On McLean Greaves and the Death of Young Black Geniuses

Black Genius and Black Death

This post is dedicated to Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown and the Black Girl Geniuses @ SOLHOT. I Love you all Very much for Seeing me and for Loving who you See. We Levitate Bandcamp. Poppin’.

My dissertation is about how Black women create in the face of death. Both historically and in the contemporary moment, so at any given moment during the day or night my mind wanders towards a Black woman artist, the choices that she makes, whether or not she can sustain herself, many of the women who have died early.

I think this is also the reason why I am drawn to the lives of Black women athletes. While they may not die early per se, there is a way in which their lives, their work, their toiling often for long hours outside of the limelight only to appear  like an “overnight”  success is a process that I find myself identifying with.

Which brings me to two weeks ago. I was in a cab, on the way home and I saw a tweet citing one of my tweets saying McLean Greaves, RIP citing the essay that I wrote about him as a fitting tribute.

A writer




I was like “there is no way on God’s green earth that I am learning about his death in this fashion.” I was.

The cab driver heard by gasp and said “do you still want to go home”, I hesitated but I had work to do, so I continued home. But the life and death of Greaves has been on my mind for the last three weeks.

You see, Greaves was a Black man working on a start-up in Bed-Stuy nearly 20 years ago focused on Urban Black and Brown communities in Brooklyn. So looking at his life, and his work we can see how the current story about the intersection of venture capital, Black coding schools, coding schools for women, the leaky pipeline in Silicon Valley, and the lack of POC ownership of social media platforms is telling.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about him:

If you start with Greaves you get a different story.

The story that you get is that urban Black and Latino, and Afro Latino people have a long history of using the internet to find one another and they have ALWAYS been interested in ownership. Access to capital, and a team? Well, that is another question.

See Black Planet. See the history of Cafe Los Negros. See Peep.com.

Now, if you read the post, you will see that I learned about Greaves while writing my own book three years ago, which makes me wonder how many more folks are in the archives who have done similar work; folks we are unaware of.

His death.

He was young. I can’t help but think of how many young, creative Black men and women die early, when so much of their lives are bound up in giving life.

Live givers.

Early deaths.

There is a part of me that is coming to the conclusion that even when we ARE from the future we will be rendered invisible. I am so happy that I was able to find him, his work and that he read this before he transitioned a few weeks back.

1. Have you ever thought about the irony of escaping the hood only to die young or early as a creative?

2. Is being creative overrated, in a culture where much of the social media noise is focused on consuming celebrity low points/grief?

3. Would the conversation around coding schools change if we started with Greaves, and his desire to create a start-up nearly twenty years ago? What if the focus were ownership schools rather than coding schools? We’d be talking about a lot more money? No?

Some Thoughts on Yunus’s Social Businesses

It is tragic, yet obvious, illustration of how our economic system fails it’s mission to serve the needs of all humanity. Millions of people around the world are suffering because a few speculators blindly grasp at profits. ~Muhammad Yunus, Building Social Business

I have to admit, I was ready to dismiss Yunus’s ideas around social business when I first heard about them, because for me, it appeared to be that he institutionalized a form of lending that has been present in many Black churches in the US and in Caribbean communities for eons. Folks saving and pooling their money together, allowing each member who contributed an opportunity to use to funds. Folks coming together to serve as their OWN bank.

However, I also know better than to dismiss something I haven’t read yet. o.0

Yunus states that there are four key features of a social business.

First,  it is distinct from social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and socially responsible businesses because the aforementioned organizations place earning a profit as a main priority and doing social good as a second or third.

I also know that according to corporate bylaws in the US corporations are legally required to make their shareholders the most money possible.

In social business, a dollar is a dollar, and this applies even for adjustments for inflation. So if you invest $500 in a social business, you get your $500 back, as an investor, #nointerest.

Second, social businesses treat their beneficiaries with more dignity and respect and autonomy than charity. Even a well meaning charities may take away from the initiative from folks who are toiling away to step back and think collectively about how to solve their problems. Sometimes charity is necessary, but there should be more tools in the toolbox.

Third, Yunus contends that “people create culture” AND that “culture creates people”. He goes on to say that “to experience progress, human society needs to move on, evolving and creating its own new culture, step by step.

Fourth, there are two kinds of social businesses “One provides goods and services to advance a social goal while being owned by people who are not themselves poor or underprivileged. It generates no profits or dividends for its owners; any surplus is reinvested to finance the growth of the business and to expand the benefits it provides to society. Another is “actually owned by poor people ( as is the case with Grameen Bank), or owned by a specifically created trust to deliver benefits to the poor”.

While the idea of folks coming together to solve their own problems through working collaboratively and leveraging capital from corporations who want to help there is something fundamentally flawed with Yunus’s thinking around the end of poverty. He states,

Social business has the potential to reverse this disparity because it addresses the poor directly and deliberately. By bring the poor into the economic mainstream, it helps their piece of the pie grow independently.

In some ways it is naive because it fails to take into consideration how the wealth of some nations is tied to the subordination of others. For example, there has been a lot of talk in mainstream media about the problems with Apple computer and global corporations, and the working conditions of Chinese folks who put together our beloved iphones, ipads etc. Apple employs (largely through subcontractors)  nearly a million people in China. Now, for me, it is clear that an economic system premised on innovation that normalizes paying people wages so low that they can’t afford to buy the objects that they put together for a living is problematic and unsustainable at minimum.

Henry Ford once paid his workers, many of whom were Black men and women living wages with the expectations that they would turn around and buy his products. #fordism.

They did.

Apple’s fourth 2011 fourth quarter revenue was $46.33B and their profits were $13.06B or $6.43 cents per undilluted share.

Which leads me to ask, how is this sustainable? What if Apple were employee owned?

So, to round this back out, the idea folks getting together to create social businesses in 2012 and beyond is awesome. However, I think it was important to be honest about how corporations make money, and by being honest about the fact that poverty is profitable for many corporations, 501 c 3’s included.


You Make Money Doing What?: Musing on the $1B Facebook IPO and Wage Labor

via Huff Post article “Majoring in Debt

There have been three things on my mind this week. The first is the labor of graduate students and adjuncts. The second is student debt. The third is the Facebook IPO and who makes money off of what. Yup, it’s going to be one of those kinds of posts.

Yesterday, I mentioned the amount of labor that is going into teaching and she sat me down and she told me that her momma saw the amount of work she was doing as an instructor and student and said “Honey, you are an indentured servant”.


She went on to tell me, yes #allcity you need to teach and you Love it, but you are here to leave with a finished product. Your work is brilliant, write and keep writing, find a finished product by someone in your field and decide how much attention your teaching will receive. Learn what the unstated rules are and proceed accordingly. #jesusbeaFenceforBlackgirls.

I was both relieved by her words because I did plan on writing all day, even though I have a slight temperature. I tend to have some of the best ideas about writing when I have a temp. I was also bummed out by her words, because I thought, what if she were not there to say these things to me. But she is, and I am grateful.

I know that the US graduates more law students than there are lawyer jobs, and I would imagine that there are more undergraduate students graduated than their are entry-level jobs. The fact that there are more trained people than their are jobs allows for employers to pick the employee who is willing to accept the lowest pay. How is this humane?

Inside Higher Ed had an interesting article up earlier this week titled “Among the Majority” by Michael Bérubé about the state of academia and how 70% of jobs are taught by people who have part-time contracts.

The article has several nuggets.

The first is that,

Adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities.

The second is that,
40 years ago, 80 percent of America’s college teachers enjoyed the protection of tenure, whereas now only 54 percent do.
In the third point, he quotes John Rhoades saying,
 colleges promote themselves, especially to first-generation students, as a pathway to the middle class — but, increasingly, colleges do not pay middle-class wages to their own faculty members. The contradiction is deepest at the lowest tiers of the academic hierarchy, where, Rhoades said, underpaid adjunct faculty members are effectively “modeling what is acceptable as an employment practice.”
I think that what many people are unable to see is that the status of graduate student workers and adjunct employees isn’t an exception to the rule but more like the rule in 2012 and beyond.
In a culture were undergraduate students are routinely saddled with tens and thousands of dollars up debt upon graduation, how can this not be a version of indentured servitude? School loan debt is greater than credit card debt in the US. Yet, if you are working class, and the first person in your family to go to college, who in the hell is going to tell you that Sallie Mae and them are going to want their money rain, shine or earthquakes.

Which brings me to the Facebook IPO. As a scholar I do political economy, so I am always paying attention to how money moves. I had several questions after having seen the $100B IPO numbers.

How is it possible for company to be “valued” at 100 billion dollars when it doesn’t make a material product?

What does it produce? I will wait. #SmoothesSkirt. It doesn’t produce anything material, you do. It is your personal information, or the personal information of the nearly 800 million users.

If a corporation’s primary duty is  to it’s shareholders what is to stop them from compromising user data for profit?

David Rushkoff states that,

the more money Facebook takes on, the more like money it will become. In other words, when a social media company is a social media upstart, it will have vastly different motives than the motives it has when it’s responsible for acting in the best interest of its shareholder — a requirement for being a publicly traded company.

I am not sure what to make of all of this, however I do know that it isn’t sustainable.

1 million of the 1.5 million college instructors are teaching on a contract as temporary employees, student debt is higher than credit card debt and Facebook just IPO’d with a 1 billion dollar valuation.


The Choices that Creatives Make

Image via Metro Times

Dedicated to Jonzey and our conversations about Hennessy / Carol’s Daughters sponsored art.

This post is about money, artists and how corporations are deliberate and never neutral.

Spending the last few months teaching a multiracial group of young people about race, art, class, history and feminism, I have learned a lot about how challenging it is to teach people about topics that force them to question basic assumptions that they have held nearly all of  their lives.

Especially when it comes from a body that reads as one that some are not socialized to see as being “an authority” on intellectual topics, ideas and teaching.

Some were clearly resistant to learning how race, hue, class position and gender structure our day to day lives. Others LOVED being taken seriously, Loved examining their own social position as it relates to others, Loved thinking about questions of agency and gender roles.

They also wanted to derail on sexuality, but I was not going there, not yet.

The topic that arguably it was most challenging for my students to understand is that corporations are not not neutral. Now, they KNEW that corporations are set up to make money, but they had a hard time making the connection between the fact that they are set up to make money and how the desire to make money means that corporations will and have looked the other way when a crime or many crimes occurred as a direct result of the pursuit of profit.

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me “How Do I make money”? I waited before I responded because I was unsure where her intentions were. I thought, why, you have a freelance writing job for me? I also thought to myself, and I didn’t know if it was true, so I kept it so myself, clearly the daily labor invested in teaching and writing original knowledge production is not being seen as all encompassing as it is.

Having taught about corporations, I am very clear about them. As someone who studies the political economy of Black cultural productions, which is fancy way of saying that I study Black pop culture (Beyonce, Tyler Perry), how much money they earn, why they are allowed to earn the money they they do, the ideas conveyed within their productions, how their work relates to the history of Black movies and music, and how these ideas shape how we see ourselves regarding gender roles, race, sexuality etc.

The older I have gotten I have come to the conclusion that “all money ain’t good money and all head ain’t good head”. I say this to mean that while we do all have bills, and we have all done what we have to do to keep the lights on (I have waitressed), having taught how  corporations are not neutral and HAVING taking the course “corporations” (<<<the fucking irony) I am particularly sensitive to how creatives may be inclined to make choices, in a political economy in 2012 which forces individuals to align with a corporation who at best, can only see you as temporary, expendable and replaceable.

What kind of facts are those?

What kind of terms are those?

This is not to say that folks do not align with them, or I have judgement if they do. No. Going into 2012 in some ways, aligning with one is a means of survival.  What I ask though, is that we acknowledge they are not neutral. That we acknowledge that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on who they protect, who they exclude, who they include. That we can acknowledged that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on how they deal with systemic patterns of harm that are premised on age, race and class. Penn State.

In fact in teaching the students about corporations not being neutral, I had to do a 5 min South Africa, Apartheid, Coca Cola explanation. Geez, laweese, I was not ready for that. And I had to say that I am NOT an expert on South Africa, but you all are too young to remember this AND it serves as an example of young people leveraging pressure on corporations (Universities and Schools) in the 80’s who were invested in upholding racist and oppressive regimes in South Africa. They couldn’t believe it.

I think that learning early on that a corporation isn’t neutral is an incredible tool. I also think that in 2012 creatives, it may benefit us to think about this seriously, especially creatives of color.


You accept the idea that a corporation is neutral?

You remember Coca Cola & South Africa?

Justin Timberlake’s “In Time”: A Critique of Capitalism?

I saw the new Justin Timberlake last night, In Time a film where time is the currency used to pay rent, pay for bus rides, buy food etc. Everyone has a watch on their arm, that counts down to their last minute.

Timberlake lives in the hood, and by virtue of a come up, he gets HELLA TIME, a century,  but then has to figure out how to use it productivly.

Everyone who has little time lives a similar time-zone, where folks stay running, why? They have little time. So one of the ways in which social class identity markers functions in the film is by simply how fast you move. Low income folks move hella quick, because they are always on the verge of running out of time.

On the contrary, the folks in an alternate time zone, the elite in New Greenwich move real slow, why? Because they come from time.

Typically I stay wanting to walk out of movies, you all KNOW THAT.

But I really enjoyed this one honestly because I sat down not knowing what it was about.

The critique of capitalism occurred when Timberlake’s character, Will Solace, learns that the folks in zone are kept there living day to day, and dying on the reg (timing out) so that the folks in New Greenwhich can have eons of time. The general idea behind this is that in order for a few to have a lot, many have to die and that this is the natural evolution of things.

This is what we call dependency theory, where we look at the relationship BETWEEN the people who have a lot of money or time and the people who are barely staying alive.

I consider In Time to be Black Feminist win!