Lessons from the Damned

In “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange,” an interview with Robin D. G. Kelley conducted by Jack Amariglio and Lucas Wilson, Kelley pays tribute to Lessons from the Damned: Class Struggle in the Black Community, a fugitive book from the 1970s:

Lessons from the Damned is this book that is black feminist practice laid out. In the clearest terms possible. These were black women working in the community, a low-income community, around housing rights, welfare rights, and they got together everyone they’re working with—young kids, elders, people of all ages, all poor people—and said, look, write about the oppressions you’re dealing with, write about what you want to see. Without an author, per se . . . The Damned. The Damned is the author. You can’t get more radical than that! Because that’s an example of praxis. That is, groups of people coming together to theorize their condition, to think through what’s the next step, and then to write it down in ways that are full of contradictions, but contradictions that are not re­solved or disappear, but open up new possibilities.

In the words of The Damned, from their introduction:

The papers we have chosen for this book were written by a large number of poor and petit-bourgeois black people—the damned—poor students, poor, unemployed, young women and men (the street bloods), workers in low-paying, dead-end jobs, and women welfare recipients. With few exceptions, the black liberation movement has been controlled by middle-class blacks in their own interest. This book may be the first time that poor and petit-bourgeois black people have described the full reality of our oppression and our struggle. We have tried to speak in the name of countless others who have been denied the privilege. Please let our individual names pass away and be forgotten with all the nameless like us—and those too who went before and yet in reality made it possible for us to speak today.

From a place of quarantine, and with a desire to abet the praxis Kelley refers to, we’ve digitized a free version of this legendary book.


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