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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Indeed, in New Orleans today, everyone is glad to see anyone they knew before Katrina; embracing

former friends and acquaintances is a flesh and blood affirmation. It feels good to touch people



Stephanie: Post-Katrina New Orleans

 By Kalamu ya Salaam



I was headed into the Subway's on Gen. DeGaulle, about two or three miles from home, stopping to get a tuna salad-stuffed with all available vegetables—the same Subway where one of the sandwich artists knows me as “that man on New Orleans Exposed” (which is a pre-Katrina video done by a group of young Black men that focuses on the poverty and crime in New Orleans that under-girds the party reputation of Big Easy). I'm used to being recognized by the young, the poor and the black of New Orleans. I usually just respond, “yeah, that's me.”

At the reception for a life's work retrospective of visual artist and MacArthur genius John Scott held at the New Orleans Museum of Art, summer of 2005, Mayor Nagin came up to me and wanted to know how he could get five or six copies of the video so he could share it with “some people” who really needed to understand aspects of the New Orleans reality that don't usually get aired in the visceral way New Orleans Exposed presents its case.

Young negroes proudly displaying an armory to rival a gun show in Dallas, Texas, plus enough raw dope to look like somebody got a direct Columbia connection. Tragically, pre-teen boys rap about being gangstas and two barely-teenage boys smoke blunts like they been doing it all their young lives. I'm shown sitting on the stoop outside my former office in Treme talking about how much easier it is in the ghetto to cop a gun than to purchase a book.


I look over toward an SUV parked a short distance away. A young woman is behind the wheel, waving my way. “Hey nah. How you doing?” I holler back as I keep moving toward the front door of the food establishment. I don't recognize her.

”It's Stephanie,” she replies.

Stephanie? My mind-computer hard drive is whirling. No quick hits, I'm unable to place the name or recognize her from the sound of her voice. I move toward the vehicle to get a closer view, thirty feet is too far away for my myopic eyes to be of any help in recognizing her face. Up closer I still don't recognize her. The driver's door opens and she steps out just as I get within arm's distance.

”Stephanie from Douglass.”

She's one of my former students. We hug. Tall, slim, copper-toned skin, straight hair, bright eyes, a direct way of talking to people. As we disengage, I stand in the open doorway of the SUV and she climbs back into the driver's seat. We conversate for about five minutes.

She was at Delgado Junior College when Katrina hit. Now she's working. I notice a beautiful tattoo on her right instep. I'm not a fan of tattoos. This is one of the few that seems attractive to me. I can't remember her last name or even how to spell her first name. She was only in our class for one semester. Not a special student, did just enough work to get by. But she's obviously glad to see me.

Indeed, in New Orleans today, everyone is glad to see anyone they knew before Katrina; embracing former friends and acquaintances is a flesh and blood affirmation. It feels good to touch people, feels real good, damn good. It makes you smile, even if you barely knew the person. I guess you can call it the after-the-battle syndrome when you wander about in a slight daze looking for fellow survivors.

Chance meetings and the inevitable vigorous handshakes or full body hugs that accompany such meetings are poignant moments, especially since we got our asses kicked in last year's battle and are now trying by the hardest to get it together to survive the aftermath.

Stephanie says she waiting for someone, to loan them some money. In her right hand is a wad a money. They were supposed to already have arrived but they are late, very late. I tell her not to leave them. Wait for them. She says she will.

These impromptu meetings in parking lots are the kinds of meetings I don't mind. Generally, I have come to hate meetings, especially those three hour wish-listing sessions full of bitter bitching and fantasy-planning that happen at least three or four times a day in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Every day. Meetings about this, that and the other. Neighborhood development is the buzz phrase. The cynic in me can't stomach spending so many valuable hours pursuing phantom solutions.

I feel myself about to go off on a tangent of bad-mouthing meetings. It's so easy to go off now. Going off doesn't take much. Sometimes somebody simply says “good morning” and, particularly if I know the person, I will acidly respond “can you prove that.”

”Prove what?”

”Prove that it's a good morning.”

If they smile, I acknowledge the smile and say, yes, that makes for a good morning. But a lot of times, I don't get a smile back.

I'm smiling at Stephanie as she tells me she always runs into people who think they know her, or who remember her from school but she doesn't remember them. She played sports, went to class, went home. Didn't hang out. “I don't remember most of them.” She looks me in the eye. “I just remember the people who tried to help me.”

A warmness filled me. Often we have no idea how much of what we do affects people. Stephanie never joined in any of our outside-of-class activities. She didn't do any deep writing. Seemed to be blissfully unaffected by taking an SAC writing class, yet now close to two years later here she was shouting out to someone who helped her.

”Good luck, Steph. See you later.” I turned to go get a tuna salad. The sun felt warm. Today I feel good.

post 7 July 2006

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

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Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated  24 February 2012



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