July 22, 2009
In an incident that raised eyebrows from coast to coast, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent scholar and author, was arrested by the Cambridge Police Department after officers responded to reports that black men were breaking into his house. Gates had just arrived home from China and was trying to force open his jammed front door with the help of his hired driver when a neighbor called the police. Exactly what happened after that isn't clear.
February 11, 2009 |
Two hundred years after his birth, it's difficult to imagine there's anything new to say about Abraham Lincoln. The 16th and most universally beloved president has been analyzed, mythologized, deconstructed and reconstructed in pretty much every medium available to humanity. Books, films, poems and songs -- you name it, there's one about Abraham Lincoln. Every president in recent memory names him as a role model.
December 23, 2007 |
WHEN I was in first grade, I wrote in an assignment that I wanted to be "a poetess like Phillis Wheatley" when I grew up. I'd seen only one drawing of Phillis Wheatley, but it made an impression -- a black woman in a frilly cap, quill pen poised in one hand, chin in the other. She was prim, serious, purposeful. In the mid-1700s, she'd somehow gone from being a slave to being a poet, who mastered complicated forms of poetry that had been the exclusive domain of the white folks who once owned her.
December 3, 2006 |
BEFORE starting work on this review, I had never read "Uncle Tom's Cabin." This was not initially by design. The book was simply never assigned to me in school. Of course, as the child of a big New Orleans family, I learned early on what Uncle Tom meant: a tragic, grinning, generally duplicitous post-slavery Negro who remained hopelessly subservient and wanted white approval above all else. Tom was an archetype, a creature of old movies and the shadowy saboteur of many a black power moment.
December 15, 1996 |
The story of black America is that of a journey from slavery to freedom. But this change in legal definition describes only the obvious. Less apparent is the journey not yet completed, the journey that blacks and whites must make together. That is the one toward the egalitarian ideal that will be reached only when blacks and whites can look at each other and not see race, but a person first. It is outrageous that any people on this planet should have to "prove" their humanity to any other group.
May 8, 1994 |
When Henry Louis Gates Jr. applied to Yale in his springtime of militancy in 1969, he began his personal essay: "My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro, and I am black." Now, in a preface to his affecting, beautifully written and morally complex memoir, Gates addresses his two daughters: "In your lifetimes, I suspect, you will go from being African Americans, to 'people of color,' to being, once again, 'colored people.' (The linguistic trend toward condensation is strong.
March 25, 1992 |
The pun in the title of "Loose Canons" reveals something crucial about Henry Louis Gates Jr., an elegant partisan in the not-so-civil war over "multiculturalism." His targets are the self-appointed guardians of the accepted texts of Western literature--the ossified academics, high-falutin' literary critics and vainglorious editors who serve as our cultural commissars--but his weapon is a stiletto wit.