The experience of the last five weeks shows that Wall Street “occupiers’ fear of liberal co-optation is fully justified.” Media mogul and debit card finance capitalist Russell Simmons escorted Kanye West and Al Sharpton into the Zuccotti Park occupation mix, in yet another attempt “by the soft liberal Left to co-opt anything that has any degree of revolutionary potential.” Cooptation efforts are to be expected. However, “If the Simmons and Sharptons of the world are to be combated a more genuine Black leadership must emerge from the ranks of Black people.”
Russell Simmons Still Ain’t Hip-Hop and He Ain’t No Occupier Either!
More than a decade ago Rosa Clemente alerted much of the world to the fact, as she said, that “Russell Simmons: You are Not Hip-Hop!” Her commentary caused a stir back then as many in the hip-hop community and beyond had taken a view of Simmons similar to the one many continue to have today of Barack Obama: A Black man who had taken over an aspect of the world mostly reserved for Whites and who would now make it better for us all. But in each case the man became the mirage he always was and in each case became a browner conduit of people’s hopes, dreams and, of course, money all of which continues to flow outwardly and only in benefit of the same White power elite. So it seemed perfect to see Simmons heckled at a recent Occupy Wall Street gathering and to note the particular Black womanhood of the leading heckler.
Initially the heckling occurred during a stand-up interview Simmons was giving from the crowd to CNN and the initial heckler was a White male challenging the hypocrisy of CNN conducting interviews about the occupation while having previously misreported the event. It was also sadly appropriate that it was Black on-lookers who attempted to defend Simmons’ right to speak. And that is what ultimately made the beauty of the sister’s interruption as she stepped in to say loud and clear to Simmons that, “you are part of the problem Russell!” Simmons is the cultural version of the Black “misleadership class” so often described in these pages. As Clemente pointed out ten years ago Simmons rose to prominence by promoting the worst forms of what he narrowly defined as hip-hop. From bling-bling to anti-human images of women and of Black and Brown people Simmons slung his wares in the streets and has been paid well for it. But he and his executive buddies used hip-hop and, as Clemente noted, “closed ranks” against the more radical and honest elements of the hip-hop community. He cut them off, refused support and used his position to reassure his sponsors and pacify his unwitting but frustrated supporters. And now his desire to bring Kanye West and Al Sharpton into the occupation mix had to be exposed for what it was and is; an attempt by the soft liberal Left to co-opt anything that has any degree of revolutionary potential.
And it is obvious in this case that the occupiers’ fear of liberal co-optation is fully justified. Simmons’ presence and his bringing the likes of West and Sharpton serves as a people’s testimony against themselves and stands in direct opposition to the involvement in the occupying movements of those like Rebel Diaz, Immortal Technique and Jasiri X. Simmons is there to be the hip-hop representation that negates today’s representatives of those he previously “closed ranks” against. And those who caught this travesty were right, from multiple angles, to challenge that. CNN would have to give him camera time as they would certainly want to convey his brand of hip-hop activism. He would have to be there to position himself, or be positioned, as an appropriate spokesperson for hip-hop, young people and, of course, all of the world’s colorful people. Simmons is no better than, and is indeed only a browner version of, the White liberals who are often criticized for their mostly White middle-class “occupations.” And this anonymous sister represents precisely why more Black and Brown people should be involved in these kinds of events but also why they need to be ardent supporters of their own more “indigenous” struggles and organizers.
That sister’s presence allowed for an important challenge to Black usurpers of Black radicalism and could serve as a reminder to White liberals that they too must beware of their own trappings and their own selections of those deemed appropriate representatives of blackness. And the very need for her role there speaks to the more important need of Black and Brown people to involve themselves in greater numbers in their own movement-building. If the Simmons and Sharptons of the world are to be combated a more genuine Black leadership must emerge from the ranks of Black people.
So, for just two examples, come out November 5 in Philadelphia and support the Black Is Back Coalition’s rally there to “Stop the Wars and Build the Resistance.” And then stand in solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal on the eve of International Human Rights Day on December 9, also in Philadelphia, as activists gather there to support political prisoners and an end to mass incarceration, prisons and the death penalty.