Black is Brilliant: The Multimedia Experience
Every February I post a book list of black literature. Although I highly recommend that you take the time to read the works I have chosen to showcase this year, I would also like to provide videos of three brilliant black authors. I believe the brilliance of black literature can inspire a love and appreciation of black culture that will lead our society beyond the notion of mere tolerance to an authentic appreciation of the beauty and necessity of diversity. In fact, social scientist and Jesuit priest, Fr. John LaFarge asserts:
“For, justice alone, even though most faithfully observed, can remove indeed the cause of social strife, but can never bring about a union of heart and minds. Yet this union, binding men together is the main principle of stability in all institutions, no matter how perfect they may seem, which aim at establishing social peace and mutual aid."
If America wishes to move beyond a superficial tolerance to mutual appreciation, the union of hearts and minds must be our goal. And one of the best ways of uniting diverse individuals, besides the arduous task of friendship, is to consume the art of the other we wish to approach.
Ta-Nahesi Coates is first and foremost a journalist, activist and non-fiction author. Yet in 2015 Marvel invited Coates to author the new Black Panther fictional comic series, which premiered in movie theaters February 16, 2018.
Coates became a journalist and a writer because he wanted to illustrate the black experience in America: In an NPR interview with Krista Tippert, Coates explains:
“You have to understand what that means, when you grow up in a culture where black people are not depicted as beautiful...There is a subconscious message that is communicated in the culture that ‘This is what’s beautiful, this is what’s elegant, this is what’s sophisticated- and this is white. It’s not you.”
Coates has written several books to bring to light the beauty, elegance and sophistication of black culture. Between the World and Me, is one of his most highly decorated works, lauded by Toni Morrison and the New York Times. Coates's narrative reveals the stories of the black bodies who have been exploited and oppressed throughout American history.
A second writer and activist who speaks of both race and gender is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am embarrassed to admit that I first became antiquated with the work of Chimamanda Adichie through her voice over in Beyonce's flawless video. However I am grateful to have gained exposure to such a brilliant author. Adichie's essay, "We Should All Be Feminists" is inspired by her 2013 Ted Talk.
In the Ted Talk, Adichie users her personal narrative to reveal the gender inequalities that are particular to Nigeria, yet relevant to every culture. She boldly challenges modern conceptions of gender, yet does not obscure gender difference. In fact she asserts that we limit the scope and potential of both genders with our narrow stereotypes.
Although Adichie labels herself as a "happy African feminist" to challenge the bias against the angry femaNazi, she does not diminish the validity of her anger:
"I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change."
Another activist and author worthy of distinction is Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson's work, Just Mercy, weaves his personal biography of becoming a civil rights lawyer with the narratives of those who have suffered injustice through the prejudice of the American criminal justice system.
Stevenson is a talented orator and brilliant speaker. If you want to better understand the subtitles of 21st century racism, this talk is an excellent point of departure.
Stevenson challenges the fact that many people are not suspicious of the disproportionate representation of minorities in America's jails, prisons and death row. He makes a telling comparison between the racism of Nazi Germany to that the current prejudice in America:
"What would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation state of Germany was executing people, especially if they were disproportionately Jewish? I couldn't bear it. It would be unconscionable. Yet in this country in the states of the Old South, we execute people where you are 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black, 22 times more likely to get it if the defendant is black and the victim is white. In the very states where there are buried in the ground the bodies of people who were lynched, and yet there is this disconnect..."
Stevenson challenges the rate of prejudice and error in the administration of the death penalty, but his constant refrain is identity. He wants to challenge American's prejudice so that all persons are free to achieve their potential.
Here you have three brilliant authors who reveal the importance of diversity. They demonstrate how oppression leaves both parties at a deficit. Therefore I challenge you to explore their work so that we may move toward a more brilliant American society.