Tag Archives: books

Two books I won’t be reading, thanks

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

A couple of books have come to my attention lately that are truly cringe-worthy. The first is self-published (thanks Wendi):

Check out the official description:

If you’re a White man interested in dating Black women, this book shows you how to make it happen. Learn how Black women think, what they like and don’t like to see in White men, and where and how to go about meeting them. Find out how to cope with public reaction to interracial couples, learn how to counteract the psychological inhibitions that can hold you back from getting involved and understand why those who oppose interracial relationships feel compelled to think and act the way they do. Find out what works and get involved.

It’s amazing how popular this genre is: self-help for the racial fetishists. See here and here and here and here for more examples.

The other one has to be the most Orientalist personal finance book every written (thanks Francesca):

As you read the official description, can’t you just smell the sweet opium hear the goooooooooonnnnnnnngggg?

Millions of readers have thrilled to the astonishing true adventures of the tiny peasant who achieved ultimate prosperity during history’s most turbulent epoch. Now, The Prosperous Peasant reveals the Secrets that guided him–and successful people the world over–since time began.

A colorful cast of teachers–the peasant-turned-samurai Hideyoshi, Kembo the Vengeful Priest, Fernao the Portuguese trader, the brilliant strategist Nobunaga, Daizen the ronin, and many others–bring to life five ageless Secrets of Fortune and Fulfillment in parables whose beauty and truthfulness haunts and inspires.

The key to Prosperity, readers learn, lies not in “techniques” or “strategies” but in ancient knowledge drawn from the great philosophies of China and Japan–wisdom more fundamental than any “how-to” advice.

Forged in an extraordinary collaboration between an acclaimed novelist and a Japan specialist who made his own fortune, The Prosperous Peasant will teach, charm, and motivate–but above all, its powerful message may change your life.

Begin your journey to prosperity and fulfillment today. Heed the ageless wisdom of The Prosperous Peasant!

This edition includes an all-new abridgment of Bushido, Nitobe’s classic on the Eight Virtues of the chivalrous code of the samurai.

Fearing the “Other” Is Politically Profitable: Iran, Islamo-Fascism and the Pursuit of Truth

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

The whispers about Iran are starting to become more numerous to ignore. The same whispers continue in hushed tones about Islamo-Fascism, hatred of freedom, and the need to do something.

Do what, I wonder? Bomb more people?

But the whispers grow in volume every day. So, to try to make sense of it all, I began to read.

I read an interesting Q & A on Pop & Politics about Islamo-Fascism.

(Fabulous moment of semi-irony: David Horowitz defending Ann Coulter by saying “Why should anybody in America, whose democratic culture is based on the pluralism of ideas, be offended by a religious belief?” Yes, David, why should they be offended by a religious belief? And why would they decide to be actively offensive toward those who hold other beliefs?)

This appeared the same day I read a Washington Post hosted chat about a PBS program I missed on the whole Iran situation.

Pop and Politics has also been covering some of the issues surrounding some of this othering and the issues surrounding the Bush Administration’s newest target – Iran:

In the Path to Iran, Chris Nelson briefly summarizes Seymour M. Hirsch’s article on the Bush Administration and the next target:

In sum, the war in Iraq is now being redefined— years too late and for ulterior motives— as in fact a strategic conflict with Iran. But blaming Iran for the humiliating U.S. failure in Iraq is merely the latest rhetorical approach to persuade Americans of the need to bomb Tehran, according to Hirsch.

In another post, P & P discussed one of Ann Coulter’s recent speaking engagements in honor of Islamo-Fascism Awareness week:

Ann Coulter descended on USC campus to promote her new book last week as part of the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Islamo-Facism Awareness Week.” While speaking to a crowd of about 230 fans at the Annenberg School, she offered equal doses of anti-liberal tirade and inflammatory discourse on the world beyond these amber waves of grain.

“Eschewing debate, I would turn to inflicting horrible physical pain. That seems to change people’s minds,” Coulter said when asked during the Q&A if she believed that “very vigorous intellectual debate could perhaps change [Islamo-Fascist’s] views against using violence to spread religion?”

“Who would have thought the Japanese were governable? A few well-placed nuclear bombs and they’ve been gentle little lambs ever since,” was how she followed-up the “horrible physical pain” plan for Islamo-Fascists. Continue reading

Book Review: Jabari Asim’s The N Word

by guest contributor Swerl, originally posted at Swerl

Pop quiz! Who said…

a) To be plain, I wish to get quit of Negroes…

b) I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in endowments both of body and mind.

c) I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…

Answers?

a) George Washington (in a 1778 letter to his plantation manager)
b) Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785)
c) Abraham Lincoln (1858)!!

These bon mots and more are revealed in Jabari Asim’s new(ish) book, The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why. What Asim (syndicated columnist and deputy editor of the Washington Post Book World) has accomplished in this slender, powerful book, is a concise history of African-Americans… as told BY whites TO other whites.

Through the lens of the “N” word, from first recorded usage through today, Asim makes the persuasive case that whites could not deal with the dichotomy of being good, God-fearing men of noble purpose AND slave owners. Instead of abolishing slavery at the birth of the nation, our glorious founding fathers created a myth around those they had brutally imported from Africa to MORALLY justify the Africans’ enslavement. To do this, they created the “N—–”, and bent reality to fit their story. It helped the whites sleep at night AND get their cotton picked. Africans were not the same race as whites. They were animalistic in their joys, passions and fears. Because their pleasure was only base sexual gratification and their pain was “transitory”, there was no moral imperative to keep families intact, honor their history, allow them to keep their names or grant dignity to them in any way. Because they were “fearful” of freedom, and too stupid to be of use, slavery was, in fact, a COMPASSIONATE alternative to freedom.

Because they were not human, it didn’t matter if white men slept with black woman, but it was an affront for any lust-crazed Negro to sleep with a white woman.

Because they were simpleminded, they loved to dance and sing merrily while working 18 hour days.

But, because they were animalistic, they could turn mean and evil and needed to be put down.

W.E.B. Du Bois cleverly called this “racial folklore”, and insisted that its presence made the “color line”, as he called it, transcend simple economic exploitation. For example, while other ethnic minorities have been or are being exploited for their labor, it is unique to the black experience to have an identity manufactured by the dominant white society and then brutally and systemically imposed — even imprinted — onto them, the “…belief that somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro — a clownish, simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations.”

In the subsequent pages, Asim traces the implementation of this “racial folklore” through American history, proving his point with devastating detail. Almost like a prosecutor, even if you have known all the facts, seeing them all pulled together in such a cogent way makes it clear to ANYONE that whites have tried to rewrite the reality of black America with the merciless, pernicious efficiency of Orwellian scope. “2+2=5″. Winston Smith needed not just repeat it, but BELIEVE it. Internalize it.

Slaves not willing to work in subhuman conditions? They’re lazy!
Slaves pretending to like whitefolk to get by? They’re jolly darkies!
Slaves try to run away because they don’t like being slaves? They’re aggressive, violent, predatory animals out to rape white women and kill white men!

Again, a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois sums it up perfectly. “Everything Negroes did was wrong. If they fought for freedom, they were beasts; if they did not fight, they were born slaves. If they cowered on the plantation, they loved slavery; if they ran away, they were loafers. If they sang, they were silly, if they scowled, they were impudent… And they were funny, funny — ridiculous baboons, aping men!” Continue reading

The Other N Word

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

The most provocative ideas seem to fly out of nowhere.

I was listening the community discussion of Jabari Asim’s new book The N-Word: Who Should Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why and I was enjoying the depth of conversation explored by the attendees. One woman, when recounting her experiences made an interesting and illuminating comment.

As a Caucasian woman raising a biracial child who identifies as black, she explained having a lengthy discussion with her child about his casual use of the N-word with his multicultural group of friends. The woman’s son informed her that the n-word was no longer a stigmatized term. What was worse, the son explained, was the “other N-word.”

Puzzled, I leaned forward in my seat. As I shivered in the aggressively air conditioned meeting room, I did a quick scan of my mental word bank to figure out another n-word. Nothing. The woman continued.

The other N-word was nerd.

Damn.

The discussion continued to swirl around me, but that phrase stuck with me for the rest of the evening.

The following day, I attended my younger sister’s high school graduation. A graduate of Charles Herbert Flowers High School (focusing on the Science and Technology program) I am pleased to share that my younger sister graduated in the top 5% of her class.

However, she was outdone by both the class valedictorian and salutatorian, both of whom boasted advanced GPAs, (4.8 and 5.2, I believe), SAT scores, college level course work (one of them had completed Calculus 3), and numerous community service projects.

Both of these young men confidently approached the podium and spoke of opportunity, achievement, and success. As they spoke, I wondered if they had already felt the sting of the “other n-word.” Outwardly, they were both attractive, seemingly popular young men. What were their lives like? Did they feel penalized for the intellect? Did they feel the burden, the unrelenting pressure placed upon those deemed young, gifted, and black?

After the tassels were turned, I fought through the throng of graduate families to find my younger sister. After giving her my congratulations, I asked her if her valedictorian and salutatorian were ostracized for being so smart. Continue reading

White Authors, Ethnic Characters

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my overly analytical brain a break and delve into some light reading.

I love to read, and as a result of being willing to read anything and everything, I have picked up a few interesting habits.

Case in point being my affinity for paranormal romance novels. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I love reading about the exploits of women with supernatural powers. After blowing through most of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the OtherWorld Series, and waiting on the library to stock Kim Harrison’s For a Few Demons More, I was drawn to pick up MaryJanice Davidson’s work.

A bit fluffier (and more in line with the typical romance novel) than I am used to, I picked up the first few novels while smirking at the ditzy Valley Girl Vampire Queen Heroine. I was amused for three books, but was brought up short at the fourth. In fourth friend, the protagonist’s token black friend is riding in a car, and instigating a coversation about the n-word, much to the chagrin of the other white characters in the car.

“It’s just a word, I’m past it…” says the black character, before turning to a white character and saying, “You can call me it just once.” The white character stutters on the page.

I take a break from reading. I flip to the back flap to check out the author’s photo. Yup, just as I suspected…white. I continued reading the book to see how the situation was handled. Luckily, the conversation was dropped in favor of other pressing matters – like staking the undead.

Still, I felt a little shaken by the exchange. Can an author realistically portray someone of another ethnicity?

As a writer, I would say I hope so. Having cut my teeth working on short stories and screenplays (non-fiction writing didn’t happen until recently), my stories do not work in a mono-racial bubble. Some of my characters are black, some are Americanized Latino, some are mixed race-Asian, some are white…the character’s racial background and physical characteristics are chosen with care. The images that are afloat in my mind become realized on the page in the form they shaped. It is almost as if I do not choose a character’s ethnicity – it is simply there, one small part of the overall character. And while I do occasionally assign racial characteristics to my characters for social commentary purposes (i.e. the token white character in my screenplay, office friend to my two protagonists, largely serving as the sidekick/comic relief), for the most part, I let the story unfold as it will. Continue reading

Lit Love: Anthologies and Short Essays

by Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

I love to take a peek inside the mind of someone else.

I have always been interested in the reality and perspectives of others, especially when it is one that is so different from my own. My love of reading is rooted in this desire to know.

With that in mind, I am recommending a quick list of books guaranteed to shake a few mental paradigms.

Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism
(Seal Press, 2002)

This was one of the first books I picked up about women of color and feminism that was not from the African-American perspective. The narratives in this collection illuminate struggles that are not always heard, even within the feminist community – Native American women, Desi girls, Islamic girls. Tackling topics from sexuality to sex work to abortion to gentrification, Colonize This! succeeds in humanizing issues that are often discussed only in the abstract.

[Side note: One of the Amazon commentators for this book left the following gem: "To think about racism is to be racist. People should think about other things." Wow.]

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down
(Simon & Schuster, 2000)

After scooping this up at a bookstore sale, I promptly devoured it in one sitting, and have spent the last four years loaning it out to any of my friends who happened to glance in the direction of my bookcase. Morgan’s work is refreshing, groundbreaking, and real. Her essays pop with ideas, including my two favorites, “StrongBlackWoman and the EndangeredBlack Man” and “Chickenhead Envy.”

In “StrongBlackWoman -n-EndangeredBlackMen…This is Not a Love Story” Morgan directly confronts a myth that many black women hold on to like a life raft in a churning sea: the StrongBlackWoman. Mythical and powerful, the stereotype empowers women but also hinders them – underneath the SBW banner, it is difficult to have your fears, pains, and vulnerabilities taken seriously. Other people, who willingly buy into this stereotype, see the SBW and just assume she can do all things, for all people, all the time – and then lash out if she dares to show a weakness.

“Chickenhead Envy” deals with the irrational but real pain women feel when confronted with the gold-digging stereotype that seems to have no problems with money, men, or status based ambition. Morgan cuts right to the heart of the matter, admitting that while it feels great to do for one’s self, that feeling of accomplishment fades when you see chickenheads reaping the immediate rewards of their craft.

Engaging, thought-provoking, and challenging, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is a long time favorite of mine.

Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass, and Cultural Shifting
(Rayo, 2004)

I saw this book on the shelves at my local library, and was attracted by the hot pink cover, displaying a photo of a skirt worn with some killer boots. Over the course of two days, I dipped into contemporary Latina reality. Divided into three sections, Border-line personalities confronts love, family, and reality through the eyes of Latinas in the know.

I’ll have to admit, a lot of things in this book went over my head. A large portion of the first section features writers who switch between Spanish and English, using colloquial phrases that the Altavista BabelFish couldn’t handle. But fair enough – I don’t speak Spanish, and I’m sneaking glimpses into someone else’s reality. This book was not written for me.

However, I still managed to pull a lot of enjoyment from this one. Carmen Wong’s story is difficult and touching, and Jackie Guerra provides a fresh perspective on being Latina in Hollywood. There were also some interesting stories about relationships, including the testimony of a Lesbian Latina, a stranded New Yorker’s quest for her lover during the 2003 blackout, and a girl learning her way around an adult relationship with her alcoholic father.

Highly enjoyable, highly recommended. (Unfortunately, the comments on Amazon are split 50-50. )

Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts
(Perigee Trade, 2005)

I adore this collection for not turning away from the rougher aspects of the African-American female experience. While the celebrity pages were a bit lacking (Melyssa Ford has rehashed her views on being a video model in the same way in three different publications), the narratives from real women were poignant and touching. There was a narrative from a generation 1.5 African-American teen who receives complements on her deep smooth skin and regal stature, but receives absolutely no play from African-American boys; a few narratives of the fear felt dealing with the street sex market; narratives about loving yourself in a larger size, including a fabulous reference to Miss Piggy as a role model for body confidence; the issues involved with being black and living abroad; and the rant from a light skinned woman with a yard-long weave on the hypocrisy that categorizes black hair politics. Sexual abuse and gender politics are also featured prominently in this collection. I plan on gifting this book to a few young girls I know. Continue reading

Oops, where’d we go? The disappearing black girls in Young Adult Literature

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Back in the day, there was Jessi Ramsey and Rainbow Jordan.

Jessi, the only black member of the Babysitters Club, was one of my girl idols back when I was a nerdy tween who had yet to blossom into full teenagehood. I remember avidly the adventures of all the girls in the BSC – but Jessie most of all. She was a dancer and had a cute boyfriend named Quentin. Her life was full of baby-sitting, her friends, and getting into Julliard.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Rainbow Jordan. A tough kid from the inner city, she navigated the maze of foster care, wrestled with a sex-crazed boyfriend, and watched her friends succumb to the pull of the streets.

Growing up in suburbia, both Jessie and Rainbow Jordan held some truth for me. I related to Jessi’s struggles just to be a normal girl in a lily-white reality, with a white dominated hobby. (She did manage to find a black boyfriend, interestingly enough). Rainbow Jordan helped me to relate to experiences that were not my own…but not too far away either.

As I grew older, I read about Jessi Ramsey and Rainbow Jordan, kept some company with the kids from Walter Dean Myers’ 18 Pine St. Series and filled the rest of my time with mainstream teen fare – the Baby-sitters Club, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, the Alice Series. Still, I always thought when I was older, my younger sibilings and cousins would have a whole shelf full of progressive (or at the very least, mainstream) books to read that featured black characters.

Unfortunately, my younger sister spent her teen years reading Gossip Girl, supermarket mysteries, and sneaking into my room to steal my adult oriented books. I have to admit, I was thrown for a loop to see my younger sister relating to Flyy Girl.

My boyfriend’s younger sisters, born 5 years behind my sister, are beginning to exhibit the same traits. They eschew traditionally popular Young Adult (YA) lit and instead snatch up novels like Ghetto Girls and the latest street lit by Chunichi.

Personally, I am stumped by this development. Behind the circulation desk, clerking it at the library, I see this same scenario play out with dozens of young black girls every Saturday and Sunday. Why don’t they relate to the young adult material that was specifically written for them? Why do they continue to grab the most racy adult material that they can find? Even in this day and age, I highly doubt that most girls are having sex at 11 and 12.

I decided to go through the most popular YA lit to figure out what is going on. After engrossing myself in the worlds of The Clique, Gossip Girl, The It Girl, the A-List, and checking out a few other standouts (Pretties, Uglies, Speak, among other novels), I can see where we have an issue.

In the new YA lit arena, people of color are non-existent. Continue reading

Is “Classalicious” in our future?

by Jen Chau
Have you wondered why our society doesn’t address class with nearly the same frequency as it does race? I have, but I quickly answer myself — clearly, issues of race and diversity have been done so much (not necessarily done right, though) that it’s easier for people to talk about race than it is for them to talk about class. No one wants to really think about those issues. In the same way that perhaps it used to be taboo for you to mention that (god forbid!) you had a parent of color, the modern day passing might just be about class (as in passing as someone who has more than $100 in savings. :|). I had a recent conversation with a friend where we were talking about this — and how it’s an unspoken thing, that you can’t necessarily tell who is who, that the distinctions of social class are much more invisible. And that’s another reason why race is so easy for us to talk about. It’s seemingly more obvious to us. Or so people think. :)

Slate gives a scathing review of Walter Benn Michaels’ new book, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. Michaels argues that we need to talk about class and get off the race tip. But apparently, he doesn’t really make his case.

Here are some examples of Michaels’ rhetorical excess. Cultural differences, including those involving race, are “lovable,” whereas class differences “are not so obviously appealing.” Affirmative action is therefore “a kind of collective bribe rich people pay themselves for ignoring economic inequality.” It is absurd to focus so much on affirmative action because “there are no people of different races.” It makes more sense to talk about concrete things, such as paying African-Americans reparations for slavery, than it does to engage in symbolic politics in which nothing really is at stake: “No issue of social justice hangs on appreciating hair color diversity; no issue of social justice hangs on appreciating racial or cultural diversity.”

Michaels, as these examples illustrates, belongs to the “shock and awe” school of political argument. First, you say something wildly implausible in the hopes that its dramatic counterintuitiveness will make it seem brilliant. Yet in the United States in which I live, race is an obvious fact of life, conversations about it remain awkward and uncomfortable, and both supporters and opponents of affirmative action are sincere in their convictions. It is true that saying such things would make for a very unoriginal book. But at least it would be an accurate one.

Boo-yah.

All that said, I do agree that we need to discuss class a much more than we are. But unless someone otherwise convinces me, I don’t think we can necessarily forget about race in that conversation about class. Race and class are inextricably linked (at this time).