NO DISRESPECT

It must be hard being right all the time, but controversial rapper and black activist Sister Souljah doesn't mind, judging from her remarkably smug, occasionally uplifting memoir. Let there be no doubt, this ``young sultry, big, brown-eyed, voluptuous, wholesome, intelligent, spiritual, ghetto girl'' has opinions. She is for belief in God, hard work, self-respect, community service, political activism, a strong family structure, and black women sharing their men in the face of a huge supply-side shortage. She is against abortion, narcotics, the welfare system, interracial dating, and homosexuality. Passionate in all things, Souljah's juxtaposition of her activism and her active hormones can produce odd results. When a man she wants turns up at a committee meeting, she recounts: ``I...set to work on how to organize Black students across the country into an African student network. With moist panties and a body that wanted to be touched...I argued that most African students were confronted by the same problems.'' Souljah's political beliefs frequently become little more than sidelines to her accounts of failed romances—indignant stories of a strong, single, sexy black heroine and the brothers who let her down. The men who fail come in all varieties (from her father to her mother's lovers and her own), but Souljah concludes that their shortcomings are the result of centuries of white racist oppression—psychological, political, cultural. Ultimately, the book reveals the psyche of a young black woman who feels she has been betrayed by too many and who trusts no one. Everyone disappoints her. After eight chapters (each named for the guilty individual in question: ``Mother,'' ``Nathan,'' ``Mona,'' etc.), a predictable pattern emerges in which Souljah's initial optimism wears off and gives way first to rationalization, then to harsh condemnation. Part fiery political diatribe, part searing sexual history, part unintentional psychological profile, Souljah throws more heat than light.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8129-2483-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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