NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 65

Sensible reviews would have paid tribute to black women on the basis of their excellence instead of asserting that they were good because black men were bad. But this became the line. That in order for some to advance, black male writers had to be denied. The second phase of the hit occurred when the then feminist editor of the Times Book Review, Rebecca Penny Sinkler, gave Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the go-ahead to respond to Mel Watkins’s farewell article upon leaving his post as book reviewer.5 It was a prophetic note of caution. He predicted that publishers would exploit a trend in fiction at the time, which had black men shown in a “one dimensional” manner. It was not “hysterical,” but a calm recitation of the facts. Writing in the same newspaper, the great novelist Diane Johnson predicted that this kind of fiction would appeal to “largely white audiences.” She was talking about fiction, but she may as well have been speaking of film and theater. Gates’s being under pressure from black feminists, many of whom wanted in on the Women’s Studies bankroll, gives the article the tone of having been written by someone under duress — like someone being held hostage and coerced into signing a confession. The black woman’s literary movement, it seems safe to say, already has taken its place as a distinct period in Afro-American history, and could very well prove to be one of the most productive and sustained. There are three peculiarities about this literary movement that make it anomalous in black literary history. First, it has unfortunately generated hysterical attacks by other blacks against its existence and direction in a manner rare in the tradition. Second, despite the very public and bitter rows about the political implications of black women writing about black male sexism and lesbianism, this movement has not promoted itself as bombastically or self-consciously as, say, did the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s or the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Third, black female authors claim other black women as their literary ancestors (such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ann Petry) whereas most older black male writers denied any black influence at all — or worse, eagerly claimed a white paternity. No, the writers in this movement have been intent upon bonding with other women. And the patricide that characterized Mr. Baldwin’s and Mr. Ellison’s declarations of independence from Richard Wright has no counterpart in matricide. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Ms. Steinem’s intention became clear in 2008 when she wrote an ugly and sour piece about the candidacy of Barack Obama in which, using the late Mrs. Chisholm’s remark, she said that gender was “the most restrictive factor in American life.”4 It became clear then that she’d used Alice Walker to evict black men from their place in the hierarchy of American exploitation and oppression and replaced them with her people — “Privileged and educated women” like herself and gender firsters like Comcast feminist Melissa Harris-Perry who batters the brothers on her weekly msnbc show. Ms. Harris-Perry has said that there are a “lot of things she likes” about the racist Tea Party and that Jazz is “deeply misogynistic.” Last I heard black musicians were struggling and Diana Krall was making all of the bread. For these educated and privileged women, racism became a black male problem. Weekly on Ms. Harris-Perry’s show, women who might be pulling down 100k or more per year complain about their triple oppression. 63 This was a serious blow to black male writers since Ms. Steinem has more power than all of the black male writers in history combined and in 2016 will b e in a position to deliver her vast constituency to a president if Hillary Clinton runs and is elected. Ms. Steinem felt that she had a mandate to denounce black men on the basis of a remark made by the late Shirley Chisholm who said that she had more problems as a woman than as a black person. Yet, Ms. Steinem and others supported then presidential candidate Mrs. Chisholm until the convention, when they supported Mondale, leaving Mrs. Chisholm betrayed and in tears.