By Jerry H. Bryant
The determine of the violent guy within the African American mind's eye has an extended background. He are available in 19th-century undesirable guy ballads like "Stagolee" and "John Hardy," in addition to within the black convict recitations that encouraged "gangsta" rap. "Born in a amazing undesirable Land" connects this determine with comparable characters in African American fiction. Many writers McKay and Hurston within the Harlem Renaissance; Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison within the '40s and '50s; Himes within the '50s and '60s observed the "bad nigger" as an archetypal determine within the black mind's eye and psyche. "Blaxploitation" novels within the '70s made him a nearly legendary personality. extra lately, Mosley, Wideman, and Morrison have provided him as ghetto thinker and cultural adventurer. in the back of the folklore and fiction, many theories were proposed to provide an explanation for the resource of the undesirable man's intra-racial violence. Jerry H. Bryant explores all of those parts in a wide-ranging and illuminating examine some of the most misunderstood figures in African American tradition.
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Extra resources for Born in a Mighty Bad Land: The Violent Man in African American Folklore and Fiction (Blacks in the Diaspora)
In them we get a portrait not of the fullblown man of violence, but rather of the milieu in which the type ¶ourishes and several ¤gures that only distantly resemble the badman being drawn in the ballads produced in these same years. Dunbar and Johnson explore what Johnson called the “¶ourishing black Bohemia” in New York’s upper Twenties and lower Thirties west of Sixth Avenue, the “old Tenderloin,” where black life thrived at one stage in its slow migration north toward Harlem. 12 It is the seamier side of this neighborhood that nurtures the black badman and cultivates the loose behavior that morally destroys the innocent blacks pouring northward from the South.
Like Stagolee, John Hardy may be desperate; he may be mean, brave, tough, unequaled with a gun. ” Indeed, he may have amazed onlookers by the sheer brass of his act and the shrewd quickness of his ¶ight, but his toughness comes to nothing against the implacable mechanism of white law. This is the core drama of the badman ballad, fraught with fatalism and an austere sense of the inescapable. It is at the same time a hard-edged suggestion that a system of rough justice does operate in the badman’s world.
But Miller’s class values dictate that he be “wise” rather than “heroic,” and his “wisdom” tells him that the overwhelming superiority of whites makes resistance futile. “Our time will come,” he tells Josh. ”11 It is the nonviolent stand of the respectable black man, committed to white values, that marks him as a member of civilized society, though it deprives him of rights claimed by whites for themselves. Chesnutt has appropriated the folklore ¤gure of the “bad nigger” for his own use and has tamed him, cleaned him up, made him sympathetic.