For me, this semester has focused primarily on what is and how people live by truth. In my theology class, we read a novel by a Japanese Catholic, called Silence, where in one scene the universality of the Jesuit protagonist’s faith is being challenged by the cruel Japanese militant, Inoue, comparing Christianity to a tree that can thrive in the Western world, but not in Japan, the East. As I read the many critiques and commentaries on African American literature, I saw a great parallel between what Inoue implies about truth in Silence and how these American commentators tackled the main issues of African American literature. Almost all of them seem to depict truth as being subjective to a certain space, time, culture, and experience. Harris, duCile, and the responders of the Gates’ forum are not so much concerned with the accuracy in depicting African Americans in art and literature, but on the truthiness of their own depictions of themselves in their own works.
These writers, more specifically, seem to react to the overarching question of black female writers depicting the black experience in the U.S. correctly, most of whom received much criticism especially in their depiction of black males. Some major qualms against black female writers is that they have betrayed their own race by turning their men into rapists and vile creatures who cannot keep it in their pants, as are the ones that get most attention (i.e. The Color Purple). Ann duCile, and Barbara Smith are perhaps the loudest proponents of black female freedom of expression, claiming, Smith more explicitly doing so than duCile, that their stories reveal part of the black American truth. Smith loudly asserts, “Some Black men are currently upset because Black women are revealing how we and our mothers, aunts, sisters, and great-great grandmothers have always seen and experienced the world as the objects of both sexual and racial oppression” (Gates 6). However, in the case of The Color Purple, Walker consistently does the same thing her male characters, black and white. Indeed, in duCile’s essay, “Phallus(ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical ‘I’, she must degrade the male part into its most primal and non-human form and separate it from its metaphysical purpose to essentially justify negative portrayals of black males in these stories.
Ishmael Reed goes into further details about why this depiction in black woman literature is dangerous: he hints that by depicting such behavior, especially in a critically acclaimed novel such as The Color Purple, it ignores the painful history of their past and further damages their image, giving people more reason to think of them as less human. He mostly criticizes, in a light-hearted way, the loud “womanists” whose grievances seem groundless and inconsequential. In other words, they distort the facts, the truth, of how black males in the U.S really act and live, thus has the potential to result in dangerous, or difficult, treatment of that demographic. The danger of accepting this negative image of black males is the danger of their treatment in the future, as Blyden Jackson, in his response, stresses. It is the treatment and reaction to works written by black women, that Trudier Harris complains about the most in her essay, “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Her main concern is the association of that kind of experience depicted in Walker’s novel with the whole of the black population, and it in no way sheds a good light on that population at all: it plays on stereotypes, portrays a dangerous theme of silence, and perpetuates a form of fantasy-based reality that the author claims is the truth. Harris does admit to teaching it multiple times, but only because it is provocative and stirs intriguing conversation.
So our dilemma in the reading deals with how people view, define, and portray as truth. Proponents of such negative depictions of black males seem to lean towards Inoue’s analogy of truth, whereas those who criticize it perhaps see truth as more universal, more common in everyone. I’m sure those who criticize such stories like Walker’s The Color Purple would not disagree that some such events happen among the black community, but it seems they are not common; and, therefore, classifying any one group in such a negative light and presenting it as truth is a lie, a fantasy. Everyone has the right to free expression, and everyone has the right to be told the truth, but they are not the same things.