Cardyn Brooks reviews two new books by writers of colour that explore blueprints for revolution
Acorn Independent Press 25 May 2018
contemporary (ca. 2004) YA fiction
At a time when the world has just been revisiting the struggles and triumphs of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. fifty years after his assassination and the international community currently struggles to deliver an effectively appropriate response to Pres. Assad’s unacceptable treatment of the Syrian people, The Day of the Orphan reads as particularly relevant.
With character names like Com and Money, and a military installation called Fort Id staffed with Zombie (instead of puppet or martinet) troops, this often allegorical tale of Saga, his family, friends, classmates, and nation shares similarities with The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. In the fictional African nation of Zimgania the author draws parallels between President-for-Life-Until-Further-Notice Brewman “the Brute” and Cuba’s Castro, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, and Orwell’s 1984. Associations with the rise of the Third Reich and McCarthyism are also clear. In fact, except for one character’s remark about Nigerian author Chinua Achibe, the pop culture references are all Western, which reinforces the sentiment in this passage from page 203:
To internationalise our struggle is to attract more sympathisers to out cause, while attracting more outside opposition to this brute of a president who has usurped power!
The Day of the Orphan interweaves themes of civil rights violations, political tyranny, government corruption, and religious persecution with Saga’s journey from boyhood into manhood. Each step forward is influenced by internal and external demands and expectations about being a good son, brother, and wise man as the leader of the Orphan Society. Contrary to the group’s name there are many dedicated parents and adult advisors who are able and willing to support the Orphans. It is debate about exactly how and when to move forward that generates the most friction between the younger and older generations. Their non-violent versus defensive violence and/or preemptive strikes philosophies echo Rev. King’s approach versus Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture’s Black Panther strategies in the previous generation. Just like real life, working out the execution details of revolutionary change noticeably slows the tempo of the action.
Quandaries about gender roles and identity are embodied in a range of characters across the spectrum of conventional male to female expectations where Saga, Zara, and others alternately, sometimes simultaneously, conform and defy their labels assigned according to age, social class, and gender. An assortment of girls and women employ a variety of tactics to hold the boys and men in The Day of the Orphan accountable for their actions.
Although set during a time only three years after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in September 2001 there is a sense of present-day relevance with the Orphans’ “Enough is Enough” mantra and the demands of young people around the world with their March for Our Lives movement.
Overall there is an upbeat tone of affectionate exasperation to the narrative summed up in the characters’ use of the phrase TIA, which means “This is Africa.” It’s a cross-cultural translation of a Gallic shrug.
[Sidebar thoughts: Is the Ghanaian author’s usage of the terms “African” and “Third World” by his Zimganian characters an allowance for “mainstream” readers? My (limited) understanding is that most citizens of African nations identify with their specific country rather than the continent similar to the way that Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. citizens don’t typically refer to themselves as North Americans. The author’s bio says he was raised with his family in exile in England, which may be a contributing factor to those language choices, or maybe it’s simply incidental usage of common parlance.]
Outside the XY, Queer, Black and Brown Masculinity, A Bklyn Boihood Anthology edited by Morgan Mann Willis
Magnus Books, an imprint of Riverdale Avenue Books
contemporary QUILTBAG multicultural non-fiction August 2016*
This assortment of essays, poems, letters to loved ones, younger selves, and unknown seekers of self along with a one-act play addresses the concepts of gender identity, non-binary masculinity and femininity with very personal, intellectual, heartfelt explorations from contributors across the QUILTBAG diaspora—referred to as the diaspora of masculinity in queer and trans bois of color in the “About the Authors” section. From Haiti to Mexico, Ecuador to Australia. England to Atlanta, Georgia and New York City, New York in the U.S., these emotionally intimate queries in to the human condition span the globe. The scope of the topics is sorted into these six categories: Memory, Mirrors, Sex, Movement, Mother/Earth, Healing.
The Editor’s Note from Morgan Mann Willis includes the following statement, which also works as a declaration of intent, “Masculinity is not the thread that connects our work… this collection is sewn together by the struggle and progress of simply being alive.” On that point the multifaceted complexity of each black and brown author’s lived experiences and discerning observations resonate as authentically representative of a breadth and depth of diversity that’s often excluded in mainstream public discussions about everyday human rights violations of people whose identities have been marginalized by society.
In “Victoria Carmen White” by Parker T [sic] Hurley the narrator says, “I knew that there would never be a box that would fully encapsulate who I am.” Throughout Outside the XY that refusal to be contained within the narrow parameters of binary gender identity labels seems to be a source of each author’s strength, turmoil, and vulnerability.
There are many themes, ideas, and conundrums to excavate. Self-care, safe spaces, and love of oneself recur throughout the anthology. New-to-me terms like cis-tem, womyn, stud (NOT the same meaning as the way Sandy from Grease says it), Masculine of Center, Masculine-Identified Lesbian, tom, macha, Muxe, and AGs (NOT attorneys general) have added titles by Riki Wilchins and others to my TBR list. The poignant longing for recognition in “Tobacco” by D’Lo resonates in similar emotional intensity to “I, Too” by Langston Hughes, while the self-deprecating humor of Taylor Johnson’s TSA experience in “Masculinity as Phantasmagoria” is reminiscent of vintage “It’s Pat” sketches from Saturday Night Live years ago.
Fabian Romero offers provocative supposition in “Two Spirit and Gender Spirituality” that “For this reason I [F.R.] believe gender binary is a form of settler colonialism and deeply connected to white supremacy.” This idea is worth deeper study to me as a person who sees limiting gender labels being effectively used as tools of disenfranchisement. With ancient Greek and Roman society and literature in mind it’s going to require more investigation for me to make the leap to gender binary as inherently Anglo, but the author diligently sets out the merits of the argument.
Two passages sum up the ultimately compassionate, pragmatic, and optimistic revelatory vibe of this anthology. First, from “Low Visibility” by Bani Amor, “…gender rebels catch hell around the globe.” Second, from Kai M. Green on page 180, “We need to build relationships between men and women that allow space for both [all?] parties to grow.”
[The profanity is organic to the content and occurs with the most frequency in the Sex section, the f-word predominantly. Natch.]
*My 7-inch tablet plus not wearing my glasses when choosing this title equals not realizing it was published in August 2016, not 2018, until I was already enthusiastic about reading it.
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