Ignorant book's sequel is better but still useless

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

August 27, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Shahrazad Ali's "Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman" was like a stink bomb lobbed into the uncomfortable and cramped arena of male-female relationships. And small wonder.

Billed as an attempt to clarify the relationships between men and women so they can be improved, "Blackman's Guide" actually was ill-conceived and poorly executed.

It was an ugly little book, stupid and ignorant and not at all useful.

For example, Ali divided all women into four categories, based primarily on their personal hygiene.

There was the "lower grade woman" with greasy, lint-speckled hair and the posture of a toad. There was the "average" woman who is "fairly clean" and likes to cook collard greens. There was the "college-educated woman" who owns a credit card but who is a "rat who behaves like a dog, while purring like a cat." Finally, there was the Afro-centric woman with smelly dreadlocks who never uses deodorant and rarely wears underwear.

Ali suggested that men may have to slap their women around a bit until they can be brought under control. But she warned that this advice was only for men "in control of all of their faculties." Mentally unstable men were advised to seek another approach.

The wonder was that so many people took the work seriously. The reason for that, of course, was that while everyone had an opinion on the book, few people had actually bothered to read it.

Nevertheless, "Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman" became a nationwide sensation.

Now, Shahrazad Ali is back with what she calls "the cold-blooded follow-up" and "the first contemporary debriefing session he [the black man] has had since slavery."

Her new book is called "The Blackwoman's Guide to Understanding the Blackman."

But don't expect the kind of sensation and outrage that accompanied the first book. "Blackwoman's Guide" is every bit as thoughtful as "Blackman's Guide" was lunatic.

There is nothing really new here.

Ali believes society has so brainwashed and warped black men that they have no idea how they are to behave and are all but incapable of leading the household.

The search for that identity, argues Ali, leads black men into empty posturing and occasionally bizarre behavior. They are violent, untrustworthy and afraid. They are unable to make emotional commitments, and unwilling to stay and serve as role models for their sons.

Where Ali's first book focused on the relationships between men and women, the second aims at men's relationship to society.

She provides a brief synopsis of the 10 black men she regards as significant leaders, including Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell.

But she concludes that only two of the 10 -- Elijah Muhammad and Booker T. Washington -- have anything significant to offer black men today. She applauds them for preaching that black men must become economically self-reliant and proud of their cultural heritage.

The connection between Ali's philosophies and the teachings of the Nation of Islam were noted when her first book came out in 1990.

Taken together and stripped of the craziness, the two books say there must be a hierarchy of authority in the family and the man must be in charge.

But women, she complains, have become too warped and angry to submit as they should to a man's rule.

Men, she complains now, are too afraid and confused to assert themselves in the household.

How families should be ordered might be a legitimate topic for study and debate. I suspect, for instance, that scholars will find great similarities in the values of successful Muslim black families and successful Christian black families.

I even suspect we would find no great mystery about what makes relationships work between men and women: self-respect, mutual respect, love, in that order.

But do we need a couple of tour "Guides" to figure this out?

Uh, uh. Plain, everyday common sense will do just as well.

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