Great Minds Exposed: View From Both Sides Of The Life by Keith Williams (Wax Poetics, Issue 3, Fall 2002)

Εδώ και λίγο καιρό, το Rock & Roll Circus έχει επισήμως συνάψει συνεργασία με τον διμηνιαίο αμερικανικό περιοδικό, εισάγοντας τα τρέχοντα τεύχη του καθώς και παλαιότερα. Απ’ το τρίτο τεύχος του ακολουθεί μια εισαγωγή στην αστυνομική λογοτεχνία των αφροαμερικανών.

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Here’s a tag team Celebrity Death Match for you. In the red corner, you have the scrappy right-hander with the gleaming pinky ring hailing from the Midwest, Iceberg Slim, and his trusty protégé, #1 America’s Best Selling Black Author, Donald Goines! These players and purveyors of the Game or the Life, arguably the most influential underwriters of hip-hop’s gangsta or thug subculture, are here to wreak havoc on the moral fiber of decent society! In the blue corner you have the venerated champion of Black Crime fiction, Chester Himes, and its current top-ranked contender, Walter Mosley! The central characters of the stories they write are defenders of justice for poor Blacks everywhere! There is a frozen moment of electricity as the arena salivates in eager anticipation for the clash of the righteous and the wicked. The announcer tantalizes the crowd… “Ladies and Gentlemen and the 750 million people watching around the wooorld…” And now cue the now trite ecstatic bellowing of “LET’S GET READY TO RUUUUUMMMBLLLE!” The crowd erupts in a conniptive orgasm of bloodlust screams and howls, the mood of which can only be tempered by Adolph Coors, who quickly douses the excitement with generous servings of his wimpishly emasculated Coors Light.

Unfortunately, most writers are never elevated to such mythic status in the land I Call Generica, with its endless Starbucks and Mickey D’s. however, the authors mentioned above already occupy Olympian heights in a world where to many, they must seem as strange and distant gods. Their stories focus on the streets and the lives of ordinary Black folk as told in their voice. Each author brings unique insight of the separate and unequal worlds of Black and White Generica. Each in their own way bring to bear the burden of Black people trying to survive, succeeding even in a world where everyone who is not Black (and even some that are) treats Blacks with apprehension, arrogance, and outright contempt. Where Blacks must make hard decisions about remaining affiliated with “normal” American society when any support of that society by Blacks has been spawned by a naked fear of retaliation by racist whites. Where the hardest decision to make is whether to follow a path of righteousness or depravity to reach the end of the line where, upon exiting the train, you are still likely to be called “nigger”.

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When the pimps, street pharmacists, hustlers, and occasional neighborhood warlords who dominate the books of Slim and Goines reach the corner of decision, they like Caine in Menace II Society, say, “Let’s do this,” and take a turn down the road to Bad, Worse and Get the Fuck Out of Here. In doing so, their fates become doomed in their Faustian election of the outlaw’s lifestyle. Contrast that with the works of Himes and Mosley, whose protagonists (police officers, private detectives, and bookstore owners) may stray, but never stay far from the path of the light, where their actions, while not altogether pious or lawful, will be exalted as the model for at least decent human behavior. In Goine’s and Slim’s stories, you get the hideous mutated flaws of humanity committed to their rogue lives of degradation and the spoiling of the human condition. Himes’s and Mosley’s HNICS hesitatingly adhere to a belief that there is a right thing to do and that it must be done in the face of the more easily accomplished wrong thing. In doing so, they demonstrate that a Black man always has to be twice as bad to be good.

The collected works of these great writers serve as a mirror of modern culture, especially as life exists within the poor, dispossessed, and predominately Black communities of America. When compared, the works of these authors are a juxtaposition of viewpoints caught within the same hellish matrix of being Black in America, lest anyone misconstrue this article as an endorsement of any one of these authors over another. The reader must understand that they are all equally brilliant in their descriptive styles and each provides valuable insight into poor and striving Black American life. All, with the exception of Mosley, lived the hard life of crime, prison, and the streets they so vividly describe. Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, invites you into a personal account of his experiences in the Life, with his underworld stories of pimping, whirling, mafiosos, confidence games, and street hustlers told as if listening to tales from the griot in jail. Donald Goines, toured as America’s 1# Selling Black Author and inspired by the work of Slim, is more of a true pulp writer, lurid and seamy in his descriptions of the criminal and outlaw worlds his characters inhabit. Chester Himes is the stately and refined grandfather in a smoking jacket. His stories chronicle the often futile attempts of Black police detectives to uphold righteousness in Harlem while knee-deep in the raw entrails of injustice all Harlemites suffer. Their attempts to retain their dignity, in the face of racism from their white law enforcement brethren and seething hatred from community residents, puts them in the uneviable position of being both the criminal and the victim, doomed to relive daily the Promethian nightmare of racism from which America refuses to awaken. Lastly, Walter Mosley, comparatively a new jack in an old style, has carved a space for the Black crime fiction protagonist in his stories about Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow, and his latest, Paris Minton. Through Easy Rawlins and Socrates Fortlow, his characters in many ways come to represent related variants of the quintessential Good Black Man, struggling to do right in the face of the enormous adversity that convinces many that the only real right is the right to do wrong.

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The collected works of these authors highlight a sort of unyielding tension within communities of poor Black people. One hand grasps for assimilation within American culture without need of acceptance by descendants of Caucasian Judeo-Christian European colonists, settlers, land speculators, capitalists, indentured servants, conscripted sailors, and other various felons, refugees, and scofflaws, (better known as whitey, and whose acceptance, ironically enough, is the very hallmark of assimilation). Hime’s Goffin Ed and Grave Digger and Mosley’s Rawlins exemplify this hand of Black America. Both walk the line of lawfulness while teetering into lawlessness. It is clear that for them such action is a nearly necessary evil for Blacks who do not wish to succumb to the criminal life of the streets. They recognize that is impossible for Blacks to achieve justice using the systems of a racist America that has never embraced Blacks as full and equal citizens, yet they refuse to let injustice stand. Their willingness to bend rules to get Blacks the justice that whities won’t give them highlights the reality that the truly righteous and moral man has almost no choice but to align himself with criminal or outlaw elements to get justice in an imbalanced society.

The other hand slaps the face of America in complete rejection of any and all economic, social, and political institutions situated within every so-called Black community that have been eternally under the Man’s nearly complete control. Slim’s and Goine’s pimps, pushers, hustlers, con men, hit men, dopefiends, crazy freak bitches, assorted gangsters, and criminal warlords are resolute in their devotion to a life of criminal activity. They are the representatives of the streets whose plight society tries to ignore and whose characters can’t exist in a world of imposed social normalcy. These characters are a constant reminder of how far we haven’t gone while we were busy trying to pat ourselves on the black in congratulation of our “progress”. They are the starved children, homeless families, and stifled ambition strewn in the wake of the money machine. Their relationship with the social fabric of America has never been anywhere but on the fringe, they serve as a piece of lint or a loose string to be removed, a string that if intertwined precisely enough, becomes the string that unravels the fabric. Based on the facets of America revealed to them, they become certain that the only way to truly break their chains of servitude is to act as ignominiously as their former masters. Those who reject assimilation theory do so because they remain convinced (and not without some reason) that Black people will never lawfully achieve wealth and freedom under the American system of franchised society. These ladies and gentlemen are poised to become our new Depression-era-styled outlaws, ready to battle, rightly or wrongly, for their slice of the American pie. To some, they have become new anti-superheroes-Pimpinman and Ho-rina, Bluntman and Chronic, Sir Sheisty, Nicky Barnes, Bishop Magic Don Juan, Romello Scuggs, Kid Charlemange. Under the aegis of “takin’ what’s rightfully mine,” someone will step up in the way of Goine’s and Slim’s characters and be the bad guy. Someone will exploit human suffering and weakness for financial gain. As they say, pimpin ain’t easy, but somebody’s gotta do it. Just ask any record company exec.

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Read all of these authors together and you will get a deeper understanding of true crime and street living in poor America. Understand of course that no book will actually give you as true a sense of your local environment as your own direct observation. If you are white and non-poor, please visit and spend time in your local ghettoized area or a trailer park near you. Witness first hand the effect of institutionalized racism, and how it lives on in the actions and decisions of such agents of change as school boards (no money for poor schools, but here are two vouchers), city councils (no money for homeless shelters, but have this new prison), prison boards (as much money for new prisons as you could ever want-you say you want some more, where do you want us to dump it?) and generally every level of government nationwide. It is the America that provides fodder for brutal cops, prison slavery and presidential campaigns. It is the America that infects us all because of the inability of a collective people to cure its ills. Hey, whoever thought you’d get all that in the richest country in the world, huh?

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Για την αντιγραφή,

loan me a dime…

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One response to “Great Minds Exposed: View From Both Sides Of The Life by Keith Williams (Wax Poetics, Issue 3, Fall 2002)

  1. παρακαλέιται ο κύριος loan me a dime να μου στείλει μεηλ στο oksikemia at gmail. thnx

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