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Race Rebels : Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class Paperback – June 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kelley (Hammer and Hoe), who teaches Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, here adapts several of his previously published articles into a loosely linked study describing black working-class resistance outside traditional organizations and political movements. Studying complaints and protests by blacks on Birmingham streetcars and buses during WWII, Kelley discerns a collective effort to gain power over an institution on which they depended. Blacks who joined the Communist Party during the 1920s and '30s, he shows, helped infuse their culture into American communism. Though Malcolm X dismissed his youthful years as self-degrading, Kelley argues that part of Malcolm X's enduring appeal depended on the style he picked up from the 1940s hipster, zoot suit culture. And in an analysis of present-day "gangsta rap," Kelley describes how the music has become cartoonish and critics more sweeping in their dismissal, while the underlying conditions that spawned rap remain unchanged. Kelley's close analyses appropriately reject "formulaic interpretations," as he states, but this book is mainly for students and scholars.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kelley is a professor of Afro-American and African studies and author of Hammer and Hoe (1990), a look at African Americans and the Communist Party in Alabama during the Great Depression. Here he offers a bold premise that is bound to provoke controversy and comment. Kelley suggests that foot dragging, sabotage, workplace theft, absenteeism, cursing, graffiti, joking, playing "unauthorized" music, and dress-code violations are subtle and not-so-subtle but conscious acts of rebellion and resistance among a black working class that does not feel a part of "mainstream" civil rights and labor movements. His "history from below" attempts to show "how fundamental race is for understanding American culture and politics" as he analyzes cultural, social, and political phenomena as diverse as the African American volunteer role in the Spanish civil war and "gangsta" rap. This book is a must for African American history, social science, and labor collections. David Rouse --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 357 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826394
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robin D. G. Kelley never met Thelonious Monk, but he grew up with his music. Born in 1962, he spent his formative years in Harlem in a household and a city saturated with modern jazz. As a child he took a few trumpet lessons with the legendary Jimmy Owens, played French horn in junior high school, and picked up piano during his teen years in California. In 1987, Kelley earned his PhD in History from UCLA and focused his work on social movements, politics and culture--although music remained his passion.

During his tenure on the faculties of Emory University, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Columbia University, Kelley's scholarly interests shifted increasingly toward music. He has written widely on jazz, hip hop, electronic music, musicians' unions and technological displacement, and social and political movements more broadly.

Before becoming Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Robin D. G. Kelley served on the faculty at Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies, where he held the first Louis Armstrong Chair in Jazz Studies. Besides Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Kelley has authored several prize-winning books, including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (The Free Press, 1994); Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997), which was selected one of the top ten books of 1998 by the Village Voice. He is currently completing Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2011), and a general survey of African American history co-authored with Tera Hunter and Earl Lewis to be published by Norton.

Kelley's essays have appeared in several anthologies and journals, including The Nation, Monthly Review, The Voice Literary Supplement, New York Times (Arts and Leisure), New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Color Lines, Code Magazine, Utne Reader, Lenox Avenue, African Studies Review, Black Music Research Journal, Callaloo, New Politics, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noir, One World, Social Text, Metropolis, American Visions, Boston Review, Fashion Theory, American Historical Review, Journal of American History, New Labor Forum, Souls, Metropolis, and frieze: contemporary art and culture, to name a few.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By W Boudville HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kelley highlights an underappreciated portion of twentieth century American history - the intersection of the Negro working class with the simultaneous aspects of race and class. His book delves into the interwar period, and brings back almost forgotten archives and memories.

The influence of Marxist thought on some Negro activists is shown. To the extent that the American Communist Party received significant membership from Negroes. At the time, it was one of the few relatively colour-blind organisations. Of course, this very fact was used against the Communists and Negro activists by segregationists.

The book has numerous nuggets of history that might have often been omitted from other texts. Thus, you may well have heard of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which fought for the Spanish Republic during its civil war. But did you know that in that brigade were over 70 Negroes? Who saw the war as an extension of a war on racism and poverty, in Africa and the US. Kelley shows gives us their motivations and how they fared.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
Race Rebels forces readers to re-think their definitions of politics, resistance, and the relationship between social movements and everyday life. It is certainly the most sophisticated history book I've ever read. The author does a great job dissecting the struggles of African Americans in the 20th century and helps us understand why these struggles are so fundamental to american history.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paul Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Have you ever, when reading something, seen a reference to another book that makes you want to read it? Then when you get around to reading it, you realize that, with the first reference, you learned everything you wanted to know about the book? That was my experience with this book. I don't even remember where I read a reference to Robin D.G. Kelley's Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, but I know my life would not be less rich had I not read it.

This is not to say it's a bad book. It's a book that serves a function, fills a niche. Kelley writes as an academic (professor of history and Africana studies at NYU at the time of publication, now professor of American studies and ethnicity and history at USC), so the book is heavy on documentation and light on readability. (For 227 pages of text, there are 65 pages of end notes, a 37 page bibliography, and a 15 page index. But who's counting.) With that tone and purpose in mind, the reader can still glean an interesting take on civil rights and black history in the U.S.

In a relatively small space, Kelley covers a lot of ground. I enjoyed his recounting of, in a sense, the underbelly of the civil rights movement. We all know about Martin Luther King, the march on Washington, and the high-profile civil rights leaders. Kelley reveals the under-the-radar civil rights movement. Many workers, whether domestics, dock workers, field workers, etc., performed their own small acts of workplace rebellion, including industrial sabotage, workplace theft, and simple loafing. By doing so, they claimed ownership of their own time and persons, rejecting the role of slave.
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By Amazon Customer on November 20, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book could have been split up into chapters and read separately. There was no fluidity to it. I wouldn't say to never read it, but it was not my favorite style of writing.
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