ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Throughout the series, Ezekiel Rawlins exemplifies that insecure psyches foster unhealthy attributes.
As a result of Rawlins myriad poor decisions, the text demonstrates that repetitious,
negative behaviors eventually become learned, and are quite difficult to adapt.
Books by Walter Mosley
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Devil in a Blue Dress and Cinnamon Kiss
An Exploration of African American Financial Insecurity
and Its Impact on Psychological Development
By Mimi Ferebee
Mosley has never been a traditional crime novelist he writes to serve a cultural agenda, and for him the mystery is less a whodunit than a vehicle for exploring a way of life.David Ulin, The Atlantic Monthly
Walter Mosley, a modern detective fiction writer, revolutionizes the classic texts of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett with his Easy Rawlins series. The author challenges past brands of this genre, constructing a more complex central character. With an African American protagonist, Mosley limns a detective prototype through the lens of a poor, black, single father. As a result, he evolves the stapled wisecracking, forever drinking, tough guy developed within past literature. His progressive craft forces the reader to expand their perception on what else can be synonymous with private detective, as Chandlers Philip Marlowe and Hammetts Sam Spade fail to represent the only basest for such characters. Mosley illustrates a snapshot of the African American, postwar experience (Gross 99), simultaneously weaving cultural history and personal reminiscences into this story.
His Ezekiel Rawlins bestows raw insight into the financial and psychosomatic structures of not only a black, male community member, but also an urbanized private investigator. A stark contrast to the philosophical Marlowe, Mosleys modern outsider grinds for desperate compensation rather than an inherent pursuit of moral justice. While this series unfurls Rawlins maturation over an eighteen year epoch, the authors first installment, Devil in A Blue Dress, and last, Cinnamon Kiss, represent a time machine in which we can examine a black voice. Rawlins distinct junctures in these two periods parallel one another, suggesting that while the appearance of his society has evolved (i.e., gender roles, economy, etc.), the struggles of the African American community remain virtually unchanged.
This is a critical point to analyze in Twenty-First Century America as the themes of these texts continue to resonate. Thus, Mosley exposes the general, hopeless tribulation of financial instability while demonstrating the delicateness of African American identity. By working to understand the dynamic of this race and its prolonged hardship, one can then attempt to create a realistic plan for resolution. Whether it be an individual looking to strengthen the foundation of his or her family, or an activist seeking to help this population, the first step must be exploring this plague of financial insecurity, and then understanding its impact on psychological development.
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From the opening pages of the Easy Rawlins series, Mosley argues that African American men are not only not created equal, but also unprepared to handle inequity. After serving in WWII, Rawlins returns home, prioritizes, and acquires legitimate work as a laborer (Devil in A Blue Dress 6). Paralleled with poor African Americans in his community, Rawlins struggles to maintain basic needs despite employment. Described as a tough guy with a good heart [who] . . . combines the moral realism of a Humphrey Bogart gumshoe with the barely checked race rage of a Richard Wright antihero, Mosleys protagonist represents an ordinary, black man who owns nothing but his integrity and street smarts (Woods 135). Thus, when unjustly fired, Rawlins cascades deeper into financial insecurity.
This bleak, plot introduction tones the series, creating literary framework for both Devil in A Blue Dress and Cinnamon Kiss. Moreover, Mosley makes a point to show that Rawlins work ethic and honesty represent chief attributes for maintaining employment, and his honorable service to America further espouses good character. The notion fairness for all, therefore, comes into question as Mosley suggests that even when an African American man ensures that his affairs are in order, having been proofread, cleared of errors, and printed on laminate paper, his efforts often go unmerited.
In an introduction written for Black Genius: African American Solutions to African American Problems, Walter Mosley states:
[African Americans] are brought up believing in equality, and to some degree that belief is valid. . . . Its up to you to make a success of your own life. That is the American myth. Why myth? Because the promise does not necessarily lead to reality. The promise is only a possibility. It is just as possible to try and to fail in America (7-8).
The concept American myth represents foremost what Mosley emphasizes in Devil in A Blue Dress, later accentuating in Cinnamon Kiss. A notion of disparity, this theory rings loud for many poor, black individuals. As a result, Mosleys voice and attitude intrude this story as he limns what an excellent worker Rawlins represents, yet contrasts that with the unforeseen reality of being fired.
Financial shortcomings serve as a recurring motif throughout this series; this overarching premise depicts fiscal desperation as a channel towards greater insecurity. For example, when offered an arbitrary job to locate a missing Caucasian woman, Rawlins hesitates to consent. Cognizant of ensuing danger, he determines that this job would be reckless; yet, the finders fee represents the only way [he sees] to keep [his] house (Devil in A Blue Dress 11). Setting aside fears and blatant acknowledgement of a poor decision, Rawlins accepts his first, investigative case.
Laced with emblematic concerns, this scene demonstrates the struggle of having and keeping a job, despite a good work ethic, and the explicit brand of financial instability and restricted, recovering options. Such anxiety, as the text illustrates, cripples the black community, enabling some members to make poor decisions when desperate. Ezekiel Rawlins represents a prototype of this population as Mosley paints an oxymoron, the incongruous notion of good, black people completing disagreeable tasks to first acquire and then maintain a sense of equilibrium. The latter illustration of poor decision making skills, as well as notions on maturation and self-doubt, found the African American milieu in which the author develops his protagonist.
Throughout the series, Ezekiel Rawlins exemplifies that insecure psyches foster unhealthy attributes. As a result of Rawlins myriad poor decisions, the text demonstrates that repetitious, negative behaviors eventually become learned, and are quite difficult to adapt. Unhealthy customslike Rawlins modifying beliefs and valuessimply to achieve a sense of everyday stability, cause long-term stress, impacting development and identity (McLoyd 333; Rosser 360).
Based on such primordial facts, philosophers like the notable George Santayana argue that individuals who do not wisely adapt from mistakes are condemned to repeat them, cycling poor decisions (Santayana, 137). In line with these perspectives, Mosley argues that financial insecurity may be co-morbid with poor decision-making. The two, compounding ones internal equilibrium, influence psychological development. To accentuate this argument, the author deliberately has Rawlins battling these concerns in each novel. Having learned from previous errors within not only Devil in A Blue Dress, but also the following eight books of this series (Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, A Little Yellow Dog, Gone Fishin, Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Six Easy Pieces, and Little Scarlet), Rawlins wants to be confident in his decisions, as well as financially stable.
He does not wish to repeat past mistakes in Cinnamon Kiss but can only express himself in the natural, uneducated’ dialect of his upbringing (Devil in A Blue Dress 54). Consequently, his limitations often give way to desperation, creating a catalyst for frantic, poor behavior. Expounding additionally on the shortcomings of such predisposition, psychological researchers like Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania argue that when individuals are placed in a situation where the ultimate outcome appears independent of their chosen response, those individuals learn that their actions, whether positive or negative, are ineffective (Seligman xi).
That being said, what is there to drive a desperate individual to do the right thing when his positive actions fail to lead to constructive outcome? Seligman surmises that as a result of learned helplessness, the individual (in this case: Easy Rawlins) may accept a powerless persona as part of his/her identity. These concepts litter the previous scenes as well as the entire Easy Rawlins series. The protagonist, with such psychological dissonance at work, begins unhinged journeys, whatever the costs, as means of securing a momentary sense of stability.
Further developing his notions on cycling poor decisions, learned helplessness, and identity, Mosley recreates the previous scenes from Devil in A Blue Dress within Cinnamon Kiss. Desperate again for quick money, Rawlins considers [hitting] up an armored car with his old friend, Mouse (44). When asked, however, to help locate Cinnamon Cargill, a Caucasian woman, Rawlins chooses a legal method to obtain the money. This opportunity allows him to demonstrate psychological maturation through refined decision-making skills.
Even so, Rawlins denotes internal conflict in regards to doing the right thing: I made ready to leave, knowing that I was being a fool. I needed that money and I knew how powerful white men could act (Cinnamon Kiss, 46). At this junction in the narrative, Rawlins values appear secure, evidenced by his strength in choosing to act and his sense to avoid a quick scam as means of accomplishing goals. On the surface, Rawlinss options seem clear cut, a mundane example of a good decision versus a poor decision. The underlying text, on the other hand, paradoxically suggests that both options present paths from past mistakes. While Rawlins knows that a legal path represents the better decision, the protagonist recalls stark troubles when working in a primarily white milieu.
For example, in Devil in A Blue Dress, when Rawlins accepts his first case to locate Daphne Monet, he almost drowns in the political and social mayhem of white society; he comes close to being jailed, nearly losing his freedom, let alone his life in the kind of tales that we called lies back home in Texas (Devil in a Blue Dress 66). Despite the dangerous flashbacks, Rawlins accepts this challenge, opting to provide for his family.
The dissonance of Rawlins character and action creates psychological confusion for him. Mosley does an excellent job developing an illusion of financial options for Rawlins in Cinnamon Kiss, soothing the tragic tone of the sequence.
The fact, though, remains that Rawlins stays at-risk, condemned to repeat [the past] (Reason in Common Sense 57); this appears evident regardless of learning from poor decisions. The text captures the protagonists insecurity: It wasnt political ideas I didn’t care about or understand that made me mad. It was the idea that I wasn’t, and hadn’t been, my own man (Devil in A Blue Dress, 203). Throughout the Easy Rawlins series, Mosley limns a theme of African Americans having to repeat history, even after learning from their pitfalls. This depiction represents a significant aspect of Mosleys literary, African American race, remaining as critical to their financial and psychological development as cultural identity.
The concept of having to make unhealthy decisions as a means to acquire momentary, financial stability defines his community. Thus, it is not an issue of learning or incompetence, but rather survival. The author demonstrates Rawlins maturation, showcasing the protagonist as he mentally refines decision-making and problem solving skills throughout the series. From 1948 through 1966, Rawlins explores and challenges notions of good, evil, justice, and injustice (Myrisades 193). He understands the difference between right and wrong, security and uncertainty. While juggling such complex subjects, Rawlins maintains open communication with himself and close friends.
Unlike Marlowes poetry and chess sessions (recall The Big Sleep, 1939), Rawlins survival tactics allow him to not only manage financial and psychological stress, but also sustain a sense of cultural identity. With these precautions being precisely executed, the text argues that despite constructive efforts, black men may never achieve a long-term sense of equilibrium. Though pessimistic, the story reflects a raw illustration of black struggle. The stressed-out tone pleads for change, begging for resolution. Perhaps it is Mosleys goal to paint his picture so vividly that as we read, mentally chanting Rawlins towards success, we too, begin to game plan for our own struggles? He does not expose these tribulations for readers to give up, becoming indifferent within their fight, but rather seeks to motivate. The underlying message urges readers to identify with the protagonistnot simply learning from him, but gaining strength from his story.
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Walter Mosley uses this series to advocate for the psychosomatic welfare of African Americans. Throughout this story, he exposes the tribulation of an everyday black existence, illustrating that on his journey to achieve an illusionor American myth (recall Mosleys statement in Black Genius 7)the black man often evades his own values and judgment to attain fiscal and psychological security. The text argues that blacks are deserted without resources to achieve their desires, neglected when it comes to basic rights, and often left to compromise their own beliefs in order to attain daily means. As a method of coping with this reality and surviving the professional tasks before him, Rawlins uses himself as a sounding board to discuss internal and external concerns.
Consequent of discord, he flits within confusion, revealing snapshots of a poor individual trapped within an insecure environment. It is critical to emphasize that Rawlins never sought being a detective, but rather the profession landed in his lap during a period of financial desperation. Detective work existed as the only option for Rawlins to maintain his home. Therefore, in Devil in A Blue Dress and Cinnamon Kiss, his investigations naturally become overwhelming, ultimately unhinging his sense of self.
As the cases swathe him, myriad people become murdered, and his involvement makes him a primary suspect: I kneeled there in front of that dead man like a priest blessing a corpse brought to him by grieving relatives. I dont know his family name or what he had done, I only knew that he was dead (Devil in A Blue Dress 100). In a short time span, Rawlins transforms from an everyday man to a dedicated detective, who is as interested in solving cases as he is determined to reap his end payment.
Rawlins livelihood now exists as a political contest where dirty tricks and smoking guns pave the path to financial victory. A drastic transformation from day laborer, Rawlins world illustrates the reality of black men being tossed into random professions, accepting responsibility for arbitrary tasks as a means to survive. Mosley attributes an anything goes type quality to some of the males in this race, delineating the extent in which its members will grind in order to meet their needs. Yet, this behavior also highlights the population as being at risk for a cultural, learned helplessness.
When the male backbone of community begins to believe that his life represents a situation where the ultimate outcome appears independent of his response, not only he, but his offspring as well, learn that their actions in life may be ineffective. That being said, who then parades the distinction between right and wrong, good and poor decisions? Surely, not a protagonist drowning in financial desperation, suffering from a shattering identity and psychosomatic meltdowns. While financial concerns are indeed universal, having psychological insight into Ezekiel Rawlins provides narrowed perspective on cultural matters that are shared specifically by African Americans.
The protagonist grants a viewpoint into issues that are distinctively black; similar to the races genealogy, segregation and the Underground Railroad, this series exposes a poor, postwar, African America existence in Los Angeles. This idea of a shared community distress is first developed in the forties community of Devil in A Blue Dress, and then expounded within the sixties society of Cinnamon Kiss. The story, therefore, suggests that these overarching themes of insecurity and instability are not unique to the novel, or even a historical time frame, but perhaps exclusive to an accurate depiction of the race.
Even Mosley argues, in lieu of his raw representation of African Americans and their racially isolated struggles, that there has been a cultural absence in past detective fiction. He states: One reason . . . is that black writers have only recently entered the popular [genre] . . . Our writers have historically been regarded as a footnote best suited to address the nature of our own chains (Dark Matter 406). With this ideology to bear, Mosley writes about black struggle, presenting the reader with a delineation of not only a historic evolution but racial development. We see into the heart of this race, and while its soul cries out, having learned from past mistakes, the story holds onto struggle, refusing to demonstrate long-term strides.
In order to make a mortgage payment in Devil in A Blue Dress and to provide for a sick daughter in Cinnamon Kiss, the protagonist must jump head first into a sea of political sharks. Consistently, this proves to be the morally right decision, existing often as the only legal option. The question that then presents itself is what happens when one learns from past mistakes, but resources are so scarce that the right decision is unable to be made? Better yet, what does the protagonist do when the right decision, existing as the only legal optionthe more dangerous and disagreeableproves unsuccessful?
As Rawlins barely survives in both of these novels, truly on the skin of his teeth, readers do not have to think further on these matters. Given the themes of this story, financial hardship, professional insecurity, psychological instability, identity, etc., we must ask ourselves what was to be of Rawlins if he had been unsuccessful? This is in fact the ultimate question, representing the roots to Mosleys fictional, black community. When all else fails, even with affairs in order, having been proofread, cleared of errors, and printed on laminate paper, how long can ones efforts go unmerited, rendering ineffective actions? The notion of Mosleys American myth rings out, weaving all of these matters together (Black Genius 8).
Rawlins can sleep well at the end each novel; however, his efforts have only bought him momentary stability, a flitting peace that so many of his peers are still struggling to achieve. So while the novels conclude with a sigh of relief, there undoubtedly represents an underlying, loitering, hum of tragedy. As a passenger in this story for the past couple of decades, the reader should not walk away satisfied. We should fear that, if there were another novel in the sequence, the breadth of Rawlins peace would last but a chapter. With no novel following, we are left to turn to our own lives, reflecting. Snatching our newfound insight, we should use Rawlins to help us create plans for our futures.
Understand that while the appearance of society evolves (i.e., gender roles, technology), the struggles of poor African American communities will remain unchanged if we do not work towards realistic resolution. Now that we understand the nature of this fightthe plague of financial insecurity and its impact on our developmentwe must grab our sons, our daughters, our neighbors and their children, explaining all that we have learned. Speak out about our history, so we can learn how to better prepare our futures. Surely, by speaking up, we can drown the mythical ringing and the tragic hums that currently orchestrate the baseline of our song.
Bland, Eleanor T. Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African American Writers. New York: The Berkley Group, 2004.
Gross, Terry. All I Did Was Ask. New York: WHYY, Inc., 2004.
McLoyd, Vonnie C. The Impact of Economic Hardship on Black Families and Children: Psychological Distress, Parenting and Socioemotional Development. Child Development. 61(1990): 311-46.
Mosley, Walter. Cinnamon Kiss. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
Mosley, Walter. Devil in A Blue Dress. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.
Mosley, Walter, Manthia Diawara, Clyde Taylor, and Regina Austin. Black Genius: African American Solutions to African American Problems. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1998.
Myrsiades, Kostas. Race-Ing Representation : Voice, History, and Sexuality. Lanham, Md. Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.
Rosser, Barkley J. Belief: Its Role in Economic Thought and Action. American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 52(1993): 355-368.
Santayana, George. Reason in Common Sense. Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1905.
Seligman, Martin. Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death. New York: Times Books, 1975.
Soitos, Stephen F. The Blues Detective : A Study of African American Detective Fiction. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
Thomas, Sheree R. Dark Matter. New York: Warner Books, Inc, 2000.
Woods, Paula L. Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Mimi Ferebee is the editor-in-chief of RED OCHRE PRESS, overseeing the publication of both RED OCHRE LiT and ROLiT NEWS. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, she received degrees in both English & Psychology. Mimis literary work has been featured in several journals, magazines and reviews, including Caper Literary Journal, Cherry Blossom Review, Flutter Poetry Journal, Leaning House Press, Contemporary World Literature, Both Sides Now, Bewildering Stories, Houston Literary Review and Decanto Magazine (UK). Her full length poetry collection, Shape Shifts & Other Masqued Transitions, will be published by Patasola Press (2011). Her essay Devil in a Blue Dress and Cinnamon Kiss: An Exploration of African American Financial Insecurity and its Impact on Psychological Development will be printed in the fall by Psychedelic Literature, while her essay Is Your Daughter Planning to Sell Her Virginity: On the Road to a Notion of Feminism debuts April 2011 in TawdryBawdry. If you enjoy the latter piece, be sure to read her Start Early, Don’t Stop: Mother’s Road to Sex Education in the June issue of Tidewater Women Magazine.
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Walter Mosley on Writing
I didnt start off writing detective novels. The first thing I wrote was Gone Fishin, which is Easy Rawlins and Mouse, but it wasnt a detective novel. I sent it out, and everybody said to me, “Well, its good writing, but whos going to read this?” And I go, “What do you mean?” Said, “Well, you know, white people dont read about black people. Black women dont like black men. And black men dont read. So whos going to read your book?” And so, you know, I accepted it. A lot of people, their first book, dont get published.
So I went back, and I wrote another book about Easy and Mouse, but this time it was a mystery. And everybody was like, “Wow! Thats great! A black detective!” One guy actually said, “But, you know, there already is a black detective.” And I said, “Well, you know, theres a whole bunch of white detectives.” And he goes, “I dont see what you mean by that.” But that worked.
And then it worked in ways that I didnt expect, because everybody reads mysteries, and they dont care who the detective is. They care about the mystery itself. And then a world gets revealed throughout that. You know, that starts with Sherlock Holmes. You know, he kind of reveals the whole empire through those short stories. And so, I just said, “Wow! This is really great. This is working. Im getting all kinds of people to read this book.” And, you know, and thats really wonderful. . . .Well, you know, Ive always been really bad in school. I cant study anything Im not interested in, or that I dontI cant see a direct reason for studying it. And that was always a really bad thing. I always tell people that, you know, if youwell, if you come to, like, a young black woman and shes going to be a writer, shell sayyoull say, “Who influenced her?” And shell say, “Well, Phillis Wheatley and Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat and Zadie Smith.” Shell say names to you that will make you put her in higher esteem. You know, youre going to be like Toni Morrison.
The truth is, you learn how to read when youre a kid. Who influenced you was Nancy Drew, right? If you read Beloved at the age of eight, you would either kill yourself or your mother, right? You know, I mean, youd say, “Mom, I read this book, and I dont buy it. You know, so one of us has to go.” I mean, thats what you would say. You have to be an adult. But when you learn how to read, youre a child. You love literature. Its real. You really experience it. Your imagination is the most powerful it will ever be. Youre closer to your unconscious than you will ever again be. So you read these things that are not great literature, as E.M. Forster talks about in his book about writing. But you take the things that you love, and you make them into something.
So, like Im really influenced by the stories my father told about his childhood. Im very influenced by comic books: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and Marvel Comics really kind of structured my life. Later on, you know, I read Gabriel García Márquez and Albert Camus and André Malraux, and they influenced me. But the big thing was, you know, the Fantastic 4 when I was a kid.
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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 Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 27 February 2012