ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
They’re right about the split among classes, and that a lot of people have been
left utterly behind. But I just don’t really think Jim Crow was that great!
The Rise of the Black Nerd (excerpts ) by James Hannaham
Studying at elite institutions has alienated . . . Afrodemics from blacks who see higher education as whitewashing. Yet their views still cause mainstream whites to ostracize or misunderstand them. Isolated from both camps, and even each other, they’ve developed an independent party of race politics with an intellectual bent. All that isolation and scholarship are what classify them as nerds.
Theologist Thandeka, Boston University economics professor (and supposed former neocon) —
Thandeka, a Unitarian minister and associate professor of theology and culture at Meadville/Lombard Theological School, draws conclusions not unlike Loury’s, but with a more sensitive, sociological approach. Her recent book, Learning to Be White, examines the process by which Euro-Americans maintain racial boundaries for their children through shame. It may seem counterintuitive for a black woman to spend time explaining the damaging effects of racism on white kids. But the real paradox is that it has always fallen to the victims of discrimination to describe how it worksas if they had created it.
“Would that the problem was really racism in and of itself!” Thandeka exclaims. She starts off Learning to Be White with a series of personal anecdotes from Euro-Americans detailing the first instances in which they felt themselves to be “raced.” “Sarah,” Thandeka explains, recounting an episode from the book, “brought her black best friend home, and her mother told her not to bring her back. As Sarah pressed for the real reason, she discovered that if she persisted, she risked losing her mother’s love. Every time she saw her friend, her appearance reminded Sarah of what she didn’t want to know.”
In many cases, theorizes the author, “the motivation for racist acts is not racism, but a fear of being excluded.”
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Glenn C. Loury
—Brazenly esoteric, Loury’s new book, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, excavates racism using the unlikely tools of theoretical economics. He argues that racism has become embedded in our society because racially stigmatized groups are denied access to the informal social networks crucial to success in any field. Also, what he calls “self-confirming stereotypes” help to “create the facts.”
Black people sometimes believe our own bad press and behave accordingly, even adopting negative stereotypical behavior as a way of throwing it back at society. But when non-blacks see the effect of this “feedback loop,” they conclude that blacks are being held back because of something in our nature. This Loury calls “essentialism,” and he rejects it as an explanation for inequality.
He holds liberal politics responsible for miscomprehending this process. The problem, he says, is that liberal individualism sweeps the issues of social networking and self-confirming stereotypes under the rug. In the process, it has allowed the idea of racism to become separated from specific acts of discrimination, so that it appears “natural and nondissonant.”
Loury’s assertion that racism has become unmoored from its direct objects is a common thread among today’s black intellectuals.
While Loury suspects that class will become as much of an issue as race in the future, Thandeka’s research reveals that America’s racist attitudes originated with class discrimination. She cites colonial Virginia’s “race laws” of the late 1600s as the moment when British classism gave way to American racism.
Previously, indentured servants and slaves had mixed freely and identified with the other group’s plight. In 1676, former indentured servants began to rebel against the ruling class for their unfair taxation and greed. They burned Jamestown to the ground. Terrified that the slave population would join forces with the indentured servants, the masters put the “race laws” into effect. Among other rules, white servants could legally whip black slaves and were protected from receiving beatings themselves.
“A new multiclass ‘white race’ would emerge from the Virginia laws as one not biologically engineered but socially constructed,” concludes Thandeka. “The very definition of the white would now be legally bound to the inferior social status of the black.”
It isn’t hard to bring this historical data alive in the modern era, Thandeka points out, since the ruling class still treats the lower classes with contempt no matter who they are. “The Enron execs didn’t discriminate against their employees racially!” she says.
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Novelist Martha Southgate embraces the label: “In high school, I never found my way into the black social circle, but I never felt fully comfortable in white social circles either. I certainly am a nerd!” For Southgate and others, righteous anger usually takes a backseat to curiosity, compassion, and a dash of world-weariness. “People ask me at readings to provide answers to this conundrum,” she says. “I don’t really have any. I’m just interested in exploring that tension.”
Novelist Martha Southgate focuses on upward mobility, and the ways in which race and class have ceased to be synonymous social problems, echoing the ideas of Loury and Thandeka. Centering on an intra-black class conflict, her recent novel The Fall of Rome describes the events leading to a confrontation between two black men of different classes..
“The Fall of Rome ended up being in part a way to address the idea that things aren’t simply black and white,” says 41-year-old Southgate. “In the early ’90s there were a number of newspaper pieces about the good old days when we all lived together, almost saying, ‘Segregation is good.’ I would get impatient with that. They’re right about the split among classes, and that a lot of people have been left utterly behind. But I just don’t really think Jim Crow was that great!”
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Black Nerds Through History
Akhnaton Egyptian pharaoh/eccentric mama’s boy; brought avant-garde art and monotheism to Egypt in 1300s B.C. Moved capital to middle of desert. Legacy suppressed, name denounced for years afterward.
Bankouri Prince who renounced throne of Songhai to become scholar at Timbuktu during heyday in 14th century.
Sally Hemings Jefferson slave and baby-mama; favored coalition-building in early 1800s as diplomatic means to freedom. Became neocon after decision to return to America and slavery rather than stay in Paris.
Enest Everett Just Early-20th-century American biophysicist. Pioneer in fertilization and cell development. Remained obscure because he didn’t invent peanut butter. Appears on 1995 Black Heritage stamp.
Bayard Rustin Nonviolent activist who organized 1963 March on Washington. Condemned as “known homosexual” by Strom Thurmond before the march, to little effect.
Adrienne Kennedy Award-winning playwright rejected by Black Arts Movement for creating multiracial plots and surreal, symbolist images. With Maria Irene Fornes and Sam Shepard, changed the face of theater.
Ernest Thomas A/K/A RAJ (from What’s Happening!!) From 1976 to ’79, led motley clique of very uncool African Americans. Tutored college basketball player, lied about age in order to date model.
Rita Dove U.S. poet laureate 1993-95. Won 1987 Pulitzer Prize for collection Thomas and Beulah. Avoided popularity by eschewing dialect.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. West Virginia-born public intellectual. After testifying in favor of 2 Live Crew, created prestigious African American Studies department at Harvard during 1990s. Traveled around Africa for six-hour PBS special while wearing khaki shorts, polo shirt, and glasses. J.H.
posted August 200
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update December 2011