Monday, March 19, 2007

Essay 1868

From The New York Daily News…




“Ghetto Nation” by Cora Daniels is part of a profoundly important moment in our culture. The book lets us know where we stand through a sharpening perspective that calls upon the heritage all modern women have in common. That common heritage is the inarguable fact that thinking women have played a significant part in waking up this nation and the world to backward policies and disinclined cultural traditions.

So we should not be surprised to see that Daniels is one of the women rising up against the misogynist and denigrating things that are basic to the popularity of hip hop. Her observations are important because she sees the problems as far more than the troubles of an ethnic group that has seemingly accepted the hatred of women and the glamorizing of thugs and violent behavior as normal.

Rather brilliantly, what she describes as “ghetto” behavior and thought is not color-coded. To Daniels, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Gwyneth Paltrow are, through their various ways and personal decisions, as “ghetto” as the stereotypical project tackhead with five children by five different men, not one of whom she married.

So when Daniels uses “ghetto” to describe something, she does not exclusively mean lower class or black. Nor does she only mean the super tacky bling of wealthy, upper-class black knuckleheads who couldn't recognize refined style if it slapped the taste out of their mouths.

No, her observations are mercilessly inclusive. They criticize and pull the covers off of a much larger problem that may rise most brutally out of projects across the nation, but have not stayed there. These troubles are common to all colors and all classes. Every person in this nation is threatened by an especially obnoxious kind of narcissism that justifies all actions or ignores everyone else — including one’s own children! — in the name of personal pleasure or profit or individual comfort.

What makes the book particularly effective is the fact that Daniels is proud to have come from a New York “ghetto” background that could playfully thumb its nose at conventional ideas of glamour and correct speech while creating the sort of vital ethnic subculture that all so-called minority groups tend to be ambivalent about or proud of — as much for what is wrong about it as for what is right.

Black Americans, Jews, Asians and Latinos can comically imitate the mispronunciations, the distinctive reactions and the sometimes bizarre visions of being well-dressed or “classy.”

What “Ghetto Nation” actually does is live up to its subtitle, “A Journey Into the Land of Bling and the Home of the Shameless.” Daniels does not long for the dull, manicured minds of the 1950s, but she does realize that much has been lost in the process of freeing this country from a puritanical and repressive culture.

Individuality seems to have come at the cost of community, as shame is set aside in favor of a self-serving sense of “the pursuit of happiness.”

That such a brave and unflinching book could be written by a black woman in this time is quite inspiring. Daniels not only reveals a sense of life about which and from which we hear very little, but proves that we should never expect less than a willingness to stand tall against our domestic monsters whenever the question of the human survival of our nation is unavoidably raised.

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