sisters and their secrets and another for a collection of erotica by Latina authors. I eventually hope to write young adult fiction and, as Black Artemis, I’d like to break into graphic novels. And this is the year I fall in love, I can feel it.

Being a writer who lives in New York, it seems to me that something unusual happens just about everyday, LOL! I’m just always looking for striking morsels to feed my creative spirit. If I have to choose one “crazy” event that occurred over the past year, it has to be that I sat on a panel at a literary event sponsored by the New York Times that included Frank McCourt and Pete Hamill. I mean, how often does anyone writing commercial, urban fiction – let alone a Latina hip hop head from the Bronx – is invited to share the stage with such literary heavyweights? I’m ambitious and optimistic and all that, but if you would’ve told me that was going to happen to me, I would’ve said, “Yeah, and in my next life, I’ll come back as Nefertiti!”

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I Want to Be Like Mike

Michael Eric Dyson, that is. In this concise yet comprehensive conversation with Tavis Smiley on his NPR radio show, he critiques Bill Cosby's ongoing attacks against the Black poor. His comparison between Bill Cosby and Kanye West is just brilliant. Please take a few moments to listen to it, share it with other and continue the dialogue.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Much Ado About Street Lit - Part II*

True, hip hop came from the streets. Theres also no denying the overlap that exists between some aspects of hip hop subculture and the underground economy, and this is most notable in the musical genre called gangsta rap. But anyone who truly knows both the history and politics of hip hop knows that hip hop and gansterism are NOT synonymous.

Nor does one need to know that history to see how false this equation is. Just think for a moment. Al Capone, Meyer Lansky and James Whitey Bulger were all gangsters. Are they hip hop? We cant deny that Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, Common and Queen Latifah are hip hop. Would you call any of them gangster?

When people like C. Delores Tucker and Stanley Crouch unilaterally dismiss hip hop, its because they do not know its socio-political history. They do not know, for example, that when Afrika Bambaataa Aasim founded the Universal Zulu Nation in the Bronx River Projects and helped develop this phenomenon we call hip hop, his intention was to combat gangsterism. A former division leader of the street gang the Black Spades, Bambaataa turned away from gang life after a life-changing trip to Africa. Wanting to put an end to the useless blood shed, Bambaataa encouraged youth to channel their energy through creative expression and artistic competition. The block parties he organized were about keeping the peace and building community. Therefore, at its birth, hip hop subculture was an alternative to violence and a rejection of gang activity.

There are many hip hop artists and activists who uphold this socially conscious vision for hip hop that you will never hear on commercial radio or see on mainstream television. And just as hip hop has gone global, these people are all over the world. We could discover them if were less addicted to the U.S. mainstream media and more active in our quest for alternative sources of information.

I confess that I tend to be a purist when it comes to how I define hip hop (or haven't you noticed?) When I say hip hop, I refer to the four creative elements that comprise hip hop subculture DJing, MCing, b-boy/b-girling and graffiti. When conversing with people about what constitutes a hip hop aesthetic or sensibility in something like literature or cinema, my narrow definition has received some compelling challenges. So compelling that I am considering broadening my view. However, I have yet to hear a single credible argument why Scarface should be considered a hip hop film or that any street lit novel should be referred to as hip hop lit.

Ask the majority of street lit authors who are their literary influences, and they almost always name Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim. Indeed, they are very proud to do so. They are quite knowledgeable of these authors's work and strive to follow in their footsteps.

As a hip hop novelist, I identify with a different literary tradition. When asked whose literary legacy I hope to follow, I name authors such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin who were known for their very gritty yet politically charged tales. I also claim the poets of the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s because they are the artistic forbears of hip hop especially rap. Emcees, lyricists and other hip hop practitioners of the spoken word who also pride themselves on being socially conscious individuals and cultural activists cite such poets as Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Gil Scott-Heron as their literary godparents.

What of The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah? I have tremendous respect for Sister Souljah, and I ate up her debut novel as did millions of other readers. Her activist credentials and her grounding in hip hop are unassailable. But despite my admiration of Souljah, I cannot be consistent in my definitions and consider her work to be hip hop lit.

If anything, The Coldest Winter Ever is street lit of the highest caliber. I just wish that more authors who claim Sister Souljah as a literary influence were as enamored with her command of craft and her ability to interweave relevant social issues into a page-turning story as they are with her realistic language and dramatic plot twists. Of course, Im no different than they are in the desire to see my novels one day enjoy such a wide readership. But for too many authors, the desire to emulate Sister Souljah stops merely at matching the number of copies she has sold. (In fairness to authors of street lit, this can be said of most novelists in every genre in the publishing industry, and I have expressed similar dismay with the prevailing mediocrity in all factes of entertainment.) It saddens me that in the wake of her commercial success, people have overlooked some of the profoundly and unapologetically political elements of The Coldest Winter Ever. True to the activist that she is, Sister Souljah has several important messages in that novel, and they are rarely acknowledged let alone discussed.

So I often say at my readings and signings, If it isnt about hip hop, dont call it hip hop lit. And I make it clear that it need not be about the entertainment industry for it to be a hip hop novel. Millions of people around the global are practicing hip hop, none of whom well ever hear or see. And believe it or not, some of them couldnt care less if they ever sign a record contract or appear on television.

Does this mean that a book cannot be both street lit and hip hop fiction? Absolutely not. Some fundamental connections between hip hop and the streets exist, and these positive and negative alike are obvious to us all. But hip hop and street life are not one and the same, and I have read very few novels that straddle the two genres.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because contrary to popular belief, entertainment is not apolitical. If we look closely and speak honestly about the recent trends in the publishing industry with regards to Black fiction, we discover just how political entertinament truly is.

* This commentary remains incomplete and will be written in multiple parts. At this time, I anticipate that there may be three to five segments in total over the next week or so. Therefore, please understand that I will not publish your comments or post my replies until the complete piece is finished. Thank you.

48L4F Law #37: Create Compelling Spectacles

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power -- everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then, full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing. -- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, page 309.
I start with this one because the examples in both the past and present are endless. In my initial blog, I mention the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis as two groups who practiced this "law." Expound further on these examples if you wish or, better yet, offer new ones please.

Join the 48 Laws for Freedom Community Project

Are you a socially conscious person who loves hip hop yet are concerned with its negative representation in the mainstream media?

Do you know the history of your community and like to break it down for others or are knowledgeable on current affairs and enjoy demystifying the politics of particular situation.

Consider yourself a social or political activist who believes that all struggles are connected?


If you've read my blog either here or at, I called out the hip hop industry's embrace of the book "The 48 Laws of Power" because it is essentially a how-to guide for domination and exploitation. It's time that those of who care about peace, justice and equality combine our intelligence to counteract this kind of thinking.

THE 48 LAWS FOR FREEDOM is a community project where together we will accomplish two things. The first is to deconstruct each of the 48 laws of power to bring its underlying oppressive philosophy to light by citing examples in history (or even in the present day) when it was used to oppress a group of people.

And because we often spend so much time criticizing what we're against and not enough time envisioning what we are for, the second objective is to devise The 48 Laws for Freedom. That is, we will come up with a principle for living for peace, justice and equality that counterracts the oppressive philosophy of each of the 48 Laws of Power.

When I conceived of this project, I was going to take it on myself, but I decided to ask you to join me. I thought making this a community initiative would make it richer and more empowering. There's a diversity of knowledge and experience among you, and I invite people of all races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, class, national origin, etc. to participate. After all, I don't want the deconstruction of the 48 Laws of Power to just reflect my specific history, experience and knowledge as a heterosexual, Afro-Latina female of an urban, working-class upbringing, etc. I want examples from all liberation struggles and principles of living from all cultures.

So how is this going to work?

At least once per week on my blog here (as well as on MySpace for those of you who are members), I will post one of the supposed 48 Laws of Power along with the "judgment' (that's what author Robert Greene calls the brief explanation of the law in his book.)

Then you can post two kind of comments. First, post an example of how the law in question has been used to oppress a given community. Now I have some very brief examples in my initial blog, but I challenge you to strive to be as thorough as Robert Greene in his book. Rep your peeps! Break it down! Tell that untold (or mistold) story. I read your bulletins -- I know what you're capable of.

Or you can post a counter law for freedom. Instead of following the law of "power," what principle can we uphold in its stead? Again, it would be wonderful if you provided examples from liberation struggles to show the application of the law of freedom to show that, yes, people can triumph over oppression without always resorting to the same ideology that is used to dominate and exploit us.

When do we get started?

Now. As soon a I publish this p;ost, I will go back and post the first 48 Law of Power. And remember, this is not only a chance to share with others what you know about your people or cause. It's also an opportunity to learn about that of other and to see the parallels. So please don't just post and bounce. Read other people's comments. Give each other feedback. And most importantly, draw the connection and spread the word.

Like many of our freedom fighter ancestors had done, we have to start devoting as much time and energy in developing and documenting liberatory principles as we do deconstructing the ideas and actions of oppressors

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Much Ado About Street Lit - Part I

Just what does hip hop novelist Black Artemis think of street lit?

As often as I have shared my views on the topic of street lit in online discussions, media literacy workshops, speaking engagements and interviews, I just realized that I never fully expressed them in writing in one cohesive piece. Perhaps this was for the best. While I still hold fast to the same political convictions I had when I first dropped Explicit Content in August 2004, my thinking on the subject has grown more complicated and compassionate over time, and that needed to happen. This is, I hope, a reflection of my maturation as both a political animal and a spiritual being.

Although my concerns for the state of Black literature remain the same, I believe I am better able to strike the balance between being my authentic self and allowing others to be who they are. When Explicit Content first hit bookstores, I waged what felt like a one-woman campaign to educate journalists covering the explosion of novels like Imagine This, True to the Game and B-More Careful as to why they should not refer to genre as hip hop lit. I still feel that novels about street life should not be called hip hop lit.

However, after some time I eventually checked myself and stopped unilaterally referring to novels about street life as gangsta lit. I just recognized the inherent value judgment loaded in the word gangsta. At best, it was elitist and unfair. At worst, it was downright racist. After all, some of this fiction is based on the lives of its authors, and not all of them write to boast about their criminal exploits. For some of them especially the sisters telling their stories was a way to find redemption, take responsibility and start healing.

Some of what follows I have written in other places. For example, some of these words were first posted as messages on the Readincolor listserv or written in the context of an email interview. Culling my thoughts from these difference sources allowed me to do something other than save time as valuable as that is. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how my views on street lit have changed (or not) and to identify the reasons for that. Most importantly, it showed me what I also I needed to say at this point because one cannot have a meaningful discussion about Black literature without addressing other issues. At least, I cant. Or wont. A discussion about street lit, for example, that doesnt involve an analysis of race in the publishing industry is incomplete and useless.

Let me start where I always do -- with definitions. Granted, these are my definitions. Some people agree with me, and others do not. I believe definitions are important for both understanding one another as well as demystifying power dynamics. I'm not going to front. Yes, I hope people will read how I use certain terms and choose to co-sign on my definitions because I believe them to be considered and informed. And I don't mind if someone challenges my definitions by raising something important that I failed to consider when forming them. That's good shit. That's the point of dialogue. That's how we build unity among diversity and grow as a people together. But at the minimum, I offer my definitions just so you can understand my position. You may use the terms differently and even disagree with my ultimate conclusions, but at least we will both know that our contrasting opinions are not based on misunderstanding.

When I use the term urban fiction, I refer to something much broader than the way the folks at Barnes & Noble, too. For major booksellers as well as other players in the publishing industry (and for that matter other fields of arts, culture and entertainment), the word urban is code for Black (and increasingly Latino, too.) It only takes a second to realize how incorrect that terminology is. Not every Black or Latino person lives in an urban environment. Nor are all people who live and/or work in major cities are Black or Latino. Most of the bestselling titles in the chick lit genre are set in major cities -- Sex in the City, The Nanny Diaries, and The Devil Wears Prada to name only a few were -- yet were about White female characters and written by White female authors. But if I wrote a commercial novel about a Latina growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas who aspired to become a pop singer, you can bet that the folks at Barnes & Noble would toss that onto a table with fifty other titles under a yellow sign that reads Urban Fiction.

A brief aside. Some of you may be asking yourself whats the point of adopting definitions that run counter to popular use? My answer is simple. If the popular use is wrong, we should exercise the power to correct it. We give away a tremendous source of power when we allow other people to define us. We should always choose to self-determine starting with the simple yet powerful act of choosing how we identify ourselves or define the things that impact our lives. If we never did this, people would still be referring to us a coloreds and negros (and with no caps.)

So there's this broad genre called urban fiction that can include anything from a chick lit novel like The Devil Wears Prada to any of my Black Artemis novels to most of the novels sold by the street vendors on 125th Street in Harlem. Many of these novels can encompass multiple genres. Let's use the work of Zane as an example. Many of her titles classify as urban fiction, but clearly they can also be categorized as erotica, too.

The subject of this commentary is the genre street lit. The overwhelming majority of street lit can be classified as urban fiction because virtually all of it is set in a major city. Can someone pen a street lit novel set in rural Kansas? Well, if I can conceive it, someone can achieve it (and I know there's more than one of you out there reading this right now thinking hmmmmm. . . . . Knock yourself out 'cause I'm not gonna do it. Just give me a shout out in the acknowledgments.)

What do I mean when I refer to street lit? I refer to a novel that is set in the underground economy. At least, that's what I call it as many intellectuals and/or activists do. Different people call it different things, and even the same person may call it different things at different times. You may refer to it as the game. Street life. Crime.

And this is why I always have and continue to insist that we not refer to this genre as hip hop lit.

* This commentary remains incomplete and will be written in multiple parts. At this time, I anticipate that there may be three to five segments in total over the next week or so. Therefore, please understand that I will not publish your comments or post my replies until the complete piece is finished. Thank you.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The 48 Laws of Oppression

A friend recently forwarded me an article in the Los Angeles Times about the hip hop community’s embrace of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I had heard of the book but never had any interest in it. When it comes to books about how to handle my business, I’m more interested in titles like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and even Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. I strive to be a holistic person, and books such as these possess sound advice about how to live one’s life to achieve wealth beyond that which is material.

Journalist Chris Lee wrote, “. . . [A]nd now, largely as a result of rap artists' growing sense of themselves as an entrepreneurial warrior class, [The 48 Laws of Power] is finding new life as the bible for behavior in the hip-hop world.”

Wanting to stay in the know about the things that capture hip hop’s imagination, I seek out The 48 Laws of Power on my latest trip to the bookstore. After I fail in my attempt to locate the book on my own, I enlist the help of a sale associate. As he leads me to a table at the front of the store, he asks over his shoulder, “Now are you just interested in The 48 Laws of Power because Greene also wrote The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War.”

I think I already don’t like this fuckin’ book. But I don’t take out my rising disgust on the friendly sales associate. “Nah,” I say. “No more war. Too much damned war as it is.”

He laughs sympathetically, and we arrive at the table. I pick up The 48 Laws of Power and start to browse. Running almost five hundred pages and using a small font, the book is thick and dense. Greene does not merely state the supposed law, explain it in simple language and provide a contemporary scenario that exemplifies its application as one might expect in a typical business tome. Rather he goes to great lengths to anchor the law in historical context both by quoting other strategic minds (such as Sun-Tzu who penned The Art of War, another favorite among hip hop heads) and offering multiple examples from how Ivan the Terrible “disappeared” for a month to make Russians appreciate his dictatorial reign when he returned to how Count Victor Lustig used “selective honesty” to dupe five grand out of none other than Al Capone.

My interest in this book is fading fast. No wonder heads are all over this, I think. It’s more of that gangsta shit. But I have to check myself. After all, it’s just not gangsta rappers who have adopted this book as their business bible. According to Lee, The 48 Laws of Power first circulated among music industry executives such as Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles and Chris Lighty. It then trickled down into the hands of hip hop artists. For example, artist LG claims that his manager gave him the book to give him a tactical edge in contract negotiations. Even Kanye West – who spoke truth to power in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and took a stand against homophobia – devoted lyrics to the manifesto.

So I begin to randomly scan the actual laws, and my stomach starts to churn. Even though I always suspected that The 48 Laws of Power would be less like Stephen Covey and more like Niccolo Macchiavelli, my discomfort surprises me. Then I realize it’s because I’m reading the laws, applying them to my own experiences and having thoughts like:

Yeah, we’re doing that now. Keeping shit close to the vest. That’s probably why he hasn’t been able to fuck us over.

Damn, why didn’t I do that? ‘Cause I was trying to be real with her, that’s why. Oh, well. So far, no drama. Hopefully, things’ll turn out all right anyway.

Seem dumber than your mark? That might work for a man, but. . . OK, actually that can work for a woman, too. Maybe even better because they expect inferiority from a woman.

And then I recall a situation in which I violated Law # 3: conceal your intentions.
According to Greene, it should’ve been a wrap for me. But the truth was that the results were nothing but positive. By being transparent, I bonded more deeply with someone who proved time and again since to be a true ally, disempowered and even exorcised a cancerous individual from my life, and most important of all, kept my reputation in tact which, after all, is Law # 5: guard your reputation with your life. And not only has that served to draw other people of integrity to me, it has also inoculated me from some poseurs who recognize that my honesty and candor keeps the lights on, so to speak, making it difficult to hide their maneuvers in the shadows.

Upon this reflection, my stomach takes a violent flip, and it hit me why The 48 Laws of Power made me sick to my stomach.

This is a manual for oppression.

The underlying assumption of every law is that man’s strongest and most natural impulse is to destroy and dominate. Life is constant warfare in pursuit of material ends. In a world that operates along The 48 Laws of Power, there is no such thing as healing, peace, community, justice or even love. Some laws need no explanation to demonstrate this.

Law # 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.

Law #27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following.

Law #14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy.

In fact, the assumptions and values that drive many of these “laws” have been used throughout the history of humankind to justify and execute all kinds of domination and exploitation including imperialism, slavery, and even genocide.

Law #37: Create compelling spectacles i.e. use “striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures” to create “an aura of power.” The Ku Klux Klan and Nazis had that on lock.

Law #17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability. This is how terrorists of all stripes operate be they a racist police force to Al-Qaeda –

Law # 4: Always say less than necessary. The name of George W. Bush immediately should come to the mind of any independent-thinking American. The examples from his administration are endless, but I’ll offer just one: the humongous lie upon which we invaded and continue to occupy Iraq.

Granted, the back cover boasts, “The bestselling book for those who want POWER, watch POWER, or want to arm themselves against POWER.” Theoretically, the emerging “entrepreneurial warrior class” comprised of mainstream hip hop artists could be turning to The 48 Laws of Power in an effort to learn how oppression functions in order to protect themselves against it. But let’s be real. We all know that’s not their agenda. They don’t study this book with the intention of disarming the ruling class never mind defeating it.

They embrace this book because they want to join it. And in order to become a member of the ruling class, one must become an oppressor. Should this hip hop warrior class succeed and rise to power, who are they supposed to oppress?

It sure as hell ain’t going be Lyor Cohen.

It sickens me that of all the classic and contemporary literature that men of color in hip hop can embrace as guides for prosperity, happiness and, yes, even revolution, they repeatedly submit to the same oppressive ideologies that have been used against them and their communities time and again. And more often than not, these ideologies and their applications are developed, perpetuated and executed by patriarchal, white supremacist males. When will the brothers learn that, as Audre Lorde wrote, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house?

Then again, probably few if any hip hop heads know who that sister was even though she did more for the liberation of Black people than any business guru of the month.