|Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2015-05-08 01:55Z by Steven|
The New Yorker
The first time I read Fran Ross’s hilarious, badass novel, “Oreo,” I was living on Fort Greene Place, in Brooklyn, in a community of people I thought of as “the dreadlocked élite.” It was the late nineteen-nineties, and the artisanal cheese shops and organic juice bars had not yet fully arrived in the boroughs, though there were hints of what was to come. Poor people and artists could still afford to live there. We were young and black, and we’d moved to the neighborhood armed with graduate degrees and creative ambitions. There was a quiet storm of what the musician and writer Greg Tate described as “Black Genius” brewing in our midst. Spike Lee had set up a production studio inside the old firehouse on DeKalb Avenue. Around the corner, on Lafayette Street, was Kokobar, a black-owned espresso shop decorated with Basquiat-inspired paintings; there were whispers that Tracy Chapman and Alice Walker were investors. Around the corner, on Elliott Street, Lisa Price, a.k.a. Carol’s Daughter, sold organic hair oils and creams for kinky-curly hair out of a brownstone storefront.
Years earlier, I had read Trey Ellis’s seminal essay “The New Black Aesthetic” in my West Coast dorm room, curled beside my dreadlocked, half-Jewish boyfriend. We saw glimmers of ourselves in his description of a new generation of black artists. We, too, had been born post-civil-rights movement, post-Loving, post-soul, post-everything. We were suspicious of militancy, black or otherwise; suspicious of claims to authenticity, racial and otherwise. We were culturally hybrid—“cultural mulattos,” as Ellis put it—whether we had one white parent or not.
Now, in nineties Fort Greene, we had arrived. Many of the black kids in our midst were recovering oreos: they had grown up listening to the Clash, not Public Enemy, playing hacky-sack, not basketball. They were all too accustomed to, as my friend Jake Lamar once put it, being the only black person at the dinner party.
Only now we were throwing our own dinner party. We were demi-teint—half-tone—a shade of blackness that had been formed in a clash of disparate symbols and signifiers; there was nothing pure about us. We were authentically nothing. Each of us had experienced a degree of alienation growing up—too black to be white, or too white to be black, or too mixed to be anything—and somehow, at the same moment in time, we’d all moved into the same ten-block radius of Brooklyn.
“Oreo” came to me in this context like a strange, uncanny dream about a future that was really the past. That is, it read like a novel not from 1974 but from the near future—a book whose appearance I was still waiting for. I stared at the author photo of the woman wearing the peasant smock and her hair in an Afro and could easily imagine her moving through the streets of Fort Greene. She belonged to our world. Her blackness was our blackness…
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