Volume 46 Number 25

Black Power, then and now


“We’re not ever to be caught up in the intellectual masturbation of the question of Black Power. That’s a function of people who are advertisers that call themselves reporters.”

That’s how the radical student and civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael opened a speech about Black Power — a term he helped popularize — at UC Berkeley in 1966. But the ideas and concepts behind Black Power proved to be an enduring ones that are enjoying a resurgence today.

Angela Davis epitomized the Black Power movement to many observers. The author, scholar, and professor was a Black Panther Party member who then joined the Communist Party USA and brought a class analysis to issues of race, building on the movement that began in the ’60s for decades to come.

In recent months, as the Occupy Wall Street movement began to focus the country’s attention on economic and social inequities, Davis has spoken out regularly in support of the movement and drawn connections back to her early activism. She has embraced the “99 percent” paradigm, and the connections between various issues that Occupy activists have sought to highlight.

“Our demands for justice lead us toward demands for prison abolition. And our demands for prison abolition lead us to demands for free, quality education. And our demands for free quality healthcare, and housing, and an end to racism, an end to sexism, an end to homophobia,” Davis said March 1 in Oakland at a benefit for Occupy 4 Prisoners, a coalition of Occupy protesters and prison justice advocates.

Consciousness surrounding those connections can be largely attributed to efforts from Black Power organizers.

“When I listen to the way young people so easily talk about the connectedness of race, gender, and sexual issues, and I remember how we groped our way towards an understanding of those connections, it makes me really proud,” Davis said in a January interview with Independent Lens.

And as Davis said at the March 1 event: “One of the most exciting accomplishments of the Occupy movement has been to force us to engage in conversation, explicit conversation about capitalism, for the first time since the 1930s.”

The movement’s economic message also seemed useful to Kiilu Nyasha, a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the New Haven Black Panther Party.

“Globalization has already happened. It’s not happening, it’s happened. One percent, internationally, owns and controls 80 percent of the world’s resources. People are dying all over the world of every complexion which you can think of” Nyahsa said March 14 at a panel discussion called Reboot the Rainbow.

The original Rainbow Coalition- the topic of the March 14 panel- included the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, and the poor white Young Patriots organization, and was committed to a Black Power concept: organize your own, fight together. Building coalition is more important now than ever.

“It’s not Black Power right now,” says Terry Collins, president of KPOO radio, a black-owned station long focused on community empowerment. “It’s people power. It’s power unto the people who are in need: all the people out there who are out of their homes, students who owe so much that they’re like indentured servants.”

Occupy the Hood is a national effort to encourage participation of people of color in Occupy Wall Street. In its mission statement the group writes, “It is imperative that the voice of people of color is heard at this moment!”

The focus of San Francisco’s Occupy the Hood chapter is “three-fold,” according to organizer Mesha Irizarry: “The cop-watching in neighborhoods that are criminalized, especially poor neighborhood of color. It’s freedom fighters against foreclosures. It’s also bank transfers.”

Occupy the Hood showed up March 16, when a group known as the Foreclosure Fighters- organized and supported Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Homes Not Jails, and related groups—occupied their latest foreclosed home. “We’re liberating this house. We’re taking it out of the hands of the oppressor,” said Archbishop Franzo King of the African Orthodox Church.

“Jesus Christ was an uncompromising revolutionary. He spoke truth to power. Then they killed him for it,” added King in a nod to the radical religious leaders who have influenced liberation movements throughout the years.

Black Power was concerned with self-determination, with organizing within community. That legacy is still strong as San Francisco’s African American communities experience an out-migration and continuing police harassment and violence.

“Black sailors and black army personnel built the shipyard,” said Jameel Patterson, a founder of the Bayview-Hunters Point-based community organization Black Star Liner Incorporated. “Hunters Point, West Point, Harbor Road—they’re all military names. The soldiers stayed there with their families. The area has a rich African American legacy going back to the ’40s. Now it’s fading…we want to make sure that community’s still here 20 years from now.”

Patterson remembers being a child in the ’70s when, on the tail of an era brimming with black liberation efforts. “There were more community events,” he said, but now, “People don’t have connections with each other. That’s what we’re building.”

The group does regular events where they serve free home-cooked meals to residents, reminiscent of the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program. “With every plate, you get information,” often Know Your Rights reminders for encounters with police, said Tracey Bell-Borden of Black Star Liner.

They have also spent countless hours in City Hall meetings advocating for their community and reporting back on city policies that affect it. “We occupy the Police Commission meeting,” said Bell-Borden.

Police are a central and tricky question for the Black Power movement of the ’60s, as well as organizing efforts today. Black Panther Party members spent years serving free breakfast to children, writing and selling newspapers, and even running election campaigns, but they are often remembered for carrying guns and efforts to “police the police.” So many leaders were arrested that energy that could have gone into feeding or education was often channeled into freeing prisoners.

“I was in the second chapter of the Black Panther Party,” Nyasha said at the March 14 event, “which basically existed to get the first chapter out of jail.”

Recent police crackdowns have fed indignation not just about policing protesters, but about the role police play in poor communities of color. “One thing Occupy has done is address the issue of policing in communities of color, to the extent that some aftermath of what we’re seeing at Occupy is shedding light on how police can sometimes treat people,” said Kimberley Thomas Rapp, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area.

“In black neighborhoods, police should be community partners, not come in and exert more force than necessary. And at protests, they should be there to ensure safety, not just to arrest people unnecessarily or use excessive force,” Rapp said.

Police crackdowns on Occupy are the first exposure many white protesters of the younger generation have had to excessive police force, an issue that was central to the story of the Black Power. Sadly, for many black and other protesters of color, excessive police force is nothing new.

“It’s absolutely the case that police brutality shown towards many Occupy protesters has brought to the forefront the issue of police violence and led to an awakening among many white folks of the day to day reality of police violence that many people of color have lived with now for many years,” Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, told the Guardian.

Enraged at police beatings (see “OPD spies on and beats protesters,” Feb. 14) both Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco have held “fuck the police” marches. March 18, after a six-month commemoration celebration brought 3,000 to Zuccotti Park in New York City, followed by 200 arrests and rampant police violence, Occupy Wall Street protesters followed suit, holding their first anti-police brutality march.

Occupy Wall Street has reanimated concepts that burned through the ’60s, such as violence vs. nonviolence, the systemic causes of personal economic woes, and the peoples’ relationship to police. With the consciousness created by Black Power activists, today’s organizers have a foundation on which to build their own answers to these questions, across issues and generations.

National Occupy the Hood has called for action concerning Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was shot Feb. 26 and whose confessed killer has yet to be arrested. Taking up high-profile cases of injustice and working more closely with organizers to respond to the needs of local African American communities could bring more power and truth to the rage for justice currently galvanizing a new generation.

“It’s about black re-empowerment,” Archbishop King said. “It’s like the torch, the light of freedom and justice, has actually gone out. And we’re trying to relight that. That’s why I’m so excited about the Occupy movement; it ties into the Black Power struggle. And I think it’s waking up some of us old revolutionaries to stand up.”

Feeding time



MUSIC In San Antonio last week, waking up on a living room floor with assorted Burger Records crew members and friends, record label and brick-and-mortar record shop owner Sean Bohrman, 30, was already thinking three steps ahead.

The next morning at 11 a.m., the traveling Burger pen would play a pre-South By Southwest Burger blowout. Then it was off to Austin for the official SXSW showcases. A few more shows along the way, and now shattered fragments of the unofficial posse will hit the impressively titled Burger Boogaloo fest in San Francisco this weekend.

The three-day affair, which takes place at Thee Parkside — with pre-parties Wed/21 at Bottom of the Hill and Thurs/22 at the Knockout — boasts a motley, pizza-and-burger loving pack of noisy garage rockers, fuzzed out post-punkers, and sleazy generally genre-less local and national acts such as King Tuff, Audacity, Dukes of Hamburg, Heavy Cream, Dominant Legs, White Mystery, Thee Oh Sees, Strange Boys, Burnt Ones, Tough Shits, and a whole lot more.

It’s a mix of Burger bands and acts that play the fall SF festival, Total Trash Fest (some are one in the same). The Boogaloo began when Total Trash organizer Marc Ribak contacted Burger last year with the idea and it snowballed organically from there, says Bohrman.

It’s no huge surprise that Ribak, who is also a member of Rock N Roll Adventure Kids, and the Burger dudes hooked up — they have similar styles and lots of crossover acts.

“Music in general is a huge web — everyone is connected. That is my favorite part — who produced what, who recorded what, what bands everyone was in before,” Bohrman says. “To just be following the web, to be creating our own web, has been really amazing and awesome.”

Burger began as a way for Bohrman and longtime pal Lee “Noise” Rickard to put out their own music, Thee Makeout Party — a bedroom rock band formed in Anaheim in 2001. The label really started in 2007 when Bohrman and Rickard were cruising around in nearby Fullerton, Calif. one day talking about putting out a record for another friend’s band, Audacity. They decided to put it out, and thus an indie label was born. Burger has since dispersed 50,000 cassette tapes from more than 200 bands, and released over 15 LPS.

In 2009 Bohrman was hoping to tour with Thee Makeout Party but his job wouldn’t let him go. He quit, cashed out his 401k and funneled it back into the label, also purchasing a storefront in Fullerton with Brian “Burger” Flores, which would become the Burger Records store. It’s naturally the buzzing hub of the empire.

Whenever Vermont-born, LA-based King Tuff (aka Kyle Thomas, also of Happy Birthday) visits the store, he says he essentially walks away with a new record collection. “They’ve created a family — I go down to the record store and just hang out. It’s really like we’re all part of something.”

While King Tuff is officially signed to Sub Pop — which he also describes as having a familial atmosphere — he also is a part of the greasy outstretched arms of Burger (it put out his limited, personalized LP Was Dead). While the acts may be loosely tied together as friends, there’s no set of rules dictating what makes a Burger band.

“We’ve been successful by putting out stuff we really love, not beholden to any genre. This is our life. We can do whatever we want. There’s no ceiling above us. We can do anything, even if it seems impossible,” says the endlessly upbeat Bohrman.

His voice slightly raising, he adds, “The music means something to us. When we hear music it’s not ‘are we going to be able to sell this in a commercial’ or something. It’s about people making awesome music, not selling the songs for a Pepsi commercial.”

That’s how King Tuff grew up making music as well, without the predetermined rules of industry. He recalls his dad bringing home a guitar one day when he was in fifth grade, picking it up, and learning to play. “I was never interested in learning covers, and I never took lessons.” That improvisational spirit shows in his brief, freaky jams with surf-tinged psychedelic guitar and nasally intonations; it’s waves of stringy hair and rattling bones, jittery lyrics like those in “Bad Thing” off his upcoming self-titled release, “when I play my Stratocaster/I feel like an innocent kid/But when I’m looking in the mirror/Remember the bad things I did”

You can hear some of these same freaky-jittery qualities in the heaping mess of acts playing the Boogaloo in SF this week, and for that matter, Burgerama, another like-minded, Burger Records-endorsed fest happening concurrently down south. On top of all the fests, Bohrman and Co. are still producing cassettes (“Cassettes are handy, they’re like little business cards, they’re durable and cheap to make and buy.”) and running a successful little shop.

“It’s been a dream come true, but it’s still so much work. We just keep piling it on for ourselves,” Bohrman sighs. “It’s hard building a legacy.”


Fri/23-Sun/25, individual shows $7–$12, weekend pass $35

Thee Parkside

1600 17th St., SF

(415) 252-1330

Facebook: Burger Boogaloo 2012

Lunch hour, part 2



APPETITE Last week we covered four notable new lunch spots. This week, we round off the list with four more.



I said it a year ago when Wise Sons Deli was merely a pop-up and Ferry Plaza outpost: it is refreshing to have this quality level of Jewish food in San Francisco. Lines still run out the door in the brand new brick and mortar location — good luck finding many “off” hours to drop in. But how can I not be delighted to have fresh-baked loaves of rye bread, corned beef hash, and matzo brei available six days a week? (Don’t worry, you can still catch the Sons on your Tuesday commute at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.)

Order: Chocolate babka bread ($3.50 per hefty slice; sometimes available as a bread pudding) is dreamy. Earthy-sweet chocolate and a crunchy crust weave together in a bread that is better than coffee cake. Chopped liver ($7) is appealing even to those skittish about liver. Challah French toast ($9) is fluffy and sweetened with orange butter and maple syrup. House-baked bialy fills a bagel void, layered with cream cheese ($3) and seasonal smoked fish like salmon or smoked trout ($8/$11). The Sons address my craving for whitefish salad with smoked trout salad ($9), wisely using a more sustainable fish choice. Don’t forget hand-sliced pastrami or corned beef and an egg cream soda. One can only hope the meaty, pastrami bread pudding I sampled at an opening party shows up on the specials board.

3150 24th St., SF. (415) 787-3354, www.wisesonsdeli.com



Square Meals is just what Polk Street needed: a friendly neighborhood café with eat-in, delivery, or take-out foods and dinners, delectable baked goods and sweets from Batter Bakery, (www.batterbakery.com) — the two enterprises share cafe space — Ritual coffee, a wine happy hour, and board games to play in a mellow setting. Offerings include cool, subtle soba noodles with crab, mint, chili, and escarole, plus lasagna, pork schnitzel, flank steak, falafel patties.

Order: The lunch highlight is a daily sandwich special, such as tender halibut enlivened with strips of bacon and silky caramelized onions ($13). Don’t miss Batter Bakery’s sand angel cookie, a glorified, denser snickerdoodle.

2127 Polk, SF. (415) 674-1069, www.squaremealssf.com



Rocketfish (www.rocketfishsf.com) is a happening Potrero Hill sushi restaurant. But by day, it is transformed into Korean fusion (yes, I used the dread “f” word) pop-up Seoul Patch. A few menu items rotate, with a couple more traditional Korean dishes in the mix. Eat in at Rocketfish’s bar top or roomy booths.

Order: A fried chicken sandwich ($10) with daikon slaw has been an early favorite, and with good reason. The chicken is blessed with subtle Asian spices, crispy breading giving way to juicy meat within. The sandwiches can suffer from not enough sauce or contrast, translating to dryness, as in the case of a Korean BBQ pork sando ($8.50) with avocado, tempura onion ring, and a pickle. Though the spicy pork was well-prepared, the sandwich needed a sauce to tie it together. Traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap ($11 for this rice bowl with bulgogi beef and fried egg) are better elsewhere. I prefer a green onion pancake ($5.50) that recalls Japanese okonomiyaki: chewy and moist, it’s dotted with bacon and kimchi, drizzled in kewpie (Japanese mayo with vinegar) and oko sauce, both typically used on okonomiyaki.

1469 18th St., SF. (415) 282-9666, seoulpatchsf.tumblr.com



Industrial South San Francisco roads near SFO are certainly not the place most of us would head for lunch, and certainly not for lobster. But look for the new, bright red truck off Mitchell Avenue, right outside seafood-shellfish source New England Lobster. The best lobster rolls I’ve had have been from the East Coast — the divine, overflowing rolls at Pearl’s Oyster Bar in New York’s Greenwich Village have been excellent for years. But despite the New England moniker, this lobster is not the most flavorful nor is the bread that dreamy, buttery brioche used in the best lobster rolls. Nonetheless, they are satisfying sandwiches, particularly if you ask for drawn butter to drizzle over them.

Order: Lobster corn chowder ($5) is essentially a creamy bisque dotted with corn and chunks of lobster. It’s decadent with a lobster roll. The only other option is a crab roll. If you happen to be nearby or on need lunch before a flight, this is a fun, unusual option.

170 Mitchell, South San Francisco. (650) 873-9000, www.newenglandlobster.net

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com


Texas highlights


>>View Mirissa’s complete SXSW 2012 diary here.

MUSIC To be at SXSW is to know you’re missing out on a lot of good music. Fortunately the music you do see makes up for the difference, and very often it’s the unexpected showcases, the things that weren’t on your radar until that very moment, that end up being the highlights of your experience. That said, here are some of my impressions from this year’s slate:



On the way to the ZZ Ward show I stumbled upon Grupo Canalon playing on a street corner. Incidentally, a friend from SF had recommended it as an act that shouldn’t be missed. The group hails from the town of Timbiqui in Cauca and plays traditional Afro-Colombian roots music, with lots of percussion, a marimba, and a capella vocals. Even the hipsters on Sixth Street couldn’t resist dancing.

Amid an extended sound check plagued by feedback, a frustrated ZZ Ward assured the Bat Bar audience that her performance would be worth the wait. The words seemed cocky in the moment but she and her band delivered. Based in LA, the chanteuse’s “dirty blues with beats” sound has gathered its fair share of buzz and she seems to have the poise and the chops to become a star.

As I walked through the heart of Sixth Street not only was every venue overflowing with showcases but it was hard to swing a stick without hitting an “unofficial” street showcase. I snapped photos of two guys furiously strumming acoustic guitars in front of the Ritz Theater. When asked what their band’s name was, the taller one replied “Well I’m Mike and he’s Gabe… that’s as far as we’ve gotten.”



In the afternoon I wandered downtown only to run into Andy and Christian of San Franpsycho. They had a rack of clothes and a mobile screenprinting setup — representing SF style deep in the heart of Texas. As we commiserated about the craziness that is SXSW, SF local Danny Lannon of The Frail happened by.

Then it was off to catch a few songs by the White Eyes at the Taiwan music showcase. Frontperson Gau Xiao-gao was festooned in a nude leotard with fabric streamers while she led her band through the punk and straight-forward rock paces.

Later on I went to Spinlet’s All Africa party at Copa. After some confusion about the schedule, Kenya’s Sauti Sol took the stage. The first thing to notice about Sauti Sol was the band’s incredible clothing. The musicians were all wearing these beautifully tailored kanga-print jackets with beaded epaulets. En masse it kind of resembled an East African Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The second thing to notice was the great music. It navigated effortlessly from rocking out to singing soaring harmonies, all the while spontaneously breaking into lockstep dancing. The crowd ate it up.



At the big SPIN blowout Santigold‘s rhythm section entered the stage wearing Max Headroom-esque caps, her backup singers came out in outfits that were a spin on matador chic, then Santigold herself finally came out donning a crown. While her big hits like “L.E.S. Artistes” sent the crowd into frenzied sing-a-longs, her new material was received almost as enthusiastically, boding well for her album release come April.

At the globalFEST showcase the crowd was enjoying the sounds of Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, M.A.K.U SoundSystem, and Chicha Libre. Boston’s Debo Band closed the night with its take on retro Ethiopian pop music. I first caught the band a little over a year ago and since then its live act has grown by leaps and bounds. The band has been working with producer Thomas “Tommy T” Gobena of Gogol Bordello and it seems it learned a few things from the Gogol performance playbook. Keep an eye out for its release later this summer.



As I crossed the threshold into Empire Auto’s warehouse space I was enveloped in a complete sensory overload. The room was bathed in a light that made it feel like the crowd was hanging in suspension, and dubstep producer Starkey had that crowd feeling his beats. Literally. The bass was so pounding that it rattled my organs. A few minutes later the bass cut out completely, leaving the crowd adrift as Starkey protested over the PA “Yo, I wasn’t even in the red! Is anyone out there even working?”

The production manager told me that the bass was so heavy that it had knocked Starkey’s laptop off his table, and they were trying to get him to take it down a notch. Yet the thing the manager was even more worried about was that Daedelus was returning to the venue later that evening. Apparently two nights before his bass was so relentless that it had blown two woofers, cracked two windows, and fried the hard drive of the computer delivering the club’s visuals. Hopefully that night didn’t go out with too much of a bang.

Over at the Nat Geo showcase Israeli culture-clasher Balkan Beat Box was rocking songs from its newly released album Give. One track that had particular traction was “Enemy in Economy,” which details leader Tomer Yosef’s experience being taken for a terrorist on an Alaska Airlines flight. The crowd couldn’t get enough of the song’s hook “Welcome to the USA/we hope you have a wonderful day.”

Meanwhile Nigerian-German singer Nneka was inside playing her beautiful blend of politically conscious music. My SXSW experience closed out with Jimmy Cliff‘s set on the patio stage. By kicking things off with “You Can Get It If You Really Want” he wasted no time in giving the capacity crowd what they really wanted. As the patio tent got progressively more hazy it seemed the perfect moment to bid adieu to the festival and make my way home.

Revealing the future


DANCE A stiff breeze is blowing through the venerable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, though not enough to ruffle feathers among Ailey aficionados (of which there are millions). The troupe is not dancing better, just differently. For that, they and the audiences have to thank new artistic director Robert Battle, who has been watching and choreographing for Ailey for years, though he was never a company member. Coming to the job as both an insider and an outsider, he knew exactly what to do.

Ailey has two major assets: one of the great pieces of 20th century dance, Revelations, and an ensemble that invests whatever you give them with extraordinary skill, fervent commitment, and a deep sense of humanity. What they lacked, for the most part, was a repertoire that honored those gifts.

So Battle switched gears. He opened the door to choreography unlike what we are used to seeing from Ailey. Yet did it gently. None of the works, whose local company premieres were offered during performances at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall March 13-18, are intellectually complex. Battle kept the entertainment values strong; nothing wrong with that.

The commission to Rennie Harris, the hip-hop artist who opened doors of his own by bringing street and club dancing inside the theater, resulted in the affective Home, a tribute to Ailey, who died of AIDS in 1989. Here Matthew Rushing left a tightly bunched-up group of dancers — somewhat similar to the opening of Revelations — and found an abode in a place where “the DJ turns down the light.”

Conceptually and structurally (and particularly in its circularity), it was a very simple tribute to the outsider who has to find a place for himself. Perhaps it was also the choreographer commenting on the Ailey company.

Harris created a dense, appealing fabric from duets and trios of club and hip-hop moves that vibrated with scintillating energy. The pleasure came from watching these dancers dive into material that encouraged so much individualized interpretation.

Choreographer Ohad Naharin called his line-up of excerpts from works created between 1992 and 2005 Minus 16. The Ailey dancers performed it superbly. The first section had the ensemble, clad in Hasidic outfits, sitting in a half -circle and engaging in a series of “waves” which made the last man fall off his chair. Gradually the performers threw their clothes into the center. Whether this signified a comment on Israeli values or, as some have suggested, a tribute to the Holocaust, I have no idea.

After a diorama-like passing of “souls” and a stunning duet in which dancers Ghrai DeVore and Kirven James Boyd seemed about to devour each other, Naharin pulled a masterstroke. He sent his black-suited dancers scouting for “victims” in the audience to join them on stage. It’s a cheap trick I know, and I have great difficulties with Naharin’s oppressive unisons, but I laughed to the point of tears. Bravo for Berkeley audiences.

The second program offered Battle’s previously-seen, all-male Hunt; it subtly explored pain, mourning, and vulnerability hidden by super-macho manhood. Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, one of the choreographer’s perennial audience favorites, received an honorable performance. The Ailey dancers have yet to absorb Taylor’s joyful ease and weighty elegance into their own bodies. Of the three couples, Alicia Graf Mack and Antonio Douthit came the closest.

Gratefully, this is a differently-dancing Ailey company; one of the changes also being brought about by nine new dancers who altered the company’s look in terms of physical size and skin color. No doubt the changes will continue, all the while preserving the best of Ailey’s own heritage.

What has not changed is Revelations. The mastery and presence that these dancers bring to a work that they perform year after year remains a wonder. Rushing in “I Wanna Be Ready” and Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in “Fix me, Jesus” — the work’s most movingly intimate choreography — were stunning to behold. The audience started clapping at the sound of the first note and wouldn’t stop until they got their encore of “Rocka My Soul.” That was Ailey, as ever, at Zellerbach.

Black Power now


More than 50 years after the Black Panthers started policing the police in Oakland, where does Black Power stand today? This week’s issue takes a look at the question through music, books, and political thought. 

>>BLACK POWER THEN AND NOW: How political struggle and concepts from the ’60s are animating a new generation. And what does Angela Davis have to say about the movement today?

>>THE LEGACY OF RACISM: Killing the Messenger explores Black Muslim ideology and the cycles of brutality

>>BLACK POWER AND OWS: The two movements have it in them to merge, but it’s going to take some work. An editorial by Davey D Cook

>>IT’S NOT WHAT YOU GET, IT’S WHAT YOU KEEP: BBC journalist gathers black voices for posterity, links them to a civil rights timeline

>>PANTHER CRY: Listen Whitey! A new Bay anthology plays the sounds of black power

You have the right to remain weird



FILM It’s not easy being a repertory cinema these days, even when you’re the coolest (or only, or both) one in town. Hoping that this town is big enough for more than just one, at least for a few days, the Roxie this weekend is hosting a kind of cult cinema smackdown between itself and two more of the nation’s finest such emporiums. Under the blanket title “Cinemadness!,” the three-day marathon of rarities, oddities, and unbilled surprises challenges you to look away, or stay away — either way, your sanity will surely be shakier come Monday.

Cinefamily kicks things off, road-tripping up from L.A.’s Silent Movie House. More than just film programmers, the collective also contrives relevant ring tones (intrigue your fellow Muni riders with the “Death Wish II-O-Rama”!), multimedia shows, curated archival wonders online, and live events like the “Jean Harlow Pajama Party.”

The party may be in your pants as well as onscreen Friday, March 23, as Cinefamily brings “100 Most Outrageous Fucks,” a clip compilation of the most tasteless, ridiculous, over-acted, and anatomically unlikely sex scenes yet found by people with an inordinate interest in such things. Expect mainstream Hollywood, exploitation cinema, and le porn to be fully representing.

This will be followed by a real obscurity. Dirkie a.k.a. Lost in the Desert was a 1970 endeavor by the late South African writer-director-producer-actor Jamie Uys, who would later have a fluke international smash with 1980’s The Gods Must Be Crazy. (And end his career 16 years later with barely-noticed The Gods Must Be Crazy V.) The Apartheid-era racial attitudes that drew criticism to some of his other works are absent from Dirkie, a film nonetheless distinguished as one of the most traumatizing and sadistic “family movies” ever made.

The titular eight-year-old (Uys’ own offspring Wynand) is sent for his “weak chest” to the country. Unfortunately a plane crash strands Dirkie and terrier Lolly (played by “Lady Frolic of Belvedale,” whose performance is indeed splendid) alone in the Kalahari Desert. As Dad (Uys) frantically oversees search efforts from Johannesburg, our wee asthmatic hero is attacked by a viciously persistent hyena; scorpion-stung; blinded by snake venom; fed Lolly’s cooked remains (or so he thinks); etc. Preceding by one year Nicolas Roeg’s better-known Walkabout, Dirkie is an equally spectacular survival adventure saga that’s less arty but even less suitable for young viewers.


The Alamo Drafthouse — jewel of Austin, that oasis of civilization in Texas — takes up Roxie residence Saturday, March 24, with two of 1987’s finest sci-fi-horror-action black comedies. A sleeper hit then that’s underappreciated now, The Hidden has pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan as a mysterious “FBI agent” (OK, he’s from outer space) tracking an interplanetary homicidal maniac who quite enjoys Earth — especially its loud crap pop music, Ferraris, and automatic weapons. This mayhem-spreading tourist fears no physical peril because it can always abandon one human (or canine) host body for another. Typical of the script’s over-the-top glee is a stretch when said thingie “possesses” a stripper, taking rather more pleasure in her bodacious form than any slimy, tentacled whatsit ought to.

It’s followed by Street Trash, to date the only feature film directed by J. Michael Munro (still a busy cameraman), who incredibly was just 20 when he made it. This last word in low-budget Escape From New York-Road Warrior knockoffs finds a depressed city’s ginormous Skid Row population winnowed by (among other things) cheap Mad Dog-type wine with a flesh-melting-acid bouquet. Incredibly crass (typical banter: “You fuckworm!”), gross (see: severed-penis-as-Frisbee set piece) and energetic, it’s the guiltiest, most pleasurable of guilty pleasures.

The Roxie wrestles its own back Sunday, March 25 with three big attractions. First up is George Kuchar: Comedy of the Underground, an ultra-rare 1982 documentary about San Francisco’s beloved, recently deceased DIY auteur that was unavailable for preview. Then there’s Robert Altman’s 1984 Secret Honor, with Philip Baker Hall as the craziest faux Richard Nixon on record.

That is nothing, however, compared to the brain-warping experience that is Elvis Found Alive. An alleged two-hour-plus interview with the King himself (shot in silhouette), whom filmmaker Joel Gilbert located with stunning ease thanks to poorly-redacted paperwork obtained via Freedom of Information Act, this … documentary? re-enactment? mock-doc fantasia? … bares many a shocking revelation.

To wit: secret FBI agent Presley faked his own death because the Weathermen, Black Panthers, and Mafia had joined forces to assassinate him. Believe me, that is just the tip of the ice cube in this video cocktail. It all makes more sense if you know Gilbert is himself a professional impersonator of Bob Dylan (whom Elvis confides “dumped that awful Joan Baez when she tried to push him into leftist politics”) and has also made such direct-to-your fallout-shelter opuses as Paul Is Really Dead and Atomic Jihad. Does “Elvis” have an opinion about President Obama? Ohhh yeah, and that “socialist thug” best not mess with Memphis. America forever! *


Fri/23-Sun/25, $6.50-$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF


Who’s afraid of Jesse Michaels



MUSIC East Bay ska-punk band Operation Ivy was arguably one of the most influential underground bands of all time. Not only was it a major influencing force behind the ska-punk boom of the 1990s, but lead singer Jesse Michaels’ angry yet intelligent, politically minded lyrics resonated with thousands of frustrated teenagers for years to come. Yet, the band never achieved much in the way of success until after it broke up in 1989.

“I never expected it to make any impact, but it did, which creates a different view of the past than what actually happened,” says Michaels. “We just played a little music and attracted a modest amount of attention. Everything that happened afterward — influence, the sense of history — it all feels kind of like a movie that people are making up.”

Operation Ivy guitarist Tim Armstrong and bassist Matt Freeman would eventually form the hugely successful punk band Rancid. Michaels would spend the next couple decades occasionally emerging with different bands such as Big Rig and Common Rider.

It wasn’t until 2008, when he formed Classics of Love, that he finally fronted a group with as much immediacy and chemistry as Operation Ivy. His bandmates — Morgan Herrell, Mike Huguenor and Max Feshbach, also known as San Jose post-punk trio, Hard Girls — offset Michaels’ ’80s hardcore-style songwriting with warm guitar tones, indie-rock sensibilities, and a musical virtuosity Operation Ivy never knew.

“From the first note we played together it worked. I had never experienced that before,” Michaels says.

The foursome got together thanks to Mike Park from Asian Man Records. Michaels was looking for musicians to play on his solo album that Asian Man was planning to release. Park recommended Hard Girls.

Huguenor didn’t know what to expect before meeting Michaels. “I was really nervous because when you think of his lyrics, you think of someone who is really concerned about social issues. There aren’t many songs he’s written that have a lot of humor in them,” he says. “It turned out he was down with jokes about weird stuff that would make Freud puke, so it was OK.”

This musical and interpersonal chemistry led Michaels to scrap the whole solo record idea and instead form a group with Hard Girls. Michaels brought in blueprints for songs, but the group worked together as a whole to arrange the songs.

Classics of Love released its self-titled debut full-length on Feb 14. The album rides a line of old and new punk rock — it showcases subtly complex instrumentation that still manages to sound raw.

The record’s engineer Jack Shirley, who is also the guitarist for Comadre, helped give the album its unique sound quality. Working with one of his musical heroes, Shirley was also relieved to learn that Michaels was down-to-earth. “You can tell he understands the importance of Op Ivy, but he’s not the least bit arrogant about it,” Shirley says.

Michaels is not only modest about the impact he’s had on so many people, he at times is downright uncomfortable with it.

“I am very wary of fame and notoriety because it paints an inaccurate picture of people. It doesn’t just distort people’s views of the person, it also can distort people’s views of themselves,” Michaels says.

More than two decades after Operation Ivy split, Michaels continues to write exceptional punk songs and finds simple joy expressing himself through music. Of course, it helps that he found those like-minded bandmates.

“Jesse is a weirdo and Morgan, Max and I are weirdos. We hang out and say horrible things that mostly don’t make sense. That’s how you get through life,” Huguenor says.


With Joyce Manor, Gnarboots., and Kill the Bats

Sat/24, 8:30 p.m., $9

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 861-1615



Panther cry



LIT Over a five-year period in Oakland, California, archivist Pat Thomas befriended key leaders of the Black Power movement, dug through Huey Newton’s archives at Stanford University, spent countless hours and thousands of dollars on eBay, and talked to rank and file Black Panther Party members. He uncovered dozens of obscure albums, singles, and stray tapes. Along the way, he began to piece together a time period (1967-1974) when revolutionaries were seen as pop culture icons.

The result of Thomas’ discoveries is Listen Whitey!: The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974 (Fantagraphics, 224pp, $39.99), a 70,000-word hardcover book with 200 full-color images of obscure recordings and ephemera, and an accompanying CD that traces the vast cultural output of the black power movement.

Besides being a visually stunning collection of photographs and album covers, Thomas’ book shines as a concise, clear-sighted history of the Black Panther movement and the ascendance of black power in American life. “While I can’t claim to know what happened, much less what it felt like to participate,” he says in the introduction, “it’s my hope that readers will find the personalities and music inspiring as I did. Dig deep; blood is thicker than mud.”

Done with a reverence of the times and people, Thomas distinguishes the Panthers from black nationalist movements like Karenga’s US and Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts by focusing on the diversity of the contributors and supporters. Listen, Whitey! steps outside of the boundaries established by other books covering the culture of the movement by showing black power as an engine that generated a multi-cultural global resistance.

This Black-Powered cross-cultural revolution is Bob Dylan’s album Highway 61 Re-visited in the hands of black radical imagination. A transformative album for Jimi Hendrix, the song “Ballad of a Thin Man” was on Huey Newton’s heavy rotation list during the early drafts of the Panther doctrine. Dylan later reciprocated with an elegy to “George Jackson”, an homage to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, and other songs in service to the movement. The most curious inclusion on the CD, in fact, is white folk singer Roy Harper’s “I Hate The White Man,” a track that — to this day — is as enigmatic as it is honest.

Known musicians like Gil-Scott Heron and John Lennon mix with under-appreciated or unknown talent like Gene McDaniels and the marvelous Marlena Shaw. From the humorous seriousness of the Watts Prophets’ “Dem Niggas Ain’t Playing” to the serious humor of Dick Gregory, and on to the sublime sounds of struggle from Elaine Brown, the music is full and beautiful. The omission of any of any New Thing jazz and Jimi Hendrix (though Thomas sees Hendrix as disengaged, if not apathetic to the riots, “Look At The Sky” from Electric Ladyland opens the dialogue even further beyond the typical), makes the CD function more as a primer to the genre than a definitive review. But when all is said and done, this honky wrote a great black book. *


April 10 7 p.m., free

The Booksmith

1644 Haight, SF

(415) 863-8688



April 11 7 p.m., free

Pegasus Books

2349 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 649-1320


Spring fairs and festivals




SF Flower and Garden Show, San Mateo Event Center, 495 S. Delaware, San Mateo. (415) 684-7278, www.sfgardenshow.com. March 21-25, 10am-6pm, $15–$65, free for 16 and under. This year’s theme is “Gardens for a Green Earth,” and features a display garden demonstrating conservation practices and green design. Plant yourself here for thriving leafy greens, food, and fun in the sun.

The Art of Aging Gracefully Resource Fair, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1200, www.jccsf.org. March 22, 9:30am-2:45pm, free. Treat yourself kindly with presentations by UCSF Medical Center professionals on healthy living, sample classes, health screenings, massages, giveaways and raffles.

California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, Sheraton Sonoma County, 745 Sherwood, Petaluma. (707) 283-2888, www.artisancheesefestival.com. March 23-25, $20–$135. Finally, a weekend given over to the celebration of cultures: semi-soft, blue, goat, and cave-aged. More than a dozen award-winning cheesemakers will provide hors d’oeuvres and educational seminars.

15th Annual Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting, Fort Mason Festival Pavilion, Buchanan and Marina, SF. (800) 467-0163, www.rhonerangers.org. March 24-25, $45–$185. The largest American Rhone wine event in the country, with over 2,000 attendees tasting 500 of the best Rhones from its 100 US member wineries.

Whiskies of the World Expo, Hornblower Yacht, Pier 3, SF. (408) 225-0446, www.whiskiesoftheworld.com. March 31, 6pm-9pm, $120–$150. The expo attracts over 1400 guests intent on sampling spirits on a yacht and meeting important personages from this fine whiskey world of ours.

Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, SF County Fair Building’s Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, SF. (415) 431-8355, bayareaanarchistbookfair.wordpress.com. March 31-April 1, free. This political book fair brings together radical booksellers, distributors, independent presses, and political groups from around the world.

Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Festival Monterey Conference Center, One Portola Plaza, Monterey. (831) 373-3366, www.montereyjazzfestival.org. March 30-April 1, free. 1200 student-musicians from schools located everywhere from California to Japan compete for the chance to perform at the big-daddy Monterey Jazz Festival. Free to the public, come to cheer on the 47 California ensembles who will be playing, or pick an away team favorite.


Argentine Tango Festival, San Francisco Airport Marriot Hotel, 1800 Old Bayshore Highway, Burlingame. www.argentinetangousa.com. April 5-8, $157–$357. Grip that rose tightly with your molars — it’s time to take the chance to dance in one of 28 workshops, with a live tango orchestra, and tango DJs. The USA Tango championship is also taking place here.

Salsa Festival, The Westin Market Street, 50 Third St., SF. (415) 974-6400. www.sfsalsafestival.com. April 5-7, $75–$125. Three nights of world-class performances, dancing, competition and workshops with top salsa instructors.

Union Street Spring Celebration and Easter Parade, Union between Gough and Fillmore, SF. (800) 310-6563, April 8, 10am-5pm, parade at 2pm, free. www.sresproductions.com/union_street_easter. A family festival with kids rides and games, a petting zoo, and music.

45th Annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan Center, Post and Buchanan, SF. (415) 567-4573, www.sfjapantown.org. April 14-15 and 21-22, parade April 22, free. Spotlighting the rich heritage and traditional customs of California’s Japanese-Americans. Costumed performers, taiko drums, martial arts, and koto music bring the East out West.

Bay One Acts Festival, Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma, SF. www.bayoneacts.org. April 22 — May 12, 2012, $25–$45 at the door or online. Showcasing the best of SF indie theater, with new works by Bay Area playwrights.

Earth Day, Civic Center Plaza, SF. (415) 571-9895, www.earthdaysf.org. April 22, free. A landmark day for the “Greenest City in North America,” featuring an eco-village, organic chef demos, a holistic health zone, and live music.

Wedding and Celebration Show, Parc 55 Wyndham, 55 Cyril Magnin, SF. (925) 594-2969, www.bayareaweddingfairs.com. April 28, 10:00am-5:00pm. Exhibitors in a “Boutique Mall” display every style of product and service a bride may need to help plan his or her wedding.

San Francisco International Beer Festival, Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion, SF. www.sfbeerfest.com. April 28, 7pm-10pm, $65. The price of admission gets you a bottomless taster mug for hundreds of craft beers, which you can pair with a side of food from local restaurants.

Pacific Coast Dream Machines Show, Half Moon Bay Airport, 9850 Cabrillo Highway North, Half Moon Bay. www.miramarevents.com/dreammachines. April 28-29, 9am-4pm, $20 for adults, kids under 10 free. The annual celebration of mechanical ingenuity, an outdoor museum featuring 2,000 driving, flying and working machines from the past 200 years.


San Francisco International Arts Festival Various venues. (415) 399-9554, www.sfiaf.org. May 2-20, prices vary. Celebrate the arts, both local and international, at this multimedia extravaganza.

Cinco de Mayo Festival, Dolores Park, Dolores and 19th St, SF. www.sfcincodemayo.com. May 5, 10am-6pm, free. Enjoy live performances by San Francisco Bay Area artists, including mariachis, dancers, salsa ensembles, food and crafts booths. Big party.

A La Carte and Art, Castro St. between Church and Evelyn, Mountain View. May 5-6, 10am-6pm, free. With vendors selling handmade crafts, micro-brewed beers, fresh foods, a farmers market, and even a fun zone for kids, there’s little you won’t find at this all-in-one fun fair.

Young at Art Festival, De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF. (415) 695-2441. www.youngatartsf.com. May 12-20, regular museum hours, $11. An eight-day celebration of student creativity in visual, literary, media, and performing arts.

Asian Heritage Street Celebration Larkin and McAllister, SF. www.asianfairsf.com. May 19, 11am-6pm, free. Featuring a Muay Thai kickboxing ring, DJs, and the latest in Asian pop culture, as well as great festival food.

Uncorked! San Francisco Wine Festival, Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point, SF. (415) 775-5500, www.ghirardellisq.com. May 19, 1pm-6pm, $50 for tastings; proceeds benefit Save the Bay. A bit of Napa in the city, with tastings, cooking demonstrations, and a wine 101 class for the philistines among us.

Maker Fair, San Mateo Event Center, San Mateo. www.makerfaire.com. May 19-20, $8–$40. Make Magazine’s annual showcase of all things DIY is a tribute to human craftiness. This is where the making minds meet.

Castroville Artichoke Festival, Castroville. (831) 633-2465 www.artichoke-festival.com. May 19-20, 10am-5pm, $10. Pay homage to the only vegetable with a heart. This fest does just that, with music, parades, and camping.

Bay to Breakers, Begins at the Embarcadero, ends at Ocean Beach, SF. www.zazzlebaytobreakers.com. May 20, 7am-noon, free to watch, $57 to participate. This wacky San Francisco tradition is officially the largest footrace in the world, with a costume contest that awards $1,000 for first place. Just remember, Port-A-Potties are your friends.

Freestone Fermentation Festival Salmon Creek School, 1935 Bohemian Hwy, Sonoma. (707) 479-3557, www.freestonefermentationfestival.com. May 21, Noon-5pm, $12. Answer all the questions you were afraid to ask about kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, and beer. This funky fest is awash in hands-on demonstrations, tastings, and exhibits.

San Francisco Carnaval Harrison and 23rd St., SF. www.sfcarnaval.org. May 26-27, 10am-6pm, free. Parade on May 27, 9:30pm, starting from 24th St. and Bryant. The theme of this year’s showcase of Latin and Caribbean culture is “Spanning Borders: Bridging Cultures”. Fans of sequins, rejoice.


Union Street Eco-Urban Festival Union Street between Gough and Steiner, SF. (800) 310-6563, www.unionstreetfestival.com. June 2-3, 10am-6pm, free. See arts and crafts created with recycled and sustainable materials and eco-friendly exhibits, along with two stages of live entertainment and bistro-style cafes.

Haight Ashbury Street Fair, Haight between Stanyan and Ashbury, SF. www.haightashburystreetfair.org. June Date TBD, 11am-5:30pm, free. Celebrating the cultural history and diversity of one of San Francisco’s most internationally celebrated neighborhoods, the annual street fair features arts and crafts, food booths, three musical stages, and a children’s zone.

San Mateo County Fair, San Mateo County Fairgrounds, 2495 S. Delaware, San Mateo. www.sanmateocountyfair.com. June 9-17, 11am-10pm, $6–$30. Competitive exhibits from farmers, foodies, and even technological developers, deep-fried snacks, games — but most importantly, there will be pig races.

Queer Women of Color Film Festival Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 752-0868, www.qwocmap.org. June 8-10 times vary, free. Three days of screenings from up-and-coming filmmakers with unique stories to tell.

Harmony Festival, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa. www.harmonyfestival.com. Date TBA. One of the Bay Area’s best camping music festivals and a celebration of progressive lifestyle, with its usual strong and eclectic lineup of talent.

North Beach Festival, Washington Square Park, SF. (415) 989-2220, www.northbeachchamber.com. June 16-17, free. This year will feature over 150 art, crafts, and gourmet food booths, three stages, Italian street painting, beverage gardens and the blessing of the animals.

Marin Art Festival, Marin Civic Center, 3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael. (415) 388-0151, www.marinartfestival.com. June 16-17, 10am-6pm, $10, kids under 14 free. Over 250 fine artists in the spectacular Marin Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Enjoy the Great Marin Oyster Feast while you’re there.

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Mendocino County Fairgrounds Booneville. (916) 777-5550, www.snwmf.com. June 22-24, $160. A reggae music Mecca, with Jimmy Cliff, Luciano, and Israel Vibration (among others) spreading a message of peace, love, and understanding.

Gay Pride Weekend Civic Center Plaza, SF; Parade starts at Market and Beale. (415) 864-FREE, www.sfpride.org. June 23-24, Parade starts at 10:30am, free. Everyone in San Francisco waits all year for this fierce celebration of diversity, love, and being fabulous.

Summer SAILstice, Encinal Yacht Club, 1251 Pacific Marina, Alameda. 415-412-6961, www.summersailstice.com. June 23-24, 8am-8pm, free. A global holiday celebrating sailing on the weekend closest to the summer solstice, these are the longest sailing days of the year. Celebrate it in the Bay Area with boat building, sailboat rides, sailing seminars and music.

Stern Grove Festival, Stern Grove, 19th Ave. and Sloat, SF. (415) 252-6252, www.sterngrove.org. June 24-August 26, free. This will be the 75th season of this admission-free music, dance, and theater performance series.


4th of July on the Waterfront, Pier 39, Beach and Embarcadero, SF. www.pier39.com 12pm-9pm, free. Fireworks and festivities, live music — in other words fun for the whole, red-white-and-blue family.

High Sierra Music Festival, Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds, Lee and Mill Creek, Quincy. www.highsierramusic.com. July 5-8, gates open 8am on the 5th, $185 for a four-day pass. Set in the pristine mountain town of Quincy, this year’s fest features Ben Harper, Built To Spill, Papodosio, and more.

Oakland A’s Beer Festival and BBQ Championship, (510) 563-2336, www.oakland.athletics.mlb.com. July 7, 7pm, game tickets $12–$200. A baseball-themed celebration of all that makes a good tailgate party: grilled meat and fermented hops.

Fillmore Street Jazz Festival, Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy, SF. (800) 310-6563, www.fillmorejazzfestival.com. July 7-8, 10am-6pm, free. The largest free jazz festival on the Left Coast, this celebration tends to draw enormous crowds to listen to innovative Latin and fusion performers on multiple stages.

Midsummer Mozart Festival, Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness, SF (also other venues in the Bay Area). (415) 627-9141, www.midsummermozart.org. July 19-29, $50. A Bay Area institution since 1974, this remains the only music festival in North America dedicated exclusively to Mozart.

Renegade Craft Fair, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan and Marina, SF. (415) 561-4323, www.renegadecraft.com. July 21-22, free. Twee handmade dandies of all kinds will be for sale at this DIY and indie-crafting Mecca. Like Etsy in the flesh!

Connoisseur’s Marketplace, Santa Cruz and El Camino Real, Menlo Park. July 21-22, free. This huge outdoor event expects to see 65,000 people, who will come for the art, live food demos, an antique car show, and booths of every kind.

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, locations TBA, SF. (415) 558-0888, www.sfshakes.org. July 23-August 28, free. Shakespeare takes over San Francisco’s public parks in this annual highbrow event. Grab your gang and pack a picnic for fine, cultured fun.

Gilroy Garlic Festival, Christmas Hill Park, Miller and Uvas, Gilroy. (408) 842-1625, www.gilroygarlicfestival.com. July 27-29, $17 per day, children under six free. Known as the “Ultimate Summer Food Fair,” this tasty celebration of the potent bulb lasts all weekend.

27th Annual Berkeley Kite Festival & West Coast Kite Championship, Cesar E. Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina, Berk. (510) 235-5483, www.highlinekites.com July 28-29, 10am-5pm, free. Fancy, elaborate kite-flying for grown-ups takes center stage at this celebration of aerial grace. Free kite-making and a candy drop for the kiddies, too.

Up Your Alley Fair, Dore between Howard and Folsom, SF. (415) 777-3247, www.folsomstreetfair.org. July 29, 11am-6pm, free with suggested donation of $7. A leather and fetish fair with vendors, dancing, and thousands of people decked out in their kinkiest regalia, this is the local’s version of the fall’s Folsom Street Fair mega-event.

In the SXSW green room



HERBWISE DIY pop star Lisa Dank doesn’t smoke marijuana to help with her art — smoking weed is her art. The Seattle singer-producer — known for her florid, handmade costumes and gonzo stage presence — crafts odes to cannabis (check out her aural fixation at www.soundcloud.com/lisa-dank), and has a day job at 4Evergreen Group, a patient network that supplies legal and educational resources to its members, as well as physician recommendations for medical marijuana.

Dank was headed down to South By Southwest to do shows at house parties and on the street with the aide of a PA system jacked into her car, but she managed to snag an artist wristband and also logged in hours in the green room chatting with performers about weed culture today. She’ll be publishing her findings in 4Evergreen Group’s new bi-monthly lifestyle magazine — but first, we got her to share her favorite snippets from South By.



1. My Omicron hash oil vaporizer pen. Didn’t leave my side. Not even on the airplane. ‘Nuff said.

2. Austin loves pot. Especially at the Wells Fargo. Every time I went to withdraw cash, the point was brought up that I work in the medical marijuana industry. These boys couldn’t get enough! They sang the praise of medical pot (literally — shouting and fist-pumping.) They even brought out their camera-phones to show me the NORML cop car rolling around town.

3. MPP (Most Popular Piece): Quartz glass pieces are popular amongst locals and musicians for their affordability, cleanliness, and durability. Local glass pieces were a close second. Note: My all-star award goes to the editor of UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, who pulled out a gorgeous hand-blown, sandblasted Sherlock similar to the work of glass artist Snic. The editor had bought it at the smokeshop across the street from campus on Bancroft Way. We loaded bowl after bowl of Sour Diesel and Grape Ape six feet from Diplo in the VIP section of Speakeasy’s rooftop patio all Tuesday night, as Teki Latex and the Sound Pelligrino team did their thing.

4. Let’s just say Talib Kweli and his crew are fortunate that I have such a good weed connect in Texas.

5. Chali 2na smokes joints! Hemp extra-long! He had his own stash but took my number just in case. You can never have enough weed connects in Austin. He’s also a sweetheart because he let me use one of his papers.

6. Shiny Toy Guns does not smoke pot.

7. Bands on the run: Brick and Mortar (from New Jersey), Fox and the Law (Seattle), and The Sundresses (Cincinnati) stocked up on buds at home and drove slow all the way down to Austin.

8. Sub-pop recording artists Spoek Mathambo and Thee Satisfaction enjoyed the relief brought forth by the herb after a long walk and checking out Sub Pop’s great showcase at Red 7 on Friday night.

9. Strain trend: Sour Diesel. My guy had it. When he was out, the pedi-cab that I tried to buy from told me he had Sour Diesel too. Just hours later on the official SXSW artist’s deck-lounge at the Austin Convention Center, some locals pulled out two grams of S.D. to roll up in our blunt.

10. Underground future-super-producer Dubbel Dutch had a quandary for me: “I can’t smoke weed anymore! I used to smoke weed every day when I was younger, but now I take one hit and I’m done!”

I explained to him the brain schematics of cannabis, how we have cannabinoid receptors built into our brain but don’t produce cannabinoids endogenously. I hypothesized that his adult brain’s super-sensitivity to THC was due to his excess smoking during the formative years of his brain’s development. I told him he’d trained his brain to be extra-receptive to cannabinoids.

11. Smoking joints throughout my house party set. And for that I thank you, kids of Wilson House.

It’s not what you get, it’s what you keep



LIT In Redefining Black Power (City Lights Books, 206pp, $16.95), Joanne Griffith’s assemblage of her interviews with black thought leaders, Obama is not the focus, but his presidency is the frame. Journalists, activists, an economist, a theologist who wrote speeches for Martin Luther King, Jr. — each chapter of the book is a dialogue faithfully transcribed from Griffith’s well-informed questionings, reminding readers that the fight for expanded democracy in the United States didn’t end when the brand-new First Family took the stage that night in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Because when it comes to the fight for equal rights in this country — as economist Julienne Malveaux quotes from Lauryn Hill in her Redefining Black Power interview — “it’s not what you get, it’s what you keep.”

Griffith wants to make sure that the words of black leaders are kept in history’s permanent ledger. The Redefining Black Power project was born after she visited KPFK in Los Angeles, where the Pacifica Radio Archives are kept. The archives, a repository for interviews with African American leaders going back for decades, inspired her role as a modern day chronologist. With the help of Brian DeShazor, director of the Archives, Griffith has been airing one historical interview a week on her BBC Radio 5 Sunday evening show.

She also started conducting interviews herself. This edition of Redefining Black Power (she hopes there will be more) is structured as a look at the state of black America since President Obama ascended to the Oval Office, public fist bumps, and dolorous battles over health care.

The book is important, more readable than you’d think interview transcripts would be, and includes seldom-heard perspectives like those of an activist who refuses to vote and calls President Obama “crack” for African Americans, and a Ghana-born New York journalist who asserts we must never forget what it meant when Malia Obama wears her hair in twists.

Griffith acts as the conduit of information, rarely the pontificator herself. That’s why we tapped her for a Guardian interview via email last month, eager to hear what she’s learned about black power today.

SFBG: Explain where the interviews in the book came from. How did you become acquainted with the Pacifica Radio Archives and why are they important?

JG: The idea for the Redefining Black Power Project, of which the book is part, was born out of the historic audio held in the Pacifica Radio Archives, a national treasure trove of material charting America’s history from a progressive perspective dating back to 1949. But it was one recording of Fannie Lou Hamer addressing the 1964 Democratic national convention that sparked the idea for Redefining Black Power. Brian DeShazor heard the tape and wanted to find a permanent way to preserve and share the voices held in the Archives with a wider audience, and what better way than through the written word? Brian approached City Lights Books with the idea, and this book is the result, drawing on the voices of history to link us to the election of Barack Obama, one of the most significant moments in the social and political history of the United States. Through this project, we hope to preserve the voices, opinions and perspectives of African-Americans in this so called ‘Age of Obama’ for historians to digest and explore in years to come.

How did I get involved? As a complete audio nut, I always make a point of visiting local radio stations wherever I travel in the world. Back in 2007, I was in Los Angeles, called KPFK to arrange a visit and was introduced to the Pacifica Radio Archives. Because of this work and the extensive list of people I have interviewed over the years, Brian invited me to do the interviews for the Redefining Black Power project. Through this book, we delve into the role of the activist from different perspectives; the legal system, the media, religion, the economy, green politics and emotional justice.

SFBG: Was there an interview from the book in which your subject’s answers deeply surprised you? 

Joanne Griffith: It was Dr Vincent Harding, the man behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech that surprised me the most. A true veteran of the civil rights movement, he made the point that the election of President Obama was never the goal of the movement; instead he prefers to call the work “the movement for the expansion and deepening of democracy in America.” Put this way, it made me realize more than ever, that the work we do today is not in isolation, but part of a wider movement, stretching back all the way to slavery. And the work isn’t over.

SFBG: Who should read this book? How should it be used? 

JG: Use it as a conversation starter to discuss issues in your own community. Parents, use it as a way to engage your children in history. Students, use it as a resource for papers on race and the Obama presidency. Most importantly, everyone, share your thoughts at www.redefiningblackpower.com. This book is not the end of the project; we’re only getting started.


The poetry of poverty


Editors note: POOR Magazine‘s 5th Annual Poetry/Music Battle of ALL the Sexes was held on Valentine’s Day. This years battle, POOR’s Lisa Gray-Garcia tells us, “honored ancestors Uncle Al Robles, Mama Dee and all ancestors that have been victims of po’lice terror, racism and poverty.”

I love POOR Mag and all the radical poverty activists there and about do, and as a show of support, I’m happy to run the winners here.


Birth Out Mother Earth

By Trina Brigham a.k.a Realness

I was formed from dust and chillzed out the wound of my mother.

I’m mother’s earth first born…

When her water bag broke …

She baptized me in many bodies of waters…

She washed me in her oceans…

She showered me in crimsomed tides…

We are compatiable genetically incline…

My soil is fertitle i reproduce as well as mulitiply…

Not only did i recieve my mother’s blessings…

I also inherited her earthy treasures…

I birth out diamonds minerals and exotic stones out my wound…

I bleed symphonies of oils and fossil fuel…

Not only do I have evidence I’m living proof…

I help sutain life beyound measure…

I reproduce jewels as well as treasures…

I craddle civilzation man’s roots are as acient as me…

The garden of Eden she lives here with me…

The first tree grown rose up out the dirt from me…

Which is why I question why are my people living in poverty?

I reproduce the highest quality of natural resources from within me…

There are more than enough to feed every part of me…

God gave me the ability to reproduce and do so abundantly…

So why must my peole parish from stavation and poverty?

My people are a choosen generation….

Their generational seeds are implanted through me….

With provision came decision ….

I have always been whole…

A whole continent …

A whole nation…

A whole country….

A whole people…

I’m birth out of Mother Earth

I’m Africa and Africa is me!!!




El Machete

By Muteado Silencio

From sun up to sun down, rain or shine,

365 days with machete in hand,

cutting or chopping the harvest to live another day,

to live for my family,

for my wife for my children, with humanity with

mother earth.

to stay alive,

to survive to see tomorrows sun rise.

365 days with machete in hand to defend the future

of my family, my wife

my children the future of humanity of mother earth.

365 days with machete in hand to stand against the

unjustice against the against

the ones who can not defend themselves

Against the raping of mother earth 365 days

with machete in hand to defend mother


Lee and the foreclosure crisis


EDITORIAL More than 1000 homes in San Francisco are either in foreclosure or at the start of the process. Some 16,000 homeowners are underwater, and as many as 12,000 may face foreclosure in the next 12 months. A report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment shows that the city could lose $115 million from the reduced property taxes and the costs of carrying out evictions.

That’s a crisis — and while the mayor has no direct control over home foreclosures, he ought to be speaking out and joining the protesters who are fighting this cascade of often-fraudulent bank actions.

The problems are legion: An audit released in February by Assessor Phil Ting shows that more than 80 percent of the foreclosure notices filed in San Francisco contain at least one legal irregularity, and many contain multiple. Banks back-date documents, use faulty information, and in some cases clearly and directly break the law when they move to seize property — often because of bad-faith loans that were more the fault of the banks than the homeowners.

A group from Occupy Bernal, the well-organized, sophisticated operation that’s been intervening in foreclosures and evictions in the Southeast neighborhoods, visited us recently, and the stories we heard were alarming. Some told of bankers who promised to make loan modifications — then went ahead with foreclosure anyway. Some people spend weeks just trying to figure out who actually owns the mortgage — and while the financial institutions are ducking calls and hiding from responsibility, they’re moving forward to toss people out of their homes.

ACCE and Occupy Bernal have had some successes — they slowed down foreclosure actions, forced banks to come to the table and in some cases saved homes. But the activists are up against big corporations and big numbers — too many homes on the block, too many financial institutions, and not enough people and money.

The Ting report showed enough violations of law that we’ve already urged the city attorney and the district attorney to start taking action.

But we’ve heard little beyond silence from the office of Mayor Ed Lee.

Lee’s the city’s chief executive, the person who has to handle the financial fallout of the foreclosure crisis as well as the human impacts — families evicted from their homes have a high chance of winding up on the streets, putting additional pressure on already-stressed social services.

Besides, this is a tragedy — and a lot of the problem is simply unaccountable, unreachable financial institutions. If Occupy Bernal and ACCE, through volunteer organizing and community pressure, can prevent a fair number of evictions, thing what the mayor of San Francisco could do — just by speaking out.

Lee ought to show up at some of the Occupy Bernal actions, but that may be too much to ask. But it’s not too much to suggest that he publicly support the foreclosure fighters and call on the banks to work with local homeowners.

The city keeps its multibillion-dollar short-term cash accounts in institutions like Bank of America, which is responsible for more than 10 percent of all foreclosures in the city. Wells Fargo, with its headquarters right here in town, is responsible for 22 percent of the local foreclosures. Lee ought to let the banks know the city won’t keep doing business with bad actors.

With a little visibility, the mayor could help save hundreds, maybe thousands of families from facing homelessness. This crisis calls for leadership; where’s the mayor?

TV gone wild


TRASH History does not record whether the evening of January 23, 1974 struck anyone immediately as a momentous occasion. Probably not: perhaps distracted by Watergate, porn chic, rising gas prices, the Exorcist phenomenon, and passage (one day earlier) of Roe vs. Wade, any television viewers straying over from CBS’s Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour to ABC at 8:30 p.m. could hardly have fully understood the significance of what they were about to experience.

Today, we can only wonder at the supreme cool of an era in which a summit of titans — William Shatner, Andy Griffith, Robert “Mr. Brady Bunch” Reed, and Marjoe Gortner, the latter recently profiled in these pages — might be shrugged off as another night’s disposable entertainment. Or another week’s, this being an “ABC Movie of the Week” in the variously taboo-breaking, trashtastic, and forgettable lineage of gay drama That Certain Summer (1972), Karen Black-a-thon Trilogy of Terror (1975), and self-explanatory Gidget Gets Married (1972). Perhaps those who stuck it out, stunned into a dislocative state by the unexpected impact of primetime existential bleakness, chose to forget the experience and go on living their lives as best they could. (It can surely be no coincidence that, in a general sense, everything’s gone to hell since.)

You, of course, can approach forewarned at the Vortex Room when Pray for the Wildcats finishes off a bill celebrating the still alarmingly active Shatner’s 81st birthday. What, pray tell, is Wildcats? It is seriously sick shit directed by Robert Michael Lewis and written by Jack Turley, two nondescript network hacks hitherto and henceforth never so guilty by association. Their Mount Rushmore of broadcast comfort-food stars — the wild card being Gortner, a self-exposed evangelical con man just starting to turn his notoriety into an acting career — play business types on a guys-only holiday in Baja.

Except Gortner ain’t the weird one here, despite his contrasting youth and Godspell ‘fro. Instead, that’s erstwhile Mayberry sheriff Griffith, making the “old country boy” folksiness curdle on his tongue as Sam Farragut, a tractor tycoon who basically blackmails the other three into going on the trip lest their advertising agency lose his million-dollar account. They reluctantly leave their spouses (notably a bitchy Angie Dickinson) behind to pretend they’re having fun with this weaselly, wealthy hick.

Trouble is, Farragut turns out to be a full-on psychopath whose notion of kicks fast grows unpleasant. This proves particularly unfortunate for a hippie couple whose supple young flesh attracts Uncle Andy’s leering attention. But it leaves no one unscarred — as if we didn’t already get the cynical point from prior caustic references to “the rat race” and the American dream, Wildcats ends with one character saying “I want a divorce,” another announcing her recent abortion (topical!), and a third sighing an all-purpose “God help ya.”

This midnight walk on the daaaark side will be preceded by a program of Shatner rarities, including his very special 1972 guest appearance on Mission: Impossible, as an evil playboy in an episode titled “Cocaine.” 


Thurs/22, William Shatner rarities, 9 p.m.; Pray for the Wildcats, midnight, $7

Vortex Room

1082 Howard, SF


Black Power and OWS


OPINION Since its inception in September of 2011, The Occupy Wall Street movement has come to mean many things to many people. For some it’s a movement to end skyrocketing tuition at State Colleges and Universities. For others its a platform to stop and bring attention to unfair and illegal foreclosures. Still others see the Occupy as a movement that’s going to bring back unions and level the playing field for workers.

But one of the nagging critiques of OWS has been that it’s a movement for white middle-class youth who were late to the social justice arena — where many who are poorer and darker had been struggling for years. While economic disparities on the surface appear to be universal, the challenge has been recognizing how many who are white and part of the 99 percent have been used strategically by those in power as a sort of buffer to keep black and brown folks at an economic disadvantage. Many have brought into the narrative that underachievement by blacks is the result of individuals not applying themselves hard enough.

The economic downturn in the white communities is now viewed as systemic, with a call to arms and a move to confront the system. What’s been missed is that for decades folks in the hood have been challenging the system, trying to survive and barely holding on. Only now are you starting to see deeper discussions between OWS and black and brown community members about how this economic system has uniquely impacted them.

Because we’ve seen former black panthers and leaders within black liberation struggles like Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, Bobby Seal, Mumia and Dave Hilliard work with or show support address OWS, the question of how OWS relates to the Black Power Movement has emerged.

Like OWS, Black Power means many things to many people, from economic empowerment to political empowerment. If we go back to what Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leaders Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and Willie Ricks (Mukasa Dada) meant when they first coined the phrase in 1966, it was a call for solidarity and challenging racism and the systems giving it light..

Black Power leaders back then weren’t about trying to reform the system and its institutions, but dismantle it and rebuild. That approach, and the militancy that came along with it, caused a split in the Civil Rights Movement. It was break from Dr. King and the nonviolent approach by the so-called Big 5 civil rights organizations.

Today, many of the aforementioned leaders, along with others, have evolved in their definition and understanding of what it means when we say Black Power. Not to short change or misspeak for anyone (keep in mind entire courses are devoted to the topic), today we see that Black Power has expanded on its critique of capitalism. That, of course, has been echoed in many sectors of OWS. In fact, that’s what’s attracted many from the old guard to it.

Today we see many in the Black Power movements dealing with issues like the Prison Industrial Complex, the mass incarceration of black folks, and tactics like stop and frisk, gang injunctions, war on drugs etc. Any conversation about economic disparity inevitably leads back to discussions on the prison system in the black community.

While we hear within OWS calls to rebuild the system and harsh critiques of capitalism, we haven’t always seen an emphatic call to arms to deal with the PIC and issues related to police terror — even as OWS members are frequent victims themselves.

In places like Occupy Oakland, we see those bridges being built in meaningful ways. We’ve seen the forming of Occupy the Hood, which frequently addresses those issues — but talk to OTH organizers in various cities and they’ll tell you it’s still a struggle to get folks on board and make this an intuitive part of their day to day outlook.

The good news is we see conversations taking place and folks trying to work it out..

And while OWS deals with building bridges into communities of color, in our own ranks we have the challenge of class divisions. We have folks who are black, and have means, who won’t even give lip service to these issues.

But then again, mass movements even during the hey day of Dr. King always had those who spoke out, got in the way and took up space for real change. With spring coming, there’s a lot of hope that things will pick up.

The legacy of racism



The legacy of brutal racism in this country, particularly against African Americans, shapes the events of today. That’s a notion that much of white America resists accepting, particularly conservatives. But actions create reactions, hatred begets hatred, and those cycles can roll forward endlessly and manifest in unpredictable ways.

That’s one of the most compelling lessons in local journalist Thomas Peele’s gripping and insightful new book, Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist (2012, Crown), which grew out of covering the aftermath of the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery.

Bailey was killed to prevent him from writing a story in the Oakland Post about the violence and financial crimes perpetrated by followers of the late Yusuf Bey and his sons, including Yusuf Bey IV (aka Fourth). Peele and other local journalists and media outlets (including the Bay Guardian) formed the Chauncey Bailey Project to build on the work Bailey began and investigate his murder, which Fourth was convicted last year of ordering.

“The free press on which the public depends to keep it informed had been attacked,” Peele wrote. While such murders are rare in the U.S. — the last was a Mafia hit on a reporter from Arizona in 1976 — Peele and his brethren considered it important to send the message that, “A story could not be killed by killing a journalist.”

But the story that emerges from Peele’s years-long investigation goes well beyond Bailey’s murder, its flawed investigation by the Oakland Police Department, the violence and hypocrisy of the Your Black Muslim Bakery “cult,” or its long and complex relationship with Oakland’s political and community leaders.

Peele delves deeply into the 80-plus-year history of the Nation of Islam and Black Muslim ideology, dissecting its turbulent evolution and belief system that white people are “devils,” created by a mad scientist named Big-Headed Yakub, who use “tricknology” to hide the truth that African Americans are superior beings who will be spared during a coming Armageddon inflicted by a spaceship that has long circled the earth — a belief system that Malcolm X rejected after taking a hajj to Mecca and shortly before his assassination.

Peele dismisses the entire religion — which has very little in common with true Islam — as a deceptive scam from its inception, devised by the “con man” W.D. Fard and promoted by Elijah Muhammad simply to enrich its leaders by manipulating poor African Americans. Similarly, Yusuf Bey spoke the language of black empowerment in founding his own breakaway Black Muslim sect in North Oakland then used it as cover for criminal enterprises and raping the women under his control over a period of decades.

But to understand the appeal of Black Muslims preaching hatred of white devils, you have to look at the African American experience and horrible racism and violence that black people have endured in this country, as Peele does. He starts in Depression-era Detroit, where Fard and Muhammad met amid the virulent racism against Southern blacks who migrated north to work in Henry Ford’s automobile factories.

“This is the question of the psychology of race,” legendary attorney Clarence Darrow said during the Detroit murder trial of blacks defending their home against an attacking white mob, which Peele uses to great effect. “Of how everything known to a race affects its actions. What we learn as children we remember — it gets fastened to the mind. I would not claim that the people outside the Sweet house were bad. But they would do to Negroes something they would not do to whites. It’s their race psychology.”

We see Joseph Stephens (who would later become Yusuf Bey) growing up with tales of brutal lynchings in his hometown of Greenville, Texas, and later as a Santa Barbara hairdresser who discovered the Nation of Islam in 1962 after the Los Angeles Police Department had shot up its mosque and Stephens found his calling in the resolute words of Malcolm X and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

African American history made Bailey want to become a journalist focused on covering and empowering his community. And this same legacy — mixed with hopelessness, poverty, and broken homes during an upbringing in San Francisco and Richmond — animated Devaughndre Broussard, who fired three shotgun blasts into Bailey on a sunny morning in downtown Oakland.

“His life was no accident. Neither was his faith,” Peele wrote of Fourth in the last chapter. “The society that now worked through its flawed laws and imperfect courts to put him in prison for life had only itself to blame for the terror that Fourth and his fellow believers had inflicted upon it. The backlash against centuries of enslavement of Africans and the subhuman treatment of their descendants had seen to that. The stick figure hanging from a loose that Elijah Muhammad had ordered displayed in all the Nation of Islam mosques, the symbol of the boyhood lynching of his friend Albert Hamilton, showed that some could never forget, or forgive. Neither could Yusef Bey forget the stories of cotton fields his parents brought west from East Texas along with the story of a Negro burned to death as white people gathered in the square of a horrible place called Greenville and cheered. Some wounds are too deep to heal.”

But Americans have short memories for even our recent history, coupled with a growing sense that society’s have-nots somehow deserve to be that way and a lack of understanding of the many ways that racism and its legacy still affects this country.

“I don’t think white America understands it at all. White America has this attitude of: get over it,” Peele told me when I asked about that “racism’s backlash” theme. “How long can you oppress people and treat them like utter garbage before there is a rebellion?”

Gauged by poverty or incarceration rates, or by the poor quality of many of its schools, much of black America still faces tough struggles. It wrestles with a lack of opportunities and an understandable sense of hopelessness that can easily breed resentment or even violence. One example that Peele includes were the Death Angels (aka the “Zebra murders”), in which a small group of militant black ex-convicts randomly shot dozens of white people in San Francisco and Oakland in the early 1970s.

Peele closes the book with a chilling suggestion that Broussard, who is serving a fixed 25-year prison sentence because of his cooperation in the prosecution of Fourth and co-defendant Antoine Mackey, is studying to become a spiritual leader and may follow familiar patterns. “Look at where he came from? Have things changed that much?” Peele said of the lack of opportunities that Broussard faced growing up, and will face again when he gets out of prison in his mid-40s.

Peele has long been an award-winning investigative reporter rooted in deep research, which he combines with a colorful and dramatic narrative style. Yet he sometimes oversimplifies and harshly judges events and people, even Bailey, who Peele deems a lazy journalist and bad writer.

“The truth speaks for itself,” Peele told me. But the truth is often a matter of perspective, and Peele can’t escape the fact that he’s a white guy who has worked out of Contra Costa and Alameda counties since 2000. Perhaps that’s why he’s so quick to label poor urban areas with substantial African American populations as “ghettos.” Or, sometimes even more dramatically, as a “sagging, blood-splattered ghetto,” a phrase that a Los Angeles Times reviewer singled out as an example of how “Peele’s prose occasionally overreaches.”

I was repeatedly struck by the same thought, almost physically cringing when Peele labeled San Francisco’s Western Addition, my old neighborhood, as a violent ghetto. Or when he wrote, “Richmond is one of the most hopeless and violent cities in America, an oil-refinery town of 103,000 people, littered with shanties where shipyard workers lived during World War II ,” as if it were a cross between an Appalachian coal town and Third World hovel rather than a clean, modern Bay Area city well-served by public transit and a Green Party mayor.

Peele got defensive when I asked him about the labels, telling me, ” I stand by characterizations,” although he admitted that maybe Western Addition isn’t really a ghetto. “I think you’re nitpicking,” he told me.

Perhaps, and I do think that Peele’s flair for the dramatic is one of the things that makes Killing the Messenger such a page-turner, in the tradition of great true-crime novels such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. But in a book that bravely takes on the complexities of racism and its backlash, I think this is more than a trivial “nit.”

It’s tempting for white America to dismiss such details, treat racism is a thing of the past, and malign racial sensitivity as political correctness. But as Peele and his book remind us, the wounds of not-so-distant indignities can run deep. And the collapsing opportunities for social and economic advancement in this country will create a backlash if we try to ignore it.