The fourth and final BookTalk is for mature audiences. BookTalk 1 focused on criticism of technology. BookTalk 2 explored the artistic legacy of Orwell’s novel 1984. BookTalk 3 grappled with the sprawling and surreal world of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. BookTalk 4 attempts to understand Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man; and, analyze it in conjunction with Grant Morrison’s comic series The Invisibles.
To understand American History or American Literature, any analysis failing to address racism would be incomplete. Furthermore, BookTalk 4 does not aim to “check a box” or celebrate some twisted form of cultural appropriation. A reader would comprehend modern Anglo American culture from a study of 1984, as much as one would comprehend African American culture from reading Invisible Man; however, both of these powerful novels help us perceive the universal plight of the forgotten “thinking” man.
To identify as color blind and avoid discussion of racism is disingenuous. The post-racism era remains as an elusive utopian concept. President Obama has not ushered in this new era, though he has established a major milestone in history. The end of his term in office and the new administration’s rise to power — including its emphatic goal to undo the Obama legacy — serve as a critical setting for this final BookTalk.
Trump claims a lot of things. During the 2016 Election a media blip surfaced the assertion that Trump could have won against Obama – if Obama could have run again. To this, most audiences would say “Get Out” and it was perfect timing for Jordan Peele’s social thriller of the same name. The philosophy of Get Out covers many topics related to an initial understanding of Invisible Man.
Writing this in central Florida — the supposed birthplace of the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin circa the 2012 Election — I am well aware of how difficult it can be to discuss racism. During Obama’s first term in office, I had the opportunity to participate in a book study on Gary Corsair’s “The Groveland Four: The Sad Saga of a Legal Lynching.”
The Groveland Four story is not typically taught in public schools, especially in Florida. And a group of Social Studies teachers in Marion County worked directly with the author of this latest investigative piece to see how this could be taught. The experience was even more enlightening afterwards, knowing the history and driving through the same settings years later – not to mention interacting with the surviving relatives of those involved. History never felt so raw.
Aside from the textbook offerings of Martin Luther King Jr. speeches and letters, the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and bloated presentations on the Harlem Renaissance (usually a few Langston Hughes poems), many public schools offer little African American studies. Alex Haley’s “Roots” series of the late 1970s became a clear reference point and a useful teaching tool for a generation of TV teachers. Educators are ill-equipped, overwhelmed, or fearful of stoking community backlash when addressing race issues outside of Black History Month.
All of this brings us back to the present. Recently, the film Birth of a Nation has attracted attention in the form of a slave rebellion story as well as a documentary entitled Birth of a Movement. William Monroe Trotter enters the scene as another ignored historical figure. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the celebrated journalist and author charged with rebooting the Black Panther comic series, did an amazing job of capturing the Obama era as it happened – and continues to happen. Whereas U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attended a commencement event at Bethune-Cookman University and was booed off the stage.