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Originally released as a five-episode serial mixtape/article on Instagram for the Musica Stampata magazine in September-October 2021. Link to the accompanying mixtape here.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTRT0NrAsMZ/

Ep. 1 “On Being a Black Son”

We refuse to be

What you wanted us to be.

We are what we are. 

“Babylon System” – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1979)

As an academic, discussions on critical race theory (CRT) are currently unavoidable, but truth be told, at its core, CRT has always been a lived reality, certainly for me as a Black son growing up in the world. And while debates rage on about what critical race theory means, any true definition should always acknowledge, value, and centre the knowledge of people of color who experience racism daily.

This primacy of narrative, which illuminates and explores lived experiences, was a primary means of knowledge formation for me. I learned about the long history of racial discrimination in British housing—where West Indians could not get municipal housing, were often denied rental housing, and saved or pooled money to buy their own housing—while eating roti and callaloo at my Trinidadian grandmother’s own house in London. I learned about educational discrimination from the books on my parents’ bookshelves, where I could find, among many other titles, How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System by Bernard Coard. I learned about institutional racism while sitting on the floor in our living room, digging through my father’s reggae albums. Burning Spear taught me about slavery days. Peter Tosh taught me about equal rights. Linton Kwesi Johnson taught me about the UK stop and search (sus) laws. Bob Marley taught me about the Babylon system, the ubiquitous Rastafari term that indicates the CRT that is at the heart of Rastafari reasoning. Babylon is both institution and injustice, establishment and infidel. It is the powers that be that downpress and discriminate against The People. And I learned to resist, with headphones on my head, from an extended family of griots on vinyl.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CT1cih7AT7Z/

Ep. 2 “On Solidarity”

Everybody wants the same thing, don’t they?

Everybody wants a happy end.

They wanna see the game on Saturday.

They wanna be somebody’s friend. 

“Solidarity” – Black Uhuru (1984)

Best intentions often interfere with best interests. In primary school in the United Kingdom, we would gather in assembly and sing vaguely religious songs together, I imagine in the spirit of building community. The overhead projector would be wheeled out. Someone would be chosen to change the printed transparencies. The lyrics of “Kumbaya” would appear illuminated in the dimmed room. I remember thinking that it was all bullshit and firmly opting not to sing. This is of course unfair to “Kumbaya,” which in reality is actually a soulful cry for divine intervention on behalf of oppressed people. But in practice, it’s the song seen as the weakest display of white liberal best intentions, the statement “I don’t see color” in musical form. And it wasn’t lost on me that I could hear the words of Kumbaya in the morning and hear very different words from the mouths of white people for the rest of the day. 

In college in the United States, I knew the lyrics to the Black national anthem”Lift Every Voice and Sing.” But again, it wasn’t lost on me that it wasn’t really my national anthem, and that my Blackness wasn’t the Blackness of Black Americans. One of my closest friends once told me that I could never really feel the same pain of being Black in America because I could always leave. Her words infuriated me at the time. But in many ways, she was right. Idealized campus-situated Pan-Africanism doesn’t translate pain, but it might provide perspective. Having sung and cried and prayed (and protested and marched and organized) alongside Black people from all over the world, I came to recognize that solidarity and community didn’t necessarily mean wanting the same thing, and that a happy end required that Black people themselves also need to see color.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CUZlTj_Lwe2/

Ep. 3 “On Black Tax and Education”

Make the way for our children

And their children,

Ensuring that they get life’s fair share of

Equality.

“Handsworth Revolution” – Steel Pulse (1977)

Almost without fail, if an event or a committee on campus has the word “diversity” in it, someone will contact me to be involved. In February, I feel like the most popular professor in the university. Teachers of color are seen as the experts on any question of cultural diversity (“The Invisible Tax on Teachers of Color,” John King, 2016). I am keenly aware that I am the Black professor. That is, all at once, extraordinarily burdensome and duty-laden. Every Black academic in a predominantly white institution knows of the invisible tax of Blackness. I am co-chair of a university-wide diversity, equity and inclusion task force. I’m honored and qualified to do the service, but it comes at a cost, paid in that tax. One of the unsurprising findings confirmed by the task force is that students of color require more diversity in the faculty body. I am the Black body. That body is overworked and underpaid. That singularly visible body feels the physical and emotional toll of the invisible tax. But I know that students, especially students of color, are also taxed. And I know that Black students find benefit in having instructors who look like them and are capable of meeting their culturally relevant needs, and non-Black students will benefit in having instructors who look like me.

Educators are often accused of attempting to brainwash students with a liberal agenda. Genuinely, my agenda is simply to encourage a sense of security in academic spaces. The best praise I can receive is for a student to say they felt safe in my classroom, that I influenced them to care, that they felt free to express and explore their ideas. That is only radical in the sense that actively working to ensure safety is something that the world often fails to do. Equality shouldn’t have to be a revolutionary act, and teaching equality shouldn’t be taxable.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CU9obiDrH8k/

Ep. 4 “On Rashford, Sancho and Saka”

Blacks in England, what is your plan?

Blacks in England tek de time.

Skinhead dem nah check dem crime.

Blacks in England, find your land.

Cuz it no good fi stay in a witeman country too long.

“Witeman Country” – Mutabaruka (1983)

England just lost the European Football Championship. I care, but I also don’t care. My passport indicates that they are my national team, but that relationship is firmly in “it’s complicated” status. When they lost, my first thought was not disappointment, it was concern, because I immediately recognized that three Black players had missed the penalties that resulted in the loss. It was the first conversation I had with my brother, who I watched the game with. The first text I received from a friend right after the game was the concerned message, “Why did it have to be the three Black guys that missed?” Similar messages were passed around among Black friends or shared on social media. Black Britain was bracing for a backlash and warning each other to stay safe. It didn’t take long for the backlash to come to fruition. Racist messages were sent, murals defaced, someone on social media declared the next day “Punish a N****r Day” with points awarded for different acts of violence (5 points for spitting, 75 points for rape, 500 points for a lynching, etc.).

Black lives often only seem to matter in football for the brief moment after a Black player scores. Black lives often only seem to matter in the world for a brief moment after a Black person dies. They matter for the brief moment it takes to pen a message of solidarity, during the brief moment that attention is being paid to see who else is paying attention. I have helped to craft these messages myself, statements with my colleagues in support of Black lives. There is nothing quite as undignifying as being on an email chain to workshop the text to affirm your own dignity. How many points for that punishment?

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVm1IsFMFSq/

Ep. 5 “On Palestine and Pessimism” 

It ah go dread inna dis ya Amagideon.

Fire a go bun inna dis ya Amagideon.

Table a go turn inna dis ya Amagideon.

Earth run red inna dis ya Amagideon.

“Armageddon (I am A Giddeon)” – Sister Nancy (1982)

The defining moment of my adult life has been visiting Palestine, which completely transformed my understanding of what oppression looks like. I took a photo in front of the sniper tower at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, home to around 6,000 Palestinians in an area of just 0.71 square kilometers. I don’t know how many people have been surveilled or how many people have been shot where I stood. I stood in that space, and many Palestinian spaces like it, and tried to make sense of concepts of trauma and time. Tragedy causes trauma, and trauma forces tragic forms of survival, and time doesn’t heal wounds as much as it transfigures scars.

This lived trauma is an often taken-for-granted reality of oppressed people. Sometimes it is packaged as “resilience,” or “inspirational” or “Black Girl Magic,” all of which diminish lived trauma in favor of optimistic survival. Frank B. Wilderson III writes in Afropessimism that “the spectacle of Black death is essential to the mental health of the world,” where Black people are integral to human society but excluded from it (Afropessimism, Frank B. Wilderson III, 2020). This Wilderson refers to a “social death,’ a permanent corpsification of the Black body, exploited and robbed of personhood (“The Argument of “Afropessimism”, Vinson Cunningham, 2020). It’s a brutal outlook on the world, something that the language of Rastafari indicates in the term Amagideon, a theological concept connoting the general horrific state of the world (“Dread Talk: the language of Rastafari”, Velma Pollard, 2000). But in the dread and hell implied in that apocalyptic vision is the implicit belief that the tables will turn. Maybe Black Girl Magic will reanimate us, and we will all get to return home.

Meryleen Mena and Annika Doneghy are section contributing editors for the Association of Black Anthropologists.

Authors

Kwame Phillips

Kwame Phillips is senior lecturer in media practices at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, England, specializing in sensory media production, visual anthropology, and audio culture. Phillips’s work focuses on resilience, race, and social justice using multimodal and experimental methodologies. His recent interest is in "mixtape scholarship."

Cite as

Phillips, Kwame. 2023. “A Mixtape Reasoning on Critical Race Theory .” Anthropology News website, December 14, 2023.

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