Racism: Chopped and Channeled

3540-004-1F568E2EI grew up in post-war San Diego. My family lived in plywood rooms tossed up for the influx of the wartime factory workers. We could have conversations with our neighbors without leaving our mutual homes. When I went to school I was exposed to a lot of people who didn’t look like me—tow-headed blue-eyed white speaking kindergarten English. Spanish was common and I often wished I had been dark haired, dark skinned, and dark eyed. Years later I learned that my brunette mother had considered brown eyes preferable but she kept having blond haired, blue-eyed children.

My early school class was probably a third black; I remember thinking there was something wrong since at least half of those kids had no shoes so the light skinned soles of their feet showed a contrast with their dark skin. Other than that, I was mostly concerned if a classmate was bigger than me (I was a wimp).

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The System of Dante’s Hell

images-2.jpgI highly recommend Amiri Baraka’s experimental novel from the ’60s, The System of Dante’s Hell. Written under the poet’s name at that time, LeRoi Jones, Baraka gives a highly personal, somewhat autobiographical, account of how the experience of being a black man can be related in terms suggestive of Hell as developed by Dante in the Inferno.

In fact, a modified version of Dante’s system is provided at the beginning of the book. But don’t get trapped into attempting to marry each section of Baraka’s narrative to Dante’s map of Hell.

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