African American writers have an obligation to uplift the race not, air out dirty laundry like you did. My cousin texted me this message. He had not yet finished reading my book, Exposed: Humanity Craves Power, but he was insulted by conversations between the characters.
Give me a break. The twentieth century is over. I replied in my text.
Although I love my cousin to death, I pity his outdated perspective. For far too long, we’ve swept under the rug truths about slavery and their descendants’ American experiences. My cousin, who is now my major critic, had the following issues.
Apollo doesn’t keep it real. He has no social life, and no Black man of his age is so focused on his job that he isn’t trying to have a social life, especially a girlfriend.
Is it me, or is this an insulting sentiment? Here is what I hear in his statement. Black men are incapable of being single-minded, having one vision so narrowly wrapped in ambition that nothing else matters. If you haven’t read the book, Apollo is a recent graduate from Morehouse College. He hopes to become a high-profile journalist and imagines an opulent life that few journalists get to have. Before the story begins, he had ended his relationship with his girlfriend and accepted a job working as a fact-checker. His dissatisfaction with his position fuels his ambition. Instead of waiting for a chance to work as a reporter, he creates a blog called The Keyhole and posts to it weekly. He spends much of his time researching and looking for topics to write about. In doing this, Apollo struggles to find his voice as a writer. He is inspired by his growing followers and pushes himself to write stories more compelling than the next.
What my cousin misses is that Apollo is the epitome of the American dream. He is an upstart, pulling himself up by his bootstraps. He lives in a humble, one-bedroom apartment, pays 40% of his salary in rent, drives a ten-year-old car, and works in the basement. Symbolically, at the end of the novel, he is asked to come upstairs to meet with the executives. This symbolizes his success. He has a boatload of followers, he has stolen the national spotlight, and he comes face to face with the challenge of maintaining his brief moment of fame. Finally, getting what he wants, Apollo is challenged with sacrificing the spirit of his ambition for the illusion of economic security.
Although Apollo is an African American character, he is not to represent the African American struggle more so than any citizen’s effort to find their place in American society. I hope the reader sees Apollo as an iconic figure of ambition representing the spirit of American entrepreneurship. Instead of waiting for his opportunities to unfold in the established bureaucratic system, he creates his opportunities. Instead of playing by the conventional and suppressive corporate rules, he chooses to challenge them.
The struggles of African American women are not represented. As a result, there is no victory for them.
This complaint —I have to admit —surprised me. I didn’t figure my cousin cared about gender equality issues, and I suspect he borrowed this complaint from someone else. Again, he is wrong. I think the novel accomplished something rare for African American writers who write about African American characters. Back when Black writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes would throw darts at each other, they pointed out an interesting truth: most Black writers lack integration of their characters with the holistic view of the American scene. In other words, the characters are often victims of America rather than problem solvers who enhance American life. This is not true for at least three females in my novel.
Althea, Horus’s mother, is responsible for his cerebral approach to life. Whereas her oldest son, Jason, was out shooting free-throws, Althea taught Horus to play chess. She is responsible for making the connection for him between sophisticated economic theories and practical applications. We learn that in addition to being a nurturing mother, she spent time tutoring athletes —one of whom became an Illinois senator.
If my cousin looked closer at Cassandra, he might notices the juxtaposition between her and Elizabeth Horn. The two women are equally intelligent. Despite unspoken respect for Elizabeth, Cassandra despises her. Elizabeth represents all the power that Cassandra is capable of having but will never obtain. Without overtly stating as such, Cassandra’s ethnicity plays a significant role in her lack of power. Her ideas and recommendations are often overlooked or completely ignored, whereas Elizabeth —a white woman —needs only to wave her hand to make something happen. The respect for Cassandra’s well-conceived intuitions and foresight is symbolic of the African American women’s struggle. My cousin misses that the gender struggle for equality lies far beyond equal pay and reaches into the very soul of masculine idealism and how it conceives a woman’s intellectual contribution to the American story. Only when it is too late does her white lawyer colleagues realize that her intellect is worth its weight in gold. The same is true for Horus, who later compares his sister to Kassandra of Troy. How different would the Trojan War have ended if Kassandra’s warnings were not ignored?
Another issue from the almost 100-year-old debates between the famous Black writers was the depiction of healthy heterosexual relationships. Black writers and their characters often fall short when it comes to such representation. Exposed does not. It tackles the negativity that is commonly revealed in fiction regarding Black heterosexual relationships by showing two successful marriages between Horus’s and Daphne’s parents. When it comes to Daphne’s relationship with Horus, the stereotyped understanding that Black romance is never authentic is subtly mentioned because it is not the story’s primary focus. Daphne doubts the authenticity of Horus’s intentions until he proposes. The media believes the engagement is a ploy for Horus to win the female vote in the primary elections. Ship, the mastermind who manipulated events to have Horus and Daphne meet on the plane ride to New Orleans, saw their relationship as a strategic advantage barely different from how kings once married off their sons and daughters for political gain. While the outside world sees their relationship through different lenses, Daphne and Horus’s connection is healthy and authentic. As such, the problem in healthy heterosexual relationships between Black characters is resolved.
The story claims that Black people are incapable of formal, social, and moral education.
First of all, this is not at all the point of the story. Neither is the point of view supported. Instead, it is debated. For those who did not read the book, Rashin is a highly opinionated character. As a Black character, it may surprise the reader (my cousin included) that Rashin is so far to the right. He has bought-in to the talented tenth concept explained by WEB Dubois, and he makes logical assumptions that are worth discussion. Rashin believes that due to the controlled procreation methods, standard during slavery, modern African Americans are disproportionately crippled in their ability to reach certain heights in moral, social, and formal education. He believes that it is the responsibility of those who have the highest ceilings to consider the most humane ways to empower African Americans with low ceilings and engage them in society. He believes their engagement should be systematic and traditional education is not needed to accomplish the goal. In so many words, he explains that the field slave was trained to function in a role that benefited the nation, whereas the house slave, having a higher moral and intellectual ceiling, was educated to perform.
These issues touch on topics related to reparations. Many documents describe institutional buying and selling slaves. One example was when banks gave loans to plantation owners. Those owners used the loans to purchase slaves. When the owners defaulted, the banks had to seize the owner’s property and liquidate it. In other words, the banks had to resale the slaves. Later in the story, an influential religious leader has an interview and explains the psychological impact of slavery. He points out the psychological and emotional damage imposed on a mother who has to watch her child being flogged in a courtyard or sold away. He asks the public to consider how mothers enduring those pains without ever having psychological therapy or treatments will influence society. What psychological and emotional damage did the children endure after their separation from their mothers and siblings? Imagine this scenario repeated ten million times over two hundred years. If we consider the magnitude and the variations of effects on the overall African American psyche, can we agree that some form of reparations is due? This is a question the story asks, but my cousin missed it.
Respectfully, I have to say that my cousin’s idea of a Black writer’s responsibility is outdated. The conversation that the older writers had over 100 years ago needs to change. Obviously, I did not say all of this to my cousin. Who talks like this to relatives? No, with relatives, you make a few jokes —throw one or two insults, and then when it’s all over, you finish your text with I love you, man. Be safe. Isn’t that the real power of humanity?