Sometimes in order to understand a complex issue, you need to take it to an absurd level. Patrice Evans has taken the story behind the Black experience in America to absurd levels with “Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro’s Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience” (Three Rivers Press, 2011).
It’s not as if the book’s author hasn’t had practice with absurdity. His popular “Ghetto Pass” column for Gawker.com has been his training ground for tackling such neighborhoods as Spanish Harlem and devoting entire posts to “The Chinese Spot” for laughs. Evans expands on these in the book, providing advice for non-Blacks and articulating the conundrum that many Blacks face on a daily basis, including getting angry at negative stereotypes but not wanting to relinquish positive ones, navigating public transportation, interracial dating and, of course, Barack Obama.
Evans works his magic in the section of the book devoted to hip-hop, specifically the list found in the middle of the book called: “The Seven Emcees You Meet in Hip-Hop” (the educated rapper, the thug rapper, the commercial rapper, the kiddy rapper, the female rapper, the old-school rapper and the alternative, hipster rapper). It’s revelations like those that make you realize how neatly rappers fit into archetypes, whether they like it or not.
“The Four Horsemen of the Postracial Apocalypse” brings together Black public figures that are thought to be beyond race and are considered a new slice of Americana, with the exception of one figure’s notable downfall over the past year-plus.
The author also draws his attention to urban cinema, providing information and opinions on such classics as “New Jack City,” “Boyz n the Hood,” “Menace II Society” and “Do the Right Thing.” “If post-Obama=postracial,” writes Evans, “then the setting of ‘New Jack City’ might be preracial-a time when other races didn’t even exist on the mainstream cultural radar.”
Evans also engages the reader on topics like fashion, finance and education. He describes the difference between a check-cashing place and a real bank (“Check-cashing spots are sometimes open later than real banks. [They] realize their clientele might not get a reliable lunch break.”) and the brands of clothing Black people wear (he calls Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Sean John fashion line “the Ed Hardy brand for Black people”) and rants on education near the end of the book in a section that should resonate with everyone.
Titled “Can We Bury the Term ‘Young, Gifted and Black?’” Evans’ two-and-a-half page diatribe on the pressure that Black kids who are deemed “special” face is worth the price of the book alone. It should be a real eye-opener for those who didn’t think such a term could bring about anything but pride.
Filled with sharp, witty observations, biting social commentary and just the right touch of absurdity, “Negropedia” is the perfect balance between seriousness and amusement. It’s the comedic version of W.E.B. Du Bois’ two souls philosophy, with each foot stuck in a different world: the American mainstream and the Black underclass.