Friday, February 15, 2013

Ann Petry and Langston Hughes: Representations of Black Motherhood

[By Simone Savanna]

After my mother passed, I found in the pages of her journal—the story of a woman’s life I had little understood. She was consumed by self-hatred, and could not face life as an unloved overweight woman. Much of her life was spent caring for eight children she had by six men she thought loved her. The contradiction between her negative self-images and her undying commitment to her children have provided the motivation to study the lives of black women, the stories we write about them, and the practices associated with sexism and racism in our society.

While reading Ann Petry’s 1946 novel, The Street, I was constantly reminded of my mother and her journey as a Black mother. I was also reminded of several poems about Black motherhood, including Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Mother,” mainly because of the idea of motherhood and the slight differences in their endings. As the back cover states, it “tells the poignant, often heartbreaking, story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s.” It is a novel of social realism and protest (of the Richard Wright School), and features themes, such as spectatorship, the environment as a character, and gender politics. Because my research involves examining the confrontation of racism and sexism for Black women in Literature, Poetry, and society more generally, I’m choosing to focus on the gender politics, though the three aforementioned themes are very much interrelated.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nikki Giovanni’s “When I Die:” Forgiveness and Revolution

[By Simone Savannah]

Excerpt: Nikki Giovanni’s “When I Die:”

 when i die i hope no one who ever hurt me cries
and if they cry i hope their eyes fall out
and a million maggots that had made up their brains
crawl from the empty holes and devour the flesh
that covered the evil that passed itself off as a person
that i probably tried
to love

I have always had a hard time with the idea of forgiveness. So, naturally, my God-mother constantly reminds me to "Let go of the past and forgive. Holding on to pain, anger, and hurt that has been inflicted by others (or that you've inflicted on yourself) prevents healing and blocks new, positive energy from your life. Embrace the present by releasing the past. Let go." But, what does forgiveness really mean when it comes to political matters and revolution?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wesley Brown Revisited

[By Jerry Ward]

Like the walking bodies in our country that are in a slow hurry to advertise the fine art of tattooing,  we best be asking hard questions about keeping Black real compared to what. Or can we defamiliarize an answer to Roberta Flack’s explicit question by saying Pink passing for White ain’t real?

In a pure fantasy that lacks referentiality, Wesley Brown’s second novel Darktown Strutters (New York: Crane Hill Press, 1994) is the inspiration for Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled ( 2000).  Fantasy precludes proof. But we can have a noisy shock of recognition by juxtaposing the mumbling surrounding the film with the silence that engulfs the novel.  Lee addressed the history of blacking up from the outside, from the vantage of an imminent present, and his satire sticks like water on Teflon.  Brown, on the other hand, dealt with the racecraft of minstrelsy in America from the inside, from the interiors of its languages by allowing his characters Jim Crow and Jim Crow Two to be the partial narrators of the story. His fiction informs a consciousness of American class and caste formation; Lee’s film trivializes that consciousness and cashes in on entertainment values.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Incriminating Evidence and Interpretation

[By Jerry Ward]

Negative and positive responses to Django Unchained and other commodities illuminate the complexity of popular disagreement in the United States.  The film is so multi-faceted, so open to an enormous range of readings and interpretations, that we must focus on small portions of Tarantino’s collage.  Representation of the institution of slavery, and the anger-making options of enslavement, serves as a distracting background for looking at the cultural triplets named Injustice, Violence, and Justice.  The family portrait of the triplets is more a painting than a photograph in the context of the film.  No amount of trompe-l’oeil succeeds in hiding how complicit the triplets are with bounty hunting, the primal center of Django Unchained and other films that invite us to be spectators of law and disorder.  Common sense informs us that we are looking at incriminating evidence that pertains to the perverse, historical criminality of the American criminal justice system.  The visual and literary surface of the film is dense with familiar and obscure allusions.  What is fully available for popular discussion is a sop, a cheap sop.  It retards access to and robust public discussion of the dynamics of law and bounty hunting that so strongly impact the quality of our everyday lives.  As acts of interpretation, our responses shade off into hunting for violated boundaries or into quests to identify how the film insults our sensing of history.  Our interpretive responses wrestle less than they should with the ideology and economy of bounty hunting.  That fact, to borrow language from Tony Bolden, is “one of the signatures of our time.”