Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Quick Question on Racial Representation

Less than 1 million black men today are festering in America's prisons. There are over 15 million black men who are not. Yet, so much of our music speaks of violence, drug use, and criminality.

Publishers claim that over 80 percent of books published by African-American authors are categorized as "ghetto lit"--which, of course, also speaks of violence, drug use, and criminality. Yet, according to 2010 census data, only 30 percent of the African-American population lives in predominantly minority-majority (not even majority black) neighborhoods.

I've been wondering of late, why then is our culture--dominated by the Sonys, Random Houses, Clear Channels, Def Jams, and BETs of the world--so terribly unrepresentative of its African-American audience?


  1. But there’s Pym. And Sunshine Patriots. I didn’t comment yesterday, because you seemed to be asking a rhetorical question. But look at Hispanic literature. You’d never know most are here legally and even prosperously. No doubt the Sonys and Random Houses are largely to blame, but middle-class guilt could be part of it, too. So you tell us- as a writer, do you feel pressured, both personally and from society, even if you don’t give in, to use your art as a sort of social work for people whose lives you don’t actually share?

  2. I actually don't. In fact, I feel that the pressure on African-American authors is quite the opposite. Urban Lit isn't a "protest" against the plight of inner city black folks. It's generally a caricature of a "reality" that doesn't exist for most. Much in the same way that the liberating vision Sweetback turned into the reactionary fantasy of Blaxploitation, Urban Lit is used in the same way--reinforcing all that is negative about black folks in the popular imagination. I personally don't care if this stuff exists or not. It's the preponderance of this genre to the exclusion of everything else. Thanks for the Sunshine Patriots nod and I've heard great things about Mat Johnson. There's Tayari Jones, of course. And I enjoy Jesse Washington (and I'm sure there are others out there). But these artists are the exceptions that prove the rule.

  3. I felt that the documentary on A TRIBE CALLED QUEST was great for many reasons, but one of the simplest reasons why I loved it was because it portrayed the members of the group as complex human beings. As audience members we see Jarobi CRYING(!) because he's so worried about Phife. He tells the story of moving all the way to ATL to take care of him. We also witness Phife talking about sugar addiction, Tip being a genius, Tip being an asshole, the list goes on and on. Anyway, I clicked here from a MC K-Swift tweet and read this post, thought I'd leave a comment. Peace. = baje

  4. Thanks for dropping by & leaving a comment. Please feel free to do both at any time. I really need to see that doc. I've heard great things.