So if you’re a Silicon Valley brogrammer who wants to drive women out of your manspace, or a Bernie Bro who thought that ‘Bern the witch’ was the summit of wit, then you’re more likely to rush to the rationale that society and culture – ie, things that we create outside of biology – don’t shape the male spaces that exclude women. No, you desperately want Nature to be responsible.
Appealing to a higher power and cherrypicking ‘evidence’ to support a convenient claim of superiority over others of your species is as human as scratching your butt. In this false iteration of that desperate measure of a failing privileged class, Nature created men to like and do certain man things, and naturally, therefore, men are simply better at these things. In complement, goes this wish-fulfilment rationale, Nature created women to like and do certain lesser things, and women are condescendingly told how great they are at it, especially the talking part, and please stay in the kitchen and make a sandwich because all of this analysis is over your head, Sweetie.
But Nature made me. And I am not rare. Indeed, an entire category of girl and woman exists that is large enough to warrant the now-archaic category of tomboy. We are legion, and most of us likely wished fervently at some point that we could be boys so we could simply gain access to what interested us most. How could nature both create an entire legion of girls whose interests and abilities cross into manworld, yet somehow be capable of producing brains only on a binary?
For a writer like Langston Hughes, who made a name for himself as a poet before the age of 21, his debut novel, “Not Without Laughter,” feels like an effort to stake out a bigger claim on his abilities, to create artistic and thematic breathing room. Arna Bontemps, celebrated poet and friend to Hughes, described “Not Without Laughter” as the novel that both Hughes and his readers knew he had to write, coming as it did on the heels of Hughes’s two well-received poetry collections, “The Weary Blues” (1926) and “Fine Clothes to the Jew” (1927). Hughes published these collections while a student at Lincoln University, and he released “Not Without Laughter” in 1930, shortly after graduating. “By the date of his first book of prose Hughes had become for many a symbol of the black renaissance,” Bontemps writes. The stakes were high, then, for the young man born in Joplin, Mo. He had to deliver.
“Not Without Laughter” crystallizes some of the themes introduced in Hughes’s first two poetry collections and examines in detail subjects he would return to throughout his decades-long career, among them the experiences of working-class and poor blacks, the importance of black music to black life, the beauty of black language and the trap of respectability. It begins as a tale of family life, following the Williamses — the matriarch, Aunt Hager; her daughters, Harriet, Annjee (Annjelica) and Tempy; and Annjee’s husband, Jimboy — in the small Kansas town of Stanton. After establishing the conflicts and desires of the adults, the narrative becomes a bildungsroman. Here it finds its true purpose: chronicling the upbringing of Sandy, the son of Jimboy and Annjee, as he struggles to forge an identity outside of the boxes the white and black worlds have put him in, and tries to find stability within his increasingly unstable home.
I may be starting to sound like a stereotypical radical leftist Marxist English professor, influencing my innocent students and corrupting their minds. Two defences: First, my own college education happened at Hillsdale College, a bastion of free market libertarianism and conservative politics; Hillsdale is where I first learned to read closely for economic dynamics (if not exactly with the intended grain, there). Second, my students led me to at least half of the epiphanies in the present Bloomberg article. And these epiphanies took place right on the surface: we were not ‘reading into’ this piece. It’s all right there.
The consequences of this vast gambit for our attention is that we have been drawn into a kind of mental slavery. Masters of profits and propaganda are farming our minds, doing cumulative damage that may go to the very core of our humanity. As a result, our attention is becoming locked into a low level of living and functioning.
A recurring theme in “The King Is Always Above the People” is the need to explore how leaving home, and returning to it, changes you irremediably. Alarcón manages to offer a fresh look at migration, the oldest story of all. “The place you are born,” he writes, “is simply the first place you flee.”