Thursday, June 22, 2017

Listening to a Few African & African-American Stories

Over the last few weeks, I've read Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, watched season one of Dear White People on Netflix, and started listening to Trevor Noah's Born a Crime via audiobook. To use David Dark's term, my attention collection has inadvertently landed on stories told by those with an African-American and African background and hold race, among other themes, near the center of their individual works. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of The Danger of a Single Story in her excellent TED Talk and though not intentionally planned out on my end, I'm happy when I have the space and time to avoid said danger in my media consumption, even if it doesn't happen as much as I would like and I'm certainly not coming close to getting the complete collective story (as if that is a thing and as though that could be accomplished).

All that said, I've enjoyed these media slices and I thought I would share what about them I enjoyed along with any (minor) critiques.

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Info: Young adult fiction novel; released 2017
What I enjoyed: This teen novel hits on a number of current day issues for Starr the teenage protagonist: code switching between her wealthy, white-majority high school and her rundown neighborhood and home, police violence against people of color, finding ways to survive and maintain one's dignity amidst unfair disadvantages. These are all issues that need to be discussed and highlighted. What the book does so well is maintain its sense of perspective from Starr, the teenager experiencing and processing all of these issues. Her thought processes flow smoothly from making sure her Jordans aren't dirty to dealing with trauma to figuring out how to handle a white boyfriend among her black community.
My hesitations: True to the genre and also a part of what makes the book great is the perspective of the protagonist. As an adult reading a teenager's thought process, there can be moments of frustration, wishing Starr would have a certain conversation or simply be more sure of herself. Basically, inherent in the genre is dealing with the angst and unease of being a teenager and that's not my favorite part of said genre.

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Info: Fiction novel, released 2016
What I enjoyed: The book could easily be classified as a collection of short-stories. Fourteen stories from seven generations following two Ghanian sisters' lines from the 1700's until present day, traversing continents, gender and sexuality, various forms of slavery and oppression, a range of ways of coping, among a plethora of other topics. The scope is wide though each story felt personal and interconnected.
My hesitations: Less a complaint as much as extra work, the amount of characters was extraordinary and required frequent referencing of the family line graph at the beginning of the book. I would recommend reading in close succession, allowing oneself to get into a rhythm of reading each of the stories.

Title: Dear White People
Creator: Justin Simeon
Info: Netflix original series; season 1 released April, 2017
What I enjoyed: I'm not going to try to give thoughts without the context of the 2014 movie of the same name, director, and plot line. Dear White People is set on a fictional Ivy League college campus, with a black-face party instigating the course of events and primarily follows the various black students throughout the school year. Each episode is told from a different students perspective, allowing for more nuanced character development than the movie and to allow for a variety of perspectives to be heard on the various topics being discussed. This was a good move. The show is also funnier, to my recollection of the movie. The script is quick and engaging. Most or all of the plot lines could be pulled from many/any college campus; the show is relevant.
My hesitations: The show can be a little on the nose. There's a scene where Sam (central protagonist?) and her first-year roommate Coco (another central character) voice how they choose to live as black women in a white majority campus and society. The spoken lines are true and it's important to recognize their differences but the scene also seems to feel like two talking heads making their individual points rather than two embodied human beings/characters. As Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions in an Atlantic group discussion on the show, Dear White People is primarily concerned with racism and black people are of secondary concern. Still, the revised format of the series (each episode from a different character) helps in this department and I look forward to future seasons.

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