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Critical Studies in Media Communication Vol. 31, No. 4, October 2014, pp. 314326

Communication Vol. 31, No. 4, October 2014, pp. 314 – 326 Recontextualizing the Racial Present: Intertextuality

Recontextualizing the Racial Present:

Intertextuality and the Politics of Online Remembering

Sarah Florini

Remembering is never an end in its own right, but a means of asserting power and legitimizing social hierarchies. Thus, voices that seek to interpret the past in contradictory ways are often silenced (Zelizer, 1995). No part of the U.S. past is more called upon to legitimize contemporary racial relations than the Civil Rights Movement, which is constructed as the end of the nations systemic racism. Institutionalized racism

is thereby relegated to history. Troubling aspects of the past that might lead citizens to

interpret the contemporary U.S. as anything other than an egalitarian meritocracy are

erased or rendered ideologically safe. This article examines how the Malcolm

X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist

organizations in the U.S., uses its website to challenge the notion of a post-racialU.S. by undermining the history upon which this conception is built. The MXGMs website

recontextualizes contemporary events within marginalized accounts of the past to decrease the temporal distance between the racism of the past and present racial politics, constructing an uninterrupted historical continuum of racial oppression. This recontex- tualization process is reinforced at the structural level of the website through the inherently intertextual nature of hypertext.

Keywords: Websites; Black Nationalism; Cultural Memory; Intertextuality

On February 11, 2009, the top post on the Malcolm X Grassroots Movements (MXGM) website was a video of and interview with MXGM member Kamau Franklin and San Francisco 8 defendant Francisco Torres on independent news program GritTV . In the clip, host Laura Flanders asked Franklin and Torres about the ongoing case of the San Francisco 8 (SF8). 1 When she questions the motivation

Sarah Florini is a A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. Correspondence to: Sarah Florini, Department of Communication Arts, University of WisconsinMadison, 432 East Campus Mall, University of Wisconsin, Madison WI, 53706, USA. Email: florini@wisc.edu

ISSN 1529-5036 (print)/ISSN 1479-5809 (online) © 2014 National Communication Association

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behind authorities reopening the case, Franklin answers by connecting the SF8 directly to what he sees as George W. Bush s investment in continuing the culture wars.He asserts that the Bush administration and other conservatives were,

trying to say there was a good 60s and a bad 60s. The good 60s, of course, being 1963 with Dr. King, basically the I Have a Dreamspeech. And everything else being something that we need to either forget, trash, or demonize. (GritTV, 2009 )

Franklin noted the oft-forgotten COINTELPRO operations run by the FBI from the mid-1950s to the 1970s to monitor and disrupt activist groups deemed a domestic threat, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the feminist movement, the American Indian Movement, and the gay and lesbian movement. Franklin also cited the widespread community support enjoyed by groups like the Black Panther Party, who were seen as addressing racial inequalities that existed in the 1960s and 1970s. Inequalities, he asserts, that still exist today, even under a Black President.Franklin then returns to the crucial role of remembering the past, arguing that there is a concerted effort to rewrite history to say that certain activities and certain groups in history need to be demonized, need to be thought of as improper(GritTV, 2009 ). Franklin s invocation of the good 60s/bad 60s binary highlights the politics of remembering and the relationship of what is remembered and what is forgotten to issues of power and oppression. This article explores how the MXGM, one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist groups in the U.S., uses its webpage as a space in which to recuperate and circulate the counter-memories and counter-histories that comprise the bad 60s,and that are regularly marginalized in the service of maintaining the myth of contemporary racial consensus and equality. In addition, the MXGM uses its website to not only to claim alternative versions of the past, but also to actively reinterpret the present political landscape through the lens of that past, drawing a direct line from the resistance and oppression of the mid-twentieth century U.S. and the contemporary moment so as to undermine the myth of post-racialAmerica. Remembering is never an end in its own right, but a means of asserting power and legitimizing social relations. Any effort to determine what is known and remembered about the past is an effort to claim and exert power, making the past inseparable from social hierarchies (Zelizer, 1995 ). Appeals to the past validate political traditions and create social cohesion and stability. However, one groups cohesion may come at the expense of anothers, as voices that seek to interpret the past in contradictory ways are silenced (Zelizer, 1995). In contemporary U.S. culture, electronic media play an increasingly central role in understanding the past and have become one of the predominant vehicles for the expression of memory (Edgerton, 2001; Kammen, 1991 ; Lipsitz, 1990; Moss, 2008 ; Schuman & Rodgers, 2004 ; Schwalbe, 2006 ; White, 1989; Zelizer, 1995). Media play an important role in the construction and retention of experience and can even shape and influence the processes of memory construction and the nature of memory itself

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(Dijck, 2007; Lipsitz, 1990 ). However, marginalized groups often lack access to the media in which much of dominant cultural memory and history is now formed and transmitted. Thus, such groups often find their past erased or remembered in a way that they do not recognize. Because of this, marginalized groups must find alternative spaces in which to create and circulate stealth historiesthat guard against the organized forgetting of their pasts, an erasure that often aids in the reification of the power structure by which they are oppressed. 2 The increased access to the internet, particularly mobile access in communities of color (Smith, 2010), have made the web a low-cost, broad-distribution option for collecting and transmitting such margin- alized histories and for contesting power through remembering. In addition to serving as an archive for alternative versions of the past, the MXGMs website exploits the intertextual relationships that are inherent to meaning making processes. They use the site to recontextualize contemporary events within alternative histories so as to create continuity between the racial oppression of the past and the present, challenging notions of a post-racialpresent. Not only are specific events recontextualized, each website exists within the broader web of meaning the MXGMs webpage creates, embedding this recontextualization process into the very architecture of the medium. I begin with a discussion of the politics of remembering, offering a summary of how the dominant historical narrative in the U.S. has been constructed to create a sense of post-Civil Rights Movement reconciliation and consensus that allows for disavowals of contemporary structural racism. I then sketch the history and background of the MXGM and outline their significant ties to high profile and influential organizations in from the Black Power Movement. Finally, I draw on theories of intertextuality to explore how the MXGM deploys these processes to challenge mainstream discourses of racial politics.

Race, Remembering, and the Civil Rights Black Power Era

Remembering is a powerful process through which we come to understand ourselves and our social world. We draw upon the past to construct patterns of self- interpretation that are, in turn, legitimized by the past (Harth, 2008). But, remembering is never a straightforward act of preserving or recounting the truthof what reallyhappened; it is an active process of construction and reconstruction. This process transforms the past, extending it into the present and reimagining it in ways that make it usable for addressing our contemporary needs and concerns (Casey, 2000). In the contingent process of remembering, both what is remembered and how it is remembered involve processes of selection (Erll, 2008). Because it is generally the powerful in a society who make the choices about what is remembered and what is forgotten, the dominant U.S. history has largely been constructed in ways that leave the mechanisms of racial oppression intact, ensuring their continuation while asserting their disappearance. Perhaps no part of the U.S. past is more called upon to interpret the racial terrain of the present than the Civil Rights Movement. The dominant narrative of the Civil

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Rights Movement frames it as successfully ending white supremacy in the U.S., and the beginning of a new era of racial equality. This narrative focuses on what Peniel Joseph describes as the heroic Civil Rights Movement period between Brown v. Board (1954) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) (Joseph, 2010). Recollections of this period are commonly characterized by the themes of reconciliation and the redemption of the U.S. from past wrongs. Such accounts generally portray this era as the moment of rupture between the U.S.s racist past and a present that is seen as racially just. In U.S. culture, historicizing an event often serves to depoliticize it and works to produce consensus. Thus, controversial or contradictory accounts of the past are often erased or marginalized in the service of historicizing racism, relegating it to the past, and therefore facilitating contemporary disavowal of its existence. Dominant memories and histories of the Civil Rights Movement employ strategic forgetting that results in the kind of collective amnesia that commonly accompanies urges for reconciliation (Kammen, 1991). Accounts of mid-twentieth century racial politics that threaten to disrupt the dominant narrative are, when not completely erased, stigmatized as deviant and anti-social, preserving the turbulence of the past, but rendering it ideologically safe (Morgan, 2006). Controversial elements that might disrupt the narrative of reconciliation and redemption are routinely excluded from memorializing practices. For example, the Chicago apartment building where Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and other members of the Black Panther Party were killed was originally included in an early edition of the official Illinois African American heritage guidebook, yet was ultimately omitted because it was deemed too controversial(Dwyer, 2006). The historicization of racism as a resolved issue allows for the rearticulation of the concepts of race and racism in ways that obscure structural racism. The Civil Rights Movement took up values associated with democracy and fundamental to the U.S. ideology (e.g. personal liberty, individualism, and ownership of property) and appropriated those tenets to work toward greater racial equality. Civil Rights Movement discourses, in particular Martin Luther King Jr. s famous hope that people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, have been rearticulated to support the conservative backlash against social equality. The idea of judging people on individual merit rather than race has transformed into an ideology of colorblindness, and the notion of not seeing colorhas become the underlying premise of how the mainstream U.S. culture constructs racial equality. Imbricated with a rhetoric of individualism, egalitarianism transforms into a justification for opposing policies that address racial inequality because they are group based rather than case by case (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). In refocusing racial discussions on the individual, the discourse of color- blindnessredefines racism and discrimination as individual rather than systemic, obscuring structural racism and placing the failure of people of color to achieve social parity on them as individuals. The redefinition of racism combined with the heroic Civil Rights Movement narrative of history allows for contemporary issues of racism and racial violence to be interpreted as the anomalous actions of individuals, rather than as manifestations of

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the countrys historic system of ongoing racial oppression (Bonilla-Silva, 2010 ; Giroux, 2003 ; Joseph, 2010). The MXGM challenges these understandings of racial politics by challenging the past on which they rest. The MXGM draws upon the controversialmemories and histories associated with the Black Power Movement and handed down to them by Black Power Era activists. While recognizing the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., the MXGM works to undermine the appearance of post-Civil Rights Movement consensus and reconciliation by highlighting the persecution of the Black Power Movement and the continuation of COINTELPRO well after the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They assert the ultimate failure of the Civil Rights Movement to effectively end structural racism and foreground the role of government and law enforcement in undermining the movement and ensuring the continuation of white supremacy.

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Founded in 1990, the MXGM is a contemporary iteration of a long lineage of Black Nationalist thought. The MXGMs ideologies, discourses, and historical narratives are derived from Black Nationalist organizations of the Black Power Era, such as the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), the Black Panther Party (BPP), and the Black Liberation Army (BLA). The MXGM makes preserving and recounting counter- histories and counter-memories a key part of their work. Though the MXGM does not require members to adhere to an explicit doctrine, the organization grows directly out of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) and embraces ideologies put forth by the RNA, itself a victim of cultural amnesia. The RNA was formed in 1968 when approximately 500 Black Nationalist and Black Power activists met in Detroit. The meeting included Malcolm X s widow Betty Shabazz and other major figures within the Black Power Movement. One of the outcomes of this meeting was the formation of the RNA, which argued that Black people in the U.S., who they referred to as New Afrikans, were a colonized African nation held captive within the borders of the U.S. nation-sate. Spearheaded by former Malcolm X associates Imari Obadele and Gaidi Obadele, the RNA demanded reparations and the formation of an independent Black nation in the American Black Belt South. The RNA, though influential and active during the Black Power Movement era, has now been largely forgotten. Even within scholarly literature of the period, there is a notable historical lacuna. The MXGM inherited the ideologies of the RNA via its parent organization, the New Afrikan Peoples Organization, and continues to work with members of the RNA today. In addition to emerging from the tradition of New Afrikan Nationalism, which rejected the integrationist goals of the Civil Rights Movement, the MXGM also works closely with former members of the BPP and the BLA, whose images are often relegated to the turbulent and controversial bad 60s to be forgotten or sanitized. The MXGM operates nationally in the U.S. with chapters across the country in New York City, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Orleans, Oakland, and Jackson, Mississippi. The MXGMs website, MXGM.org, is the most

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widely available and consistently used platform for mass communication they have. The earliest version of the MXGM website went up in 2001. The site contained only basic information about the organization and remained virtually unchanged for almost six years. MXGM.org received architectural overhauls in early 2007 and in 2010. In addition to receiving more frequent updates, the site got more navigation options and more content, eventually including an RSS feed, a downloadable newsletter, and a blog, and transformed into complex, crisscrossing web of internal and external links. Each version of the site included increasingly frequent updates and focused more on news and current events. I began following and archiving MXGM.org in 2007 and gained access to earlier versions of the site using the Internet Archive at archive.org. Given the MXGMs ties to Black Power Movement activists and ideologies, it was not surprising that its website has consistently served as a reservoir of Black Nationalist cultural memory. As the site grew, I found that it not only curated and circulated counter-memories and counter-histories, but that those alternative versions of the past were deployed with increasing frequency to interpret contemporary racial politics. One of the key issues of the MXGM as an organization, and therefore reflected on its website, is violence against Black people perpetrated and/or sanctioned by law enforcement and the legal system.

Recontextualizing Racial Violence and Police Brutality

No communicative act stands alone; meaning arises from the intertextual relation- ships between it and other communicative acts (Bakhtin, 1986; Bauman & Briggs, 1990). Julia Kristeva argues that each text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another (Kristeva, 1980 ). This means that every text is a dialogue among several writings: that of writer, the addressee , and the contemporary or earlier contexts in which meaning is generated by an intersection of textual surfaces (Kristeva, 1980 ). Thus, meaning can be created and transformed by articulating, highlighting, or obscuring the indexes and intertextual relationships inherent in this mosaic of textual surfaces (Briggs & Bauman, 1992; Goodman, 2005). The MXGM highlights the long history of abuse and terror suffered by Black Americans, strengthening the indexes and intertextual relationships between that past and specific instances of contemporary violence and brutality. This recontextualization of present events serves to decrease the temporal distance between past racial oppression and present racial politics. While dominant histories seek to create a distinct rupture between the racist past and the post-racial present, the processes of recontextualization employed by the MXGM rearticulate the pre- and post-Civil Rights Movement eras, decreasing the temporal distance between past and present racism and forging continuity that works to suture together the historic rupture enabled by the heroic Civil Rights Movement narrative. This continuity positions the Civil Rights Movement within a long and uninterrupted history of racial oppression and black resistance, rather than as its final chapter.

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If historicizing something, distancing it from the present, is often an attempt to depoliticize it and create contemporary consensus, the move to decrease the temporal distance between past and present can be seen as an attempt to repoliticize an event or period and thereby trouble consensus. I have chosen three examples from the MXGMs website to illustrate how they recontextualize contemporary events within non-normative constructions of U.S. racial history as a means of interpreting the present political climate. These examples the police shooting of Sean Bell in 2006, the prosecution of the Jena 6 in 2007, and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012are all addressed on the MXGMs website and recontextualized with memories of slavery, the rampant lynchings of the post-Reconstruction era, Jim Crow, and COINTELPRO. This framing resists the interpretation of these events as isolated unfortunate incidents and instead casts them as part of highly routinized mechan- isms of oppression. The MXGM often uses its website to address contemporary instances of police brutality, which it ties to a long history of violence against Black people. One example of this is the shooting death of Sean Bell. Bell, a 23-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by undercover NYPD offices while leaving a club with friends on the night before his wedding on November 25, 2006. While the officers maintain that they believed Bell and his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, to be armed and that the young men also attempted to hit the officers with their car, others at the scene claimed that Bell and his friends were unarmed and posed no threat to the officers. Far from being seen as either a tragic misunderstanding or the actions of a few individual bad cops, Bell s death was put forth on the MXGMs site as an example of ongoing racial profiling and police brutality. In a web announcement calling for a protest gathering during the Sean Bell case, the MXGM asserted that the murder of Sean Bell and attempted murders of Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman are NOT isolated or random events, but rather are representative of a continued pattern of police misconduct and abuse (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2007a). In March 2007, the MXGM posted Our Statement Against the Attack on Black People to its website. The post, which presupposes in its very title a systemic violence toward Black communities, connects the Sean Bell incident with the same incident that was deemed too controversial for the Illinois guidebookthe shooting death of Fred Hampton Sr. The webpage argues, The police continue to not be held accountable for their acts of murder against the New Afrikan Community, from Fred Hampton Sr. to the killing of Sean Bell(Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2007c, 2009). The 40 years between Hampton and Bells deaths are elided as the two men are positioned alongside one another as evidence of the uninterrupted pattern of violence and abuse from law enforcement. The MXGMs website also addresses violence perpetrated against Black people by civilians, raising issues of Black self-defense. One such example is the websites coverage of the Jena 6 case. The Jena 6 were six young Black men from Jena, LouisianaRobert Bailey, Jr., Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Jesse Ray Beard, and Theo Shaw. The six boys, ranging in ages from 14 to 18, were arrested for assaulting one of their white classmates. The assault occurred after a series of events

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that had exacerbated racial tensions in the town, beginning with white students hanging nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard after Black students had sat underneath it, territory normally reserved for only white students. Only Jesse Ray Beard was charged as a juvenile; the other five boys were charged with attempted murder and were to be tried as adults. Many saw the harsh sentences, particularly for 16-year-old Mychal Bell, as racist. The MXGM posted information and commentary about the Jena 6 case on their website. The case was contextualized within the U.S. s history of lynching and violence against people of African descent. The MXGM argued, The horrendous act of lynching did not stop with the Civil Rights Movement and our communities remain intimately familiar with the legacy of the noose(Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2007b). Assertions about the need for self-defense were also prominent in the MXGMs interpretation. The Jena 6s participation in the fight with their white classmates was framed not as a criminal act, but an act of self-defense against the environment of terrorin which they live (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2007b). The webpage goes on to assert the importance of armed self-defense, a key ideology of Black Nationalist movements. They write,

Our history of struggle in North America has always had the importance of defending our lives as a fundamental pillar. The act of defending ourselves as a community has always been criminalized. (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement,


Additionally, the page bears two historic images the first, the famous picture of the bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith as they hung from the tree where they were lynched in Marion, Indiana in 1930, and, the second, a line of eight Black men, many of whom were clad in the Black Panthers iconic black leather jacket and black beret, engaging in what appears to be a training exercise. These visual elements reinforce the contextualization of the Jena 6 within a history of Black struggle for self-defense, as do their captions: The legacy of lynching continues today,and Self Defense Self Determination,respectively (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement,


In 2012, when the U.S. was shocked by the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy, by Neighborhood Watch member George Zimmerman, the MXGM responded on their website by foregrounding the ongoing pattern of violence in which they see Martin s murder embedded. They MGXMs website contextualized Martin s death within a multi-century continuum of oppression, including slavery, sundown towns, Jim Crow segregation, and lynching (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2012b). The website asserted,

the US legacy of lynching and enforcement of Jim Crow apartheid persists. But todays epidemic of murders of Black people thrives in a new deadly context. The myths of democracy and the election of a Black president hide the epidemic make it harder to diagnose the pattern. (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2012b )

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The statement not only places Martins death in a legacy of oppression and terror, it also recontextualizes the election of the first person of color to the Presidency within this ongoing pattern of violence, diminishing claims that Barack Obamas election has led the country to a post-racialera. The MXGM formed the No More Trayvon Martins Campaign, which issued two separate reports on the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police, security guards, and self-appointed law enforcers. The first, Trayvon Martin is All of Us, details the deaths of 30 Black men and women that occurred in the first three months of 2012 (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2012b ). The second, Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 120 Black People, offers detailed information and analysis of deaths between January 1 and June 30, 2012 (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2012a). Both are available on the MXGMs website, and both explicitly work to establish a pattern of violence that undermines any claims that we have seen the end of racism.

Intertextuality and Hypertext

While the analysis above focuses on specific moments of recontextualization, the MXGMs strategic use of these processes plays out across their website as a whole. The website is a mosaic of texts. Each page on the site is embedded in the web of meaning created by the sites many interlinked pages. Over the years, MXGM.org has accumulated pages of information, all linked together though a crisscrossing, interconnected system of links and menus. The site contains information about the MXGM as an organization, biographical details of Black Power Movement activists currently or formerly in prison (referred to as political prisoners ), and histories of the Black liberation struggle dating back to the first slave uprisings. All of these are juxtaposed with iconic Black Nationalist imagery and linked together via hypertext. Hypertext is a fundamentally intertextual system (Landow, 2006 , p. 55). Unlike the newsletters and pamphlets used by previous generations of activists, the website accrues narratives, statements, and counter-memories that serve as an immediately present context for users navigating the site. The stories of brutality and violence against Black people that are recontextualized within a history of Black struggle are themselves embedded in the text, discourses, and images of Black Nationalism, past and present, that permeate the site. The websites mosaic of texts and images serves to further reduce the temporal distance between contemporary abuses, the organized persecution of the Black Power Era, and the horrors of slavery and lynching. The image of the organizations namesake, Malcolm X, has always been prominent on MXGM.org since the earliest version of the site. The Who We Are link in the navigation menu at the top of the homepage on the original site took users to a page displaying a picture of a group of MXGM members. On this page, the MXGM members are positioned beneath the transparent image of Malcolm X s head, which looked down upon them from the clouds. The words Self-Defense, ” “ Self-Respect, and Self- Determination appeared underneath the group in red, black, and green, the colors of pan-African flags dating back to Marcus Garvey (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2001). The transparent

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ghost-like image of Malcolm signaled his pastness while still positioning him as somewhat co-present with the group. The image evokes a sense of Malcolm as ancestor and guardian, watching over the MXGM. In the most current version of the site, Malcolm Xs face is visible in the enlarged Xin the MXGM logo displayed at the top of each page. Thus, he is embedded alongside any content a user might encounter while navigating the site. Throughout the site are the images and stories of Black Power Era activists who were imprisoned for their activities in the 1960s and 1970s, who are referred to by the MXGM as political prisoners and described as individuals who have been targeted for their political activity in support of struggles for self-determination, or for their affiliation with organizations promoting liberation, or for resisting the racist and classist policies of the government(Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 2007d). The stories and images of political prisoners like Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, George Jackson, and Sundiata Acoli, many of whom are still living, are included throughout the site alongside the coverage and analysis of contemporary events. Further, the contemporary circumstances of the political prisoners many of whom are still in prison or have been arrested on reopened cases like the San Francisco 8 are used to demonstrate the continuation of officially orchestrated racial oppression into the contemporary moment. The MXGMs discussion of contemporary actions taken by law enforcement against Black Power activists of the 60s and 70s emphasizes that the same dynamics of the Black Power era are alive and well in the ostensibly colorblindsociety of the contemporary U.S. The website, by the very architecture of the interlinked structure, manages the construction of meaning by emphasizing continuities and minimizing disjunctures. As users click through the site, they are navigating through terrain in which the MXGM has foregrounded the bad 60s that troubles consensus, while minimizing the heroic Civil Rights Movement. Thus the site substantiates at the structural level the indexes and intertextual relationships made explicit within the discourse of its contents.


Since the 1980s, discussions of race in the U.S. have been constrained by discourses that work to foreclose interrogation of or challenges to contemporary institutiona- lized racism by relegating racism to the realm of individual bad behavior. The colorblind racism of contemporary U.S. culture rests on a closed historical narrative in which the U.S. has shed its structural and institutional racism and transformed from a slave-owning society to a colorblind, egalitarian meritocracy. This narrative has become even more recalcitrant with the election of the U.S.s first Black President, seen by some as proof that Martin Luther King s dreamhas become a reality. It is within this context that the MXGM is attempting to assert the existence of an uninterrupted continuum of government sanctioned and/or executed violence against Black people in the United States stretching from slavery to contemporary shooting

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deaths highlighted by their No More Trayvon Martins Campaign. The MXGMs website serves as a repository for alternative memory as well as a space in which those counter-memories and counter-histories can be deployed to reinterpret current events. As Franklin notes in his GritTV interview, many would like to erase or discount the bad 60s of Black Nationalism and other progressive movements. The MXGM not only recuperates and embraces the bad 60s, it does so in a way that gives them deep contemporary relevance. The MXGMs website relies on the processes of recontextualization inherent in meaning making to reinterpret the police shooting of Sean Bell and the violence perpetrated by ordinary citizens against Trayvon Martin and the Jena 6. These events, rather than anomalies, or at worst the work of individual racists, are decontextualized from the heroic Civil Rights Movement narrative and recontextua- lized within a historical continuum of Black struggle against violence. This makes visible the matrix of institutional racism within which the abuses of Bell, the Jena 6, and Trayvon Martin took place. The internet is particularly well suited for this sort of memory work. The relatively low cost and broad reach of the web makes it a viable option for marginalized groups, who are able to use the web to bypass media gatekeepers and remember pasts that may challenge, rather than solidify, contemporary political relationships. While the internet provides space for the recontextualization of the present within a past where racism is not a settled issue, the intertextual nature of the medium reinforces this by performing this recontextualization at the structural level of the site. As I finish preparing this manuscript, the Supreme Court has just struck down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement obtain federal approval before making changes to their voting procedures. The Alabama county that brought the suit argued Section 5 was an outdated and unnecessary measure, designed to cure an ill from which the nation has recovered. Now, the highest court in the land has declared that Section 5 has done its work and that institutionalized racism no longer poses a substantial threat to the democratic election process, firmly relegating such injustice to the realm of history. While the image of a U.S. that no longer requires measures like Section 5 to insure equality may be one that many citizens desire, the ideology of color- blindness obscures the structural mechanisms that still must be eliminated to make this image a reality. Resistance to racism requires interpretive frameworks and models that make structural racism visible. As the dominant narrative of U.S. history works against this visibility, counter-memories and counter-histories can be powerful tools for disrupting the dominant ideology and imagining different possibilities for one s self and the world.


[1] The San Francisco 8 (SF8) are eight Black activists, many former Black Panthers, who were charged for the murder of San Francisco police officer John V. Young in an attack on a police station on August 29, 1971. In addition to Torres, the accused were Richard Brown,

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Richard O Neal, Ray Boudreaux, Hank Jones, Harold Taylor, Herman Bell, and Jalil Muntaqim. Charges for Youngs death were initially brought against Taylor, John Bowman, and Ruben Scott in 1975. However, the case was thrown out because a judge ruled that the men were tortured while being held by New Orleans police, allegedly through electric shock, cattle prods, beatings, sensory deprivation, and asphyxiation with plastic bags and wet blankets. The San Francisco Police Department reopened the case in 1999, arguing that advances in forensic science that could shed new light on the crimes. Torres, Brown, O Neal, Boudreaux, Jones, and Taylor were arrested on January 23, 2007 and charged with Young s murder. Bell and Muntaqim were already serving sentences for other charges. [2] I take the term stealth histories from Dhoruba bin Wahad, who used it in his talk Message to the Hip Hop Grassroots at the National Hip Hop Political Convention, Las Vegas, NV, August 1 3, 2008.


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