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Posts Tagged ‘Harlem’

8. “Push,” Sapphire

December 26, 2009 Leave a comment

I let this review sit for a few weeks, for reasons that will probably become clear.

I saw “Precious” for a paper I wrote for my Feminist Film class and my reaction to the film and the book are closely tied (surprisingly enough). It’s not a story one can claim to like, of course, but I wish my reaction were something other that reserved blankness. In case you don’t know the plot, Precious is a sixteen-year-old middle school student who is illiterate and pregnant with her second child. This child, like the first (who has Down’s Syndrome and lives with her grandmother) is product of her father’s repeated rapes. This book, which is written in the first person, begins when she is kicked out of middle school for being pregnant again. She enrolls in an alternative school where a supportive teacher helps her to learn how to read and to tell her story. In doing so, Precious gains the strength and self-worth necessary to escape the home of her physically, emotionally, verbally, financially, and sexually abusive mother. She has her second child and evntually takes custody of both her children and, with the help of a social worker, removes her mother from her live once and for all. But not before finding out that she has HIV, which she got from her dad. And then the story’s over.

This is a really loaded book. The paper I wrote was about reception theory with my own reactions as a white man watching this film woven in with the reactions of several Black women bloggers. I was trying to reconcile their differing views and receptions of the film with my own, starting from the belief that we are approaching a story loaded with issues of race, class, and sex from two very different points. This reading was touched off partially from director Lee Daniel’s invitation to “the beautiful white people” to laugh at the darkness of the film.

Because of how loaded this is, I’m not sure that my reactions to the book are entirely relevant, as I don’t think it was written for me. More than that, I think it was specifically not written for me (or people like me). So when I read it and feel uncomfortable about the (constant) aspiration to have light skin, I do so not from a space of identification (as a dark-skinned Black woman who has constantly seen lighter-skinned women get it better than they themselves do), but from an almost colonizing discomfort, a space of superiority that wants to say, “hey, you shouldn’t have to want your skin to be light (like mine).”

I think the book was written for Black women who either can identify with or are identified with with Precious’s status as a poor, abused, “stupid” young woman. So while I can say that I didn’t particularly care for this book and I didn’t really know what Sapphire wanted me to get from it, I will do so with the acknowlegement that this is probably because it wasn’t speaking to or about me.

I will, however, say that I did appreciate that the story didn’t end with Precious having a GED and headed to college, all happy and healthy. It ended better for her, but still damn hard, which I think is realistic.

Page count: 194
Page total: 1,603

50. “One Day, When I was Lost,” James Baldwin

August 7, 2009 Leave a comment

The subtitle is “A Scenario Based on Alex Haley’s ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

First, I have not been doing much reading lately.

Second, this was really good. At 268 pages and screenplay format, it is less of a commitment than is Malcolm X’s autobiography, but it made me want to read it. I’m white. I grew up in a white suburb. No one ever tried to teach me about Malcolm X and all I ever heard was that he thought it was okay to kill white people. As I got older, I heard that that wasn’t true, but this play does an eloquent job of explaining who X was and what he believed. Baldwin’s writing is immensely readable. I’m now much more interested in reading “Malcolm X”– I hope Haley is as evocative.

Luther, reflecting on witnessing his brother being lynched when he was a boy:

then I knew– that G-d had turned away from these people forever. They were trying to kill G-d because G-d was black and they knew it. (143)

One of the ministers is unjustly arrested and Malcolm gathers a crowd of ministers and temple members goes to get him out. After a long time, the police acquiesce:

(WHITE) POLICE CHIEF: I just don’t want to see any more bloodshed. Bloodshed never solved anything.
MALCOLM: It did, for you, just as long as the blood was ours. (Addressing the crowd) Brothers, sister, I want to thank you for your patience, for that patience has helped us to save a life. W have seen the brother (who was imprisoned) and we have spoken to the doctors. The brother is much better than before– before your presence forced the white devils to give him decent care. Everything that can be done is beong done, and we feel satisfied that we can end out vigil tonight and go home and get some rest for the many vigils that are coming. There will be many. I want every man, woman, and child here tonight to remember that if you hadn’t been here, our brother might be dead. But, as long as we keep doing like we did tonight, out brothers and sisters will live. (178)

Malcolm speaking at the University of Ghana:

I’m not anti-American, and I didn’t come here to condemn America– I want to make that very clear! I came here to tell the truth– and if the truth condemns America, then she stands condemned! (240)

Page count: 268
Page total: 21,704

49. “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother,” James McBride

July 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Ruth McBride is one tough fucking woman.

Page count: 285
Page total: 21,436

25. “Monster”, Walter Dean Myers

March 15, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a very fast read. Most of it is formatted like a movie script, the rest is “handwritten” journal entries.

They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can’t kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment. (59)

Everybody in here either talks about sex or hurting somebody or what they’re in here for. That’s all they think about and that’s what’s on my mind, too. What did I do? I walked into a drugstore to look for some mints, and then I walked out. What was wrong with that? I didn’t kill Mr. Nesbitt.
Sunset said he committed [his] crime. Isn’t that what being guilty is all about? You actually do something? you pick up a gun and you point it across a small space and pull a trigger? You grab the purse and run screaming down the street? Maybe, even, you buy some baseball cards that you think were stolen [like Mr. Zinzi did]? (140)

I think I finally understand why there are so many fights. In here all you have going for you is the little surface stuff, how people look at you and what they say. And if that’s all you have, then you have to protect that. Maybe that’s right. (155)

[I looked out the window.] I was looking for Jerry. They don’t allow kids in the visiting area, which was funny. It was funny because if I wasn’t locked up, I wouldn’t be allowed to come into the visiting room. (156)

Page count: 281
Total: 14,403

Up next: “Harriet the Spy”, “On Television”, maybe “The War of the Worlds”

23. “Scorpions”, Walter Dean Myers

March 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I like Walter Dean Myers. Who else was writing young, gay Latino guys in 1988? I’m not sure if he intended Tito to be gay or if he didn’t like the girls he knew, rather than not liking girls, period, but I prefer the second. Obviously.

So, Jamal’s older brother, Randy, is in prison in connection with a robbery turned murder. Randy was the leader of the Scorpions and has sent word that he wants twelve-year-old Jamal to take over the gang for him until Randy is out of prison. Jamal is afraid of the other guys in the gang, who are older than he is, but he has his friend Tito to watch his back. And he has the gun that Randy’s friend, Mack, gave him.

Jamal is afraid of the gun, but he can see that other people are afraid of it, too, and that makes him feel powerful. Tito wants him to throw the gun away, but Jamal is tired of being bullied at school and is afraid of trying to run a gang without a gun. Anyway, he needs the money to help his mama to get Randy out of jail. So he keeps the gun under his family’s couch cushion. Until the day tensions within the gang come to a head and he fears he’ll have to use it…

Page count: 216
Total: 13,954

Up next: Harriet the Spy, Slam, Somewhere in the Darkness, Monster.

I should probably read a grown-up book sometime.