Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream

Overview

It is rare in America for African-American men to have the opportunity to express who they are, what they think, or how they feel. As the nemesis in the American psyche, they have been silenced by an image that is at once celebrated and maligned.

In this first anthology of contemporary African-American men's writing, black men share their experiences as the revered and reviled of America. Through the voices of some of today's most prominent African-American writers, including ...

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Overview

It is rare in America for African-American men to have the opportunity to express who they are, what they think, or how they feel. As the nemesis in the American psyche, they have been silenced by an image that is at once celebrated and maligned.

In this first anthology of contemporary African-American men's writing, black men share their experiences as the revered and reviled of America. Through the voices of some of today's most prominent African-American writers, including August Wilson, John Edgar Wideman, Derrick Bell, and Walter Mosley, Speak My Name explores the intimate territory behind the myths about black masculinity. These intensely personal essays and stories reveal contemporary black men from the vantage point of their own lives - as men with proper names, distinctive faces, and strong family ties.

Writing about everything from "How it Feels to Be a Problem" to relationships between fathers and sons, these men reveal to us both great courage and in an amazing love for each other and themselves. In a stunning tribute to a centuries-old brotherhood of heroes, black men come together to challenge America finally to see them as individuals, to hear their long-silenced voices - to speak their names.

Through the voices of some of today's most prominent African-American writers, this collection of essays and stories on contemporary African-American men's experience explores the intimate territory beyond the myths about brutalizing and bruatalized black men in a harsh white world. Includes works by Houston Baker, Amiri Baraka, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Walter Mosley, and John E. Wideman.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This diverse anthology, mainly of original essays, serves as an excellent counterpoint to media stereotypes of black men. Topics include black male images, relations with women, family life and heroism. Some favorites: soft-voiced scholar Robin D.G. Kelley recounts how his newly shaved head scared people; novelist Randall Kenan recalls a mysterious, kind and loving mentor; Quinn Eli faces the tendency of black men to accuse black women of not being supportive; filmmaker Isaac Julien and poet Essex Hemphill debate whether black unity can include gay men; novelist Walter Mosley muses about why his PI protagonist, Easy Rawlins, needs the backup of the remorseless killer Mouse to survive in an oppressive world. Belton, a former reporter for Newsweek who teaches at Macalester College, contributes his own touching effort, which treats the gap between himself and the ghetto-trapped nephew he loves. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Contemporary American society is rife with stereotypes of African American males as athletes, entertainers, criminals, or victims. Following in the wake of October's Million Man March on Washington are two myth-shattering books on African American men. Through writings or interviews, both titles explore the life experiences of black men struggling to survive in a white society. In Living To Tell About It, Dawsey, a Detroit native and writer for the Detroit News, visited nine cities and interviewed black men from the ages of 15 to 24. Interviews covered issues concerning parent/child relationships, work, violence, and respect. In most instances Dawsey blames the white power structure. In Speak My Name, Belton, a former Newsweek reporter, presents a diverse anthology of original writings countering many of society's stigmatized images. These essays touch upon African American men's self-image, family life, and personal relationships. Both books are essential selections for African American studies collections.Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., South Bend, Ind.
Leslie Belzberg
Editor Don Belton has assembled an impressive posse of literary giants, including mystery master Walter Mosley, academic wizards Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Derrick Bell, and the prolific Pulitzer prize-winning playwright August Wilson, who penned the forward. But the best work comes from lesser-known contributors...

...Speak My Name does for black men what Terry McMillan's Waiting To Exhale and the Delaney sister's Having Our Say have done for black women. It allows us to tell our own stories in our own words - storiesthat we breathe and bare every day.
The Advocate

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807009369
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Pages: 269
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

Trey Ellis

How does it feel to be a problem? —W. E. B. Du Bois

Du Bois was putting words into themouth of a white questioner. No one ever actually came out and askedhim to answer them. No one has ever actually come out and asked me,either, yet I know that many are itching to. I know I would be. Black menare this nation's outlaw celebrities. It doesn't matter what other modifiersalso describe our individual essences—mechanic, police officer, left-handed,Virginian, kind, gangbanger, tall—"black man" overrides themall and makes us all, equally, desperadoes. My friends and I sometimestake perverse pride in the fear the combination of our sex and skin instillsin everyone else—the taxis that bolt past us as our arms wave high overour meticulously coiffed heads, the receptionists who mistake us for suit-wearingbike messengers, the cops who clutch their .45s when they seeus saunter out of Haagen-Dazs. Imagine the weird power you'd feel if youwere a bank teller, a postal worker, or a postmodern novelist who is ableto make a cop quake with fear and call for backup. Unfortunately, theseexpectations can get to us after a while. Listen to black comedian FranklinAjaye: "I was walking down the street last night and this old white couplekept looking back at me like I was going to rob them. . . . So I did."

Don't get me wrong. I know that black men commit adisproportionatenumber of America's crimes. In fact, I need to know that, since murderat the hands of another black man is the leading cause of death in my agegroup. Ironically, black men have more right than anyone else to run andhide when other black men head our way on the sidewalk. Yet we don't(most of us, anyway), because we bother to separate the few bad from thelegion of good.

American society as a whole, however tars us all with the same brush.We have become the international symbol for rape, murder, robbery, anduncontrolled libido. Our faces on the news have become synonymouswith anger, ignorance, and poverty.

Increasingly, America seems to be painting us into two corners. Inone, we're the monsters they've always said w e were. In the other corner,we're fine but all those other black men are monsters; we are anointedhonorary whites so long as we abandon every trace of our ethnicity.

Black conservatives such as Shelby Steele espouse individual liberationthrough assimilation. In one way, he is absolutely correct. It is irrefutablethat if we African Americans abandoned our culture, stoppedgriping, and joined the melting pot, w e would be better off. The catch isthe very real limit to our ambition. If we play by Steele's rules—workhard, scrimp, save, and study—then one day one of us just might becomevice president of the United States. Therein lies the rub. In this land ofopportunity we can be promised riches, a degree of respect, and respectability,but we know we are still barred from the highest corridors ofpower. It's a crippling message. How can you expect someone to dedicatehis entire life to training for the Olympics if all he can hope for is a silvermedal?

Drug dealing and other criminal activities are the only pursuits thatoffer us unlimited possibilities. Since we are already vilified anyway, goesthe twisted logic, at least the sky's the limit in that arena. I'm not makingexcuses for the black criminal—I despise him for poisoning and shootingmore of my people than the cowardly Klan ever did. But we need to understandhim as a human being if we're ever going to save him, or at leastsave his younger brother or his son.

When black folks mention slavery the rest of America yawns. But ourcountry, with its history as the home of the slave, has yet to reconcile thatlegacy with its reputation as the land of the free. Slavery was as evil anact as ever committed by anyone on the planet. Nazis, the KhmerRouge—that's not the sort of company Americans like to keep. Slaverymay seem like ancient history to whites, but it doesn't to blacks. Today'sproblems have deep roots, and until we understand the dark side of ourhistory, our nation will never pull itself out of its current racial morass.

If, in American popular culture, black signifies poor, ignorant, and angry,then white signifies upper-middle-class, educated, and moderate.From "Ozzie & Harriet" to "Home Improvement," upper-middle-classwhite households are passed off as average white families. The lives ofwhite folks are cleaned up and idealized. Popular culture assumes you willattend some sort of college, own a home, and marry the mother of yourchild. You are defined by the richest, handsomest, smartest, and kindestamong you. We are defined by our worst. Although seventy-five percentof black men never have anything to do with the criminal justice system,we are looked on as anomalies, freaks of nature, or, worse, thugs-in-waiting.

Sadly, black people are starting to believe the bad press. If we stringtwo sentences together, other black folks say, "Oh my, how well-spokenhe is." If we are married to the mothers of our children, Delores Williams,a black activist in Los Angeles, hands us a certificate and invites us to anawards banquet. So little is expected of us that even our half-efforts arewildly and inappropriately praised.

Finally, and curiously, some of the stereotypes that make us seem theleast human—and the most animalistic—also make us seem the mostmale. We are famous around the world for our physical and sexual potency.And what is more at the essence of stereotypical machismo thanbulging muscles and big dangling balls? Although we hate being America'svillains, it's not always all bad—in America, villains have alwaysbeen perversely revered.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Speak My Name 1
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? 9
Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head 12
The Night I Was Nobody 23
On Violence 28
Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? (excerpt) 35
Albert Murray on Stage: An Interview 42
Mr. Brown and the Sweet Science 61
Playing Hardball (from Colored People) 73
On the Distinction of "Jr." 78
A Mighty Good Man 83
Shades 93
A Turn for the Worse 100
Go Home to Your Wife 113
My Mother and Mitch 127
A Liar in Love 137
The Sexual Diversion: The Black Man / Black Woman Debate in Context 144
Music, Darkrooms, and Cuba 155
Cool Brother (from Out of the Madness) 173
Palm Wine 182
The Black Family 197
Fade to Black: Once Upon a Time in Multiracial America 203
Where We Live: A Conversation with Essex Hemphill and Isaac Julien 209
Voodoo for Charles 223
The Black Man: Hero 234
Pain and Glory: Some Thoughts on My Father 241
Race, Rage, and Intellectual Development: A Personal Journey 246
Rickydoc: The Black Man as Hero 257
Contributors 265
Credits 271
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