Robin McDowell

“History is Complicated”

Posted by in New Orleans

I’ve been thinking a lot about narrow exchanges with white male academics on the considerations of being white men telling/writing histories of racialized southern spaces and black resistance. And the very very tired claims of:

  1. History is complicated, I’m just relaying the complexity.
  2. Your logic and challenge to white male historians precludes that only women can tell women’s history and only black people can tell black history.

Whenever these conversations rear their heads, I’m a bit overwhelmed with channeling anger and disgust into productive conversation.

Straddling “complexities” to garner accolades for an imperialist academy is nothing new. There’s a definite reward of prestige for scholarly peacocking without putting one’s skin in the “game”/struggle (This CAN be done while acknowledging the role of white people, intelligentsia, etc.)

Recent conversation: Don’t hate the players, hate the game.

bell hooks and critical education (need to insert excerpts here)

I’m fleshing out this example (by no means perfect, but I was once told that I can’t scathingly critique without offering an alternative or an improved example, so…):

Prof. Walter Johnson (Ph.D) on the slave trade, the period after, and today. Invokes “complicated” nature of history, but explains WHY and explains a brave and obviously self-critical relationship/culture in which he himself does stand. Also an acknowledgement of grassroots activists who don’t get included in big sweeping statements about American politics/history/reformism. (The bottom video, the HNOC keynote, has a few gems in it…need to find the timestamps. Both are toward the end. First one is when he calls out the room/event for perpetuating the system it’s saying it’s resisting. Ties this into the idea that the “project” of abolitionism was inherently white supremacist. And second is when some dude from the Q&A session does this arrogant rally cry re: education for all. Johnson tempers it by very matter-of-factly stating that this guy is not acknowledging a few things, most importantly, the work and gains of grassroots activists…)

Is every historian perfect? No. But are contemporary historians charged with a more critical AND self-critical duty? Absolutely. Here’s a good clip (immediately below), I think, that challenges the sanitization and white supremacist and technocratic turn of historians (I’m thinking particularly of environmental histories and activism).


“You want to discuss unity? Come with Us. Break with the white supremacist system”

Posted by in Research Folder

DEC 18
You want to discuss unity? Come with Us. Break with the white supremacist system, Institutions dominated by whites, betray this ideology with Which Europe enslaves you while you enjoy foreseeing profit. “To hit the front with black boot, the black shirt, black shirts” (Waterfall React Team and Feira de Santana)

By: Hamilton Borges dos Santos (Wale)
Facing the tumultuous year of systematic human rights violations; before the repeated position of the State of Bahia (Rui Costa), contrary to our humanity, revealing his hatred through its projects and public safety programs que make up the “necropolítica” we hunt in Eliminating and silencing some black leaders; Before These leaders que They shouldnt manifest, They shouldnt break the genocidal project and establish another political tactic, since the occupation of parties and Governments and Those Alleged Rights Institutions failed. Given all this: we keep firm. We bind ourselves to call for unity Those and Those Who escaped racial this control zone, Which turned out to fry the soul and the significant national dignity que this black movement tutored.
Some sectors and the many underlings point to an extraneous schedule to our interests the the people exploited by racism and Brazil neocolonialism, They want to call on us to drive or to save or support the political project in Which the people in general and the party leaders Were only at the edges, on the outskirts, in a “place. ” That project failed secondary institutional They called Promotion of Equality. These same casette the mercy shot against his project of equality When Compared Zumbi with its president “workers”, just at the November 20, 2015 to Celebrated be the 20th anniversary of the victorious march About Brasilia march reaffirmed immortality and break posture of our Palmares hero. Tangent boos the fundamental book for our lives in the face of racist attacks of all Governments against our humanity, but leave the bouncers of Lulo-petismo-Dilmismo. We did not play anyone for the conservative right, we have on the team. Nor of any pro-right speech. The government’s own party with great competence aligns the bankers supported the exploration of life for centuries; agribusiness que expels Maroons and kills black families with poisoned food by Their pesticides; the international prison industry que profits from our bodies and crated with electronic rings que adorn the feet like fetters in a time not so remote; and the market of violence and war, Which makes our wounds, our mutilations, our sequelae and our Sufferings the clink of coins in your cash register. On how many black bodies dumped this government remains? We refuse to support this power que kills us. Our task is communal “rebuild our pride que was torn to pieces” (M. Brown) I repeat: unfortunately the current federal government has little chance for any black to respect will defend it in the streets, as a series of alliances with the far right, These conservative sectors of the elites and the white middle class by Followed thirteen years with free transit through the plateau palace, draining resources of the people with Their lobbies, strengthening and doubling the wealth of banks, construction companies que profit from the construction of chains and agribusiness with your chainsaw madame, poisoning food, killing peasants, criminalizing indigenous peoples (indigenous), the Quilombo people, Establishing law and order policies to justify collective mandates in our communities, occupying the slum with the Brazilian Army, confirming our thesis que the government treats us the internal enemies. We will not make any choir impeachment because this horde of yellow green are enemies, it is the whiteness in the raw preparing to intensify our lynching . Or the right or in the center and much less on the left, the black people redbourn place at the banquet table. We have our own schedule to defend, the government will be guided on how They want the servers, employees, and electoral cable mats government. The fact is que They have forgotten the atrocities, the dams built on indigenous lands, intimidation, Threats and deaths by the Thousands, Celebrated every conference Promoting equality que cam to nothing, each launch party of some mirage of living youth who just released some salary and travel for a black youth addicted to notices que he forgot how to move on Their Own. Each chapter of the end of Seppir That Is consumed as a project for black and Became this business citizenship, Claimed politely with membership lists online, until he succumbed meowing kittens the housebroken. And the scandalous, amazingly, celebration of our misfortune with memory productions with the money of the Covenant for Life here in Bahia. The same “pact” that pays the weapons, gasoline, the bullet, the occupation of our territories, everyone applauding the contradiction of being Financed by the greatest enemy of blacks in Bahia. How many black memories and murdered black one makes a pact for life? We refuse your unity unscented or sweat. We want to drive to the street, the burning tire, bus, que lock the streets, the roads, the anarchists, the quilombistas, indigenous people, punks, rappers, beggars, the boy and the broken girl dancing in a wall of sound, fag esculachada hypocrisy of the churches. We want alliance with the religious communities que do not reach the projects with evangelicals who distribute soup and Alleviate the pain of the soul, with the bitch, the madam, this class que does not serve the project Black is Beautiful this naive awareness of fauna, militant hashtag (#), who thinks que titles, positions, diplomas and fashion shows are shield. We dismiss this unity made ​​hastily in demonstrations que do not concern us. We reject this unity always appearing on the eve of an election year, drive to exit polls, drive to rolezinho in the hall of the President, drive for nothing, off-kilter, people who live distilling hatred against us because we do not accept the plateau Palace gifts or of ondina. The unity we want is already articulated by national and international Pan-Africanists from Spain, Mexico, United States, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. Our unit is articulated by Northeast Amarnath alleys, Farm Coutos, ironing and Village Moses. The Quebradas of Itinga and Perivale, the streets, the cells, the land of pitches.

And this is the call I want for us: find ourselves, articulate and form us to our own design. And for this to Occur: Come back to your community and operate the change, be the change.

In the vote, in return without hesitation ..

Hamilton Borges dos Santos (Wale)
Direct Tumulo City – Salvador
Posted August 18th December 2015 by Joe Silva

In Portuguese, below …


Go To The Valentine’s Day, Stay for The Weltschmerz

Posted by in New Orleans

“Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.”
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces


Stop reading if you’re looking for the 8000th love letter to New Orleans.

This allegory begins with a smoky Mardi Gras morning, funereal skirts billowing around an aluminum railing. Just me and the gentleman in a reflective vest, sweeping the Riverwalk. In mere hours, a wave of sticky liquids and filthy sneaker-treads would provide more early morning labor. He would be gone before the onslaught of ethanol and corn syrup and so would I. He was doing his job and so was I.

5 a.m. anywhere on any day is an ascetic occasion, but more so on this particular morning. I selected a thick black wool dress, heavy black boots and a wide-brimmed black hat. I sprinted down Canal, stopped at the Liberty Place monument and imagined it crushed to pieces with folks enjoying breakfast on the new beach. I set a bundle of sage aflame, walked with it to the river and hurled a jar full of trinkets from a lost New Orleans into the swirling muddiness. I had built the most significant relationship of my life here and watched silently as it disintegrated. I did not fall in love with New Orleans. New Orleans was merely the place where I ceased being such a romantic, where I learned that love could be an inhumane stripping-bare. No accountability on of off the streets. A truly lawless land in which to love.

Before the last skeletons of this painful archive dared rise to the surface, I ran back down Canal until the torch disintegrated. A weary couple sneered at my mortuary fashion and pathetic pile of burning foliage in front of VooDoo Mart. They couldn’t walk a straight line away from me.

This ritual divestment was a reminder that eight years ago, I did not come to rebuild. I did not come to help. I did not come because your struggle was bound up in mine. I came for the reasons that Valentine’s Day might be substantive. Why my entire apartment is littered with paper heart chains. Spectres of tokenism brought me here when I was twenty-one. Anticipation of tokenism redeemed kept me here.


Weltschmerz — a German word basically meaning sadness about sadness — can plug a lot of holes in your lifeboat or at least explain them. The power of objects may imbue even a Hallmark Holiday with meaning beyond the circulation of money we don’t have. Yesterday I tried to count the number of people selling pink and red cellophane-wrapped baskets on Claiborne. Counting didn’t make sense, soliciting a self-congratulatory “interview” didn’t make sense. What if the four men in the car unloading teddy bears asked me questions? What if the woman in the faded purple sweatshirt wondered out loud why I wanted cordials and coconut cremes and caramels?

Years ago on this day, I ate a messy deli sandwich in City Park and watched waterfowl. Two gargantuan pickup trucks came squelching through the brush and proceeded to “go mudding.” The NOPD and Wildlife Service were called. A moment of fortitude and solidarity shared.

Another was a long, teary phone call about good old men who died too soon, too late, or just on time. Gently poking fun at teenagers walking around New Orleans with roses, not admitting that flowers sounded really nice. They would at least be better than veiled apologies and digression into metaphors for white light.

And last year was a final accumulation. A heaping talismanic pile. Promises to get older, lay around with two limping but very loyal canines, drive River Road in a temperamental truck with a rusty hitch, and when everything else in Louisiana went to hell in a handbag, there would be the best and easiest thing of all — sitting at the table and talking.

This year is quiet and unremarkable. I hope to not remember it in any detail. I’ll conduct a St. Louis #1 tour for couples with Valentine’s Groupon discounts. I’ll arrive bearing complimentary chocolates and my most convincing romantic fervor. I’ll traipse home with a wad of dollar bills. The young men outside Manchu will tell me to smile and compliment my hat and other appendages.

This year I don’t think so much about The Future. Petting other people’s dogs consumes the majority of my walks. I stopped calling the phone numbers on “FOR RENT” signs in windows of more well-appointed dwellings than my current roommate-shared half-shotgun. No need to mentally measure a dining room table and wonder if there is enough space for practicing Cajun waltzes. There is plenty of room where I am.

Four months ago, a prodding friend and I sat at Pal’s. He asked, “Why do you do what you do? I mean…all this slavery stuff…all this dark stuff? What are you after? Are you lonely?”

“Because I get to dive head first into stories that do not belong to me and study accounts of lives already lived. I learn things of consequence from these stories because I don’t know what I’ve gathered up so far, if anything. The best I can do is be a decent custodian. It is why my struggle is now bound up in yours. I’ve stepped out of the city limits.”


Yesterday, I heard the cries of a mother who lost her twenty-two year old son to twenty bullets — twenty choices made by scared men entrusted to run all over this city administering their bastardized version of justice.

“Why? Why? Why?”

It was a first — accompanying this degree of visceral intimacy from a stranger and having no gifts to pass from hand to hand, no trinkets to help narrate. Only naïveté — my own frightened voice — colliding with a bent street sign, echoing down Simon Bolivar Ave. This was the only offering I could make, knowing I could never be a custodian of this kind of love.

“Why? Why? Why?”

I don’t know, but it suddenly strikes me as more simple to wake up at 5 am again, hallucinating.

An Exploration: Flambeaux Carriers

Posted by in Appropriation, New Orleans

Images from The Louisiana Digital Archives (Tulane)

Excerpt from WTUL Interview with Mama Jennifer Turner on Flambeaux Carriers & The Strike of 1946 (March 19, 2015)

“CHRONICLES: Flambeaux with Flair” (January 2007)

First article I found mentioning the strike (viewpoint leaves a lot to be desired, but sparked more poking…)

Excerpt from Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans
James Gill (1997)

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.30.58 PM

INCREDIBLE. WRENCHING. Wish this got picked up by more people:

A quick internet mention of the 1946 Strike + more recent photo (not saying these are reliable sources, merely tracking mentions):

And another mention and excerpt from photographer Edgar Mata’s series Flambeaux: Carriers of the Flame:

The term “flambeau” (plural “flambeaux”) refers to the torches used to illuminate a Mardi Gras parade and sometimes to the people that carry the devices. As Mardi Gras pre-dates the invention of electric street lighting, flambeau carriers have been illuminating the path for organized parades since their inception. The original flambeau carriers were slaves of the wealthy that organized the parades. After the abolition of slavery, the carriers continued to be all African-Americans and it is only until very recently (and still very rarely) that other races participate in the tradition.

The flambeau devices are typically made of wooden or metal poles, with tin or sheet metal placed behind the kerosene fueled torches to better reflect the flame. The carriers traditionally wear hooded, white cloaks although this practice is not as universal now. Belts with holders for the poles allow for easier mobility as the carriers walk the parade route.

For their work carriers are paid a nominal fee by the parading krewe but the bulk of the money made from the evening comes in the form of coins or dollars thrown from the crowd. Twirling and general clowning are expected from the carriers, which brings more money raining down. As the flambeau carriers are almost always poorer African-American men, this practice causes some to question this ongoing tradition, especially considering its origins and its technical unnecessity for parades today.

National Geographic: PROOF
“Notes From a Native Son: Standing Still to See the Good Times Roll” (March 24, 2015)
This is pretty awful. First, the incredibly tone-deaf appropriation of Baldwin’s “Notes From A Native Son” from an Uptown-raised white male. Second, the tone-deaf pull-quotes that don’t actually explain the nuanced race relations/hierarchies in the photos (still TODAY, this is not just “historic”)

The Louisiana Justice Institute
“Glambeaux: Taking Cultural Appropriation Too Far (February 24, 2014)

“‘Treme’ Explained: ‘All on a Mardi Gras Day'” (June 6, 2010)
Yikes, the whole tossing money and “quest for coins” thing strikes me as not quite right, nor the easy tone of “memorable sight?”

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.49.49 PM

Excerpts from New Orleans Memories: One Writer’s City
Carolyn Kolb (2013)

The Struggle Continues…

Posted by in New Orleans


“Opening Day”

Posted by in Bonnet Carré Spillway, New Orleans


A Letter to Jed Horne: “Questions and Considerations Re: Your Latest Editorial”

Posted by in New Orleans

Dear Mr. Horne,

As a dedicated and enthusiastic reader of The Lens for many years, I was surprised and disappointed upon reading the piece‘Domestic Terrorism’ here in New Orleans? Really?”
While your analysis of this sensitive subject matter vis-a-vis current local and global events is courageous and admirable, I did a double-take at the featured image. I was not appalled at the aesthetics of the body or of the reality of this historical violence, but of the editorial decision to select this particular image of an anonymous dead black body to accompany this particular editorial.
As far as I gleaned (and this may well be my opinion only)…
  • The mention of historical lynchings is not a main supporting argument in your article, so the selection of this image appears curious. Your use of Nazism, gang violence, Muslim jihadism, and quotes from current politicians are far more salient and trenchant.
  • I’m very interested in a more detailed credit/source for the photo. Did this lynching occur in New Orleans? Who was the photographer? In what archive is this held and/or displayed? (Note: I believe the captioned date/location were added after this editorial first appeared on 12/3/15)
  • In the wake of widespread state violence against black bodies of all genders, creeds, ages, and economic standing — and as a white male in a position of administrative power, might you be open to considering that posting an image of an anonymous black corpse to accompany an editorial piece could be subject to the same vein of criticism as Ti-Rock Moore’s reproduction of Michael Brown’s corpse in her recent Chicago exhibition?
  • As a creator of media, your work is both crucial to sparking relevant and necessary public dialogue, but—as The Lens’ mission states—your work is also meant to “empower readers” to “advocate for more just governance…” In a way, this selection may be reinforcing unjust interactions of current state power with black bodies.
As a graphic designer and researcher of visual culture and black resistance, I would be more than happy to offer pro bono services for the selection, design, and/or research of a more fitting and effective visual accompaniment for this very important and timely piece.
Many thanks for your work and consideration,
Robin McDowell

Why Do You Fight?

Posted by in New Orleans

Take Em Down Nola_Action Jackson_112815_Cfreedom61

I fight because I was the oppressor. Raised unwittingly to glide unnoticed into hegemonic political and social thought. Hegemonic aesthetics. If late capitalism and white supremacy had a costume, I took up its garb until I could no longer slip in and out of steakhouses, receptions, and Americana unnoticed. Until the costumes stopped fitting the way they used to.

I fight because for 28 years, I believed myself to be white elite. I enacted the privileges and power ascribed to this cult, argued for it, even defended it. I went into the ring to protect counterfeit honor.

I fight for thousands of miles, gallons of raindrops, basins of tears. I became unsettled. I would always be immanent. Without disguises, I would only endlessly become myself.

I fight because I chose to tether my new and immanent self to bankruptcy. I did not know bankruptcy is endemic.

I fight because bankruptcy marked and noticed me, not for my brightness, but for my submissiveness and silence. Because I was new.

I fight because I asked the bankrupt for love and found I had no voice.

I fight because I cried out. I cried out into empty hallways. I cried out and paced the city, gently banging on things, searching for comfort.

I fight for the scars borne of chasing nourishment that I never had to begin with. Scars that build so slowly you barely notice. Slowly, slowly picking off your own skin until everything that was once luminous is sallow, calloused. You look into a dusty mirror, shocked and horrified. You feel betrayed by what you have done to yourself.

I fight because I came to know an inhumane love — a stripping-bare, a dispossession. Love was an insatiable beast. The richer the food, the slower its hunger pangs, but it would never relent. To love is to feed a beast while thinking about tomorrow.

I fight because my stripping-bare is nothing compared to the stripping-bare of the world. But my stripping-bare in the name of love brought me to the skin-touch of a dispossession of the self that can only spur action.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.06.01 PM

I fight for the years of not knowing that silence is permission. Permission for violence, permission for abuse, permission for well-meaning parents to raise well-meaning kids as they slowly, remotely, destroy the world. The mountains burn while we eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Permission for well-meaning men to make promises, only to find that warfare is merely love degraded. Self-declared revolutions burn brightly while earnest souls starve, providing for a rudderless militia.

I fight for submission that cultivates others’ ability to destroy. To destroy all that is love and who might know love. I once knelt on the ground and pondered if I might find an entire world in the mud, not noticing the footprints on my back. Others climbed to safety. I pondered the mud.

I fight on the side of a global voicelessness. Finally finding my own birthed a duty. A duty to fight. A duty to win. A duty to love and protect each other.

We are family because we are building the house we want to live in.

We are family because we make fire from rocks in the darkness after we have all screamed into nothingness.

We are family because we believe we will all live to take part in a new, more just world — civilization remade. Our own bodies remade.

We are family because we choose to refuse to know the word “chained.”

We are family because we practice again and again the ways we want to be well.

In the world we are headed for, we are boundless.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 12.54.30 PM