This is all my way of saying: Yes, I went to Howard, no I’m not stupid and not ashamed of that, but don’t lump me into the category you think I should be placed in.
Normally I follow my instincts and let people think what they want. As a writer, though, I realize a message can often be lost by its messenger, so I have sometimes reevaluate what I say in order to be sure that what I’m saying will be read without prejudice.
When it comes to a lot of Black forms of entertainment, I think I’ve made it clear that while I don’t like most of what’s dominating these days , my problem is more so an issue of balance versus censoring content. Everything isn’t meant to be serious, people are sexual, and yes there are some things about us that are indeed true.
Then I hit the bookstore and flip.
After going to see The Dark Knight (which was dope by the way…go see it), I went to the Borders near-by. I wanted to read my friend and talented writer, Maiya Norton’s review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, The Beautiful Struggle, in the new Giant. Once I finished that, I headed over to the Black book section (a tiny, tiny two shelves in the huge megastore) to no doubt punish myself.
Most of the books I were along the lines:
Sweeter Than Honey
Forever A Hustler’s Wife
You Gotta Sin To Be Saved
Drama Is Her Middle Name
Fool, Stop Trippin’
I actually laughed at the title You Gotta Sin To Be Saved until I realized that’s probably every one of that book’s readers new life motto after they’re done with the book. As for The Beautiful Struggle, there was one lonely copy amid several copies of the aforementioned.
I’ve known about this surge in “street lit” for some time now. I saw people with the books on the subways in New York and D.C. all the time. In some respects, I understand the conventional wisdom that goes, “Well…at least they’re reading.” I’ve thumbed through some of these books, and I’m not so sure how true that is after considering how poorly written and edited many of these titles are. I always thought books were intended to make you smarter. Who knew they might actually make you dumber?
And this is where I start to wonder maybe I’m not being fair. Everyone has a right to be heard, and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean everyone else should follow suit. If I can dance to bullshit at the club, people can read bullshit on the train. Besides, I have friends that read a lot of these books and I don’t think they’re dumb. The books? Fuck yes…and that’s why those feelings all rush back.
C’mon nah, Fool, Stop Trippin’. What’s next? Bitch, Quit Playin’? (Don’t none of ya’ll take my idea.)
Looking through those shelves more and more I noticed a big divide between generations of writers. It’s like half the books by the old heads are about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the ones by the young folks us focus on selling drugs by the bus stop. Anything considered to be a happy medium or something outside the norm is lost amongst the fourth copy of Every Thug Needs A Lady.
I don’t even have the patience to tackle how events have led to that point, but I know that more and more I hear so many people with sense wear their resentment towards reading like it’s a badge of honor. There are grown people who can’t formulate complete sentences and it doesn’t bother them in the least. Granted I’m a math failure, but if my tongue and teeth runaway from home, I am still able to write down, “Math has always been my very own personal terrorist. Can you help me not feel like an idiot?” to a math tutor.
Anyhow, one of my biggest fears is that I and many of my friends will write really great works that may go largely unnoticed by the people they were intended for. An even greater fear is that we might not even get the opportunity to test our luck because publishers are all about the bottom line, and currently the bottom of the barrel is where the money’s at.
Disclaimer: I am not really going to light any bookstores on fire. I realize some authors have actually benefitted from being locked up, but I ain’t one of them, so don’t do me.