As the world becomes smaller, be it with the help of intercontinental traveling or the Internet, it is becoming more and more evident that an easily definable identity is a thing of the past. If music is a good reflection of an individual’s identity, the increasing number of crossover musical genres testifies to this coming together of various identities. My personal list of MP3s can testify to the complexity of my own identity: I have Chinese and South American music, Japanese and Indian, as well as many African and European songs – all on top of the typical North American play list you would expect someone who listens to Top 40 to have.
If you’re not convinced, take a closer look at your own play list. I’m sure that it’s a lot more multicultural than you think it is!
Going hand in hand with this increasing complexity in an ever-shrinking world is that of new possibilities, some of which were unimaginable a mere 50 years ago. One such possibility recently achieved is the election of the first African-American president of the United States. Not only was it a historical moment, but it has generated countless important conversations about race around the world.
Ytasha L. Womack’s Post Black: How a New Generation is redefining African American Identity is an engaging reflection on the topic of the African-American identity in the 21st century and can serve as a great foundation to continue these conversations. This reflection will of course engage African-Americans, but also Americans in general, as well as any individual interested in the evolution of racism and its effect on the identity of a people, be they African-American or other.
And unfortunately, there is a lot of that going on in the world.
Understanding that the current definition of one identity fitting all African-Americans (the obsolete ‘one size fits all’ approach) is an important part of both abovementioned problems; by examining some of the diversity within the African-American community, Mrs. Womack is helping to shatter, once and for all, the minimising stereotype of the African-American individual’s identity. She explores some of the diversity within the African-American community firsthand, interviewing young black professionals, African and Caribbean immigrants, Alternative Christians and non-Christians, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, biracial and multiracial Americans and community-based artists.
Nowhere does the author claim that her book is anything but a reflection; it does not offer solutions to either the African-American identity crisis nor to the unfortunately still-present problems related to racism. Be it as it may, a re-examination of the various assumptions about African-American identity being at the heart of this book, it cannot but help further our understanding on the topic, which will definitely help in both defining this identity as well as dealing with racism. It’s not the solution, but it can definitely be part of it.
Mrs. Womack holds the reflection about the African-American identity crisis on two levels. The first level is that of the African-American identity as opposed to other identities. The second level is that of the African-American identity within its own community, as the self-defined identity of African-American baby boomers versus that of Generation Xers and Millennials differ greatly but is only starting to be seriously addressed.
But don’t think that the heavy nature of the topic makes for tedious reading. Womack’s voice is really that of a personal yet serious conversation on the various topics she covers. She shares her personal experience with issues of race, that of her family and friends, and adds them to the results of numerous interviews she held while writing this book. The result is as easy to read as the topic is heavy, a rare combination that makes for a great addition to any bookshelf.
Just like with any other book on the subject, Post Black: How a New Generation is redefining African American Identity isn’t going to answer questions regarding identity and racism. At the very least, it helps contribute to their resolution by continuing an open, honest and respectful conversation on said topics, a conversation that doesn’t shy away from delving into difficult places. This book belongs in the collection of anyone concerned with the still-present racism in America.
First published here on Blogcritics.
Originally published on Sahar’s Blog on 8 June 2013.