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2007 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, LGBT Studies
Richard Wright. Ralph Ellison. James Baldwin. Literary and cultural critic Robert Reid-Pharr asserts that these and other post-World War II intellectuals announced the very themes of race, gender, and sexuality with which so many contemporary critics are now engaged. While at its most elemental Once You Go Black is an homage to these thinkers, it is at the same time a reconsideration of black Americans as agents, and not simply products, of history. Reid-Pharr contends that our current notions of black American identity are not inevitable, nor have they simply been forced onto the black community. Instead, he argues, black American intellectuals have actively chosen the identity schemes that seem to us so natural today.
Turning first to the late and relatively obscure novels of Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin, Reid-Pharr suggests that each of these authors rejects the idea of the black as innocent. Instead they insisted upon the responsibility of all citizens—even the most oppressed—within modern society. Reid-Pharr then examines a number of responses to this presumed erosion of black innocence, paying particular attention to articulations of black masculinity by Huey Newton, one of the two founders of the Black Panther Party, and Melvin Van Peebles, director of the classic film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
Shuttling between queer theory, intellectual history, literary close readings, and autobiography, Once You Go Black is an impassioned, eloquent, and elegant call to bring the language of choice into the study of black American literature and culture. At the same time, it represents a hard-headed rejection of the presumed inevitability of what Reid-Pharr names racial desire in the production of either culture or cultural studies.
The landmark book that established Robert Reid-Pharr as one of America's most exciting and challenging left intellectuals
At turns autobiographical, political, literary, erotic, and humorous, Black Gay Man spoils our preconceived notions of not only what it means to be black, gay and male but also what it means to be a contemporary intellectual. Both a celebration of black gay male identity as well as a powerful critique of the structures that allow for the production of that identity, Black Gay Man introduced the eloquent voice of Robert Reid-Pharr in cultural criticism.
At once erudite and readable, the range of topics and positions taken up in Black Gay Man reflect the complexity of American life itself. Treating subjects as diverse as the Million Man March, interracial sex, anti-Semitism, turn of the century American intellectualism as well as literary and cultural figures ranging from Essex Hemphill and Audre Lorde to W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin, Black Gay Man is a bold and nuanced attempt to question prevailing ideas about community, desire, politics and culture. Moving beyond critique, Reid-Pharr also pronounces upon the promises of a new America.