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Disastrous Dalliances : Troubled relations between black men and women in America : NO DISRESPECT, By Sister Souljah (Times Books: $23; 384 pp.)

March 19, 1995|Heidi Siegmund | Siegmund, a frequent contributor to the Times, is co-author of "The Ice Opinion" (St. Martin's)

A more appropriate title for Sister Souljah's first work of nonfiction might have been, "Smart Woman, Foolish Choices, II." For although the self-proclaimed "raptivist" soundly details numerous underlying tensions between African-American men and women, what stays with the reader is her personal journey through one failed relationship after another. It's no wonder her dalliances have turned out disastrous. Souljah's world is all about Souljah. She should've been an actress: "Enough about me. Let me tell you about me."

Throughout, "No Disrespect" is a queer duck. The book isn't filled with the revolutionary musings one might have expected from a rapper whose heated remarks in support of the L.A. uprising garnered the wrath of both President Clinton and George Bush while they were stumping in '92. Rather, it aims to be a discourse on troubled relations between black men and women in America. Unfortunately, Souljah keeps getting sidetracked by ego-gratifying tangents. Page after page, she lovingly describes her luscious form, her perky "mangoes" and generous bottom.

Born Lisa Williamson, the 30-year-old artist grew up on welfare in public housing projects in New York and New Jersey and went on to Rutgers and Cornell before founding a summer camp in North Carolina for children of homeless families in her early 20s. Souljah's description of her own youth is riveting. Although she argues persuasively that slavery is at the root of male-female conflicts in the African-American community, the casualness of her mother's affairs are still heart-wrenching. As Souljah describes how she and her siblings learned at a young age to remain detached from the men who floated in and out of her mother's life, one empathizes with the decision. Recalling a night when one of her mother's lovers, Tyrone--a Vietnam Vet who was also a heroin addict--bangs endlessly on the family's apartment door, she writes: "I lay in my bed paralyzed with fear and decided that night that whatever this thing called 'love' that Mommy and Daddy, and then Tyrone and Mommy had, I was not going to have."

One chapter later, however, as she suspiciously enters womanhood, this thing called "love" becomes the focus of the book. Whether she's getting her first taste of her culture's true history in college or visiting a welfare hotel, the focus somehow always lands on a Souljah body part.

In a chapter describing how she lures a married activist into an affair, she begins: "I was beautiful; after all, my skin was as rich and as dark as wet, brown mud, a complexion that any and every pale white girl would pray for . . . my butt sat high in the air and my hips obviously gave birth to Creation."

Ignoring the obvious irony such an affair projects when a woman is clamoring against "disrespect," her sexual descriptions offer the book's greatest moments of entertainment. Although each affair ends wretchedly--her first love is a closeted bisexual, her second a married activist, her third a deceptive, married drug dealer--it's the moments of intimacy she shares that read much like good soft porn.

At the conclusion of "No Disrespect," in an obvious attempt at credibility, she tacks on a 10-page guide to consciousness, titled "Listen Up! (Straighten It Out)," where she offers moral guidelines to family values, adultery, racism and respect. But by then it's too late for the reader, who has become accustomed to seeing her as a sexual figure rather than a revolutionary one.

This, however, creates an interesting career choice.

Should she be taken seriously as a woman of substance? Based on "Disrespect," probably not.

Could she have a career as a lite pornographer? Absolutely. No disrespect intended.

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