"What, to a Prisoner, is the Fourth of July?": Mumia Abu-Jamal and contemporary narratives of slavery

Luis Omar Ceniceros, University of Texas at El Paso


Writing from a specifically Black postmodern perspective, former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal composes his multimedia slave narrative as a postmodern Neo-slave narrative. From the Atlantic slave-trade to the United States prison-industrial complex, from Quobna Ottobah Cugoano to Mumia Abu-Jamal, the slave narrative exists as a critique against oppressive State powers and a collective affirmation of interiority and embodied significance. For Abu-Jamal, his incarceration is indicative of an ever-pervasive capitalist power-structure that in the past has, in the present is, and in the future will control designated groups of made marginalized masses in order that preeminent capitalist beneficiaries preserve elite status over those excluded, oppressed, and exploited masses. Within this framework, Abu-Jamal creates and characterizes his narrative as a continuum of Black enslavement. His work transcends autobiography and becomes creative expression—calling to the past and amplifying forward—a constructed narrative that mimics and mirrors constructions found in the traditional slave narrative, while incorporating contemporary considerations and aesthetics, thereby forming a synthesis: a newer imaginatively artistic way of looking at the past in the present. Therefore, the United States prison-industrial complex doubles as metaphor, while simultaneously, a collection of literal and spatial institutions of racial control for capitalist exploitation. It is this revelation that premises Abu-Jamal’s creative intervention as a voice writing and orally articulating the wrongs perpetuated by moneyed ultra-rich power elites and their capitalistic structures that mechanistically function to preserve their financial interests and their power—from the past to the present into the future.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Black history|American literature

Recommended Citation

Ceniceros, Luis Omar, ""What, to a Prisoner, is the Fourth of July?": Mumia Abu-Jamal and contemporary narratives of slavery" (2015). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1592901.