My grandfather and my uncle Moe grew up in Valley, Mississippi. They were 12 years younger than Richard Wright.. They were both interested in literature, were very aware of the oppression of the times, and hated the Author of Native Son with a fervor. Till this day my grandfather ( age 97) has a strong mind as to letting white people have power over his inner life; and the gist of Native Son-that racism is so bad that it reduces black men to powerless killers of women-boils his blood. His exact words are “Wright thought he was the only nigga on this planet to have a bad day”.
My Uncle Moe got his first creative spark from the love poets of the Harlem Renaissance, was the closest reader of African American literature I have ever known, and was VERY, VERY AWARE of Wright’s bullshit in regards to gender. For a long time I had his notes, and when he was angry he would write expansively over a work, sometimes in big letters over entire paragraphs. When he got to the part in Native Son where Bigger also kills his black girlfriend, cuts her up and puts her in the furnace, he wrote ” AND WHATS THE REASON FOR THIS???” Wright confessed quite leisurely in American Hunger that he raped black women as a rent collector, and one of the questions I would my uncle if he was still alive was if he knew.
The worst writing/thinking about Richard Wright has always been guided by a sort of social contract: in where Black and White men don’t buy into the myth of Richard Wright as much as the myth that brothers can’t do any better; that Black men don’t encounter the ugliness of racism and…, survive, struggle with the blues yet live and love under horrific circumstances( and also, care about the women in their lives.). My grandfather and uncle didn’t hate Wright as much as an America that-in making the writer a star-told them that they didn’t exist.
The most dispiriting aspect of Nate Parker becoming a MRA cause celeb is in how so many black men are tied to that social contract, and will most likely be for the duration of my lifetime. The horror of Parker’s story is that it reads like a Wright novel come to life. Angry black man and his friend have sex with a woman who was black out drunk. woman wakes up with violent bruises. woman presses charges and he and his social justice friend stalk and emotionally abuse her with racial and sexual slurs. woman drops charges on re-trial. Woman has a spiral to her own suicide, while Parker rise to become a star of a “woke” movie.
The details read like one of Wright’s frightening gory works, but very real. Worse, his de facto admissions of guilt in regards to consent, combined with the failure of his movie have made him a hero-victim with the soft core MRA crowd. They have also pushed the tolerance of woke cultural equivalency arguments . I’m a human and I have a lot of space in my heart in mind for discussions about privilege. But I am not on a fucking team; and when make cultural arguments that are the equivalent of “Why can’t black directors rape and face no criticism like white directors”, I shut down.
My uncle and grandfather weren’t “caping for white women” by disliking Richard wright. They were exercising their right to be individual and idiosyncratic. They were defining the territory of their own humanity; their right to learn a new thing, open up to a new people, and love who ever wanted to love them. They spoke truth to power, but they took in this big ass world and never abandoned their search for beauty in any place in any corner. They weren’t perfect men, but were beautifully human, willing to grow and evolve, and felt outcast by a sizeable amount of men in society because of that.
One of the most haunting aspects of Nate Parker defenders is that they define the territory of their humanity by what white man has. Nate Parkers defenders show that so many black men don’t want freedom, they want stuff. To be more specific, they want all the privilege, all the power, all the kicks an unexamined life gives you in relation to oppression. Their conversations about supporting the black man no matter whatcould have been easily been had 65-70 years ago, when so many of us conflated America buying Wright’s murder pulp novel for something important. My Grandfather and Uncle knew that power wright was granted was less about black freedom and more about a white man’s golden crumbs. The most horrendous thing about the aftermath of our discussions of Nate Parker is that so many black men will chase those crumbs for the rest of my days, even at the expense of a true freedom that we will never see.