Your Average Nigga
Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Series: African American Life Series
Prelude: The Barbershop
While sitting in the only black barbershop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the morning of writing this prelude, trying to think of the best way to acquaint you with what this book is about and who I am as the author behind it, I was struck with just how different I am from a lot of other black men, and yet again I was compelled to acknowledge my desire to be like them...
Introduction: The Burden of Racial Performance
I’m a dark-skinned black man who spent a good deal of his youth wishing he were white because he believed he was failing miserably at being black. To be sure, I put forth my best efforts to be black, to adjust my speech and behaviors so that they cohered with my race. But the more I tried to acquire an...
Part 1. Home
1. Going Home
People always go back home when they want to go somewhere new, when they want to chart a new course in life, to take what they were and who they may be and make something new out of them. I’m no different. I went back to my childhood home...
2. So Black I’m Blue
“White people don’t know how to tell the difference between one black man and another,” writes the comedian Chris Rock in his book Rock This! “If they could, we’d all get along” (1997, 11). So Rock declares, “I love black people, but I hate niggers.” For he believes that if whites could distinguish good blacks from bad ones, everything would be okay. We’d finally be able to determine which blacks to eliminate because, as Rock says, “the niggers...
That black men who display hypermasculine characteristics fetishize— that is, simultaneously love and loathe—those considered less masculine or, to be explicit, that niggas covet faggots, has been unmasked in insightful criticism.1 That faggots desire to be niggas has occasioned less critique, which is one of the reasons I disclose my own example here. In this chapter I want to...
Interlude: Hooked on Ebonics
I am often of two minds when members of the black underclass, “the lower economic people,” as the comedian Bill Cosby recently called them, are chastised for their speech, their behaviors—their failure, according to Cosby, in “not holding up their end in [the civil rights] deal.”1 With one mind I believe that poor blacks could do more for themselves by taking better...
Part 2. School
4. Your Average Nigga
In the wake of calls by literacy educators in the early 1990s urging colleges and universities to hire more black writing teachers—“teachers,” in Thomas Fox’s words, who understand “the connections between literacy and African American culture” (1992, 301)—I was hired to teach part time at Columbia College, Chicago. I was the only black man teaching in a literacy program for underachieving first-year students, an unfortunate...
5. Casualties of Literacy
As part of the interview for a professorship at the University of Iowa (hereafter UI), I was asked to give a lecture. I based my talk on the title chapter of this book, using the same autobiographical approach. After my talk the department chair, a man with thirty years in, and who reminded me of a taller...
6. To Be a Problem
As part of the interview for a professorship at the University of Iowa (hereafter UI), I was asked to give a lecture. I based my talk on the title chapter of this book, using the same autobiographical approach. After my talk the department chair, a man with thirty years in, and who reminded me of a taller, broad-shouldered, fully bearded version ...
Postlude: The Street
I’m not of the street, but I grew up on it, experienced terror—even virtue—in its midst, and witnessed enough injustice executed within and upon it to be both cautious and suspicious when police, especially white ones, come running up behind me, asking, as they recently did on a cold Saturday in February, “Can we talk to you?” Eyeing my surroundings on the campus where...