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Updated: Aug 10, 2019

The L1 Collective’s Insurgent Media Cypher is a gathering call for potential L1s who feel themselves responsible for the proliferation of amplified Black voices through the development of strategic and systemic Pan-African cohesion, for the utilization of culture and connection in pursuit of Black liberation, and for the harnessing of the power that collective naming yields. If what you read resonates, contact us at info@fourhundredandone.com for more information on how to join the L1 collective.



Njera Ish


When do Black folx imagine themselves? Where do they? Why do they? How do they? These are critical questions and their answers must always inform Black liberatory strategy. More specifically, they must inform the systems through which aspiring revolutionaries and the communities they serve communicate. When members of the Diaspora imagine themselves beyond the current and tangible parameters of oppression, they propel the entire Diaspora toward a revolution of minds and ideas that will result, in one way or another, in concrete political and economic power.


We’ve seen this happen through Afro-Futurism, as a genre, across mediums.


When Octavia Butler wrote about Lilith Iyapo, a Black woman left in an induced slumber for two hundred and fifty years, who woke to the news that humanity had been transported from earth because-put simply-we’d destroyed it, she drove forward a speculative narrative that posed questions about human in/ability to absorb evolved, unfamiliar, and unconventional cultures, reproductive partners, and equitable and sustainable societal norms.




When the afro-futurist pioneer wrote, also, of a young woman who watched a marginalized community take on the gigantic task of maintaining its humanity at a moment when society seemed to acknowledge it least, she burst open a world of ideas about what Black humanity actually is, how it interacts with the environment it finds itself in, and how iterations of its best and worst qualities will manifest irrespective of the nature of deep and dire issues that plague those to whom it belongs. Butler highlights, in Wildseed, that loss feels familiar and foreign all at once for a people whose oppression has transformed and evolved, but not dissipated. She conveys the vitality of dreams as a realm of communication and knowledge. She also communicates that questions linger about the foundation of existence when power is diffused, but not reclaimed.


In both works, Butler highlights the potential for Black healing; a potential that may or may not have been conveyed through other means.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs shares, through her Afro-Futurist narrative, BlueBellow, her vision of Black people in London who see mermaids in their mirrors; mer-metaphors for ancestors demanding, seeking, pleading for a reconciliation of worlds, of narratives, of struggles, of pain. She highlights Black sisterhood as a remedy for even ancestral visits disguised as delusions triggered by Black anxiety and stress. She conveys the deep need for intergenerational healing, including those both walking among us and moving beyond the grave.



And what of Sun Ra’s “Space is The Place”? Both the film and its soundtrack are a mandate addressed to the Diaspora. Allow free, Black expression to transport us to a place all our own, Sun Ra seems to tell us. His film is rife with metaphors for the Black dilemma, with his self-portrayed character engaging in a card game, for the duration of the movie, that will decide the fate of the Black race. The metaphors continue as NASA scientists kidnap him in an effort to coerce from him the secret to his strategy for Black ascension. When the scientists can’t coopt and render impotent Sun Ra’s knowledge, culture, or calling, they attempt to assassinate him. Their attempt fails and Sun Ra successfully empowers Black folx to, essentially, use collective imagination to transport them to a planet on which they’ll be safe; even requiring passengers to leave behind their “white parts” and take only their Blackness to the new world. We see these projects as art, as stories, as an escape for Black folx from depressing realities; but we often fail to see that they are attempts at the communication of pragmatic and realistic ideas, hidden from white gaze and thus protected from white supremacist scrutiny and destruction. We don’t realize that these are messages spoken, instructions given, and strategies shared. Not only should we hear them, receive them, and consider them, but we should examine them for clues as to how to continue such conversations. To do that, we have to innovate our conceptualization of communication, in general.


We, unquestioningly, acknowledge talking, texting, emailing, canvassing, petitioning, and social media engagement as forms of communication. These tools are undeniably valuable in their unique ways and, yet, they are informed by white hegemony and polluted by white comprehension. We’ve long resolved that the master’s house will not be dismantled with the master’s tools and, so, where does that leave us? In a much better place than the alternative would allow; with sacred ancestral guidance and cultural context clues.


What of the way that Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage during Motown 25? Did he not use his body in a way that was completely foreign to his mainstream audience, but that resonated, deeply, with us? A moment that lasted only two and a half seconds seemed to say to us that Black people could deny physics; that we are wizards, all powerful and unfazed by the confines of an oppressor-defined reality; that we already possess all we need to walk on the moon.


When Fred Hampton proclaimed “I am the people! I am not the pig!”,he immortalized and undergirded the revolutionary spirit of Chicago; sending chills down the spines of Black folx with a message that manifested more than a sense of community and a naming of the enemy. He communicated with us the importance of self-determination in this struggle, the power of standing on principle, and the utility of those principles as glue.


When Grace Jones brandished and flaunted her androgyny, what did she want us to know? Was it that the construct of gender in its mainstream manifestation is hyper-white and impractical for beings such as ourselves? Did she also intuitively understand that she was modeling for Black folx precisely what the consumption of and hunger for Black bodies by white appetite looks like in real time?


Remember how your mother would wash your hair in the kitchen sink with warm water and coconut scented shampoo? Remember that she didn’t have to verbalize that she loved you because her fingernails on your scalp said it all, because her scent somehow affirmed that she would always be yours and that mothering you came as natural to her as breathing?


There are keys to revolution buried in the exchanges with your best friend in which you trade glances and burst out laughing, without saying a thing. Sisterhood is the best medicine; an antidote for misogynoir and the battles we don’t discuss. Black queer folx’s belly deep laughs possess a magical quality and an inexplicable, organic contagion that, alone, have the potential to build community.


When you make love to another Black person for the first time and you feel luxuriously dipped in chocolate, wrapped in love, uplifted in ecstasy, what lessons are there to extract? Black bodies certainly do not exist to comprise the oppressor's source of exploited labor. They are for more than perverted hypersexualization by those disconnected from our collective spirit, our collective purpose. Our bodies are for loving, for worshipping, for pleasuring, for feeding. Our bodies are for us.


To get free, we must ask ourselves how the spaces we occupy speak to us. What do we feel, hear, understand in our daisy dukes and Fashion Nova surrounded by candy paint and engulfed in parking lot pimpin? What do we internalize at the barber shop or on the yard? Let us also pose questions about what it means to us and for us when we dap each other up, when we pray, when we dance, when we smoke, when we shoot. To conjure freedom, we have to not only internalize, but explicitly name that we have a language all our own. We have to ask ourselves why we prioritize MailChimp and Wix, Instagram and Facebook, The New York Times and Buzzfeed at the expense of instead of in addition to the intentional and strategic use of that language. Black envisioning, Black influence, Black ritual, and Black experience teach us that there exist, just within our grasp, galaxies of possibilities for a simultaneously age-old and brand new system of communications. They teach us that we can build that system piece by piece, story by story, thought by thought, exchange by exchange. History demonstrates for us that we must be careful to protect that system from the dangers of white comprehension. Our “words” must be visible, but opaque; impossible to decipher and distinguish to those for whom they are not meant. If we fail to take those precautions, our system will be absorbed and demolished; crushed, like every other aspect of Black autonomy, by the weight of capitalism and white hegemony and robbed of its breath because we underestimated the forces that seek to turn even our principles to profit.

If we successfully build this system, our potential for mobilization, for understanding, for radicalization, for healing will increase exponentially; with every Black public housing complex, apartment, block, street, neighborhood, city, state, country, world, universe plugging in and being fed, being connected, being informed, being warned. If we are successful, battle cries will ring further than we could ever have imagined and prayer calls will be more powerful that we have ever experienced. If we are successful, the revolution will not be televised, but broadcasted on platforms only we can see and through frequencies that register only with us.

The L1 Collective’s Insurgent Media Cypher is a gathering call for potential L1s who feel themselves responsible for the proliferation of amplified Black voices through the development of strategic and systemic Pan-African cohesion, for the utilization of culture and connection in pursuit of Black liberation, and for the harnessing of the power that collective naming yields. If what you read resonates, contact us at info@fourhundredandone.com for more information on how to join the L1 collective.


Mohammed Ish


What happened to the Black Radical Press? It’s a tragic question to have to confront, because it forces us to contend with a broken thread, somewhere between the typewriter and the cordless phone, the Roland press and the dial-up connection. Somewhere, over there, lies the resting place of the Black Radical Press. And it needs to revive. We contend at 400+1 that we need a new insurgent media for the 21st century. We need a minister of Insurgent Media, one willing to resurrect the black press, make it internationalist, make it queer.


There are radical journals, that is undeniable. There are even radical journalists — but is there a black radical press? When we speak of a radical press we aren’t talking about newspapers, journals, websites. We are talking about the proliferation of mediums carrying the weight of dead generations of fighters in order to nourish the living; media reminding us that our calling preceded the day we stepped in this world and were called to fight. The Black Radical Press didn’t even need black people to be able to read when it first came into being. But it did demand our global desire for freedom.


“W.E.B Du Bois estimates that despite prohibition and negative public opinion, about five percent of the slaves had learned to read by 1860”, Eugene D Genovese once wrote, before adding that “this may even be too low.” And yet, in Lovell’s Black Swan, we are confronted with the political sophistication of black slaves, their undeniable capacity to be “informed on … the news of the day, inventions and discoveries, the approach of underground agents, the details about David Walker and Nat Turner..” How was this possible? Simply because blacks developed a regular system of dissemination, inspired by biblical figures of upheaval; figures like Moses, David, Elijah and Jesus. They communicated through spirituals, through song. Before Harlem’s step-ladder there was the slave-pastor pulpit.


Our medium, however, is not only our voice for we have also excelled with the quill and the pen.


Take your favourite revolutionary, and they’ve likely —at some point of their lives — worn two hats; journalists by day and revolutionaries by night. And If they weren’t journalists they owed their clout or politics to them. Douse Mohammed Ali, the Egyptian-Sudanese prodigy, practically reared Marcus Garvey and taught him how to be proud of his blackness. He took him as an apprentice on the African Times and Orient Review — a paper that helped many blacks understand themselves as part of one diaspora as it was distributed in the British West Indies, North America, West and East Africa, and even in India, China, Japan and Europe. When Marcus Garvey would preach his message through The Negro World, it, too, was to grant him prestige across the black Atlantic. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, once recalled that illiterates would come from across the colony to come and listen to articles from the Negro World, memorise them, and then spread them around to others. The black radical press was, in this sense, holy.


And this is what we speak of when we talk about the black radical press, about insurgent media. The Black Radical Press wasn’t the content of the articles, it wasn’t about words superimposed on paper. It was about the culture, about helping people understand who they were as black people in the world, how significant they were, how self-reliant they could be. It was also about cultivating the black imagination: Marcus Garvey wrote manuscripts detailing how a ship could take black people from America back to Africa. Sun-Ra would write tracts telling them how they could go to space. The Black Radical Press let blacks in Harlem know that the Japanese had defeated the Russians in 1905; that this act showed that the color line could be transgressed, that in the countries they resided in, it could be transgressed too.

The Black Radical Press wasn’t just about distributing papers on the streets of Harlem. It was about the culture that surrounded those papers. It was about the stepladder circuit, pamphleteering, asking people where they were going and what they felt about the fact that Ethiopia, the last stronghold of black sovereignty in Africa, was being invaded by Fascist Italy. A place where black communist women could transgress, and defy the expectations put upon them, by explaining how the class struggle taught them that they were triply oppressed, for being women, for being black and for being workers. The Black press allowed the Robeson’s to tell their stories about Paris. It was a platform for stories about how the Nardal sisters from Martinique owned their own literary salon. It was a medium for celebration of black American women like Ada “Bricktop” Smith, who owned the most prestigious bar in town and provided a multi-racial audience for artists like Josephine Baker while blacks in the south of the United States could not even get a bite to eat with their white counterparts. But most importantly, the black press created a black Internationale, allowing people like Garvey, in the words of Penny M Von Eschen, “in a brutal era of Jim Crow, lynchings, and political disenfranchisement,” to transform “African Americans from a national minority into a global majority.” The black press was what tied the Masai boy memorising Garvey’s message in Kenya to the child of a Garveyite sharecropper in Mississippi. Such an irony, the same ship which kidnapped blacks and separated them from around the world was now carrying the newspapers reuniting their souls. This is the Black Radical Press: the precondition for the black Internationale.


Do you know where the word “black internationalism” comes from? It comes from an article by the black Martiniquais intellectual Jane Nardal in 1928. Perry Anderson once wrote that all nationalisms were “imagined”, made possible by the emergence of print capitalism and the creation of a national identity by a literary elite, who imagined themselves to be subjects of oppressive empires, and who were able to instil in the masses a feeling of being “Indonesian”, or “Kurdish”, etc. One could definitely say the same about the emergence of Pan-Africanism. By the time Nardal would write her article in 1928, she would celebrate her historical moment, she would find herself euphoric to witness the “birth of a movement”, where “Blacks of all origins, of different nationalities, mores, and religions vaguely feel that in spite of everything they belong to one and the same race.” She thanks, “the snobs” who launched negro art, the literary’s who preserved the spirituals, the “sociologists “ who had “made known to the white world the centres of African civilisation”, and the writers like Alain Locke who gave confidence to afro-Americans and Afro-Latin people. “Along this barely trodden path,” she wrote, “American backs have been the pioneers, i believe.” And on this point she was undoubtedly true.


The contribution of African Americans to this global feeling of blackness cannot be denied. Within the 20th century, news outlets like the Chicago Defender, Negro World, and W.E.B Du Bois’s The Crisis compelled the average black worker to pay attention to what was happening in the global south, in the colonies of Britain, and in the struggle for decolonisation in Africa.


The same can also be said for Britain and in the metropolitan centres of the colonies. In fact the line between the black press and anti-colonial organising was really thin. For C.L.R James, a cricket journalist, it meant having access to a network that could help him found the International African Service Bureau with (then-former) Communist journalist James Padmore. With founding members like I.T.A Wallace-Johnson, a trade unionist and journalist from Sierra Leone, making first contact with workers struggling against colonialism in West Africa as a journalist meant that next contact could be an invitation to organise a mass-strike. The jig was simple: you get a press pass by the colonial authorities to go and interview workers on strike in Jamaica. Once you’ve established contact with them, you can begin to further deepen the anti-colonial struggle. These weren’t your typical “objective” journalists — these were journalists and organisers in one package, and they were unashamedly partisan.

But the significance doesn’t just lie there. The African Service Bureau attracted thinkers like Harold Moody and Jomo Kenyatta. The Bureau provided the core of organisers that would form the Manchester Pan-African Congress in 1945, a dress rehearsal of sorts that had at least three soon-to-be heads of state Kenyatta, Hastings Banda, and Kwame Nkrumah) declaring their commitment to bringing an end to colonial rule. It is no coincidence that the force which brought Southern, Eastern and Western African anti-colonial leaders was the black press, and that the two who introduced them all to each other and mentored them were the journalists C.L.R James and George Padmore.


So let’s return to the black radical press as succinctly as we can. It provided a feeling of one blackness across borders and boundaries. It was a tool of politicisation and organising. It provided an internationalist political education for the masses of black people everywhere, from the coal miner in Pennsylvania to the black child in Kenya. That was the black radical press of the early 20th century. We have not yet even scratched the surface however, and have not been able to mention the new left. For this, another essay is in order.


But for now let us take a look at ourselves, honestly, today. Is there any vehicle that is familiarising the average of African American with the assassinations of shack dwellers in South Africa? Most of us only heard about Marielle Franco — the socialist black bisexual lawmaker — after she was killed by Brazilian police. Many of us pay lip-service to our support for Palestine, but are most of us (not those who organise around this topic, but the sister on the black) honestly following what is going on there? We have countless black media outlets, loads doing great work as far as individual stories are concerned. But are they connected to a mass movement like Garvey’s Negro Voice? The answer to all of these questions is likely no. In fact, it seems sometimes that the black press is more concerned with how white the oscars is, than it is concerned with how black the world’s worst suffering can actually be. And it’s not like revolutionary struggle in the post-colonial black world has ended. In many ways, black people across the world are fighting dictators that look like us.

We may imagine ourselves to have progressed, but it’s clear that we need to go back to basics. We need, first, to have an insurgent media that talks about organising efforts happening across the country. We need a black radical press that follows the struggles of black people — particularly the black poor — everywhere. We need a black radical press that covers the blindspots left by those before us; that is queer affirmative, that is able to construct a black woman’s internationale. And we at 400+1 understand that we aren’t there yet. We need a Minister of Insurgent Media that can take us back to our roots; and our roots are unabashedly internationalist.


1. Brown, adrienne maree; pleasure activism in an interview with Cara Page, 2019 (p. 42).