Black Men Essay - Critical Context

Don Luther Lee

Critical Context

Haki R. Madhubuti is a “race man” (to use Langston Hughes’s or Sterling Brown’s term) but not a racist. He is acutely aware of the assault on black cultural values and the destructive impact of national policies on African American life in the United States, but while he is determined to restore and maintain those aspects of the African American tradition and heritage that he considers vital for survival, he has not condemned other racial groups, and his anger is directed at the racist policies of white Americans, not at any other race. His sensible, fair-minded essay “Blacks and Jews: The Continuing Question” is critical of both groups, and he does not avoid admiring comments about the behavior and practices of Jews in America, which he feels might be useful as an example for others.

Madhubuti was born Don L. Lee in a Detroit ghetto and reared by a single mother who was murdered when he was fifteen. He saw young illiterate, directionless black men on the streets, and he regards his discovery of literature as the source of his strength in escaping from a similar destiny. Through the continuous development of his artistic capabilities, he has become Haki R. Madhubuti (the name is drawn from Swahili words meaning “just” and “precise; accurate, dependable”). His philosophy, as expressed in his essays, is meant not only for the black community but also as a critique of American society in the last decade of the twentieth century. He describes his audience as all “serious men and women,” and while his ideas are built on the experiences of the African American world, they are applicable to and designed for the human race. The damage done to the black community, he argues, has harmed the entire nation, and Madhubuti’s personal credo, “To be progressively consistent in my politics and profoundly kind in my manners,” has nothing to do with race or gender. Nevertheless, Gwendolyn Brooks has accurately described him as one of the first “blackeners” of English; his use of the black idiom in poetry in the 1960’s made him relevant then, just as his evolving critique of the entire black community from his Afrocentric perspective has kept him relevant into the 1990’s. The essays, poems, and other writings collected in Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? are a part of his continuing contribution to the cultural heritage he values.