The following was born out of a series of notes that I have taken, notes that are observations that I have had as an organizer in Los Angeles about democracy. Its title is “Angazi but I’m sure” which is a popular saying in urban South Africa to mean “I know but I don’t know” and can also mean “I know the answer but should I tell you”. The notes all treat a concern that in South (Central) LA, where I organize, there is not only a deep mistrust of the government but also of the Republic as a whole. Angazi, but I’m sure, residents seem to say when at their doors or during a conversation as if to mean that “we” do not trust that “you” could, truly, fight with us for a better future.
South Los Angeles, once the greater South Central, and still the case for many residents, is mostly black and brown, wherein most go about their lives surviving and thriving in their own ways, as if the capital of cultural futurism, financed by small loans from families as much as from banks, instead of the historicist cultures of many of this country’s communities. Residents live active lives guided by their wants and needs, and for some the desires that middle class life or wealth can afford. These residents are burdened by a human rights catastrophe that has existed since the foundations of this republic, and continues on in different forms. Today, many of these residents are workers and often non-workers never truly approached by emancipatory politics that focuses itself instead where its imagery is produced, in non-communal areas passing for communities (except if one can produce a community around being able to pay rent or buy a home) like Echo Park and Silverlake, or attempts to appeal without truly organizing. No one proposes, as Frantz Fanon would put it, a new humanity, despite the fact that workers are central to the vision of a socialist city. No, these workers are either unionized or not, and so either not participating really or part of the centrist machine that produces this city that we see today.
I have observed that, among the 35 and older lower income crowd, there is an “Angazi but I’m sure” as a “I don’t know but” or “we’ll see” that has emerged despite the political maturity of South LA, in terms of its experience with the carceral state and the police and so the true, deep, state that manages Los Angeles and this country, and other aspects of American life. Knock on a door and a man or a woman will sort of look at you with an “I don’t know” soon to be uttered though if you were to have a community member they know ask them about the economy or crime, they know specifics. Here religion breeds solidarity and discussion as it does in the Arab world for example but ask about the state of Los Angeles and you will receive an Angazi but I’m sure unless if you really probe. Why?
Angazi but I’m sure emerged as black resistance language in South African society, whose urban jazz-drenched politics came to be known through the figures of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu around the world. Without going into South African society or ours, let’s just say that both societies feature subalterns and regeneration / regeneracion (LA is mostly lived in Spanish language) in the midst of coping with national and local systems of extraction. What this means is that as families attempt to pursue their dreams of human regeneration / regeneracion, they are proletariats of globalized extraction. In order to regenerate lives and dreams, and perhaps generate new ones, they must resist by building community through culture which includes psychology and language. Angazi but I’m sure allows one not to have to delve into politics with another which may, in the end, be all about personal trauma.
This Los Angeles is not represented much in media, despite the fact that it is a large part of the city and not only in South LA. It is language and conversation that has emerged from the trauma experienced with ICE raids, a crack epidemic, cuts in public services, and so on and so forth.
I often find myself walking through East LA at night and saying “hola” to a man or a woman on a rocking chair, and hearing a slight “hello”. I do not engage that person much anymore because I know that this person has no faith in a political public sphere: one has to be not be political at first to then become political. I have learned this from organizing and I know that it is a feature of the city that I live in, a city of many centers. This is a tragedy to me, and must change.
Despite it being traumatized, subaltern and proletariat LA remains creative. If we think of culture as social practice, styles, dances, songs, etc, all express the need to build a life together. However, these cultures are their own centers and have produced an “Angazi but I’m sure” to engage with the culture, that of community organizing, that considers itself a center. Language signifies culture, which includes the perception of reality and social practices. Language signifies rupture and dispossession, as much as it can signify belonging. Listen to LA and you will hear the creation of other centers for coping, because trauma asks it of human beings