BLACK MEN SPEAKING by Charles Johnson

BLACK MEN SPEAKING

KIRKUS REVIEW

 More American black men are in prison than in college. They are more likely than whites to die violently and young. Is the American black man an ``endangered species''? National Book Award winner Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990) and fellow novelist McCluskey (Mr. America's Last Season Blues, 1983) spent seven years collecting these original writings. Unfortunately, the perspectives provided here on this important question--with the exception of Yosef Komunyakaa's award-winning poetry and Don Belton's affecting essay, ``Voodoo for Charles''-- are mostly tired and trite. The common thread throughout is the bleak reality of the lives of African-American males and their negative portrayal in the media. Often lacking identity and self- respect, many black men are said to perceive themselves as ``niggers.'' And those who do make it are accused here of too often being preoccupied with pursuing material success while ignoring social concerns. The writers ponder whether the underlying cause of this crisis is institutional racism, the educational system, economics, the lack of role models, or an insidious combination of all of the above. (Ironically, with few exceptions, African- American females don't emerge any more positively here than their male counterparts. Black mothers are often portrayed as abusive to their sons, dismissive of their needs, and incapable of instilling moral standards.) Gangs became the surrogate family to a generation of young men growing up without fathers and with mothers who are, at most, marginal to their lives. Their music is rap as it ``reflects the realities of the judicial system, prison, the police, and our failure as Black men to listen and reach out to young men and validate their worth.'' Despite the urgency of the subject matter, there isn't much here that hasn't been expressed more eloquently elsewhere. (10 b&w photos of art by Jacob Lawrence)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-253-33259-1
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997




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