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CLA JOURNAL 85 84 CLA JOURNAL Performing Black British Male Identity in Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon Tosha Sampson-Choma In his 1997 presidential address, former College Language Association president Dr. Thomas Hammond presented “Paris-New York: Venues of Migration and the Exportation of African American Culture.” In discussing CLA’s 1997 theme, “Literature in Migration: City, Country, World,” Hammond correctly predicted, “…the traditional boundaries which have divided us geographically, and thereby have been properties largely responsible for the creation of certain cultural properties, are less likely to be so rigid in the future. What I would like to suggest is that perhaps those cultural boundaries were never so well defined as one might have imagined” (136). Hammond’s premonition has certainly come to fruition in the twenty-first century. In erasing the markers that separate Blacks geographically, socially, politically, Hammond asserts that one can appropriate an ideological concept intended for an audience and direct it to another. Black British writer Andrea Levy creates this very scenario in her novel, Fruit of the Lemon when the character Carl Jackson takes an American genre and uses it for his own empowerment and self-agency. The novel draws from Blaxploitation films of the U.S. to imagine how a Black British man could empower himself, and in doing so, Levy revises and improves upon the empowering but misogynist ideology of those films. Fruit of the Lemon reveals how important cultural narratives from one culture can transfer to, be meaningful, and undergo revision in a second culture. In February 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—a segment of the NewYork Public Library system—unveiled a yearlong exhibit titled, Black Power! The exhibit is an examination of the Black Power Movement in its 50th year and provides a detailed overview of the Movement, including less known historical information, captivating visual imagery, and empowering prints, articles, and documents that capture this important period. Among the many articles on display are posters reflecting the global nature of the Black Power Movement and the pan-African spirit within the Movement. From international representations of Angela Davis to Black Power speech in Algeria, Trinidad, Nigeria, Japan, the Middle East and elsewhere, the Movement was global. Not only did Black Power take a political form, but it inspired the Black Arts Movement and also ignited popular culture through the production of Blaxploitation films. As part of the Black Power! Exhibit, the Schomburg has included a section on Blaxploitation and its cultural significance: Performing Black British Male Identity in Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon For the first time, films portrayed cool, assertive black men and women with power and swagger, who rejected oppression, and fought“the Man” in a reflection of the new consciousness brought forth by the Black Power Movement…While audiences who flocked to the movies found them empowering, black organizations…formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation in 1972. They denounced Blaxploitation films for stereotyping African Americans as pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts, and hit men, and argued that the films’ glorification of violence was a form of cultural genocide. The 50th anniversary Black Power! Exhibit provides an opportunity to reflect on the far-reaching impact of Black Power and the convergence of political, artistic, and popular culture mediums to express the spirit of resistance brought out by oppressive experiences of pan-African people. In considering the international impact of the Black Power Movement and Blaxploitation’s popularity (albeit brief), Black British author, Andrea Levy contributes to the contemporary conversation through her novel, Fruit of the Lemon. Set in the late 1970s, Fruit of the Lemon highlights the struggles of sister and brother Faith and Carl Jackson, two young adults in their twenties who strive to establish a clear identity and future while pursuing their independence from their parents. Levy underscores the deficit of positive models of Black identity within the British landscape. While Fruit of the Lemon has been analyzed as a bildungsroman reflecting a second-generation Jamaican immigrant woman’s experience, the secondary plot related to Faith’s brother Carl and his journey towards Black manhood has not received sustained critical attention. Through Carl’s characterization, Levy reveals the challenges...


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pp. 84-94
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