Monday, February 11, 2008


Today I had my first meeting for the campus book club. It isn’t a club that meets particularly regularly because we all have our own busy schedules, but rather is scheduled for two meetings and a screening of the movie based on our book. As I am playing with the idea of going back to school, I figured participating in this would be a good way to get my mind thinking critically again. While I believe I always read with a critical eye it is different when you know you have to discuss the work in question. Plus the book that was chosen was Native Son, by Richard Wright and I have read it many times before so it wouldn’t be too hard.

I am not a fan of Richard Wright. I find his work to be wordy, unsophisticated, underdeveloped, and full of self-loathing. However, I am always curious to see how other people feel about him because he is considered to be one of “the greats” and Native Son is seen as a masterpiece. It’s not a bad book. I find it to be rather preachy and altogether too obvious but I can see why it could be seen as relevant. It is certainly a somewhat entertaining read what with the violence and political intrigue although the lack of chapters is incredibly annoying. Either way, I figured it would make for a good discussion.

I wasn’t disappointed. Our group facilitator did a great job of asking pertinent questions, allowing everyone to express their opinion and keeping the discussion moving. He also did a good job of keeping his personal opinions out of things. I feel that I did a good job of that as well, which is not easy for me. Our next meeting is on the third of next month and he posed some challenging questions to us.

  1. Do we know a Bigger Thomas?
  2. Do we know anyone who resembles the other characters in the book?
  3. How have race relations in Chicago changed from the 1930s until now?
  4. Do we still allow the stereotypes that pervaded the community into our minds today?

The first two questions made me chuckle. If you haven’t read the book, Bigger Thomas is about the most stereotypical “poor uneducated young Black man who is stuck on a path leading to destruction” that you could ever come across, and the white characters are also stereotypical “well meaning rich liberals who think they are helping”. All I had to do was think back to my last job and realize that I knew plenty of people who fit both these categories and some of the latter weren’t white folks. I guess that is how race relations in Chicago have changed. Now it isn’t just rich white people giving ping-pong tables to the poor Black children but Black people as well. Maybe the fact that it took me .2 seconds to reach that conclusion signifies that these stereotypes are around today. However, there is a grain of truth in every stereotype so….

I look forward to our next discussion. It’s a good and diverse group of people and I enjoy people coming together and discussing things that interest me. You all know I love some good talk of race and racism.

1. I love you/ Completely/ Please I don't want you to go/ Though you are not content here with me and you feel you must go. You Feel You Must Go, Don’t Go!, Of Montreal

2 You've got a bad reputation/ That's the word out on the town/ It gives a certain fascination/ But it can only bring you down. Bad Reputation, Thin Lizzy

3. They got a committee to get me off the block. Cause I say my rhymes loud and I say them non stop. Slow Ride, Beastie Boys

4. On the corner/ We talk away/ Everybody’s older these days. Glass Conversation, The Ponies


Woozie said...

I know a lot of Bigger Thomases...A LOT.

Brooke said...

I've always felt guilty for not thinking Native Son is a good book. I feel a little less guilty now.

Natalie said...

Woozie- For some reason I am not at all surprised to hear that.

Brooke- Don't feel guilty it is not very good at all.

Mom said...

Off-topic, or at least a tangent...

Re: song #3, Beastie Boys -- I actually quoted The Beastie Boys at dinner this evening when I was out with some friends I used to work with. It was in regard to some local suburban high school students. Not long ago, someone brought it to this high school's attention that there were photos on some social networking site that showed these kids drinking alcohol. The school disciplined the kids (totally appropriately, IMO) by suspending them from extra-curricular activities (they had previously signed an agreement not to drink as a condition to participation). These students then staged a walkout, alleging that their rights had been violated. So, they were "fight"ing for their "right to party..."

Let me be clear, however, that I believe that 1)they have no such right and that 2) they were spoiled kids who thought they could broadcast their misbehavior on the web with impunity, and that 3) they threw a little "hissy" when they got caught and discovered that their actions had consequences, and that 4) walking out of school is a serious action that ought to be reserved for serious situations, such as protesting illegal wars or combating racism.

The hell of it is that I've heard that a number of parents supported the kids' actions. Underage drinking?? Photos of said drinking on the web?? Walking out of school??? What a world...

dmarks said...

At Michigan State University, they had massive protests regarding civil rights and the war in the 1960s. In the 1980s, they had massive protests to prevent a huge annual under-age drinking party from being shut down.

Priorities change.

Monica said...

what happened to our book club? did i make that up?

Lord Omar said...

not very good at all.

Wow. I loved Native Son. For me it was a sad, but beautiful tragedy that made me feel very emotionally exposed when I read it. Bit of a life changer actually.
Big thumbs up!

I know a lot of Bigger Thomases...A LOT.

~did you read the book, Booby?

Natalie said...

Mom- yeah protest has gone all lame. I remember back at SLC they had a big protest against police brutality because a cop punched a kid (once) who resisted arrest and hit the cop repeatedly. Not saying I advocate cops beating people but that wasn't really the kind of thing to spur a candlelight vigil.

Dmarks- So so sad.

Lord Omar- A lot of people really like it. To each his own I guess.

I have come to the conclusion i don't like it after at least 4 reads, critical study of the book and the author, and exposure to tons of Black lit that I think has a lot more relevant to say.

Lord Omar said...

4 reads and extensive critical study will do that I guess.