Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Book Review

In the introduction to her 1983 collection of interviews with black women writers, Claudia Tate explained the difference between the black hero’s and the black heroine’s quest for self-affirmation and identity. While both the black hero and the black heroine are in search of “increasingly higher levels of emotional and intellectual awareness of the self and the outside world,” the process by which they journey to such a destination differs. The black hero’s journey is often an external exploration requiring his physical departure from his home/community of origin. The black heroine’s journey is internal requiring physical isolation or restriction. She is not detached from responsibilities as often times these heroines are mothers, wives, etc. Therefore the black heroine’s destination is not a place, but rather, a state of mind. Writer and Filmmaker Kathleen Collins employs this dynamic exploration of the internal journey throughout her posthumous collection of short stories,  Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? But Collins’ doesn’t make that internal journey exclusive to her black heroines; she extends it to her black hero’s as she delves into the murky mist of self-reckoning. But by expanding Tate’s theory of isolation to her black hero’s, Collins, inadvertently, examines the ways in which such physical isolation affect both her male and female characters. Where the isolation is a therapeutic experience for her heroines it is a crushing life-threatening experience for her heroes.  This curious examination reveals Collins deep interest not with the physical outcome of her characters, but rather, their interior resolution of their lives and place in the world. Whatever results from such resolution is purely circumstantial.

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The first couplet of stories appropriately titled “Exteriors” and “Interiors” set the tone for which the following fourteen stories will take. We begin with the external voyeuristic view of a couple whose marriage is unhinging in “Exteriors”. The husband goes off on a whimsical excursion while the wife is left in isolation. Or rather, the wife chooses isolation. In “Interiors” the wife is not lamenting the reasons why her husband left, instead she voluntarily enters a “benevolent solitude” where she steps into herself and explores her horizon. She plays the violin, she starts a home garden, she takes on lovers–however inept–she creates art. All of these are attempts to understand herself while also resolving an independent identity in the face of her broken marriage.

Collins presents isolation as a choice, a reprieve from the external world, an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole falling experience where one discovers the depths of one’s own soul, when it comes to her female characters. But a reprieve it is not for her male characters. Where the wife in “Interiors” emerges with her life and some sort of hope for the future, the Uncle in “The Uncle” isn’t as fortunate. His external circumstances have forced him no other option but isolation and in those confines he is never able to emerge with his life or any such hope for his future. Such is the same for the young man in “Only Once.” Isolation, for these men, is instead a cocoon, a Plato’s cave of manipulated images from their external reality are reflected in their internal resolutions preventing them from ever rising to the light. This dichotomy continues to play throughout Collins’ stories and characters: a disenchanted young woman who finds solace in a dark closet, an ill-fated lover and his gun, a playwright in suburbia, another abandoned wife who retreats into a new home. Many of these characters are faced with the external challenges of race, gender, class, and unfulfilled relationships, but Collin does not focus on the external. Instead she takes us into each character’s interior challenge of reconciling a self-image despite, or perhaps in spite of their outside circumstances.

There is a rebellious undertone in Collins’ work threading itself through each story. From the daughter who commits the “unforgivable sin of (“Negro”) girlhood” by cutting her hair and therefore turning herself into “any other Negro,” to the man who takes his own life, to the black middle-class girl from New Jersey agrees to marry her white lover in 1963 as they both naively confront the south and racial segregation, Collins presents unconventional resolutions that are not tidy, but instead a form of rebellion from what each of these characters are expected to be from the outside looking in. Each character is trying to find themselves and it’s a journey that requires the painful task of rejecting the external labels which have been arbitrarily placed on them from white-supremacy ideas of blackness to their own black bourgeois community’s.  In these rebellious internal resolutions Collins is  calling for a deep introspection of us all. Her work reminds us that we are humans first and our journeys toward seeking higher levels of emotional and intellectual awareness begin with our individual selves first.

That confrontation of self is often brutal and not all of her characters make it out alive, but the point is not to make it out alive, the point is to go through the process of delving deep into one’s self. That alone is one of the bravest things any human can do. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Collins’s critical but sympathetic gaze on the black bourgeois is a perspective reminiscent of Nella Larsen, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dorothy West. Her insistence on the human spirit and internal self first allows her voice to be dynamic, idiosyncratic, and refreshing.  I only wish that there was more.

Be sure to pick up Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? when it arrives this December.

Taking Her Time: A Reflection on Solange & A History of Black Women Creatives who Couldn’t Afford to

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I recently wrote a piece reflecting on the anomaly of Solange taking 4 years to create her latest album, A Seat at the Table. Historically, black women creatives have not had the luxury to take their time, so not only is Solange’s act subversive but it’s a cause for celebration.

Read the piece in its entirety at The Establishment

Women Who Write: Raven Starr

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’tve left you without a dope beat to step to, step to…

I’ve been gone for a minute, but I’m back with another profile on yet another brilliant writer. Raven Starr is a poet whose vulnerability is so authentic it will inspire you to be just as open. She’s raw, she’s honest, and she’s talented. Check out the amazing piece she shared with me, “It was 12 a.m. and I Thought I was a Rapper”

 

Ain’t I A Mother: Motherhood as Freedom in ‘Underground’

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WGN’s ‘Underground’

It’s been a while (a long, looong while) but I’m back with some thoughts to share, specifically regarding Underground. I love the show since the premiere and that love has required a lot of defending against haters. But now that the season has ended I’ve had time to mull over a lot of the things that struck me and one of those things is motherhood. Season one presents us with three black women who are slaves on a Georgia plantation. What’s unique about these women is their declaration of motherhood, a right not afforded to them due to their being, legally, property. That declaration of motherhood is a form of freedom as violently toiled for as physically escaping the plantation.

Toni Morrison first presented the argument for motherhood as freedom in her novel, Beloved. Morrison looks at real-life Margaret Garner and how her decision to kill her child was Garner’s defense against slavery and assertion of motherhood. I believe, in their own way, the mothers of Underground are odes to Garner and mothers alike in the age of slavery who did not allow an institution of hate and violence bar them from claiming, loving, and protecting their children.

You can read my piece on Catapult!

 

Woman Writer Wednesday: Lenora Inez Brown

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#WomenWritersWednesday is a docu-series that explores the inner lives of women writers. Writers discuss everything from inspiration to writing processes to inherited gifts.

Dramaturge and writer, Lenora Inez Brown shares why writing is horrible, the challenges for creators of color on the theatre, and what dramaturge do. Brown has published two books: The Art of Active Dramaturgy: Transforming Critical Thought into Dramatic Action, and,  New Play Development: Facilitating Creativity for Dramaturgs, Playwrights, and Everyone Else. She has also written several articles and chapters. She has been a guest dra­maturg for the Sundance Theatre Lab 2000 and 2001, the Southern Writer’s Project at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Kennedy Center’s Youth and Family Program’s New Visons/New Voices and the Cleveland Play House.

 

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and the Necessity of the Black Woman Critic

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bell hooks wrote in her book, remembered rapture: the writer at work:

“Whenever I meet black females who have compelling visions, who have knowledge of our collective buried to share or moving personal stories, I urge them to write. I plead with them to put it down somewhere in journal and diaries, just put it somewhere […] We write to leave legacies for the future.”

My piece on Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah ( @the-rachelkaadzighansah) and the Necessity of the Black Woman Critic is an urgent echoing of hooks’ words to many of the black women writer/critics from across the diaspora. While I couldn’t name you all, I hope you accept this as a token of my appreciation for the work you do in capturing our varied histories and legacies. May you, please, continue on writing it down.

You can read my latest for Blavity, Here

#WomenWriterWednesdays: Cynthia Amoah

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#WomenWritersWednesday is a docu-series that explores the inner lives of women writers. Writers discuss everything from inspiration to writing processes to inherited gifts.

Cynthia Amoah is a spoken word artist originally from Ghana. Her powerfully articulated poems have taken her around the world. She tackles subjects like race and gender as she fuses her experiences as an African and American Woman into a voice that is uniquely her own. I spoke with her about her performance style, the oratorical power of her ancestors, and the responsibility to tell her story.

 

#WomanWriterWednesday: Anisa Gandevivala

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#WomenWritersWednesday is a docu-series that explores the inner lives of women writers. Writers discuss everything from inspiration to writing processes to inherited gifts.

Anisa Gandevivala is a writer, poet, and artist. Her work focuses on intimacy, meditation practices, and nature. We sat down and discussed her definition of intuitive action, doing what she’s gotta do, and not having to be the good guy.

 

God Help the Child — A review

My love for Toni Morrison is borderline obsessive, you can read all about it here, so when I heard the news of her 11th book being published I was all but salivating. Somehow I managed to contain my excitement because it is only recently that I got a chance to read God Help the Child, and the experience was…different.

God Help the Child

“Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child–the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment–weaves a table about the way suffering of childhood can shape, and misshape the life of the adult”

Is the succinct and ambitious description of Morrison’s novella. I was honestly surprised and disappointed at the brevity of pages, but that’s no reason to fault Morrison’s latest novel, especially when there are other valid ones.

Lula Ann Bridewell, or Bride, is the regional manager for a cosmetic brand as well as the creator of her own cosmetic line, You Go Girl. She is beautiful, with skin black like midnight and eyes feline fierce, she is never without an admirer. Her confidence is worn as extravagantly as the white garments she drapes herself in creating an alluring forcefield of intrigue and exoticism.

“Black sells. It’s the hottest commodity in the civilized world.” – Morrison (God Help the Child) 

But that is all stripped away when her lover, Booker, a man with whom she “invented sex,” walks out on her.

In his wake is left a “scared, little, black girl” who is unable to confront the force that made her so–Sweetness, her mother, a light-skinned woman with “good hair,” who treated her “blue-black” child more like an intruder than a daughter. The pain of initial abandonment Bride warded off long ago, or so she thought, creeps back in a way that leaves her desperate for some sort of rectification. With this in heart and mind she attempts to track down her ex-lover.

Now, a part of me–like a large, substantial part–feels absolutely unqualified to critique Queen Morrison. In the world of literature she is nobility and you don’t go against royalty unless you’re willing to face execution. Ok perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic. However, despite Morrison’s celestial mastering of storytelling, I was disappointed with her latest offering.

Morrison had all of the elements that make her novels incredible: magic realism, un-conventional women, critiques on white-supremacy–Booker and Bride are like Jadine and Son in Tar Baby with their polar opposite views on life, money, and race–but something felt incredibly shallow this go-round. From the descriptions of nature, which is always a prominent character in a Morrison novel, to the hallow friendship Bride holds with the only person she can trust “Completely,” Brooklyn, I couldn’t insert myself in anything or anyone, which was frustrating.

Bride’s attempt to confront her ex-lover and understand her perpetual abandonment reveals a much deeper theme of childhood innocence being severed at the hands of adults. We are introduced to children who have suffered horrendous trauma reminiscent of The Bluest Eye, but lack the same ethos of Morrison’s first novel.

God Help the Child felt rushed. Characters enter and exit abruptly, point of views are tangled, and the string holding back Bride’s past–causing the strife between she and Booker–is snapped so prematurely that what’s revealed seems cheap. I finished the last page wanting so much more.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge this novel in comparison to Morrison’s previous catalog, but when you’ve won the Nobel Prize for literature and are known to write the most soul-stirring prose, can you blame a reader for high expectations.

 

 

13 year old Jada Williams Kicked Out of School for Essay

“If you teach that nigger…how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Mr. Auld, a slave master, said of Frederick Douglass when he caught his wife teaching a young Douglass how to read. That was in 1845. 170 years later we see the words of Mr. Auld replaying in the actions against 13 year old Jada Williams.

Jada Williams was an 8th grade student attending School #3 in Rochester, New York when she wrote a comparative analysis on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York. In her essay she boldly connects Douglass’ deliberately being refused an education to present day schooling. She observed that her white teachers are in a

“position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.” – Jada Williams

The school’s reaction was one that would make Douglass’ slave owner proud. The teacher’s began a campaign of harassment and kicked Williams out of class–with hopes of a suspension–ultimately resulting in her parents withdrawing her from the school.

Though Williams was given an award by the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York on the merit that her essay proved she thoroughly understood the autobiography–they also sought to question the school about their actions–Williams’ essay reveals the continued oppression and suppression children of color face in the classroom.

Watch Jada Williams read her essay here:

Read Liz Dwyer thorough examination of this case here: “A 13-Year-Old’s Slavery Analogy Raises Some Uncomfortable Truths in School”