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    • RA

      Seriously?

      Dude, SERIOUSLY?

      The road to hell is paved with well-intentioned attempts at social consciousness that are unfortunately bogged down by disgustingly stereotypical tropes like those littered all over your piece.

      Seriously, all that’s missing is a “jive turkey” reference.

    • BXS

      I wonder what comment RA would have left if the author posted an avatar that didn’t identify his race? Or if it were a photo of a young black man?

    • RA

      BXS,

      That’s right. Standard response. Instead of exploring the potential merits/truths of a critique, pull the standard “you’re playing the ‘race card'” line. Pathetic.

      And yes, if the author’s avatar looked like Blacky McBlackerton, I still would’ve first wondered if he’d ever encountered any other real, live black people.

      Now away with you.

    • RA, you certainly are entitled to your opinion. However, speaking of standard responses, your first comment here doesn’t exactly come across as enlightened. A glance at Harcum’s bio shows that there’s more going on here than a “well-intentioned attempt at social consciousness.” You can criticize the piece on its own merits if you like, but your characterization of the author is way off the mark, and says a lot more about you than it does about him.

    • HA

      I’m in complete agreement with RA.

      It can be filed with things like Crash (2004), i.e., things about racism for white people who can explore racism up to a (safe) point.

      From the perspective of a POC, this really isn’t all that enlightening. Puppet and Razor, two poor, kids of color getting fucked over by the judicial and prison systems? Really? THAT happens?

      I’m curious, though, aside from the possible social connections for BXS and MC, why such a quick response to defend this…I’m lost at what one may find socially (and well, artistically) meritable about this piece?

    • Well, HA, I chose to put it up because I think it’s well-written. It has a good economy of language, managing to establish character, setting, and situation quickly. It gets a lot done in a small space.

      It’s true that the existence of this kind of situation in real life is not exactly a revelation. But then, this piece was clearly not written as an exposé. Just as stories about heartbreak are not meant to surprise the world with the knowledge that heartbreak happens (we all know), some stories about poor kids in jail are just meant to use that situation as a window to observe some facet of human interaction in general.

      And HA, I actually agree with you about Crash (thanks for putting the year, so as to distinguish it from the movie about car-crash fetishists). Some critic aptly called it “a movie for white people who like to say that some of their best friends are black.” But I think it’s unfair to put Harcum in the same category. Crash is overtly trying to send a message; this piece is more of an observational vignette (that’s my inference; Harcum and I haven’t discussed it). If he had written the same story with white voices, someone would be commenting that it’s a naive fantasy, and that the fact that he made the kids white just shows that he has no experience with this type of situation. But he does, and he used it, and I don’t think he should have to apologize for that, nor do I think that it diminishes the artistic value of the piece.

    • Personally, I’m curious what RA’s and HA ‘s real life experiences are with the young, the poor, the black, the disenfranchised. This is a real question, I’m not being snarky. Do you find the piece disingenuous because Harcum is white, or because you grew up in the Bronx, or if you have spent time as a counsellor or an educator? Or are you having this reaction because there is other art or media that strikes you as being more real, which would strike me as being a bit of a tenuous position if we’re discussing the “genuine”. Your comments seem to be super negative, and really dismissive of people who disagree with you (“Now away with you.”). What I’m asking is, what take on this subject would you approve of?

      And:

      From the perspective of a POC, this really isn’t all that enlightening. Puppet and Razor, two poor, kids of color getting fucked over by the judicial and prison systems? Really? THAT happens?

      People forget this happens all the time. It bears repeating. But, as Michael said, it’s a character vignette. Few subjects are truly new.

    • HA

      again, interesting: the defense of this piece: white people defending a white man’s privilege to characterize the black experience. which leads me to assert, if it wasn’t clear the first time, this piece will mostly appeal to people of privilege…who will probably need the reminder CR suggests. i don’t know if most who are poor and/or not white need to be reminded about the social, economic strains of being poor and/or not white. as it stands, this piece…not at all exciting to me…and sadly…not at all rare.

      and if you must have my racial/class background/experience for any reason to lend authority to my criticism: i have a social work degree, and have worked with at-risk youth of varying race, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. and not only have i worked WITH, but once, i was young, and while i may not be black, i grew up poor, brown, disenfranchised in south central (los angeles).

    • EDR

      Perhaps we can consider this piece of work “successful” in that it inspired passionate responses, positive and negative, and instigated discussion about the very issues presented in the text; representation, the Us vs Them dichotomy, and social disparities based on race and class.

    • RA

      Carolyn,

      I was dismissive of BXS’ comment because the first thing out of his mouth (keyboard?) was the “white men are the REAL victims here” rhetoric that’s becoming increasingly popular today, much to the delight of the Pat Buchanans of the world.

      Like I said in my response to BXS, even if the author was depicted as the Blakkest of the Blak (having watched Obama’s presidential campaign, I’m now aware that there’s a rigidly structured Black-Authenticity measurement system), I would still have a problem with his writing.

      Like I said, I was sure his intentions were good. And, rather than comment on the “authenticity” of his piece, I chose to highlight the linguistic steps he took to *acquire* some kind of authenticity. “Dat”s and “Dere”s and “Jus be wantin'”s? Really, author-guy?

      Well anyway, I came on here to see what this new space had to offer. Unfortunately, this was the first piece I saw. But I think Michael’s responses have given an insight into the overall voice of this venue, so I don’t expect I’ll be visiting again.

      …Except, of course, to read your response, Carolyn. Manners dictate that I do.

    • randall

      Is it the responsibility of any writer who chooses, for whatever reason, to portray identifiably black or brown people speaking (I actually thought that these kids were supposed to be Hispanic at first glance, which probably could be read as either my general ignorance about one or more distinct street cultures or, or as evidence of my own knee-jerk racist associations, considering that upon a bit of soul-searching, the only rationale for that assumption was that the kid wanted to put hot-sauce on his eggs, and I am a particular fan of the mexican restaurant down the street for breakfast, partially because I like to put Tapatio on my eggs and that’s what’s on the table there) to seek some sort of synthetic neutralized English so as to demonstrate that they are capable of sounding educated? That seems absurd, and frankly regressive.

    • Antonio

      An important question was lost in the string of comments, and I think it’s at the heart of RA’s abrasive and quick-to-dismiss critique: the language used in the piece, is it authentic and true to character or is it a caricature that does more harm than good? I’m just going to dismiss the social consciousness comment. It doesn’t pertain. Forget whether or not H is entitled to use the language or whether he can write from the perspective of young black kids in jail. The job of the writer is to use his or her imagination to tell stories that do more than just entertain. They need to bear witness, inspire change, encourage introspection, and create the space for discourse. Writers need to be curious and push the limits of what they know. They need to explore language and issues outside their own realm and comfort levels. What’s the point of art or literature if writers and artists limit themselves to addressing issues specific to their own race, gender, sexuality, or socio-economic background? Seriously.

      About the authenticity of the language, I leave that up to Harcum to decide. I combed through the piece and found: yo, be gettin’, sendin’, cuz, ain’t, wha… I don’t know. Call me what you will, but I don’t think this is pushing the bounds of jive-turkey tropes. And I don’t think the language ultimately hurts the integrity of the piece. An idea was put forth: the justice system isn’t fair if you’re poor. And as far as I’m concerned that idea holds true even if you change the dialect to two Latinos or two middle-eastern detainees at Gitmo.

      If people are seriously concerned about our prison and the judicial system and want to read stories from people on the inside, I suggest taking a look at PEN American Center’s current feature on Prison Writing: http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/1868. It’s real writing by real prisoners.

    • Eric Eicher

      I agree with EDR’s suggestion above about a level upon which this piece almost inarguably succeeds (though I feel I lack the necessary grounding in this kind of writing to judge it on other scores). Antonio’s comment just before mine strikes me as especially insightful and made me aware of the PEN book, which I plan to seek out. For my money, this is the best collection of comments on the site so far (and no thanks to me).

    The Author

    Chris Harcum

    chris.harcum
    Chris Harcum is an actor and playwright living in Brooklyn, NY. His play American Badass (or 12 Characters in Search of a National Identity) was recently published in the Plays and Playwrights 2009 anthology. Other writing includes The New York Times, nytheatre, and Virgodog's World.

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