the thug(s) and the candidate

Cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal reviews Byron Hurt‘s Barak and Curtis at Vibe. Hurt’s short takes a provocative look at the polarization of black manhood. Neal’s contention that “Both Barack Obama and Curtis Jackson are fictions that are the products of the larger culture’s inability to imagine anything but radical dichotomies, for black men” is both apt and troubling as it speaks to mainstream culture’s (and to many people in the black community’s) refusal to recognize black men’s “humanity.”

Having just taught Richard Wright’s Native Son to my NYU undergrads last week, and having engaged in an energetic debate about Bigger’s humanity, I am reminded of James Baldwin’s critique of Wright’s novel in “Everybody’s Protest Narrative.” Baldwin writes, “our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult–that is, accept it.” Questioning misconceptions about (black) manhood and positing alternative ways of being (human), exemplified by the work of Hurt, Neal, Jelani Cobb and others, moves us closer to that acceptance Baldwin advocated.


About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

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