Damele wrote a new post, Reflection on Simone Browne’s Dark Matters by Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 3 months ago
Simon Browne posits, “While Foucault argued that the decline of the spectacle of public torture as punishment might have marked “a slackening of the hold on the body,” this chapter contends that when that body […]
Damele wrote a new post, Reflection on Richard Wright’s “I Choose Exile” by Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 3 months, 1 week ago
In Richard Wright’s 1951 article “I Choose Exile,” he describes his life in France that, according to him, is free from the overt racism he faces as a matter of routine in America. Unlike other surveilled write […]
Damele wrote a new post, Reflection on “No Exit: From Bandung to Ghana” by Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 3 months, 3 weeks ago
In Race Against Empire, Penny M. Von Eschen’s chapter, “No Exit: From Bandung to Ghana,” discusses the role of a prominent Black politician in the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. She outlin […]
Damele wrote a new post, Reflections on The Narrows by Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 4 months, 3 weeks ago
In Ann Petry’s neglected 1953 novel The Narrows, she forcefully, and perhaps even poetically, grapples with the intersectionality of race, class and gender. While she explores interracial relationships, she does n […]
I also appreciated the complexity of the characters in the novel, as you observed as well. As you say, there were no “grinning buffoons.” With respect to the affair, I find it interesting that we both saw that it was based in love, but you thought Link was truly in love with Camilla, and I thought that Camilla was truly in love with Link. Though it changes the motivations of several characters, in the end it did not change the eventual outcome–we both came to the same conclusion about the inescapability of the dire consequences of their breakup that would be shaped by issues of race and class.
You wrote, “While she explores interracial relationships, she does not present caricatures of Blacks and whites, but rather writes real people, with real passions, flaws, insecurities, and for some, evolutions.”
This was my experience as well – she writes the complexities of the characters. However, I would note that, very interestingly, we see Camilo’s identity less than Link, Powther, Mrs. Powther, Abbie, or even J.C. We see her in interaction with others, but we don’t see her thoughts as she deals with the dissolution of her affair. We watch her dissolve through other’s eyes.
Why does Petry write Camilo this way, and what impact does it have on the reader?
Hi Damele, Your post made me think again about the way Petry weaves in and out of stereotypes, almost like a chess game, where she knows exactly what each piece is, what it means, what it has means, and then she scrambles things, has the Knight move like a King, the Queen like a pawn . . . and it feels, for a little while, like a whole new game. But, to continue the metaphor, the rules haven’t really changed. When Abbie tosses Link and Camilo out, and their love affair is exposed, all the players play their standard, stereotypical, legally and culturally scripted parts again: Black man, rich white woman. And then the ending: “We loved one another.” A whole new game: Link knows that, in saying that, in repeating it, it will be his own death. Checkmate. He KNOWS that and still repeats it. It’s not just love but testifying.
Damele wrote a new post, Brown Girl, Brownstones Reflection by Damele Elliott Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 5 months ago
In Brown Girl, Brownstones, Paule Marshall depicts feminist characters who embody bravery, anguish, and the unbending determination to strain past their circumstances, demanding to be heard and to be visible. […]
Thanks for post. I was initially more sympathetic towards Deighton in my reading, probably because of the way he was cheated out of his inheritance, and then betrayed to immigration, etc. But you made me consider something that, I’m embarrassed to say, I did not really fully appreciate about Silla–she was cheated on by him at the same time that she was the real support for him and the children. Despite the tragic loss she endures at end, she survives. Had to be a strong woman.
You wrote that:
Claudia Jones would undoubtedly identify with Silla, the mother of the story, who is headstrong, ambitious, and who is a first-generation immigrant to America.
I’m not sure I would agree. Silla was capitalist in her desire to maintain land, and she did so without regard for the ways in which her exploitation of other black women impacted the community’s struggles at large. She exploited those around her with the classic American Dream mentality of getting ahead, despite the costs. I think Claudia Jones would have been appalled by her actions and lack of class or race consciousness that led her to exploit others without regards for the impact on her community.
She may have been headstrong and ambitious and a feminist in her own right, but I think she was no Claudia Jones.
This is an incredibly interesting conversation across all of you–and exactly what these blogs and discussions are intended to do. Since we only meet for two hours, this allows us to explore pedagogical active learning methods in class and supplement those with more focused, detailed attentive readings out of class. The best of the blogs and discussions also provide a “rough draft” for a possible final paper.
Damele, if you were interested in this topic, you could apply Black feminist theory to this book and think about the roles of power and powerlessness and how they intertwine with immigrant status, gender (the different kinds of power of male and female, affectively and institutionally), capital (does it make you more powerful? or reduce you to acquisitiveness by any means–definitely not a means to true self-empowerment in this book), sexuality (the array of sexual expression in this book is like nothing else I know in literature of this era), education, labor, and so forth. Each identitarian quality shifts in relation to the other. So even a term like “intersectionality” and “Black feminism” changes: is Silla a “Black feminist”? Is Serena? Why? Why not? What is brilliant in the novel is, among other things, how much it moves us beyond categories to different individual and institutional and social conditions that inflect or even alter each term “Black” “feminist” “middle class” “male” “worker” “manager” “student” “lover”: a brilliant book. Think about this as a possible final paper. You have a good starting point here.
When you ask, “Was Silla wrong for wanting something more for herself, for her daughters, and even for her husband, who relentlessly cheated on her?” I must say it may have been. Now hear me out. I say that because in a family, it isn’t just what you want, right? It should include what your family wants. Silla’s problem is that much of what she wanted was what SHE WANTED. She was like a racing horse with blinders. She didn’t pay attention to the others around her. Blame is not only on her, of course, but it plays an important role in her family’s deterioration.
Damele wrote a new post, Reflections on Yesterday Will Make You Cry by Chester Himes – Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 5 months, 3 weeks ago
I rarely say this, but the introduction of Yesterday Will Make You Cry, written by Melvin Van Peebles was fascinating. It was a befitting preface to the true intention, and first iteration of Himes’s work. It g […]
Reading Yesterday Will Make You Cry in the context of the “white novels” by African American authors published at the time (Wright’s Savage Holiday (1954) especially comes to mind), I read Himes’ presentation of blackness–importantly viewed from the prospective of his white protagonists–is one why of making whiteness visible. In this context, the racist POV and the ease with which it moves among the white characters helps readers see his depiction of whiteness as inextricably tied to a fully assimilated white supremacy.
Yes, I found Van Peebles introduction invaluable too. Important. I was also disturbed by the representation of Black characters but, in truth, in most white-authored novels, the depictions in 1952 would have been (a) either not there at all (in a totally segregated 1920s prison) or (b) far worse. There are friendships between white and Black characters and that is extremely rare in white-authored literature. I think of DuBois’s “double consciousness” and the kind of “quadruple consciousness” of a Black author writing a white character who sees Black characters through a racist white lens while yet being sympathetic enough in that depiction that we reflect back upon the racism of the white character, not on essential negative qualities of the Black characters. It’s a feedback loop backwards. I keep wondering if I had picked up the novel and not known the author was Black, if I would have been surprised at the remarkable attention to Black characters and how often they begin with a stereotypical negative racist portrayal but end up “besting” that characterization and turning out to be more complex, interesting, and deep–and often better human beings–than the person giving them that stereotypical original evaluation. It’s not possible to “unknow” so I don’t know how I would have read the book if I had not known Himes was Black but I know what I read made my head spin with the POV, unlike anything I had read before.
Thanks for this comment. Best, Cathy
You wrote that “it shows that even in the midst of such a place, there can be tenderness, camaraderie, and even love.” This is something that deeply struck me about this novel, the writing, and the depiction of Jimmy’s relationships. He had deep connections that Himes wrote about with such vivid details, that the tenderness of the characters and of Himes himself was palpable.
I completely agree when you say, “The novel is gritty, honest, disturbing, and raw. It does not make the reader comfortable, nor is it meant to. It tells a human story of a young boy coming of age in a place seemingly built to strip away your humanity, and turn you into an animal.” Chester Himes in this novel really doesn’t write to make his audience comfortable and it makes the reading way more intense and interesting because as we read we didn’t always know what to expect. When we speak about people’s humanity we all have been trained to have a particular point-of-view – to have humanity. With Chester Himes we didn’t always know what view we were getting.
Damele wrote a new post, Response to Maxwell’s “Total Literary Awareness” by Damele E. Collier, on the site Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication 6 months, 1 week ago
In “Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-read African American Writing,” I found William J. Maxwell’s description of the “machinery of political repression” intriguing. It seems this machine could identify […]
HI Damele, Thanks for this. You write: “While the FBI could surveil, and perhaps delay publications, they could neither suppress Black intellectual thought, nor eradicate Black writers and their works. ” I think this came through strikingly not only in Maxwell’s essay but in Prof Eversley’s lecture–the persistence of these writers, against odds, is both infuriating (that they had to work against such obstacles) and inspiring (even in the worst situations, great artists prevailed). Heroes!
I found this piece on the Total Literary Awareness campaign and their acts of censorship to be it fascinating. As you mention, The FBI Nobody Knows was originally rejected by Random House due to a copy being forwarded to Hoover. The FBI was so invested in its public image as a force of good in society, that any publications that contradicted with that image – whether true or false – were censored. The anti-black undertones to this suppression are also significant, as noted throughout the article.