NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 66

Indeed, Toni Morrison’s generous stewardship has served as the model for bonding and the creation of a literary sisterhood that seems to take it for granted that good writing will find a publisher. Gone forever is the notion that only one black writer can emerge from the group, in splendid commercial isolation, as ‘the black writer of the decade.’ With Gates it was “my movement can beat your movement” and later in Time Magazine he made the equally extravagant claim that something he called “The Fourth Renaissance” would eclipse all other Renaissances.6 His Fourth Renaissance was pretty much a bust. 64 Elizabeth Nunez, novelist and Distinguished Professor at City University of New York, responded to Gates Jr.’s October 1994 Time article in which Gates suggested that the trend among Black artists is to discard “the anxieties of a bygone era” and “pressure the universality of the Black experience.” Nunez suggested that the school of critics who are currently praising Black writers for dropping those anxieties, are in fact praising these Black writers for writing about universal themes, universal problems. “But…” she continued… Black writers have always written about universal things and universal problems. They have always done that. However, what they have insisted on doing is locating [those themes] in particular situation[s]… They have seen this as their responsibility… They have emphasized the particular, and that happens to do with discrimination and racism and oppression. I don’t think that in doing that they have been universal. Nunez’s criticism of Gates is the reason that you won’t find this superior writer in the African American, Norton 3, Vol. 2. which is not meant to give scholars, teachers, and students a survey of the best black fiction, poetry, theater, and fiction, but instead is used to issue rewards and punishments, or to back up Gates’s sensational boasts. Meanwhile, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was hauling in cash by editing anthologies of Black Feminist theory and fiction, and “discovering” lost manuscripts by black women writers, one of which had been “discovered” before. In 1989, he and I clashed over an introduction to Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse, which Gates asked me to write. I mentioned that Zora Neale wasn’t a feminist. She said that women have it fine in the United States; it’s in Jamaica where they have problems. She even wrote a minstrel whose stereotypes about Africans were consistent with those found in the Tarzan movies, a phase of Ms. Thurston’s career that her worshippers choose to ignore. He told me that I was waving a ‘red flag’ at feminists. He was thinking of the cash register. The cover art had a black man riding a black woman’s back. This had nothing to do with the book, but was put there to insult black men and insult Ms. Hurston’s research, albeit unintentionally, but that’s what happens when you are wedded to ideology — you might hit your target, but those whom you favor may be victims of literary friendly fire. I asked him about the cover and he told me to take it up with the publisher. This incident happened in nineteen eighty nine. Black feminists wanted Gates to share the lucrative Women’s Studies Departments money. Women’s Studies being an offspring of Ethnic Studies that was pioneered by Askia Toure, Nathan Hare, Sarah Fabio, Amiri Baraka, Bobby Seale and others. Michele Wallace called Gates out in the Village Voice, another source of black male hatred directed by feminists like Karen Durbin, one of those who is hard on the brothers but easy on the misogynists who share her ethnic background. Durbin takes credit for inventing Gates as a public intellectual, his reward for kowtowing to feminist ideology. Wallace said that he’d become leader of the black feminist enterprise as a result of something having to do with his mother. The late Dr. Barbara Christian also challenged him. His solution was to invite her to become an editor of the Norton Anthology of African American literature, which was originally supposed to be edited by white males. She complained to me until the day she died that she and Nellie McKay did all of the work, while Gates got the credit. (Norton 3, 2nd volume is dedicated to the late Nellie McKay, but no Barbara Christian. This is what happens when you challenge the Skip machine.) This seems to be the modus operandi of the Skip Machine; others do the work and the dirty work. He signs his name to the work and invokes plausible deniability for the dirty work. The Anthology of Rap for which he wrote the introduction was so error filled that it was called out by Slate one of The Root’s sister publication.7