Words & Cactuses – Part 1 of my “I’m not having such a good time in school” series – Tall N Curly™

By Tall N Curly

These past two weeks alone I got four messages from four girls who all basically asked me the same thing: “How am I going to survive being different.”

 

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Sourced through Scoop.it from: tallncurly.com

Three Stages of Understanding Race

See on Scoop.itCommunity Village Daily

Here are the three stages of understanding race, simplified.

1. In biology we are taught – race is biological

3. In sociology we are taught – race is a social and demographic construct3. Maturity – call race what you want, but note that when our interpretations confront the world, we need to get real. We have real communities to grow up in, and serious racial issues to tackle.

* Racism * Privilege
* Stereotyping / Prejudice / Profiling* Xenophobia / Hate crimes* Segregation / Desegregation  * Integration / Immigration * Pluralism / Intersectionality / Community* Affirmative Action / Reparations* Prison Industrial Complex / War on Drugs / Stop-n-Frisk / New Jim Crow
See on communityvillageus.blogspot.com

Bodega Dreams (Book Review)

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Title: Bodega Dreams (ISBN 0375705899)

Author: Ernesto Quinonez

Publication Year: 2000

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Random House

Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To me, Bodega Dreams reminds me of movies like Boyz in Da Hood. Although from a different cultural perspective, this book has the same unique blend of engaging storytelling and coming-of-age dilemmas that made America think twice about life in the “hood.” Like Boyz in Da Hood and similar creative works, the world is shown from the perspective of a person in the lower class-both the good and the bad. Reading or listening to works about life in the ghetto allowed audiences to interact with the stubborn realism, persistence, and hopes, of the ghetto’s inhabitants despite the unfortunate grim realities that surround them daily. The difference in Bodega Dreams is how that dream is expressed and played out in the life of the four main characters in the story Chino, Sapo, Bodega, and Blanca.

I came across the title in passing while working on a blog post for someone. At that time, the only thing I had to go on was that Bodega Dreams was a book about Spanish Harlem. Since I had an idea of what “inner-city” life was like, I decided to read yet another book about it. I assumed that it would be like all of the other “defying the odds” stories where a single character is helped to “get out of the hood”. This book was a little different and I am glad that it was.

From the beginning, I was impressed with the way I was able to interact with the story. Quinonez uses the authentic language of the characters, their inner thoughts, and their actions to create a compelling and highly realistic story that just grabs you from the first few pages. The book is told from Chino’s point of view and language, so you get a chance to experience Spanish Harlem from his perspective and thoughts. This perspective is strengthened by the author’s expert use of language. Reading the book actually feels like you’re having a live conversation with Chino as he describes parts of his life. When Chino describes his friendship with Sapo, you don’t feel it abstractly, you feel as if Sapo is your friend as well. When Chino feels bad when making a decision, you feel let down. If you have ever experienced life in an “inner city”, you will easily recognize characteristics of the characters in the book. Along the way, you get involved with the stories of people and friends through the good and the bad. This aspect is one of the best parts of the book.

Two other important parts of the book are the characters and the ending. The author does a nice job of portraying realistic characters instead of relying on the characters that are typical in a book about the “hood” and coming-of-age stories. The book does have some of those characters-gangsters, the friend who has a good heart but does the wrong thing, and the good girlfriend-but they are authentic and human instead of stereotypical. These characters also have different layers which become apparent as you progress through the story. Bodega, the character for whom the book is named after, is a case in point. At first, he seems like your typical gangster boss, but after reading a few paragraphs you realize there is much more to him. Bodega is an idealist, businessman, hopeless romantic, and ruthless criminal all wrapped up in human complexity. The way the author portrays this is pure brilliance.

This leads to my next point, the ending. This book had one of the endings that really shocked me. I haven’t been shocked in a while with the ending of most books, since I read so much. This one still shocked me. Everything unraveled so fast, yet in such a realistic way that I dropped the book when I realized what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it definitely does not end like I expected to. It also doesn’t end with a happy walk into the sunset, which so many books do. The ending here is more mixed, which is closer to reality and more exciting to ponder on.

The only caution I would provide prospective readers is the reality. Quinonez pulls no punches with language and the other “not so pleasant” activities that occur in the Spanish Harlem. He also discusses uncomfortable realities that most people would rather not confront. The book is not overtly filled with violence or drugs, but neither is this element shied away from either.

Overall, this is a great read which you can complete in a couple of hours (200+pages). It’s a deep, engaging story that allows you the opportunity to participate in the lives of people that are so often stereotyped, but never fully embraced in literature. I was impressed with Chino’s story, Bodega’s dream and the humanity that brought it all down.

Other Reviews of the Book:

http://voices.yahoo.com/book-review-bodega-dreams-6915316.html?cat=2

http://www2.webster.edu/~corbetre/personal/reading/quinonez-dreams.html

Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (Book Review)

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Title: Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (ISBN 029273834x)

Author: Ralph Richard Banks

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Website  Penguin Books

Review Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For a book with such a controversial title, it can be hard not to fall into a polarized debate about the state of marriage in Black America today. The book’s basic premise is that the steady decline of Black marriages (especially in the middle class, which this book is focused on) should be of deep concern to Black Americans, and ultimately, everyone else. To make his case, Ralph Richard Banks, a law professor at Stanford provides rather shocking statistics and personal anecdotes from Black women he or his assistants interviewed.

To put it bluntly, the answer to the question to the title seems to be a “Yes” if readers base the answer solely on the statistics provided in the book. Accordingly to the statistics Bank cites, African Americans are the most likely to remain unmarried, most likely to divorce, most likely to have families with single mothers, and least likely to have an enduring monagamous relationship.

The book continues with statistics that depict a shortage of eligible Black males for Black women due to decreasing wages, decreasing educational attainment, increased chances of prison incarceration, decreased chance of maintaining monogamous relationships. On top of that, Banks also provides statistics that show the Black men marry “outside of their race” more often than Black women. Banks provides statistics that paint women in a slightly more positive note. In the book, Black women are shown to have made incredible gains in working income and education leading to a rise in their social and economic situations. Some statistics that could be considered negative are given, but overall Banks asserts the problem is that there aren’t enough eligible Black men for these Black women to marry. On a positive note, for Blacks in general, Black Americans are the most religious.

My problem with the book is not the statistics (sobering and disheartening as they are), but with the stated and implied message gained from these statistics. Assuming that his statistics are all correct and valid, this leads to an almost unsolvable solution. Banks keeps presenting issue after issue that seems to indicate that Black Americans, especially Black men, are in a situation that can’t be helped. He does not indicate any real solutions despite the questions he has raised. He also did not (in my opinion) fully take into account other issues in analyzing the statistics. For example, Banks hardly, if ever, compares Black males to other American groups in an equal fashion. This can lead to extremely negative portrayals of Blacks, especially Black men, further exacerbating the problem rather than attempting to alleviate. Instead of offering a solution or even an positive alternatives to some of the statistics given, more stereotypes can potentially be continued by readers who pick up this book.

Lastly, the book doesn’t realty have a strong ending. In the last chapter titled “Saving Black Marriages”, Banks seems to indicate glimpses of what a potential solution. The only problem is that it involves an issue that he criticized in earlier chapters, interracial marriages. There is a small section in the last half of the book called “The Paradox”, which I think encapsulates the intended purpose of the chapter (and the book), but it comes a little too late for many readers, in my opinion.

Overall, I would consider this a book good for having the discussion that Black Americans need to have about the state of their marriages today. Despite how a reader may feel, Banks provides some serious issues that need to be discussed in America regardless of ethnic heritage, incarceration rate, education levels, etc. I advocate and agree with those messages myself. I believe that there is a better way of helping the solution than just pointing it though. I also agree that if you don’t provide a positive guide toward the solution, you are exacerbating the problem, rather than fixing it. That is where Banks needs support with this book.

In summary, this book is akin to Bill Cosby’s “Come On, People”. It will raise the alarm about what social conditions and standards we accept in all of our lives, no matter how race or social class we are.