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Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics
Lester K. Spence
punctum books / Softcover / Dec 2015
9780692540794 (ISBN-10: 0692540792)
African American & Black Studies / Social & Political Issues
price: $27.95 (may be subject to change)
192 pages
Not in Stock, usually ships in 7-10 business days

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.

The story I began this with is not a life or death story. But it is a story about a certain type of suffering, a masked suffering, that even when healed is done so problematically, “problematically” because the various ways we (and here I not only refer to African Americans but to Americans in general) tend to heal this suffering are woefully inadequate, in part because we haven’t properly identified what causes our suffering in the first place. The crises my family faced are the natural end-products of a society that increasingly shirks its responsibilities to those perceived to be losers in an increasingly stark competition over material, social, and psychic resources….For a variety of reasons we’ve been forced to hustle and grind our way out of the post-civil rights era, and it is this hustle and grind in all of its institutional manifestations that’s resulted in our current condition. While interest in neoliberalism is growing, writings that examine how neoliberalism shapes black life are few and far between. I rectify this gap with an eye towards contributing to the scholarly literature but more importantly with an eye towards contributing to the broader conversation about solutions.


Neoliberalism is the greatest political sleight of our time. Knocking the Hustle makes it plain. Drawing from political economy and personal crisis, Spence diagnoses the economic pains and existential threats neoliberalism poses for Black lives (and all others) in urban America. Why? To help us convert truth to power to knock neoliberalism off its pedestal.

~ Michael Leo Owens, Emory University, author of God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America

In this provocative study, Lester Spence opens the conversation about how black politics and the black community have been affected by the market-driven logic of neoliberalism. He at once gives us an understanding of the modern origins of the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore against social injustice and inequality and the relative advantage of educated blacks who can accrue so-called human capital. By situating black politics in the thick of the global crisis of economic and social inequality, Spence, rather than offering us bootless solutions, has set viable parameters for understanding and addressing problems that transcends racial and national boundaries. Those seeking to understand the crisis and the movement this time must read Knocking the Hustle.

~ Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History

About the Author:

Lester K. Spence is an associate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University. He specializes in the study of black, racial, and urban politics in the wake of the neoliberal turn. An award winning scholar (in 2013, he received the W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Book Award for his book, Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics) and teacher (in 2009, he received an Excellence in Teaching Award), he can regularly be heard on National Public Radio and the Marc Steiner Show. He also has his own blog HERE .

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