A Faith in the Ultimate Justice of Things

by Doni Crawford

Written forty years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, The Souls of Black Folk examines the journey and conditions of Black America through the eyes of W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois is exhaustive, taking an interdisciplinary approach to study these conditions over time in a series of essays that detail how black progress was miniscule at best. Along the way, concepts that Du Bois became known for – double consciousness, the Veil and The Talented Tenth – are introduced and Booker T. Washington’s ideology on the civil rights and industrial education of Black America is critiqued. 

Black Boys Soaring and the Women Who Pay the Price

by Shanel Adams

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison points out nearly every issue the Black community faces through supernatural yet relatable characters and a twisted storyline. Like only Morrison knows how, the novel is inundated with suspense that keeps you entranced until the book is finished. Looking back on the novel, I began to think about how Milkman, the main character, mirrors a few Black men I know. Attractive, intelligent, but the confusion about his Blackness and haunting secrets of his family affects how he operates in society. He reminds me of men who juggle masculinity and vulnerability as if they cannot co-exist. Milkman is that guy that we know, whether athlete, business professional or street hustler, who has everything going for himself but an identity of his own.

What is most evident in Song of Solomon is the women like Pilate and Hagar who are abandoned after being used by Black men. I imagine this is what happens when Black women wait forever for their significant other to get it together only to be left in the dust. Or when Black women scrape and scuffle to provide for sons who are committed to leaving them disappointed. What happens to the women who sacrifice their all for men to make them proud sooner or later?


Pilate is a Grandmother Raising a Grandson

Pilate in Song of Solomon is a mess of a woman who provides a foundation to many of the people around her. Though she raised her brother, her unkempt lifestyle leaves him embarrassed and separated from her despite all she’s done for him to have success. This scenario reminds me of an older woman I know who raised her grandchildren following the drug addiction of her daughter. She expressed to me how overwhelmed this made her because she never planned on raising an extra set of kids. What hurt her more than anything is after giving up her life to raise her grandson, he still holds a level of resentment over her head. The last time I spoke to her she told me about an argument where he insulted her by saying how embarrassed he was to be raised by her growing up. His childhood, even as a middle-age Black man, still pains him to the point he wants her to feel it every time she has a chance. Even with material success, the weight of his past, like Milkman in Song of Solomon, holds him back from emotional and mental freedom.


Hagar is a Black Woman’s Sacrifices for Unfaithfulness

Hagar, Pilate’s granddaughter in the book, is romantically involved with Milkman who leaves her more broken than he found her. Hagar is way too many young women I know. Women who cherish Black men so deeply that their own well-being is compromised continuously. One woman I see struggling with this is a distant friend of mine who is the quintessential Black woman. She has beauty, strength, class, cooking skills, education and a man who worries her sick. I have watched her leave behind job opportunities to stress her commitment to their love only to be heartbroken by his actions moments after. She represents every woman who feels like support for your significant other is laying your own life on the line for his benefit even if you can’t expect that in return.


Black Women Should Give Way to the Air

Getting lost in someone else while trying to support them is dangerous. Yet, many Black women take on this challenge for the love of a Black man's potential success. With the oppression placed on Black men in society, Black women confuse their obsession with the growth of Black men for unconditional love. What we see in Song of Solomon is that no matter how many people Milkman ran to, he ultimately had to face himself. The most beautiful part of the book is the last line: "If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it." When Black women work themselves sick to create an opportunity for Black men to soar, they are suggesting that their lives are less significant. Not only that, but they are fostering men who never surrender to their calling because they only know how to lean on the women around them. Song of Solomon is a reflection of the women who pay the physical, emotional, and even financial price for a Black man around them to prosper. Most importantly, it provides an even greater example of how freeing it is for Black men to have the opportunity to soar on their own.


The Price is Black

by Stennett Nyekanyeka

I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes Between the World and Me as a letter to his son.  The book serves as a follow-up to The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, his first book, published in 2008.  Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, builds on the success of his first book and various articles written after such as The Case for Reparations.  Between the World and Me delves further into the black father-son and the responsibility (or burden) black parents face when racing a black child in the United States of America. 

In the first chapter of the book Coates inquires, “How do I live free in this black body?”  Which I argue is the thesis and conclusion of the book.  Using anecdotal evidence coming of age in Baltimore and attending Howard University, he slowly posits that free and black are paradoxes.  A paradox unexamined amongst the narrative of the exceptional America. 

There’s the instance of a woman pushing his five-year-old son in a movie theater and Coates not being able to defend him but instead being threatened with arrest.  There’s the cognitive dissonance produced by the combination of abusive police units and a public wanting you to show honor to the public safety officials who lost their lives during 9/11.  As Coates says, “Bin Laden was not the first man to bring terror to that section of the city.”  

Coates emulates the late James Baldwin’s work The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays.  The first is entitled My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation and the second Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind.  Critics of the book cite insist that Coates writes in a self-indulgent tone indicative of a writer caught in his success.  Let's call that a point in favor of the critics.  The result is oftentimes verbose as Coates expresses the love and fear he has for his son growing up as a black boy.

 A better criticism of the book is the lack of a voice for black women. To truly come full circle with replicating Baldwin’s essays, the book needs more examination the black woman’s oppression in America.  Though on a surface level, Baldwin used multiple vehicles to show how black women affected him through different lenses; his puberty, the black Christian church, the Nation of Islam, and their subjugation in the eyes of the white man.  Granted, Coates dedicates the third chapter to the mother of Prince Jones, Dr. Jones, her narrative is narrowly driven by Coates' third-person perspective. 

Regardless, the book sheds light on subjects in the black community that go unexplored in mainstream media.  In an America dubbed “post-racial”, some responses to Between the World and Me prove that it is everything but that very concept.  One of the most telling is The Letter of Despair published anonymously in The Economist.  Equipped with a photo irrelevant to the book itself, the author criticizes Coates' view of public safety organizations and “Manichean” world views.  Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times argues the same thing. 

Here are two national thought-leading publications that undercut yet reaffirm the reason a work like Between the World and Me is needed.  The review from The Economist states, “Racial mixing in the suburbs over the past two decades suggests otherwise: real life is not so Manichean.”

Referencing his contrast of America’s white suburbs to its black ghettos, the anonymous writer implies that this racial mixing negates the institutions and policies that have created these black ghettos.  Furthermore, the author goes on to say, “Mr. Coates does not spare well-intentioned individuals for their part in maiming black bodies, however indirect that may be.”

On a national stage, the author has thrown the work aside as untrue and impertinent.  And if his claims are deemed valid, what does America mean when it mentions a Post-Racial America?   How can the facts of experience be deemed untrue?  Coates writes about his friend, Prince, being unjustly murdered by a police officer in Fairfax, Va, and at what point does racial mixing save him?  And those who survived him when the officers faced no charges?

To quote Baldwin, “The privacy of his (the American Negro) experience, which is only beginning to be recognized in language, and which is denied or ignored in official and popular speech—hence the Negro idiom—lends credibility to any system that pretends to clarify it.” 

As black writers and black readers, we must affirm our own works and enjoy the give and take of that shared experience.  In the eyes of Baldwin, “there has been almost no language,” to express the black culture.  Each time a black writer provides new material to the genre that is the development of language. 

To “live free in this black body” means to be able to establish an identifiable black language, a language in its infancy.  The paradox is that an identifiable black language can only conflict with the language of American exceptionalism.  Live free.  


Between Howard University and Me

by Shanel Adams

In this book laden with Coates’ not-so-distant memories of police brutality and educational disparities, he awakened memories of my own. Memories that included my walk with the Dream. Coates talks about the Dream we all know; where we work hard, get a nice job, marry well and live happily ever after. 

Hope is Not "Between the World and Me"

by Robert Burton-Harris

BTWAM comes from a place of helplessness, truth, frustration, passion, history, beauty, and struggle. During his National Book Award acceptance speech, Coates reflects on the death of Prince Jones--another victim of police cowardice--and  his inability to give Jones’s family any real justice. "I'm a Black man in America, I can't punish that officer," he says. It’s in this space that BTWAM is forged.

2016 Meeting Dates

Hey y'all! This year's meeting dates are finally in! Our e-discussions will be held on the last Tuesday of each month at 8:30 pm on Twitter, and our fav Phil Lewis is returning to moderate for us. Follow @Phil_Lewis_ @_blackbottom and #bbarchivesbooks to keep up with the conversation!

This year we'll also be introducing in-person book club meetings for our Detroit folllowers -- check back for more details!

**Interested in writing a book club blog? Email us today!

Posted on January 26, 2016 .

The 2016 Book List!

Happy New Year Black Bottom Book Clubbers! We're back this year with an awesome list of black books to increase our knowledge, foster conversation and inspire action. Once again, our book club will kick off during black history month and end in November. We hope you love this book list as much as we do. Stay tuned for meeting dates and more exciting updates!

With Love,

Paige, Phil & Camille

**Interested in writing a blog post on some of this year's books? Email us at archives@blackbottomllc.com to sign up for book club blogger spot!

November - Long Division By Kiese Laymon

This month Black Bottom Book Club is reading Long Division by Kiese Laymon. Our monthly e-discussion will be held November 24th @ 8:00 pm on Twitter -- moderated by @phil_cosby_ and @_blackbottom. 

Want to write a blog about the book? Email us today: archives@blackbottomllc.com


Happy Reading!

**don't forget to follow the hashtag #blackbottombooks to keep up with the discussion!

Posted on November 1, 2015 .

Hands Off Assata?

by Kierra Gray

Assata Shakur refused to take a back seat in the Black Liberation Movement. She was a woman who took an active role in the Black Panther Party and fought passionately for her cause. The United States media paints figures, such as Assata Shakur, as a threat to national security yet the public has little context about the details of her case. As the news unfolds, we will see how the United States and Cuban relations will handle the ongoing battle for Assata Shakur.

Posted on October 26, 2015 .

How Many Cheeks Should Assata Offer?

by Robert Burton-Harris

Among the chorus of stupid, irrational, and unexamined reasons given for why Shakur should voluntarily return to the U.S. is the often cited trope “so she can receive justice”; an idea so ridiculous it barely merits a response and instantly reveals the ignorance of the speaker. Although the consequences have been extraordinary, Shakur has taught us that there is no honor in allowing yourself to be slapped. Especially if that hand belongs to the Empire. Protect yourself. But be physically, emotionally, and psychologically prepared to run ­ indefinitely.