Talkin' Bout... A Revolution?

The short curve of Crenshaw between Vernon Avenue and King Boulevard has long been a kind of delta where the many rivers of black reality meet. For starters, Crenshaw borders Leimert Park and View Park, separating the affluence of those places from the poorer hinterlands south and east of there. But it also brings the elements of both together in a scene singularly known throughout the city as Crenshaw (the area, not the boulevard). In that brief corridor that features both the modernized Baldwin Hills mall and the street hawkers and community saviors who regularly congregate on the corner of Crenshaw and King are all the psychic elements of black folks -- aspirations, protests, struggle, resistance. They are not necessarily harmonious. It's quite a stew.

I've seen many billboards in that corridor trumpeting everything from black Atheism to Obama-ism. One that caught my eye this past week was an invitation to Crenshaw denizens to come see a film featuring Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. It's screening this weekend downtown at the L.A. Theatre Center and records a marathon seven-hour speech by Avakian that he delivered recently. I won't get into the complex and controversial history of the RCP here, but suffice it to say that it is very much alive and believes that the black freedom struggle is foundational to the many other ongoing struggles in the country for justice and equity. Of course, unlike traditional black advocacy groups like the NAACP, the Party doesn't believe that the American system of capitalism can ever deliver that freedom -- it simply wasn't designed to -- and that the only real option is to institute another system altogether.

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This proposal of radical change has always presented black people with a paradox. We want inclusion, meaning we want access to what every American has access to (theoretically), from functioning schools to safe neighborhoods to meaningful employment. But generation after generation we fail to secure these things, or not enough of these things to declare the struggle over. It has become clearer to many of us that we may always be in this state of gross inequality, a realization that prompts a question that sounds not radical, but perfectly logical: why not live some other way?

Nobody black that I know believes for a minute that America was created with his or her interests in mind. Nor does anyone I know believe that American hostility to true racial equality has relaxed to the point where blacks can claim that we have assimilated with reasonable succcess. And yet the determination to soldier on as part of the fractured and deeply flawed American project is almost universal. I guess blacks have been knocking on the door so long, we're loath to stop now. We're loath to stop being a thorn in the side of a nation drifting toward total racial indifference that needs all the reality checks it can get. True, we aren't exactly holding anybody's feet to the fire, as we did in the '60s, but somehow our mere presence, even the thoroughly mainstream presence of President Obama (who undoubtedly would live west of Crenshaw, if he lived here) makes the point that we still await our forty acres and a mule. That's how unassimilated we remain.

But there are certainly those among us who, like Malcolm X, see waiting on the system for justice akin to waiting for Godot, the title character of the world's most famous absurdist play who never shows up. It'll be interesting to see who shows up Saturday to hear Avakian. "Revolution -- Nothing Less!" is what the ad encourages. I don't know about nothing less, but what's indisputable is that black folks here -- and elsewhere -- need something more.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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