I'm going on a few asides with this piece...but journey with me a little bit. At the end of the day, I might be engaging in make-believe spookery that's a product of my own mind. I might be mistaking nostalgia and cultural markers through the deaths of astounding public figures and entertainment icons of my coming of age...but I believe the cultural icons and celebrities that have passed in 2016, through their transitions, mark a living metaphor and a new threshold in the sojourn of Black folk in America.
I have said, and I continue to say, that Black folk are at a critical time here in June 2016...and I am not sure that beyond 2016 is exactly a "promised land" for Black people. It is a transition, but what it is a transition to is going to be up to us...because staying ignorant and on the sidelines is no longer a viable option. President Obama will be stepping down and there is going to be a paradigm shift for Black folk.
Dream and Hustle
There are number of key things that I am in agreement with Ed Dunn and the work that is being produced with the enterprises and organizations there. Where we fundamentally disagree is in his arrogant dismissal in writing off massive segments of our community as completely useless, and his love of "going hard" that alienates too many people from the value of the message. It is that is the difference in opinion which separated me from direct involvement with the Global Urban Collective. Nevertheless, I am intellectually honest enough and can remove enough of my own arrogant pride and ego out of a situation to know and understand that the concerns that he has brought up are real and a lot of the stuff Black folks have their minds wrapped around are diversions that do not help us. I can move personal beefs aside to see that and focus upon the realities where our people need real empowerment. The challenges and needs of Black Americans are bigger than all of that other petty mess.
In a June 9 article, Dunn talks about major disruptors that are both threats, but can also be opportunities for Black folk with the preparation, education and training to take advantage. These disruptors will have negative effects on the Black folk who continue to stay unaware, unassuming and uneducated. I agree with him on this. A lot of the current talk in social media around Black folk and the things that we need to do to build function and strength in our lives is frankly, ineffectual. It’s not going to have a lot of use value, and nearly all of the most prominent Black talkers that have a presence on social media and the internet have not addressed in any way worth talking or thinking about the critical concerns and issues Black folk need to be focusing serious attention and energy on. What they have done is prey on and manipulate your emotions for other, usually commercial, purposes. More on this later.
If there is not anything that I have said to you that you have paid attention to before, I challenge you to do so now. These are going to be issues that are going to make or break large segments of what we call the so-called Black community. The three largest threats or opportunities are the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Cults of Personality/Image Construction, and The Secret of NIMH.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
When you break it down and chat it up with our people on a daily basis, there's certain habits and patterns that you can observe among folk. Most Black folk are so much into the moment that they don't think or care much about a problem until it hits home. Most folks need to "see" a thing (whatever that might be, a problem, something new, something unfamiliar) before they think about doing something about it. The problem with that is that Black people aren't going to "see" much of anything regarding artificial intellience or robots until it is too late. A lot of Black people are not going to know anything about a Fourth Industrial Revolution until you lose your job or your business dries up if you continue to stay unaware.
From China, to India, to Israel, robots and intelligence augmentation are being programmed outside the country. Intelligence augmentation is different from artificial intelligence. Intelligence augmentation gives cooks in other developing the tools to make soul food, flash freeze it and ship it to the states and sell it to back to you — Black people. These technologies will disrupt the world in negative and positive ways and this Mo'pinion is being written to get you to decide what will your goals and place be during this revolution? Will this be an opportunity that you will have the power to take advantage of, or are you going to be on the sidelines complaining about digital divides and robots and technology are evil like a helpless victim...when you did not and do not have to be?
It is imperative that Black folk, on substantial levels, learn how to manage and program physical robots and app/software bots to design solutions that will build Black communities. I do not see many of the people that Black folk consider cultural influencers and leaders talking — much less teaching and showing —Black people how to do these things. I give considerable credit to Professor Nat Irvin II and his continuing work with the Idea Festival and Thrivals for introducing thought leaders and doers from around the world to children, particularly young Black children from the hood, exposing them to new ideas and international solutions.
From the beginning with these Mo'pinions, I have told you that this was a journey of continuous improvement that we would take together. It is critical that we step up and get knowledgable and proficient on AI and robot technologies that we put to use for the best interests of our communities and people.
Cults of Personality and Image Construction
How often do our cultural thought leaders talk, much less seriously address, the issue of emergency preparedness?
Remember Hurricane Katrina? Remember the tragedy and real problems that lingered regarding the people, predominantly Black and poor, who were left behind? Remember how one media outlet in particular went out of their way to frame Black folk looking like animals? Remember that in the aftermath, a lot of the early response was more about different parties pointing fingers at someone else to blame and covering their own behinds? One of my graduate school professors, Steven Koven, penned the term "image construction." Dr. Koven wrote a piece in 2010 for an urban development journal, "Image Construction in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina."
Koven describes "a classic case of reality construction." You had the then-mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin, the then-governors of Mississippi and Louisiana, FEMA Director Michael Brown and President George W. Bush all engaged in propaganda and blaming someone else. Instead of saving the lives of the people left behind in New Orleans, all of these parties were more about constructing an image that they were doing something while there was someone else who did not do something, passing blame rather than saving people who were in trouble. Far too many times, instead of Black folk getting the help that they need, we have people engaged in image construction.
Every time there is a crisis that hits Black folk particularly hard, we don't have voices saving Black lives, and also, applying anything that can solve the problem. What you do are the familiar faces and voices of pundits engaged in continued image construction and brand labelling around the problem. We will have parts of the community rise up in protest, bigoted critics complaining about the protest and the same old, same old. Rinse and repeat. Why haven't we figured this out and tried other things to deal with this in a significant fashion?
Image construction hurts Black folk, and it has been an effective weapon against us because our tendencies to prefer images and audio over reading and critical review, hurts us. Too many people, far too often, do not do these things that can determine whether information is useful or useless. Too many people take their cues from people that stirs your emotions up rather than give you tools that you can apply to your life to make it better. Until Black people start to concentrate more on the actual problems at hand to save Black peoples' lives and learn to hold the cultural voices that come to us accountable for what they say they want to do and are going to do, there will be a lot of Black folk who will continue to be suckers to pundits, to media and to demagogues who do little more than engage in image construction. The Main Thing is to keep The Main Thing The Main Thing.
We have to better know how to see through spin and press releases. It is important that organizations that purport to do follow up with us after the fact and let us know what is being done, has been done, what worked...and what has not worked. Every program is not guaranteed to succeed. That's okay. Fail quickly, keep working with the people, and try something else.
I am increasingly concerned about my own, and my people's, level of preparedness in West Louisville, and I believe that it is time that serious brothers and sisters in Black communities across America get serious about emergency preparedness. Narrow The Gap! will start a series of dialogues with William Muhammad, a man that I befriended in Louisville that now does such work for the NOI in Oakland, California. I have had small conversations with him before about this in the past, but I will address this more and share it with you all for future entries on the blog. When we talk about strengthening Black communities and restoring them to greatness, an essential part of those considerations have to go into emergency preparedness.
Lab Rats, Public Projects and The Secret of NIMH
Preface: I want you to hear me clearly on this. To my various connections throughout the city of Louisville and beyond, I am not making value judgments on people. What I am sharing with you are the results of things that have happened and my analysis and counter-arguments on what to do in its aftermath.
The Secret of NIMH is an animated fantasy adventure film from 1982, based on a children's novel, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH." It was a film that had a little commercial success, and there's a live-action CGI film version that is in development. The animated film and the book were fiction based upon real research from a 1950s well-known scientist, John B. Calhoun, who tested laboratory rats at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and his research has been used as racist urban strategy to have Black Americans, through a "throwing stones but hiding your hands" strategy, exterminate each other into political irrelevance and extinction.
Calhoun's research is available via an Internet search. His work with rats were based on social behavior and urban density. Here is Dr. Calhoun's wiki entry to give you a start on his work. Let me also say this: I do not believe that Calhoun intended his research for ill purposes in Black communities, but his research was used by federal, state and local governmental organizations for that purpose. Calhoun placed rats in an enclosed area representing a high-density urban community, allowed them to reproduce and remain in that area for generations and observed the results, to see how the society would advance over time.
Initially the population grew rapidly, doubling every 55 days. The population reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly, doubling only every 145 days. The last surviving birth was on day 600, bringing the total population to a mere 2200 mice, even though the experiment setup allowed for as many as 3840 mice in terms of nesting space. This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior. Among the aberrations in behavior were the following: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, increase in homosexual behavior, inability of dominant males to maintain the defense of their territory and females, aggressive behavior of females, passivity of non-dominant males with increased attacks on each other which were not defended against. After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. During this period females ceased to reproduce. Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits. Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males. They were dubbed “the beautiful ones.” Breeding never resumed and behavior patterns were permanently changed.
The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.
If you put a population of rats into a closed, stacked environment and let them only interact with each other, after generations and over time you will family breakdown, turf violence, the inability for males and females to court, couple and reproduce, and men becoming ever more self-absorbed and going their own way. This well received research was taken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)...and there were results that came from these findings.
At 52 seconds, the brother said that "the experiment had gone terribly awry." I beg to differ. It went the way some implementers had believed that it would go. The high rises, and housing projects in general, were an experiment. In this case, a social experiment. Again, I do not believe Calhoun intended for rat research to be used against Black people, but just as the FHA policy, "white covenants" and occasional acts of terrorism kept Black people out of the suburbs until the late 1960s to early 1970s, this social experiment has had lasting, devastating effects upon millions of Black Americans and have done incredible amounts of harm.
How many Black people have died? How many people have suffered a lifetime of marginalization through life in these housing projects and the social problems that cling to poor Black folk, like dog poop on a shoe? How have people's lives, over generations of people, been damaged because of the quality and value of life declines that have resulted from housing projects and the legion of social problems that sticks to them? Above and beyond the real injury that is encoded into our DNA through our ancestors' suffering through slavery, you have millions of people right now who have a direct case for reparations as a result of direct government policy that occurred over the last 75 years.
We have been through this. We're bruised, but most of us have survived. Most of our projects have been torn down and people now receive Section 8 vouchers, save for Beecher Terrace...and that's coming down very soon. Rather than saying all of this to be victims, we can sound a warning horn to people in developing nations where their leadership are thinking about building projects and towers. Let us take our knowledge of urban communities and export our experience to other communities around the world to prevent these things from happening to them.
Ali's Legacy and the Challenges of West Louisville
In our neck of the woods in Louisville, Kentucky, all the community’s talk and focus is on the funeral procession and memorial services for our beloved brother Muhammad Ali. People from all over the world have poured into the city to mourn his death and celebrate his life and example. Muhammad always retained a love for Louisville and especially the hoods of West Louisville, and the challenges that our neighborhoods struggle with were ones that hurt his heart.
All of this international attention has poured a focused spotlight on the city and one of its key problems, its lasting legacy of entrenched “hyper-segregation.” The BBC is in town and have just done a piece on it. What you have to realize, good people, is that the condition of Beecher Terrace, and the condition of our West Louisville neighborhoods (keep in mind, most of the projects have been torn down and the people in them have been moved around…but that didn’t make the people’s problems go away) as well as in predominantly Black, poor urbanized areas is a result — a result of decades of Black folk being experimented upon like lab rats.
So what next? What shall we do? First of all, I say we must continue to seek good patterns and solutions...patterns, practices, and culture, over feel-good stories. Feel-good stories stir your emotions, but learning wise practices and patterns that will serve you in a modern 21st century technological society strengthens and empowers you. Being empowered is worlds better for you and our people over feeling good.
How do we get there? Through a focus on solutions...solutions for us...that we can port/sell/share to others.
If we solve the self-publishing and self-distribution of our stories in about our communities, we can take these solutions and sell them worldwide.
If we solve the problem of rebuilding retail markets and retailing in our communities, we can take these solutions and sell them worldwide.
If we can solve the problem of building trust verification and cashless transactions in our communities, we can take these solutions and sell them worldwide.
If we can solve the problems of security in our communities, we can take these solutions and sell them worldwide.
Over the past week, I have had conversations with people on social media who have had concerns about my past Mo'pinion on security, expressing skepticism about how effective a strategy that it is and how it has been ineffective when applied in some cities. First of all, we have some confusion over what I propose introducing and implementing as a system versus most people's current understanding of the technology. Let me attempt to better explain.
Normal security cameras fall short because they are passive appliances and do nothing more than record crime as it happens. What I am speaking of are camera systems that detect suspicious activity early so that preventative interventions will take place. This is what predominantly Black communities need as the focus and strategy. These security cameras have considerably more effectiveness when you have professionals that can monitor thses cameras, understand what is being done in real-time, and pan and zoom in on suspicious activity.
This is done through artificial intelligence built into the camera, or an enhancement of a camera via specialized software, that makes these security cameras effective. Real talk, it's going to be the person who figures this out (and I would prefer that it would be a Black person or people who love African Americans and their communities who desire for them to be their very best), who can create "smart cameras" for Black communities struggling with violent crime and help lessen those problems, will become wildly successful and incredibly rich.
What's a Smart Camera?
A video camera, as is, is "dumb" if it is only streaming a video feed. It become "smart" through the processing of that video feed through software to detect objects and patterns. Rather than just dumping video to a hard drive for law enforcement and/or insurance companies to review and assess crimes and damage, "smart cameras" detect activities and respond if those activities cross the threshold of scenarios where a crime is, or will soon occur.
If you're thinking Pre-Crime, "Minority Report"-ish sort of stuff...yeah, like that. It is about using data to predict and prevent crimes from occurring through the observation of patterns. There are two types of patterns that we can use of smart cameras to divine out bad events. Those patterns are object detection and image processing.
After a filter is applied, objects can be detected. Objects of interest can be highlighted with a square or some shape to point it out. The detected objects, as a part of the whole picture, can be saved as a JPEG image file. It can then be post-processed with facial or car recognition software. A lot of the technology is already here, with one example being law enforcement scanning our license plates with rear or other focused cameras.
When you apply special filters to video, it can be transformed to better highlight objects. Thermal and infrared imaging are ways to detect objects giving off heat like running vehicles or living people in the dark.
Once you transform the video and can detect objects, you can start extracting data from the video and you have a "smart" camera that does more than record. This is the key. It is not just placing video cameras in a hidden location and recording. It is the use of high-definition cameras and intelligent software that tracks and detects objects in two or three dimensions (Cartesian Coordinate System). This is why STEM education is critical for our children's world of knowledge and our own better sense of understanding and operation.
This isn't magic or spooky mysticism. This is real technology that is here right now, surely being implemented and applied. This is an opportunity to be the subject and take power for the sake of your community as opposed to being objects that continue to be experimented on. We need people who love Black people and want their, and their community's improvement...but we need people that are focusing on particular solutions for particular challenges, and not more "inspiration" and "motivation."
Right now, there is open-source software to create smart cameras that is available to be used for projects for profit. Anyone can take a cheap webcam, and download this or OpenCV software...and tool around. My previous articles, as well as this piece, is a challenge to the people to forge solutions that will help Black communities. For the things that we don't know, let us pursue it. Let us research what men and women are crafting as urban solutions in Africa, Asia and South America. Let us be serious about the application of patterns and practices that will drive us toward working solutions for our communities.
Wrapping it all up, this can be an era of considerable opportunity or times of very serious pain. This is not about attracting followers or me asking you to give me money. This is just one brother striving to be The Leader That I Want To See and I just want to see more of my people engaged in solutions. I want to work with you on projects where we build equity together and rebuild West Louisville neighborhoods in our own righteous image, brick by brick and block by block.
Learn. Do for self. Improve. Get Agile. (I will talk about that more in a future Mo'pinion). The times beyond this 2016 election is not just apocalyptic scary-talk, this is real.
Research and Links: