When They Call You A Terrorist: A Review

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When They Call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir isn’t like most memoirs. The emphasis, despite the title, is not solely on the BLM movement, instead, it builds the reason for creation and existence BLM through the life experiences of the co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors.

As it is not my practice, commonly, to give a synopsis of the book or provide spoilers that may deter interested readers, I will keep it simple and to the point. Khan-Cullors approach to the creation of this highly respected and equally controversial movement (funny how hue-man movements for the amelioration of a people is tainted with adjectives of anxiety) is in direct response to injustices that span beyond the color spectrum. When They Call You a Terrorist is larger than a title, it touches, without apology or stammer, the core of discrimination, both riotous and subdued, that affects the lives of nearly every life, deemed different, on the tree of humanity.

It is said that we fear what we don’t understand. Since the 1865 emancipation of enslaved Africans and people of African descent, there has been a consistent effort to eliminate the African race or traces of the race, by way of intimidation, deception, denigration, incarceration, and murder. For decades, even to this day, a sector of society is directly ostracized and openly isolated by some of the most abusive practices imaginable. Only the color of skin, their choice of who to love, and the God they understood was enough to make them the dregs of “proper Christian” society, by those who worshipped flags and burned crosses. Through the years, and one century later, the rights of people of African descent (and other who felt or were disenfranchised) came to a head and erupted for the world to see. Still, decades later, the rights of people considered different, remained in the forefront of the American psyche and the hue-man efforts branched off in directions the ruling parties were not prepared to deal with. This is what gave birth to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, whose memoir is revealing, exciting and sometimes confusing (in a nature versus nurture sort of way). And they called them terrorists.

Khan-Cullors, who is a very talented writer, was able to seamlessly blend the complexities of being an emotional automaton and a formidable force. The killings of innocent people by police, the discrimination against the LBGTQ community, and the “turn the other cheek” decisions of elected officials started the clearly missioned but intentionally misrepresented (by those who wanted to besmirch the cause) organization/ movement, BLM.

The book is magic even if its heavy biographical content dominates. It is a history lesson that may never appear in a textbook or on an SAT exam, but can never be hidden or destroyed. It is the single most recognized movement in current history and the reason that so many others, who remained silent for ions, are now raising their voices and donning warrior gear.

Read When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, not for those things that are easily seen, but for the content that encourages you to think. Take from it more than Patrisse intended. Like Black Lives Matter, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, is the blueprint of what’s to come.

 

Same Kind of Different As Me: A Review

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There are occasions when a reader is drawn to a book because of its title, cover or both. The contents become secondary, practically an after-thought. But it is the title and cover, in its complexity or simplicity… that often clinches the deal. Oddly, and perhaps only in my sensibilities, this applies (in its simplicity) to Ron Hall and Denver Moore’s book, Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together.

With an awkwardly handwritten and excessively descriptive title, coupled with a muted and arid but luminous drab pale yellow ,  Same Kind of Different as Me,  could be told by scanning the cover without ever reading a word. The addition of an older Black man, a railroad crossing sign implying more than transportation (being from the other side of the tracks, perhaps?), a lone structure that could be a house and an empty landscape all effectively symbolize details to be found in the story. But beyond the cover, the words are stunning. The collective story is profound. The messages of life, love, and humanity, peppered with historically significant events, although often wordy, are as clear as confessions of sin.

I opted for the audio book version of Same Kind of Different As Me, certain that there would be — through the dramatic inflections of the human voice — greater authenticity in the telling of the story, and to undoubtedly heighten my appreciation for the depth of the tragedy and triumphs that the characters and their individual tales bestowed.  I wasn’t wrong.  I wasn’t disappointed. The audio book catapulted the story beyond expectation and heightened my visual.

Same Kind of Difference as Me is the story of Denver Moore, a Black man, whose personal perils and melancholy filled life are directly attributed to the color of his skin and the emptiness of his pocket, Ron Hall, a very successful art dealer, and Ron Hall’s wife, Beth, both of whom are cast as philanthropic humanitarians, initially more for self gratification (but, it seems, not in an insincere manner) and later by way of “spiritual” awakening. This is the story about being vastly different in an America that promises equality, and how those differences are so clear they have become practically invisible. It is the story of the second oldest form of segregation in the entire world: money, and how the wealthy and the impoverished view each other as different species.

The reader will  find that Denver Moore’s narratives were considerably more engaging than the others. This is not to say that the other characters lacked any of the nuances that would make for a spirited and riveting tale, but Moore’s stories were filled with the emotion only a walk through the fires of hell can produce. It was felt. I felt it. The opportunity to walk in his blister causing shoes hit a nerve, over and over again, as his stories pulled from the depths below where the rocks gathered, and his honest confrontations with sorrow, tragedy, bad luck and self-imposed alienation in immeasurable abundance, were his cause de rigueur against those who offered help and his general lack of trust. There are points within in the book where Denver openly describes himself as an opposing figure, an ogre, the unapproachable beast, emotionless and pitifully satisfied with his view of how the world views him (my words). This self view proves more penetrable than even he seemed to expect, as he lives the life he seeming felt he deserved.

To be honest, there were many questions not adequately answered; many beyond the contents within the book and maybe this is why a second book (What  Difference Do it Make?) was quick to follow (I have not yet read this book — and may not at all). I couldn’t help but question if Denver became another piece of art for Ron(after a personal tragedy) or a cash cow whose story could pull, ideally, at the heart strings of sympathetic country (just reread the title of Ron’s second book); a way for Ron Hall to make money through a story that he could only imagine based on the reality of another’s impecunious sorrow . I may be digging deeper than necessary, but it was Ron who open that Pandora’s box  as he also questioned the initial sincerity of his friendship with Denver toward the end of the story.

Still I’d say read or listen to  Same Kind of Different As Me, I’d like to know what you think and if you got from it any of what I did.

(Audiobook is highly recommended!!!)

 

An American Marriage: A Review

 

 

 

Title: An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones

Series: Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Algonquin Books; Oprah Book Club ed. edition (February 6, 2018)

Tayari Jones’s has written four novels. I have read three: Leaving Atlanta, Silver Sparrow, and most recently, An American Marriage. Before An American Marriage was selected for the Oprah Book Club (the gold star of book clubs) I knew that Jones was exceptional; a writer’s writer, with clear, fluid thought and relatable, often internally flawed (thus familiar), characters. But she writes about real people, with honest conflicts and a jig-sawed existence, lost within a terrific maze of their own creation. She writes about relationships that are complicated, impervious, surreal, and painfully sincere. She, like novelist Bernice McFadden, forces the reader to gasp, not in horror, but in wonder, as the characters make conscientious decisions and engage in emotional actions, often leading to long-term repercussions. Indeed, they are flawed, but understandably so, and in many ways, they are us. They are resilient. They are believable.  They are beautiful.

An American Marriage draws the audience in, sitting them comfortably on the living room sofa where they become not just a reader but one with the action. Tayari does this transitional integration effortlessly, extracting from overlooked human events shared in kitchen conversations and amplifying them, with the slightest of action, to rock band crescendo. Addressed are the sacred covenants of marriage (between Celestial and Roy), the old school “stay-together-no-matter-what” marriage (of Roy’s parents, Big Roy and Olive and Celestial’s parents, Gloria and Franklin Delano), and the relatively predictable “man in waiting,” (Andre). It is through each of these characters that the audience begins to understand the meaning of the title: An American Marriage. Jones paints the three marriages differently and each is infused with their own abstract story of turbulence. Thankfully, she doesn’t sugar-coat their issues, nor does she overly embellish them for the sake of giving the story depth.  But depth is something past readers expect from Jones, and she does provide it plenteously, from chapter to chapter.

The story opens with Roy providing a narrative about him and Celestial as husband and wife. This option to use individual narrative as a point of projecting the story is most effective as it enhances the point of view, personalizing while familiarizing. Roy, whose adult life, the audience will learn, is subtly complicated (especially in relationships) despite involvement in success building organizations in his earlier years. But he minces no words when he was able to leave Eloe, Louisiana. He states:

Celestial thinks of herself as this cosmopolitan person, and she’s not wrong. However, she sleeps each night in the very house she grew up in. I, on the other hand, departed on the first thing smoking, exactly seventy-one hours after high school graduation. I would have left sooner, but the Trailways didn’t stop through Eloe every day. By the time the mailman brought my mama the cardboard tube containing my diploma, I was all moved into my dorm room at Morehouse College attending a special program for first-generation scholarship types.

Roy is something of a ‘good-bad’ boy. The type of guy who was a big fish in his high school and was determined to be even bigger in college. Without emphasizing the components that made Roy who he is, Jones introduces a plethora of quick, but vital, personal stories that produce aha moments. It is revealed that Big Roy, Roy Jr.’s father, is not his biological father, and perhaps (as I put on the reviewer’s deep-dive hat) this is a part of his multidimensional personality. And it is when Roy is arrested, for a crime he did not commit, that the story goes into another casual phase.

Although there isn’t much said about Roy’s experience as a prisoner allusions are clear. Jones, thankfully,  spares readers the overwrought details of the perilous life Roy faced there. Instead, she takes the story in a direction that is far more engaging and wholly unexpected by presenting a character with whom Roy quickly bonds: his long absent, never before met, biological father, Walter, who brings yet another dimension (there were many).

The novel, for a few dozen pages, is epistolary in form, told as letters between Roy (in prison) and Celestial (building a business), and this technique effectively expresses distance and individual change. It is through these letters that the audience learns the most about Roy and Celestial’s relationship; the volatility, the passion, the always-there-but-never-revealed uncertainty. It is here that Jones quietly makes a point that is perhaps the truest and most overlooked event of the story: Growth. For Roy, time stood still, locked at the moment of his arrest and suspended as an undying memory. For Celestial, time was the factor that decided her destiny; her truth. For Andre, time was the only thing separating him from true but elusive love. And time is everywhere (even in the Roy resembling dolls whose innocence is unchanging) but particularly in the form of an old oak tree that Jones presents (in my opinion) as Celestial’s symbol of time. The tree, although sparingly mentioned, is so powerful and such an assertion of time that toward the end of the book  Roy, in a fit of mania, is determined to stop time. It is masterful!!!

This short review exposes many elements of “An American Marriage,”  but Tayari Jones, in the now classic Tayari Jones way, provides so much in so few pages that the story, by way of this review, remains relatively untouched. This is a novel from which everyone can glean something different — something personal. It is a novel that may have readers questioning or applauding the concept of love as they understand it or the nature of commitment to another human being. I give a much-deserved ovation to this work, as did Oprah, for its depth, its complex simplicity and its detail to the familiar. A brilliant work worth a few hours of your time.

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir A Review

 

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Title:  My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir

Author: Jessica B. Harris

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Scribner (May 9, 2017)

 

Like several books previously reviewed, My Soul Looks Back, was an accidental find. I hadn’t read any prior reviews, knew little of the author (except she did something in the culinary world), and, based on the cover of the book, couldn’t begin to imagine what I was embarking upon. But, as the book began, I was instantly awestruck and inspired.
Harris is a writer, chef, thespian, critic, and academic who, aiming for this outcome or not, struck my core with vivid memories of European travel, the exciting journey into the tastes of the unfamiliar, and the beautiful faces and physiques of an alien world seemingly etched by the gentle touch of Bernini or Rodin. If was her meeting and admiration for James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and a dozen other writers that solidified my desire to read further, to delve into the deepest parts of the book, not realizing that there no shallow areas.
Jessica Harris is an academic who writes, speaks, and lives academia. She elaborates on the people, places, and objects with the tongue of privilege, but admits, directly and indirectly, that she was fortunate in meeting the people who knew the people, places, and things and that without them she wouldn’t have had a story, of this sort, to tell. My Soul Looks Back is not a conventional autobiography, it explores friendships and acquaintances and time in space. It is a diary of events throughout history (without being historic), of life, love, passion, peril, birth, and death. Through Harris, the reader is offered the highly revered Greenwich Village and the mystical magnificence across the Atlantic (including Africa), enhancing our desires with both broad and absolute longing to taste, hear, and smell and an emotional core that we would never be able to adequately or accurately describe.
My Soul Looks Back, as wonderful and billowy as it often is, can sometimes feel heavy. Harris’ experiences are not everyone’s experience (which is okay), but her approach and consistent infusion of French phrasing, name-dropping, and self-inflation can and occasionally does feel a bit… well… heavy, especially if you do not speak/read French or have not had the opportunity to travel extensively or eat Choucroute Garni. This does not take away from the overall beauty of the book’s language, nor does it lessen the sincerity that Harris effectively projects, but it can potentially be problematic to those who are not versed in the art of braggadocio.
Fortunately, many of Harris’ experiences mirror my own, and as a result, I devoured her every word. She mentions the names people I have befriended and praises the many places I have grown to love. This made the book, for me, personally; a time capsule, a portrait of people, places, and objects, I was sure to forget as time progressed. My Soul Looks Back is a breezy walk through artistry and aesthetics, friendships and heartbreak (she writes about the start of the AIDS epidemic and its direct effect on her circle of friends). It will inspire some to throw caution to the wind and others to wonder if they had spent time wasting time. Regardless, you will not be able to help being moved, or at least stirred.

 

 

 

This May Be My Undoing: A Review

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“You should’ve known I was coming.” — Morgan Jerkins
In late 2016 the writing of Morgan Jerkins, a phenom who orchestrated phrases with amazing fervor and openness, slammed upon my literary landscape like a Sikhote-Alin meteorite. She’d been around for a minute, I’d later learn, as I Googled her name and scrolled through a canon of her articles and blogs as far back as 2014, but, as I had just become familiar, she was [for me] a welcomed fresh face and a new beautiful mind.
It was Jerkins’ lyrical sensibilities, word-aerobics, approach to common themes and colorful social nuances with artistic insight that separated her from the massive ensemble of similar writers. I was encapsulated within her comfortable literary cocoon. In articles from Buzzfeed, Catapult, and Fusion (just to name a few), Jerkins (not Jenkins) gives a head-first dive into her transparent world and in doing so made us better, even if we didn’t know we needed to be.

In her debut and eagerly anticipated book, “This Will Be My Undoing,” Morgan opens a glass door into a place you’d want to linger past closing hours, just to ensure that nothing is missed. She begins with confessions that in this age of Black Girls Rock and Black Girl Magic would certainly raise a few eyebrows. She writes:

“When I was ten, the only thing I wanted was to be a white cheerleader. Bone straight hair. Thin nose. Saccharine voice. Slender body. ”

She continues:

“When I was ten, I realized that I was black. In some ways, that had nothing to do with actual cheerleading, but rather with what blackness meant, writ large, learned from the experience of trying to force myself into this pristine, white, and coveted space, which spit me out before I could realize how much I had been abused.

The detail of this opening is vital to the content of the book. Although racial issues (Jerkins says she was accepted more by the white girls than by the black and brown girls but in time that changed) are not the basis of every essay, it does linger in the wings, entering like an apparition, to prepare Jerkins for the real world, her world, and a series of ‘uncheery’ cheerleading (read social) try-outs. But Jerkins doesn’t allow the past to completely color her present. Instead, she uses the experience to rain observations and truths upon the pages of “This Will Be My Undoing” with enough force and fervor to make the reader quiver. Indeed there were many moments when my progressive mind was shaken. Morgan, although small in stature, is mammoth. She is a force shouting from a Harlem brownstone, Princeton classroom, Russian square, and New Jersey high school, shouting phrases that are usually whispered behind glass doors.

Morgan Jerkins writes of being different, sometimes in a manner that is self-depreciating, searching, longing, and uplifting. She is different. She is mesmerizing. She is a welcoming warm gust and a needed cool breeze. Never quite fitting the pre-requisites of social popularity, she, throughout her entries, was always searching for her place. As one of few African-Americans on the campus of Princeton, for example, she found an odd alienation, of sorts, from the Black men. Perhaps it was a matter of association, climbing the proverbial ladder of success, or being accepted by a culture that could uplift them to higher heights, that kept these men distant. Her relationships with men materialized from daisy fields and butterflies to post-date rides on the last train home; lovely and initially tranquil, but lonely. It could have been because of her, or them, or both. It may simply have been… Too bad for those guys.

But Jerkins brilliantly and beautifully finds that place, in the printed word and through passionate thought, where she is whole and becomes, in essence, a veritable juggernaut. She writes of relatable issues, human matters that beat upon the brow of the common and uncommon. Jerkins treads with a heavy foot along paths that many fear to tread, detailing events that keep the pages turning and the readers hungry. Her essays cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are academic, real-world, and foreboding, changing her tone from chapter to chapter (often at the end), showing that, like a jazz musician, she’s got chops. There are moments when she sounds like (forgive this comparison) Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City), cosmopolitan, hip, contemplative and impassioned, then there are the other moments when she delves into the arena of the bards, thunderous and commanding; professorial.

“This Will Be My Undoing,” is a huge undertaking, much more profound and prolific than a review could possibly relay. In it, Jerkins gives an amazing ride on a Ferris Wheel full of ups and downs, highs and lows (from childhood to adulthood). She pulls at the reader’s heartstrings in one piece then has them longing to reevaluate themselves. From her very beginning — from those articles and blogs that captured the attention of multitudes– Jerkins was on a journey to the fantastic creation of this book. She hinted and warned us, and in the end, she climatically states: “Surprise. You should’ve known I was coming.” Surprise, Morgan. We are glad you came.

 

 

 

 

 

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

 

Confession first:

Before reading this book, I had only listened to three or four Gucci Mane songs… maybe.

I am a child of the seventies and eighties, a New Yorker, jazz head, bibliophile, art-nerd, musician, whose taste in Rap is more “puritanical” than what began to emerge from the genre in the mid-nineties and the new millennium. The repetitive bass line, synthetic-hypnotic rhythm, and heavily slang-filled accented lyrics kind of lost me, but that is not to say that I was not open to rappers from the south. Actually, I was digging them. Their raps covered life as they knew it and educated those of us who didn’t understand. Through them, we grew eager to see the alien contours and crevices of the planet they occupied, and rushed in droves to Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Memphis, and New Orleans to be enveloped by their often harsh-told realities and to tread upon their planet.

I first learned of Gucci Mane while a Dean in a Memphis performing arts high school. From the middle of a relatively quiet room came a screeching howl, “GUCCI!” and the room exploded in laughter and echoes of “GUCCI” raced across the room for what seemed like an hour, quieting only when it lost its comedic appeal. Still I hadn’t heard anything by this Gucci dude until a student pulled a CD from his backpack and put it into a player behind the classrooms. The CD was “Murder was the Case,” and it was both familiar and extraordinarily foreign. It was the sound of the south, the story of forbidden zones and hidden realities, of ‘life in the game.’ It was raw and vivid, sad, tragic and poetically profound. It was catchy and definitely not my jam, but I could see why it was theirs.

Then I heard about the book.

I feverishly read “The Autobiography of Gucci Mane,” because of Morgan Jerkins. She interviewed him for Vulture magazine in 2017, and from that interview penned an article entitled ‘Gucci Mane Got Out of Prison and Wrote a Book. Here’s How It All Happened.’ I figured that if Morgan Jerkins found him worthy of writing about, and millions of people love him and his music then I had spent an unrecoverable decade missing out. By the time I finished reading his autobiography, I realized that indeed I had.

Gucci Mane’s story is the story of America. Not the pigeon-holed, stereotypical images perpetuated throughout the media, but the real day-to-day. It is an uplifting tale of rags to riches and dirt paths to gold paved streets. This autobiography was a graphic music video based on its own sound-track. And it brought to the forefront that, tattoos, accents, drugs and all, Gucci is a bad MANE!

At the opening of his story he writes about his ability to read earlier than his peers, thanks to his school teacher mother and his inexplicable interest in the written word. It was the word, ultimately, that would save his life a dozen times, and would equally make his world an orb of fire. Words produced poetry, poetry produced rap, and rap, at least for Gucci, produced money, power and chaos. But the other part of his DNA was provided by a father who knew the importance of hustle and respect, and Gucci, whose real name is Radric Davis, followed that often sordid path. He was thought to have a speech impediment (at age nine Gucci and his mother moved to Atlanta where verbal inflections may be different from its neighboring states) but it seems that his Alabama accent was so thick his words didn’t sound quite right. As the years progressed, Atlanta introduce and influenced young Gucci, exposing him, almost illuminating him, to a life of trapping, profiling, and grandiosity; certainly not a life he would have found in Alabama. He became disenchanted with formal education and, after high school, never fulfilled any academic commitments, dropping out of college and trade schools. But words remained his strength.

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane rockets through Gucci’s existential life so quickly the reader feels as if something was missed. This sonic movement from period to period is, perhaps, the principal misfortune. Admittedly, I may have missed some of the fillers or statements that closed those holes, but I doubt it. From the point when he becomes a drug dealer to when the heavens opened and he begins to realize his talent as a rap artist, it seemed to be a blur, particularly the bump from buying beats to bagging gigs. Suddenly his music takes off, soaring well beyond the skills of his peers and he is crowned and quickly revered.  But, in all fairness, it is obvious that Gucci was a pursuer of his personal passions and thrusts himself into the spoils of those passions. He followed the credo of the very successful: Never Apologize — and throughout the narrative abides by that credo. Regardless of the outcome, he never made excuses and he never apologized. Then another phase emerged: Prison.

Being imprisoned for possession of firearms in 2013 (this was not this first rodeo and it wouldn’t be his last) was his metamorphosis and, in many ways, the beginning of his rebirth. When admitted, his body was wrecked from an addiction to a codeine laced cough syrup concoction that affected him so profoundly he gained a mass of weight and suffered chaotic side-effects. Eventually a doctor urged him to discontinue its use, but that was not a part of his immediate plan and he continue to sip syrup until his environment prohibited access. Prison, as implied by the book, detoxed him. He was gradually getting clean of the damaging poisons and in doing so, clearing his head. The decision to engage in a self-developed exercise program (if you want to call it that) led to an eighty pound weight loss by the time of his release. When his term ended (of course there are stories about his time behind bars) the beats of his life and the rumble of the streets welcomed him back.

Ultimately, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane was surprisingly well developed and absent of chapters of indecipherable rhetoric often common in autobiographies about musicians, especially rappers. I was shocked by his candor and his willingness to speak about a multitude of [personal] issues that other artists would avoid intensely. His transparency in this book was golden and elevated him, I believe, to a status that he would not have gained through music alone. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not because it speaks to the life and success (or failure) of a known personality, but because it was everything one would never expect a book about a known personality to be. It seems that Morgan Jerkins also found this to be true. So, now, after a decade free of “trap” music I am trapped, bumping several Gucci Mane tracks locked securely in my musical repertoire. The magic is that these tracks clarify many parts of the book I only subtly understood and left me, randomly, if not hypnotically, yelling… “GUCCI!”

 

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian

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I am a fan of W. Kamau Bell. The sort of fan who would watch or listen to him if the media he was on was available or I happened upon them while channel surfing. How could I not be a fan? He represents a part of all people. That part that is, more often than not, afraid to face the discomforts of race, sex, politics, religion, friendships, tolerance (thank you 45) and acceptance.

I heard of Bell several years ago, but only in passing. He was described as the really tall Black guy with the equally impressive “free-style” Afro. That description did very little to pique my interest. I wanted to know what he was thinking, not what his physical characteristics were, but when I was told that he was ‘on point’ and spoke in an uncommon manner about common (if controversial) matters I sought him out.

Bell is principally a West Coast comic who was primarily doing a west coast circuit, or so it seemed. I remember seeing him for the first time on some forgotten television program (maybe Totally Biased). I was laughing aloud at his routine, Googling his name, and trying to understand exactly where he came from. Then, oddly, I lost track of him. But he left an impression, and I waited for the next time he would emerge with his commentary on social issues. A couple years later Bell reemerged as the host of the CNN’s REAL reality/ docu-like show, United Shades of America, and I, as if his apparition publicist, tooted the title from the bell tower (no pun intended) to all who’d listen. His work was genius, in a dry, academic, conscientious sort of way. The odd, edgy, thought-provoking show was at times unnerving (see the KKK episode and look at Bell’s nervous expression) and at other times addictive and hopeful.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, confirmed my appreciation for Bell as an Everyman. The book exposes Bell true character beyond the television personality, and perhaps, the on-stage comic. The reader is taken on a fantastic journey through his life. He writes about his never married parents (there are no stereotypes here, his parents were both professional people), the woes of childhood, his attraction to all things nerdy, his initial awareness of being “different” (must read the ‘no kiss for you’ part) and the importance of remaining steadfast even when against all odds. The book exposed him as the skater guy who couldn’t skate but cheered for his skate-able comrades because that’s what friends do. If Bell had never mentioned where he planted his roots, it would still have been obvious that he has a California heart.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, is part biography, part history lesson. Bell gives real thought throughout the pages of The Awkward Thoughts. His position and thoughts on racism, although he is in an interracial marriage, are both profound and powerful. His straight line position is that racism is an indicator of something other than the color of one’s skin. He projects that the racist is as he is because he feels that something of personal value (opportunity, usually) has been taken. But, Bell surmises, that is not the crux of the problem. The issue, on a deep dive, is not color but promises not kept and one’s inability to venture beyond their disparaging place for better opportunity. This trap keeps families frustrated, downtrodden and angry. Someone has to be blamed. And the flame of their despair is being fed by the ignorant rhetoric of the man behind the white curtain, further searing their souls with speak of immigrants (illegal) and others stealing their hope. Even a first-week psychology student knows that seething words of the blame on depressed ears feasters unreasonable thought.

Bell urges people to read. To venture beyond the rhetoric and develop one’s own opinion. He sites Ta’Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander as must-read authors. He speaks of his ‘not such a good student’ high school days, but how he was accepted into Penn State (although it was very short-lived). He shows that even the wayward can and often will eventually find their way, if only they listen to their inner voice, and venture along those paths that others may fear to tread. This, Bell states, is the story he’d tell his daughters, who seemingly settled him, but keep him hungry for the next level.

The book concludes with Bell writing about an incident that occurred during his birthday. He and his wife sat (outdoor seating) in a favorite brunch cafe in Cali. When the meal was over he left, temporarily, but his wife remained, engaged in conversation with friends. When Bell, all 6’4″, Black, and militantly coiffed, returned to the cafe, he stood over the table where his wife and others sat. Then, he writes, an overzealous waitress knocked on the window from within the cafe to get his attention. Not knowing who he was or why he was there, the waitress tried to ‘shoo’ him away, assuming that he was harassing the white women. Rightfully, Bell and his wife were infuriated. Shortly after verbalizing his embarrassment and humiliation he organized a meeting based on racial tolerance in the gym of a local middle school. The owner of the cafe attended and tried, passionately, to sympathize his way out of the issue, acknowledging the depth and seriousness of the misunderstanding, stating that the essence of the cafe was and always will be tolerance, but the more he spoke the more Bell and others realized that he didn’t understand. If tolerance was true, and not just a statement of liberal comfort, the waitress would not have approached or mistaken him [Bell] as a street person. After all, Bell writes — building upon the insult– she did not approach the white man with matted hair panhandling outside the door of the cafe for well over an hour, at all.

Indeed Bell has experienced these situations, directly and subtly for a majority of his life. Indeed, and sadly, all Black people have, whether they see it directly or choose to ignore it. In The Awkward Thoughts… Bell not only found and projected his comedic voice, his talent, his story, he, without trying, found and projected ours.