Awo Sarpong Ansu is an attorney and writer who lives in Maryland with her husband and their two children. Born in Ghana and raised in New York, her articles have been published in print and on-line magazines including Jamati, BHF Magazine and African Vibes. Awo is currently working on a collection of short stories about the African immigrant experience.
The Other Afrik - United States - Panafrica - Culture - Book review
Reflections on The Black Body
Ghanaian writer Meri Nana-Ama Danquah expresses the confusion many Africans - coming from majority black countries - feel towards America’s preoccupation with race when she asks, “What is it about the black body that draws people in, makes them so fascinated?” The book The Black Body is a collection edited by Ms. Danquah in which black, white and bi-racial contributors explore that question.
Speaking at a reading at Busboys and Poets, Ms. Danquah says she wanted to probe deeper than academic discussions about race. She asked the black contributors to write about a part of their body and asked the white contributors to write about the effect of the black body on them, hoping that personal essays would bring honesty to the discussion of race. She says, “The subject of race does not usually lend itself to truth telling.” The result is an intimate collection of thoughts about a subject which too often causes people to retreat across distances seemingly too wide to cross.
Just as race is more than a physical state, the essays in The Black Body are about more than the physical black body. The discussion of body parts is a metaphor for the contributors’ experiences with race. In an essay about whites’ fear of the diluting effects of even one drop of black blood, writer Steven Kotler notes the irony of how blackness, or at least black “cool” is now so desired that it is used to market products. Fundraiser and activist Kimball Stroud writes sincerely about growing up in Texarkana, and about crossing the artificial boundaries that separated black and white bodies.
Ms. Danquah’s charge that the black contributors focus on a particular body part allowed them to answer without cynicism a question that would otherwise provoke much eye-rolling – “What’s is like to be black?” Washington D.C. poet Kenneth Carroll’s piece about his stomach begins with a fatherly description of the round stomach his son uses for a pillow, recalls the hungry stomach of his impoverished childhood, and then flows into a description of how he discovered his hunger for knowledge. Tonita Austin-Hilley writes about feet – her ancestors’ feet which carried them through slavery, her mother’s feet which carried her through a life filled with both sadness and triumph, and her own feet which now carry her along life’s journey with pride and joy. Yolanda Young’s stirring piece poignantly ponders whether materialism, violence and forgetfulness threaten to cause black people to lose their soul.
Mr. Carroll says The Black Body attempts to deconstruct readers’ perceptions about the black body so that, “People aren’t reduced to perceptions about their physical body.” Even in the supposedly post-racial Obama society, Ms. Danquah wonders whether we will ever move beyond the limiting way we perceive race. “The black body is more than a physical body. It is also a body of culture, a body of knowledge, a body or work. To move beyond seeing black it as just a physical body, we need honest conversations about what the black body means to people.”
Information about Ms. Danquah is available on her website. Further information about The Black Body is available from its publisher, Seven Stories Press.
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