LIVING TO TELL ABOUT IT: Young Black Men in America Speak Their Piece by Darrell Dawsey

LIVING TO TELL ABOUT IT: Young Black Men in America Speak Their Piece

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A candid, often vexing collection of interviews with young black men on key contemporary issues. Detroit News feature writer Dawsey takes his radiation-finding equipment to America's social ground zero by interviewing dozens of young black males ranging in age from 15 to 24. Their voices loudly buzz with hopelessness and anger, as the subjects reflect on such issues as family, sex, work, religion, and violence. What emerges here is a bleak portrait of a disenfranchised, often morally bankrupt generation. Fathers have, for the most part, disappeared. ""He's a foul nigga,"" says rapper Chris Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) of his father, ""I ain't never seen the nigga a day in my life."" And the fathers who do stay are portrayed as lacking the basic emotional and economic resources that parenthood demands, abusing drugs along with their children. This generation of young black men has consequently turned to ""crews,"" or gangs, for emotional and financial support. The violence and drug dealing that accompany gang membership, however, often result in violent death and incarceration rather than ersatz stability. Hiphop, defined by Dawsey as ""our generation's tributary to the inexorable flow of Black Culture,"" becomes the salvation of some of these youths. One flees an abusive home to ""steal diamonds from old ladies"" but later finds redemption as a graffiti artist, a tapper, and a writer for such magazines as The Source and Vibe. To the Notorious B.I.G., achieving wealth as a tapper provides an alternative to dealing drugs. The book makes clear, however, that these success stories are atypical, and Dawsey echoes his subjects by clearly laying all the blame on a callous white power structure. Here is a sad and disturbing reminder that America must find solutions for her volatile and growing underclass. While the dominant street slang adds authenticity, the book may prove to be largely inaccessible to the very people who most need to read it.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1996
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday