No More Water/Nommo
When a new generation addresses an old topic, the best it should expect from its elders is respect for the effort. No more. No less. The new generation should anticipate, however, that elders might ask titanium questions that actually have no answers.
Did the new generation get the story right? For whom are they really writing? So what?
Having fulfilled the responsibility of asking questions, the elders may return to the bliss of silence. They know when peace must be still.
Even the blind can see what the American publishing industry is up to at present. True to what it has become, it is playing the race card for profit and gambling with writers and a diminishing cultural literacy. Read the titles. What spirits are being conjured?
Henry Adams/ The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell.
Harriet Tubman/ The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Richard Wright/ Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehisi Coates
James Baldwin/The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward ( New York: Scribner, 2016).
Fair enough. And the beat goes on. But is it necessary to hang neo-Cold War Iron Curtains, Bamboo Curtains, and Oil Curtains between humanity and the regressive progress of capitalism? Is the work of Nature, terrorism and global warming insufficient? Must the Church, Synagogue, Temple, Mosque, and Shrine chant a niggardly "Amen"? Who the hell is to say?
In her introduction for The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward believes it is necessary to have a book "that would gather new voices in one place, in a lasting, physical form, and provide a forum for those writers to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon"(8). Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka had a similar belief and did a similar thing for their generation in editing In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers in 1992. And then Powell took the Word to a newer, higher level by editing Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature in 2000. In her contribution "Cracking the Code" (89-95) for The Fire This Time, Ward imagines she has "ancestors from Sierra Leone and Britain, from France and the Choctaw settlement on the Mississippi bayou, from Spain and Ghana…."
Should Ward's editor at Simon and Schuster have advised that a generation speaking about race has to be a bit more transparently international? Would such a suggestion have been an act of treason within the American publishing industry?
For me, the provisional answers come most clearly from the essays "White Rage" (83-88) by Carol Anderson and "The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning" (145-155) by Claudia Rankine. The American publishing industry has mastered the game of capitalism and knows how to sniff out profits. I know why a caged bird is entitled to sing about an eternal problem named "race", and so too did James Baldwin in 1963 when he quoted the wisdom of an enslaved song. I respect the effort of the new generation despite the fact that the effort is not lasting, that it cannot burn systemic horrors into oblivion.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. September 28, 2016