reviewed by Sister Immaculate Conception in The Blast #1, April/May 1994
As the back cover says, “Bottomfish Blues is an underground Amazon publication that has appeared anonymously and episodically in NYC since 1986. Its.two main themes radically challenge white women’s complicity in both the on-going Black Genocide and the patriarchy’s war against women.” This book is a collection of essays that appeared in issues of Bottomfish Blues, which have not been widely available before. The writing is not academic at all, its written zine-style, and this made me even more excited to check it out.
The longest essay is the one the book is named after, “The Coming of Black Genocide.” The analysis of Bottomfish Blues is that the U.S. was built on exploited and enslaved Black labor, but has now come to a point where capitalism no longer needs Black people, and has come up with genocide as the solution. They attempt to trace the history of the coming of Black genocide up to the present, especially focusing on the role of attacks on Black women and children. Bottomfish Blues is a wake-up call, especially to white feminists. It has an important message to white women to refuse to align themselves with white men in support of genocide. As it says on the first page,”white women’s equality is the key to white solidarity.”
As important as I think this book is and as excited as I was to read it, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with its style and sometimes too-heavy conspiracy theory tendencies. Bottomfish Blues is written with a very wide scope and has a tendency to make absolute statements without backing ihem up. For example, “Back before the dawn of ‘civilization’, that is before classes and private property and patriarchy – rape was non-existent, was, in fact, unthinkable.” These kinds of generalizations (in this case about something no one could ever prove) weaken their arguments.
Bottomfish Blues also gets a little too into conspiracy theories for my taste. We need to have a more complex understanding of the way power works in this society. It is too impractical to believe that there is actually a unified group of people pulling the strings or an actual plan for Black genocide drawn up somewhere. Of course, policy consistently ends up benefitting the same people, and does all add up to an attempt to destroy the Black community, but this does not necessarily equal a conspiracy. The markers of genocide Bottomfish Blues points out are all there, and what becomes clear is that this doesn’t require the kind of conspiracy that the book tries to lay out. Sure, there’s the scary official government plans of the 1960s, but elaborate conspiracies aren’t practical, especially now. This genocide doesn’t need anyone guiding it, it was set in motion long ago and can keep on going on its own momentum.
The essays in this anthology were written in the late ’80s, so some of the examples in the book are slightly dated, but the genocide they describe seems even more true today. Sure they had Reagan then, and now we have a “liberal” president and a more “toIerant” atmosphere, but what we really have is the entire political establishment fighting over the rhetoric the extreme right has been spewing for years, media-fed public hysteria, and a nightmarish potitical terrain that can’t get enough of crime, drugs, drive-bys, street gangs, and sexual assaults. In the years of “p.c.” and multi-culturalism, no one is willing to point out that get-tough crime bills, gun control, the war on drugs, “community policing “, CARE/NRP, condemnation signs on low-income housing, and purposeful neglect of inner-city neighborhoods all add up to genocide.
Bottom fish Blues is an interesting and worthwhile read. The thing is, I felt like they were right, even as I was frustrated by their conspiratorial and generalizing tone. No matter what else, this book will make you think, and hopefully act now to stop genocide.