In The Black List, twenty-five prominent African-Americans of various professions, disciplines, and backgrounds offer their own
stories and insights on the struggles, triumphs, and joys of black life in America and, in the process, redefine "black list" for a new century.
As seen in original portraits by renowned photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and in a series of incisive interviews conducted by award-winning journalist, critic, academic, and radio host Elvis Mitchell, this group exemplifies today's most accomplished, determined African-Americans, whose lives and careers form a trail of inspiration and example for people of all races.
Spanning the arts, sports, politics, and business, the diverse accomplishments and lives of these remarkable individuals create a kaleidoscope of ideas and experiences, and provide the framework for a singular conver-sation about the influence of African-Americans on this country and on our world.
The Black List is:
Slash - Toni Morrison - Keenen Ivory Wayans - Vernon Jordan - Faye Wattleton - Marc Morial - Serena Williams - Lou Gossett Jr. - Russell Simmons - Lorna Simpson - Mahlon Duckett - Zane - Al Sharpton - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - William Rice - Thelma Golden - Sean Combs - Susan Rice - Chris Rock - Suzan-Lori Parks - Steve Stoute - Richard Parsons - Dawn Staley - Colin Powell - Bill T. Jones
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Elvis Mitchell is the entertainment critic for NPR’s Weekend Edition. He is a Visiting Lecturer on African and African American Studies and on Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. Mitchell was a film critic for the New York Times from 2000 to 2004, and has written for Spin, Interview, Esquire and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He is currently editor at large at Interview magazine.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is highly regarded for his strikingly intimate portraits of world leaders and major cultural figures. Fifteen books and catalogs have been published on his portraiture. He is on the masthead as a contributing photographer at Vanity Fair magazine. In 2005, he was profiled on the television show, 60 Minutes.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
by Elvis Mitchell
What is a Black List? Historically, Americans know exactly what it is: a group of people punished by being marginalized and denied work or social approval, generally for their having taken political stands. And, for African-Americans, it's yet another slap at the word black, which includes such slurs as black sheep and blackguard. The Simpsons Movie cleverly takes aim at the tired attitude toward black when Mayor Quimby is forced to deal with an emergency by declaring "code black," and Lenny groans, "Black? That's the worst color!" Another Clinton -- George, Parliament-Funkadelic founder -- bounced the taint when he proclaimed in song that he wanted to "Paint the White House Black."
With the serious attention directed at Senator Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, the concept doesn't seem as much like the dance floor science fiction that Dr. Funkenstein chuckled his way through. Although the creakily derogatory stamp on the word black predates creation of these United States, the negative connotation is the reason why, until the 1960s, respectable people of color didn't want to be called black; it was nothing short of an insult. Not until race pride shocked the country out of its ignoring and ignorant attitudes about the impact of, well, blacks on America, did the word take on a fresher and desirable aspect for many African-Americans, especially the young; the Afrocentric revolutionaries and the integrationist civil rights workers alike found something desirable about being known as black. For years before the 1960s, of course, it had the transgressive allure of cool. An underground recycling of the concept was taking place -- in those halcyon days before cable TV, the internet, and bar codes burned onto youth culture so that its shopping habits could be tracked and exploited -- in the shady bunkers beneath the Establishment, where jazz and blues musicians plied their trade for an appreciative audience of freethinkers who were disinclined to be described as Negroes, the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head and a five-cent tip.
For me, the real question is, What's in a Black List? All of those past associations, as grim and lethal as an undertow, are to be obliterated by the new implications of the term that we're creating here. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and I decided that The Black List would be made up of portraits in both senses of the word: pictorial and verbal. What I didn't realize until we undertook the Black List is our essential similarity of interest; we are both primarily curious and pointed toward finding ways to get people to reveal themselves -- he with his camera, and me through questions. The results that we managed for The Black List come from the living-portraiture approach, done with a formality and familiarity that I think is rare and thrilling. The subjects reacted to this technique with a confidence born of esteem for every part of their lives, rather than just their areas of endeavor or expertise. The relationship is seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's smiling as he talks in depth about Harlem, Miles Davis, and his fascination with American history, as well as his days on the basketball court for UCLA, Milwaukee, and the Lakers.
Here, the term Black List becomes a reboot, a gathering of some of the most capable and, just as important, determined African-Americans, whose work and careers leave a trail of inspiration in fields ranging from politics and letters to civil rights and corporate responsibility. What they all have in common is a kind of activism, furthering the cause of African-American visibility while not shirking devotion to family and morality; that tradition of "each one teach one," and elevating the race -- watchwords that still have import for much of black American society as the gap between the well-off and the black citizenry left behind mired in deprivation grows wider. For me it's a rescue that complements the world that I've grown up in, something that blacks raised in this land hear one way or another at one point or another.
So much of African-American cultural history is about reclamation. That understanding that nothing should be thrown out reminds me of something my Mississippi-born-and-bred grandmother said to me when I noticed so many pork products -- headcheese, pigs' feet -- pickling in jars in her kitchen that I half expected Boris Karloff to pull a lever, and a bolt of revivifying lightning shock them back to life: "Baby, we eat everything on the pig but the oink." Frankly, the oink sounded like a less scary -- and less smelly -- prospect for a meal than the chitlins that boiled away for what seemed like my entire childhood on her stove. But her words have sat with me for the rest of my life, and revisit me on occasions such as sitting in an Italian restaurant when a dollop of lardo is offered as a spread. It would never occur to me to wrinkle my nose at it; I grew up on what were the discards and what are now found in the pricier establishments around the globe. (Other words of my grandmother's come to mind: "Honey, the wheel turn slowly, but it turn.")
One of the purposes of this Black List is to track the black experience in America, and by doing so, to exhibit the wealth of variety in it. What's evident from the speakers on the Black List is how that experience defies definition. Vernon Jordan puts it as simply as saying that African-American thought is not monolithic. Women's rights crusader Faye Wattleton voices the idea that integration has caused problems as well as solved them; the areas that once housed every layer of the African-American social strata, from professionals to laborers, clergy to philosophers, offered illustrations of virtue to all within hailing distance; once those restrictions that kept blacks together were removed, a whole class of people was left behind without models next door to follow through the corridors of attainment. The necessity of having examples literally within reach is not lost on her. For those pursuing art, avoiding the simplistic classifications of blackness is a full-time occupation itself; dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones discusses the limitations of the cliché of black rage, and the dangers of not acknowledging his blackness first and foremost -- which for him was an aesthetic self-abnegation but which his detractors saw as renunciation and selling out. Dealing with blackness for others is a call to arms; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks embraces what might be called the nontraditional behavior of black audiences by providing context for it and looking to incorporate these responses into her work.
The journeys taken by Jones and Parks, as well as others here, are reflections of what blacks in America have always had to do: make their way in the world and comment on the repression as it happens, using irony as well as persistence to keep moving forward. Keenen Ivory Wayans speaks of his breakthrough film, Hollywood Shuffle, and television comedy, In Living Color, which served both those purposes. He brought his understanding of what was missing from the mainstream; the kinds of things discussed among blacks but never portrayed in movies, like the depiction of black fear (not the stuff of racist Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s, in which African-Americans were reduced to cowardly stereotypes).
The sheer force of will required to be a success while being condescended to (under the best of circumstances) is frequently in evidence; condescension must have felt like a constant greeting to the subjects found on this Black List. Negro League baseball star Mahlon Duckett refuses to wallow in what might have been; self-pity would be an unwelcome distraction from his pursuit of excellence and the education he got seeing Major League players up close and finding that they weren't any better than his colleagues laboring under a system that didn't allow for adequate stats for black players. Studio Museum of Harlem chief curator Thelma Golden takes it in stride, and any hint of dismissal lights a fire under her. For Vernon Jordan, it's the example set in his neighborhood by the educated blacks whose pride in accomplishment adds a bounce to their walk as they pass by him.
One way or another, the constant reminder of being black is always close at hand; for Slash, the specter of responsibility rises when his then partner in Guns N' Roses, singer Axl Rose, spews an ugly mouthful of venom at a group of targets that includes "niggers" with the song "One in a Million," and the guitarist who rarely had race mentioned in his presence is suddenly the target of anger by blacks who demand that he take a stand. What's most powerful about the incident is how the hot splash of Rose's hatefulness lingers in Slash's soul long after he's forgotten the specifics of Axl's lyrics. (You can't help but wonder if purging the words from his mind was his way of rejecting Rose's cruelty.)
Nowhere does the boldness of converting offal into something to be proud of come more into play than language. Consider the 1980s, when the word nigger was pried loose from the jaws of racists and given new weight by rappers. Russell Simmons and Steve Stoute discuss the momentum and tragedy that this new stream of black consciousness evokes. Rap flourished during a crucial period in which the lag time between information spilling from the black underground into the mainstream was shortened from weeks or even years into mere moments, and the gravitational pull of black culture could no longer be denied, let alone fought. Whites barely had time to register what was being said before something was added to the rap glossary, its insistent reinvention provoking as much fear as excitement. Simmons and Stoute address this phenomenon as well with concise observations.
It was about this period, as I was interviewing a prominent black entertainer, that I mentioned snatching the word blacklist out of its toxic ditch. He told me that a friend of his coined "Black Pack" as a spin on a term then used to describe a group of celebrities: "Brat Pack." I said that, as a kid, I'd always imagined it was a...
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Descripción Simon & Schuster Audio, 2008. Audio CD. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería M0743578082