Friday, December 12, 2008

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It Yet?

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It?


In the first few pages of The Coldest Winter Ever, Winter Santiaga, the main character, makes a disparaging remark about the Sister Souljah character. That, right there is a direct clue into Winter’s attitude and personality. Nevertheless, most readers loved Winter, the fly, rich bitch, living in a mansion, designer wearing girl with the cool guys. Many wished they could be Winter and many tried to be. But did we really get what Winter represented? Sister Souljah was solid, an activist and unpretentious, and uncelebrated while Winter was glamorized and romanticized. The first few chapters made Winter’s life look as if it were all that, but as the real Sister Souljah pointed out last Saturday, the remaining part of TCWE was the story of a dismantling of a drug empire, a fall from grace. Winter ended up in jail, disfigured and her family destroyed. But did we get it?

A young woman in the audience at the book signing said she read TCWE in high school and unlike her friends who loved the book, she did not like it. When she asked them why they liked it, they could not tell her, they just liked it. This young woman was unimpressed with Winter’s antics. Sister Souljah replied that 100 people can hear a message and maybe 20 will get it right away, and maybe another 20 will get it some years later, but everyone is not going to get it.

A lot of folks did not get it. In the ensuing years, we saw a resurgence of The Coldest Winter copy cats; imitations that just did not measure up with Winter-like characters, bling blinging and living large. A new genre was reborn that had not been in vogue since Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim in the 1970s. Street lit, urban lit was on and poppin’.


In Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, the life of the character, Midnight is chronicled from age seven to fourteen years old. The story is told in the first person point of view of a young Muslim boy who becomes a man. He arrives from the Sudan, a place where he had intimate knowledge of his father, his grand father and his great-grandfather, and comes face-to-face with American ghetto life in Brooklyn, New York up front and personal. He is precocious, mature, intelligent, and wise beyond his years. How is this possible? We wanted to know and this question was asked of Sister Souljah. She maintains that one of the biggest fears is fear of black intelligence, black genius. Interestingly, the fear is not always from the mainstream culture, but WE, black folks fear black intelligence. Sister Souljah said if she told us some of the things she did and said as a little girl, we would claim she was lying. She was an inquisitive child, wanting to know everything. As she puts it, she was annoying to the adults around her. Her mother took her to the library at age five to get her library card and there she began to explore the universe. I took it that Sister Souljah was a genius. Have we gotten it yet?

Exceptional intelligence and the culture in which Midnight was raised dictated that boys become men at an early age. Men that were about business and taking responsibility. At the age of seven, Midnight was given the charge by his father to come to America with his pregnant mother and take care of and protect his family. He took that seriously. Sister Souljah immersed herself in Sudanese culture and literature. The authenticity of Midnight’s character was formed by her research and her study of the Koran, the Holy Torah and the Holy Bible, three books that she contends, anyone who wants to know what is going on in the world, need to study.

In TCWE Midnight was the object of Winter’s affection, yet a fantasy. Winter was empty-headed and Midnight was a man driven by his faith of Islam. Midnight is a powerful coming-of-age love story years before Winter enters the picture. So who is the object of Midnight’s affection in this story?; a Japanese born girl named Akemi. A brother in the audience, a poet and community activist I see quite often at Marcus book signings asked Sister Souljah, why an Asian girl? Her reply was that people who asked that question either did not read the book or they read it and didn’t get it. With the theme of immigration, these are two young people, from foreign lands who found a commonality. She said that New York City is a place where all the cultures and races of the world live; Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, West Indians, Africans, Jewish, Asians, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, and the list goes on. It is inevitable that the children of these immigrants will meet and come together at some point. When that happens, love can happen. As one of my APOOO sisters said, the world is getting smaller. Sister Souljah also noted that in TCWE, it was mentioned that he had studied the martial arts and had always been interested in Asian culture. That is evident in Midnight’s story also. Furthermore, Sister Souljah said she wants Midnight to reach out globally.

So, do we get it yet?


Angelia... said...

many dont get it. When reading many times people simply take away from it what appeals to them. And as we know the FLY girl is always the most appealing. We live in a culture that is consumed with money, looks, sex and fame as such the understanding of activists who work for the love and by commitment seems having said that, no I don't think we always get it...


Linda Chavis said...

Frankly if you have to GET IT then has the author done thier job in laying out what they want you to get. I dont GET IT either. Based on his culture I DONT get the love connect with an asian.

Lena said...

Again, his connecting his Akemi didn't bother me because I know that Muslim men can marry outside of their religion. I appreciated having a storyline that wasn't predictable and him hooking up with a Muslim girl or a Brooklynite would have been.

I do agree with Linda that it shouldn't have to be a big puzzle to figure out. Reading the book should enlighten folks so that they automatically get the light bulb turned on as a result of reading the book - the getting it should come automatically. After reading 450+ pages, I don't want there to be more work for me, you know?

Rosa J said...

I got it, but I did not like it. I still do not like putting a whole neighborhood down, the entire AA group down.


Phyllis said...

Hi Dera:

Great Blog!! I “got” the message the first time with TCWE and I “get” it this time around – and it’s not hard to “get.” I think those reading for entertainment purposes might not want to be educated or enlightened – that’s not their “m.o.” for picking up the (or any) book -- and with Sister Souljah employing a more direct delivery of the “message” in this release, it’s getting a less than stellar reception from some folk. I think they wanted less “lecture/philosophy,” less critique, less culture and more Winter, more action, and more drama and were disappointed when they didn’t get it.

Re: the Asian connection -- it didn’t bother me. It was clear early on that the couple had a spiritual and physical attraction to each other. By design, she had the qualities and characteristics he found attractive; her foundation was akin to Umma’s (creative, modest, humble, faithful, respectful, etc.) – who we all know is his base and center. Again – the emphasis is not on the physical, not race, not material things – it was other finer qualities (including her character), features that are overlooked and sometimes underrated in some environments. In this case, his “soul mate” just happened to come in an Asian “wrapper.” Sure, some folks wanted a “black” or a “brown” sister for him but the author chose another, so I went along with it.

Yasmin said...

Great blog and do we get it...I think many of us do...but SS might want to be concerned about the folks who didn't as I agree with Linda and one should have to work that hard to get anything from a novel...a good author is able to make sure you get the point without them having to be present to defend or tell you what they were trying to say.

classy said...

if you can see some of these things are man made because lest say all the black man married all outside their race, where would black women go. if you read the bible which to me the king james verson speaks the truth, because read the bible and it tells history. god said is not right to marryy a strange woman. it is right to stay with your nation. and i noticed midnight thought he was better than AA and never over looked the black women color and their race. So really i thought he was judgemental and only god can judge ppl. midnight talked bad about AA people and he lacked to understand our history, how we got here, how we are critized and constantly put under pressure. AA and other blacks who decendents are of decendents of slaves, got strip from our history we dont even kno our REAL LAST NAMES. if he wouldve took time to understand ppl instead of judged he wouldve understood black women, and black men. HE WASNT THAT SMART.