Ramcat Reads #9 February 22, 20167
Lee, Steven S. The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.
Groundbreaking in its exposing of the abject poverty of the white/black binary, Lee's study of aesthetics and politics outlines new directions for inquiry about which cultures are giving palpable shape to which kinds of revolution. The new territory to be examined , as Lee keenly recognizes, may demand that we redefine "avant-garde" in African and Asian terms and relegate the pompous West to a subaltern position in our tentative conclusions about what world revolution entails.
Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
The phrase "how X changed America" is cliché-code for "this book will serve well as a smokescreen for bloody flaws in the constitution and evolving character of the United States of America ." This is not to imply that books having the phrase in their subtitles are themselves flawed. On the contrary, many of them are damned good. But we must not be taken in by the rhetorical gestures of mainstream publishers to assure readers that the process of change merits great praise.
In the case of Michaeli's The Defender, it is apt to say the book is meticulous, necessary, and rewarding for people who have the discipline to read more than a tweet. After reading 534 well-written pages, it is rewarding to read Michaeli's crowning assertion: "Working at The Defender allowed me to see the truth about America, that 'race' is a pernicious lie that permeates our laws and customs, revived in each generation by entrenched interests that threaten to undermine the entire national enterprise, just as it is challenged in each generation by a courageous few who believe that this nation can truly become a bastion of justice and equality" (535).
The Defender did not change America. It was one of many uses of African American literacy in our endless war with forms of dehumanization in our nation. Let us give due credit to Michaeli for constructing a history which can retard the velocity of disremembering.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.