Utne Blogs > Literature

New Narratives for Black Experiences

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: essay writing, American Scholar, East Bay Express, Big Black Penis, Charles Johnson, Shawn Taylor, Rachel Swan, race, narrative, writing about race, men, masculinity,

Black people in the United States are in dire need of a more versatile narrative, Charles Johnson argues in the American Scholar. “No matter which angle we use to view black people in America today, we find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. We challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails… to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity,” he writes.

In challenging the 21st-century usefulness of a “narrative of pervasive victimization,” Johnson calls for “new and better stories, new concepts, and new vocabularies and grammar based not on the past but on the dangerous, exciting, and unexplored present.”

Perhaps Johnson should pick up a copy of Shawn Taylor’s new book Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity. The provocatively titled book seems to have been born from the very same vein of frustration, of a need to break through and tell new (or rarely told) stories. Rachel Swan describes the book’s genesis in the East Bay Express:

[Taylor] was mad. Mad at wiggas; mad at BET and MTV; mad that he grew up in poverty; mad at his father for disappearing; mad at the proliferation of "the N-word" and terms like “bling-bling”—especially when they gained currency in suburban communities; mad at CNN's Black in America (which, he said, imposed a kind of false unifying narrative that was supposed to stand in for the African-American experience); mad at movies like The Best Man (which, he said, made it seem as though adultery had to be the main theme in all black relationships); mad that men "can't just hug, we have to pound the shit out of each other's backs. . . . Pretty soon, Big Black Penis was more than just a provocative title; it was a move to bring authenticity into the discourse around black male sexuality.