Medium: Wearable; Screenprint on cotton fabric
Object #: TO20WA008A-E
Presented in conjunction with Rawson Projects
Lawrence Parker was born in the Bronx on August 20, 1965. He was homeless at the age of 16 and spent time in several shelters, including most notably Covenant House. During this period he came across the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (the “Hare Krishnas”), who would provide food to the homeless as part of their outreach.
Along with the food, the Hare Krishnas shared various texts related to the worship of Krishna and the bhakti tradition, such as the Bhagavad Gita. Lawrence found the dialogue between the god, Krishna, and the warrior, Arjuna, compelling. Lawrence was not alone in being attracted to the Hare Krishnas as they developed a presence within Western popular culture shortly after their start in New York in the 1960s.
Lawrence spent so much time amongst the Hare Krishnas that other people at the shelter started calling him “Krishna” instead of “Larry”. The usage of Krishna became so commonplace that his official paperwork now stated that his name was “Krishna Parker”. Larry decided to shorten Krishna to KRS and incorporated it into his MC name: KRS-One when he formed Boogie Down Productions with DJ Scott La Rock. KRS later stated that his MC name stood for Knowledge Reigns Supreme One Nearly Everyone.
The Sanskrit word 'Krishna' means black or dark. At times, it is also translated as “all attractive”. Some scholars have interpreted “Krishna=black/dark” and other Hindu textual/visual depictions (e.g. In traditional patta chitras (cloth art) in Odisha, Krishna and Vishnu are always shown as having black skin.) as evidence that Krishna had Dravidian origins. While others see Krishna as a composite of various local deities that began to amalgamate around a single figure during the growth of Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu) in the early Common Era.
Thinking about the beginnings of KRS-One led us to consider the political and economic context of the 1980s New York and America.
The attempt to build a finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) economy in New York beginning in the 1970s led to mass deindustrialization and impoverishment.
As the FIRE economy swept through New York, the dissolution of what were just the tepid beginnings of a social-democratic social contract accelerated under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The ideology that brought together the Dixiecrats with free marketeers inspired by Lewis Powell’s (then a corporate lawyer, but later a member of the Supreme Court) Memorandum “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” would eventually become elite “common sense”.
The backlash against the gains of the Civil Rights movement and the building of some minimal social safety net, begun under the Goldwater candidacy was reaching its apotheosis in the Reagan Presidency. Through the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, much of what was contentious about the Reagan Revolution became part of the Beltway consensus.
"The conservative revolution that Reagan helped usher in gained traction because Reagan's central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democratic policymakers more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than with growing the pie — contained a good deal of truth" - Barack Obama “Audacity of Hope”
“I believe in states’ rights.” - Ronald Reagan (Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi August 3, 1980)
There was some pushback against the growing right-wing wave. The most popular expression of this may have been Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs in 1984 and 1988. When reading the text of his famous 1988 DNC speech, it’s interesting to note how it focuses on the material conditions of the working class and the contradiction embodied by the conflict between capital and labor.
“Our ships could pass in the night -- if we have a false sense of independence -- or they could collide and crash. We would lose our passengers. We can seek a high reality and a greater good. Apart, we can drift on the broken pieces of Reagonomics, satisfy our baser instincts, and exploit the fears of our people...Most poor people are not on welfare. Some of them are illiterate and can't read the want-ad sections. And when they can, they can't find a job that matches the address. They work hard every day. I know. I live amongst them. I'm one of them. I know they work. I'm a witness. They catch the early bus. They work every day. They raise other people's children. They work every day. They clean the streets. They work every day. They drive dangerous cabs. They work every day. They change the beds you slept in these hotels last night and can't get a union contract. They work every day. No, no, they are not lazy!”
- Jesse Jackson (1988 DNC Speech)
Meanwhile, Reagan and his followers remained unmoved by these pleas.
“In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.” [source]
When politics fail, oftentimes art becomes the fount of protest. Hip hop in New York was becoming the “Black CNN” (Chuck D) and KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions may have had the most precise analysis of the State of the Nation.
“Social studies will not speak upon political crooks. It's just the presidents, and all the money they spent All the things they invent, and how their house is so immaculate. They create missiles, my family's eating gristle.” - BDP “Stop the Violence”
1990, Liner notes on KRS-One's albumEdutainment
"A SPECIAL THANKS TO GEORGE BUSH FOR F***IN' UP THE NATION AND CONTINUING THE CONSPIRACY TO DESTROY THE AFRICAN! THANKS!"
The inability of mainstream politics led many to re-engage with thoughts of a generation before to contemplate an independent direction for Black politics. Foremost among these thinkers were Malcolm X and Kwame Ture.
“No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I'm not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver -- no, not I. I'm speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.” -Malcolm X “Ballot or the Bullet”
“Black Power means proper representation and sharing of control...It does not mean merely putting Black faces into office. Black visibility is not Black Power. Most of the Black politicians around the country today are not examples of Black Power.”––from “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation” by Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton (1967)
Fidel Castro with Malcom X at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, New York in 1960
“[T]he Democratic elites [have] been trying to ritually purge the party of its leftist ranks since at least 1985... Clinton, Gore and Biden formed the Democratic Leadership Council...the leftists they most wanted to purge...were Jesse Jackson and his multi-ethnic, working-class Rainbow Coalition...so that they could transform the party into a hospitable receptacle for Wall Street money.”
- Jeffrey St. Clair (“Roaming Charges: After/Math”, Counterpunch, November 13, 2020,)
Jack O’Dell, a key advisor to Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition and a profound global thinker, thought that the future lay through building an independent path on both global and national issues. A movement that sets its own agenda and was not beholden to either party.
“The Rainbow Coalition represents the Peace and Justice movements for social change entering the electoral arena, as an independent force...we arrive at political positions in both domestic and foreign policy...we are not tied to the positions of any party...The Rainbow Coalition “has to be bold enough to perceive of itself as the historic replacement for the existing two-party system”
- Jack O’Dell, “The Rainbow Coalition: Organizational Principles”
“True modernism is the freedom of mind, not the slavery of taste. It is independence of thought and action, not tutelage under European school masters.”
- Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism
Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s in India, elements of the bhakti movement from which Krishna Consciousness developed, were being weaponized by the forces of Hindutva (right-wing political Hinduism) to build a Hindu Nationalist movement that saw its apex with the election (& re-election) of Narender Modi as Prime Minister.
Hindutva forged upon a politics glorifying supremacist anachronistic tradition & tyrannically racist caste lines, soothes its diseased self-identity via co-dependence upon its growing $4 billion skin whitening habit; with most all profits going to American & European multinational corporations.
Modi and the forces of Hindutva were finding kindred spirits globally, especially Trump and Netanyahu, and India was becoming part of a triangle of reaction. Connected to this was the usage of a supposed “non-violent” Hindu spirituality to provide cover to the forces of Empire.
“Yoga mom seeks namaste for the IDF”
(Times of Israel, June 21, 2015)
We should also remember that there are other pathways and interpretations of the relationship between spirituality and politics, such as those walked by KRS-One and BDP, which are critical power and seek to transcend the mythologies of nationalism and American Exceptionalism.
Boogie Down Productions
“Higher Level”, Return of the Boom-Bap (1993)
Title take the title from the Bible we can get there
Rip the title from off the front of the Bible God don’t live there
Too many inconsistencies too many mysteries
Picture the Pope and the Vatican laughing and drinking and singing and kissing me
I stand with God whether I’m paid or whether I’m cryin’ broke
I like to ask these politicians would Jesus vote?
The way we view God is a freakin’ shame
Church is to blame. We trust God but bomb Hussein
We simply lovin’ the scripture same scripture that whipped ‘cha
Sooner it’ll hit ‘cha religion’s gettin’ richer
With that European version of Christ made into a picture
Our society’s gettin’ sicker and sicker and sicker...
Like liquor we are God-Intoxicated
Not to the true God but the one the government created
The same governments tellin’ people to vote
I pray to God because the people have lost hope
You either vote for the mumps or the measles
Whether you vote for the lesser of two evils you vote for evil
Politics and God are not equal
But the education if you don’t guard is really lethal
People have more respect for a holy book
Than they do for a cow on a meat hook
Believers of Jesus be denouncing Satan on every level
But every Halloween they’re dressin’ like devils
I pray to you for the light you might give them
Mother make them know that you’re livin’ within them
You begin them and end them in silence
Frankly if they knew you they would understand violence
I pray to you for the Pope and the Vatican
Have mercy Mother cause I know that you’re mad at them
The White Jesus deceived us a while ago
And Pope Julius the Second paid Michelangelo
I know this happened in 1519 yet
This is the image we can’t seem to forget
Vote for God don’t vote for the Devil
Let me take you to a higher level