"The worst of black life" - Macleans.ca

“The worst of black life”

An African-American author disses ghetto lit


According to prominent author and journalist Juan Williams, to see a “30-ish black woman with a book these days is almost always to find her reading a selection from the fastest-growing segment of African-American letters,”—the genre known as “ghetto lit.” It’s a booming business: even as the U.S. has its largest ever black middle class and even a black president, nothing sells in black America like sex-and-violence-fuelled fantasy tales of drug dealers, wealthy rappers, athletes and their women hangers-on. Recent titles are not shy about their contents—”Bad Girlz 4 Life,” “Still Hood” and “From the Streets to the Sheets.” Black women are much bigger readers than black men, and ghetto lit dominates the best-seller list—meaning the reading preferences of middle-class African-American women—in Essence Magazine, which calculates rankings using sales at black-owned U.S. bookstores. At least two black-owned publishing houses have sprung up from the growing demand, and major publishers like Simon & Schuster and St. Martin’s have jumped on the bandwagon. Williams concedes the genre is “an authentic literary product of 21st-century black America,” but claims the “poorly written, poorly edited” novels “celebrate the worst of black life: lots of ‘ghetto-fabulous’ women, referring to themselves as bitches, carrying brand-name handbags and wearing big, gaudy jewelry. Attitude and anger are everything. The dispiriting word ‘nigger’ is used freely by black characters talking about one another. There are guns and drive-by murders; hot sex that emphasizes the pleasure of getting it on with no strings attached; women without husbands and children without fathers; people who brag about being street-smart and then drop out of school and find themselves unemployed.” Worst than the way the genre plays to racial stereotypes, as decribed by Eisa Ulen, another critic—“black people are hypersexual, are pathological; they feel but don’t think”—says Williams, is the way it leads black people to internalize those stereotypes. “The losers here are young, poor minorities who think that short-term pleasure and violence are glamorous and the way to the top. In that sense ghetto lit is the same old story.”

The Wall Street Journal

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