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Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics

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Over the past several years scholars, activists, and analysts have begun to examine the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of us, suggesting that the divide can be traced to the neoliberal turn. “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man.” Perhaps no better statement gets at the heart of this turn. Increasingly we’re being forced to think of ourselves in ent Over the past several years scholars, activists, and analysts have begun to examine the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of us, suggesting that the divide can be traced to the neoliberal turn. “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man.” Perhaps no better statement gets at the heart of this turn. Increasingly we’re being forced to think of ourselves in entrepreneurial terms, forced to take more and more responsibility for developing our “human capital.” Furthermore a range of institutions from churches to schools to entire cities have been remade, restructured to in order to perform like businesses. Finally, even political concepts like freedom, and democracy have been significantly altered. As a result we face higher levels of inequality than any other time over the last century. In Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, Lester K. Spence writes the first book length effort to chart the effects of this transformation on African American communities, in an attempt to revitalize the black political imagination. Rather than asking black men and women to “hustle harder” Spence criticizes the act of hustling itself as a tactic used to demobilize and disempower the communities most in need of empowerment.


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Over the past several years scholars, activists, and analysts have begun to examine the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of us, suggesting that the divide can be traced to the neoliberal turn. “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man.” Perhaps no better statement gets at the heart of this turn. Increasingly we’re being forced to think of ourselves in ent Over the past several years scholars, activists, and analysts have begun to examine the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of us, suggesting that the divide can be traced to the neoliberal turn. “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man.” Perhaps no better statement gets at the heart of this turn. Increasingly we’re being forced to think of ourselves in entrepreneurial terms, forced to take more and more responsibility for developing our “human capital.” Furthermore a range of institutions from churches to schools to entire cities have been remade, restructured to in order to perform like businesses. Finally, even political concepts like freedom, and democracy have been significantly altered. As a result we face higher levels of inequality than any other time over the last century. In Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, Lester K. Spence writes the first book length effort to chart the effects of this transformation on African American communities, in an attempt to revitalize the black political imagination. Rather than asking black men and women to “hustle harder” Spence criticizes the act of hustling itself as a tactic used to demobilize and disempower the communities most in need of empowerment.

30 review for Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Albert Roberson

    This is one of the few politically based, non-fiction books I have read that I didn't want to put down. it challenged my own previously held conceptions and creates a compelling case for serious changes in the way I, and we as a society, need to face the many challenges of today that are related to policy. And I was shocked at how much of the misfortunes many of us face today have there roots in political policy. This book was a must read for me, and should be for many, many others. This is one of the few politically based, non-fiction books I have read that I didn't want to put down. it challenged my own previously held conceptions and creates a compelling case for serious changes in the way I, and we as a society, need to face the many challenges of today that are related to policy. And I was shocked at how much of the misfortunes many of us face today have there roots in political policy. This book was a must read for me, and should be for many, many others.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sivananthi T

    A must-read for activists who intend to make policy, institutional and structural change. Lester Spence brings together the different strands of how neo-liberal thought has paralysed arenas of activism and action. He also posits some recommendations on the way forward - for that you'd have to buy and read the book. A must-read for activists who intend to make policy, institutional and structural change. Lester Spence brings together the different strands of how neo-liberal thought has paralysed arenas of activism and action. He also posits some recommendations on the way forward - for that you'd have to buy and read the book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Byron

    I got this for free, on one of those Radiohead-style pay what you want deals, but then I felt kinda bad about it once I read that the author was broke as an MFN joke. His car broke down, and he couldn't afford to buy a new one, so he was having to ride the bus and accept charity. Clearly, this guy's own personal failings have informed his opinion on neoliberalism. But that doesn't mean that he's wrong! I found pretty much everything he had to say here on point. If there's a problem with this book I got this for free, on one of those Radiohead-style pay what you want deals, but then I felt kinda bad about it once I read that the author was broke as an MFN joke. His car broke down, and he couldn't afford to buy a new one, so he was having to ride the bus and accept charity. Clearly, this guy's own personal failings have informed his opinion on neoliberalism. But that doesn't mean that he's wrong! I found pretty much everything he had to say here on point. If there's a problem with this book, it's that he should have tried to expand it and release it as a more thorough take on the topic, maybe with a legit publisher. It seems like he could have had more to say about Black Lives Matter, which is run by Friedmanite agents for a school privatization scheme, and literally only three black people seem to be aware of this or give a shit (no wonder we can't get ahead). I wonder if this book was written before those events took place. On the other hand, there's a lot of stuff here on the black church, which I just don't think is relevant to very many people anymore.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I usually don't review academic books here but this one has a lot of heart -- the issues feel personal and immediate -- and it's so much more than academic. Spence makes a lot of connections and gives lots of creative insights into how neoliberalism affects black communities. As I have more personal experience with and interest in the chapter on black churches, I found that the most fascinating. But Spence not only has his finger on the pulse of the rich history of black politics -- and is a ser I usually don't review academic books here but this one has a lot of heart -- the issues feel personal and immediate -- and it's so much more than academic. Spence makes a lot of connections and gives lots of creative insights into how neoliberalism affects black communities. As I have more personal experience with and interest in the chapter on black churches, I found that the most fascinating. But Spence not only has his finger on the pulse of the rich history of black politics -- and is a serious expert on the city -- but on pop culture and current events as well, and he applies that wide array of knowledge to the topic in a brilliant way that makes this book hard not to read in one sitting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Redwell

    Spence's short and concise account of the neoliberal turn through a racial lens is marred by poor editing, an odd vendetta against Cornell West exemplifying his fetishistic obsession with organizing over mobilizing (as if either are sustainable without the other), and a general stubbornness in regards to addressing problems to the point where he forgets to convincingly criticize them in the first place. Too often Spence not only misses the forest for the trees but stresses his virtue in doing so Spence's short and concise account of the neoliberal turn through a racial lens is marred by poor editing, an odd vendetta against Cornell West exemplifying his fetishistic obsession with organizing over mobilizing (as if either are sustainable without the other), and a general stubbornness in regards to addressing problems to the point where he forgets to convincingly criticize them in the first place. Too often Spence not only misses the forest for the trees but stresses his virtue in doing so.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vernita

    This is one of those books that I will need to read twice to properly absorb the extremely relevant insights that the book has to offer. There are many threads to pull on concerning the effects of neoliberal policies on blacks and the working-class in general. There is much to be said about the institutions, as well as the mode of policy-making that wants to separate the political and economic situations of many blacks today from the institutional history that contributed to these situations.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A compelling case against the neoliberalism that has woven itself into the fabric of Black life - from interpersonal relationships, to family structure, to education, and to religious institutions - and our collective political mindset that automatically reduces ourselves to human capital, whether we actually mean to or not, in the endless pursuit of proving our worth to everyone else and each other. It's a solid primer, especially for a book this short (I actually wish all of the concepts were A compelling case against the neoliberalism that has woven itself into the fabric of Black life - from interpersonal relationships, to family structure, to education, and to religious institutions - and our collective political mindset that automatically reduces ourselves to human capital, whether we actually mean to or not, in the endless pursuit of proving our worth to everyone else and each other. It's a solid primer, especially for a book this short (I actually wish all of the concepts were more fleshed out. The book could have been twice as long, imo). But it should be treated as just that - a starting point for further research and self-reflection on how the "rise & grind" culture we've forced ourselves into since birth ("Why don't you start your own business?" being the backhanded, ever-present motto of "encouragement" on my social media feeds) actually causes harm all the way from the individual to the structural.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rollin

    Compelling and cogent account of neoliberalism's manifestation in Black America Compelling and cogent account of neoliberalism's manifestation in Black America

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shay-Jahen Merritté

    Interesting ideas and analysis Accessible ideas about black society the culture of hustle and what neoliberalism is and how it manifests in American society.

  10. 5 out of 5

    W M

    I heard about this book through Dave Zirin's twitter account. There are some typos in the book. One that was missed twice is the governor of Michigan is Rick Snyder, not Tom Synder. The grammar contained very few commas. There were also some awkward sentences. I would have preferred the book to have a larger font. (I read the paperback version.) I would like to have had more solutions in the text, along with more details on them. It can be difficult for me to imagine how a more progressive societ I heard about this book through Dave Zirin's twitter account. There are some typos in the book. One that was missed twice is the governor of Michigan is Rick Snyder, not Tom Synder. The grammar contained very few commas. There were also some awkward sentences. I would have preferred the book to have a larger font. (I read the paperback version.) I would like to have had more solutions in the text, along with more details on them. It can be difficult for me to imagine how a more progressive society would behave. I am drawn to Paul Goodman's neolithic conservatism, and I think that it ultimately flies in the face of the neoliberal turn, but I am a product of my generation. The neoliberalization of urban public schools is the best I have read so far, and I was formerly a student teacher. It ends with a call for the BLM to progress from spectacle. Hopefully this will improve through the incidental education that the young are receiving because I am not sure how much older generations have to teach the young. Spence cautions against the overuse of moral arguments, as they tend to erase the solid work that organizers must perform in order to win. The book notes that the black church has seldom been as politically progressive as many claim it to be. Theology remains important though because wins are hard to come by, and somehow we must keep the faith. In the introduction, Spence highlights his own experiences. It makes me wonder what would happen to me if I was in his situation. His actions are heroic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    EB

    Spence presents a thought-provoking thesis on the neoliberal turn and its impact on ethnic minorities, particularly Black people, in the United States. I came away with a novel understanding of different facets of American society and advocacy groups, such as education and Black Lives Matter. I think that this book helped to increase my repertoire of perspectives when trying to wrap my mind around the social injustices of our time. I especially liked the final chapter of the book, which does an Spence presents a thought-provoking thesis on the neoliberal turn and its impact on ethnic minorities, particularly Black people, in the United States. I came away with a novel understanding of different facets of American society and advocacy groups, such as education and Black Lives Matter. I think that this book helped to increase my repertoire of perspectives when trying to wrap my mind around the social injustices of our time. I especially liked the final chapter of the book, which does an excellent job of summarizing the groundwork he laid in developing the argument against the neoliberal turn in different levels of society while explaining ways in which it's expansion can be stunted and reversed. He is not afraid to confront some of the more popular methods used by advocates, such as prophetic utterance; the necessity of strong, charismatic, and male leaders; respectability politics; and moralizing. Spence's call for concrete political movement by advocates of equality is a perspective worth attending to.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alycee Lane

    Crucial analysis of neoliberal politics and African American communities. My main criticism is that his final chapter on Solutions spent more time rehashing arguments already made and less on actual solutions. Other than that, I think this is a must read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeché

    Good information, but poorly edited. Especially loved the chapter on solutions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Munger Isopo

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tracee

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Miller

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nnamdi Martyn

  18. 5 out of 5

    Qubilah Huddleston

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roopesh Vijayan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nate Charnas

  21. 5 out of 5

    Solomon

  22. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeong Yeon Lee

  24. 4 out of 5

    C

  25. 5 out of 5

    JimA Thompson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daniel C

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cj Enjoying-life

  29. 5 out of 5

    robert mishlove

  30. 4 out of 5

    andrew

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