MAXWELL:  SOULJAH’S STORY

3/5/1995- Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper

 

NO DISRESPECT

By Sister Souljah

Reviewed by Bill Maxwell

Shortly after the Los Angeles riots, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton needed a boost in the polls. Always the opportunist, Clinton capitalized on a Washington Post interview with an emerging young rap artist named Sister Souljah in which she tred to put black-on-black violence in perspective in light of the riots: “I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?”

Clinton labeled Souljah a racist and got the boost he needed in the polls. Souljah was catapulted into her 15 minutes of fame. Now with the publication of her first book, No Disrespect, Souljah has laid the groundwork for a lifetime of fame as an author.

No Disrespect is not for the fainthearted, not for African-Americans looking for reasons to feel sorry for themselves, to feel like society’s victims, nor for white people looking for easy answers as to why today’s young black people are so angry. In seven vignettes, Souljah introduces the reader to the horrors of life in the Bronx housing projects where she was reared and guides the reader through her years at Rutgers University. There, her mother’s wit and intellectuality met, bonded and forged in her an awareness of her place in the world community and compelled her to commit to serving “African” people in her immediate environment.

The projects, especially for females, are an unrelenting conspiracy to annihilate the souls there, a self-perpetuating underworld, with their own rules and values. But it is also a world contained inside a larger universe where unseen forces have established complex systems of slavery _ miseducation, welfare, a tradition of violence, greed, drugs _ that breed myriad forms of self-destructiveness.

Even love, the equivalent of the Holy Grail in the projects, is tarnished. Souljah writes: “Too many of us are in pain; too many of us are lonely. Sex is everywhere while true love falls victim to the turmoil of our fight merely to survive.” Indeed, the bulk of No Disrespect centers on Souljah’s many attempts to find the right man with whom she can have a passionate, sincere, non-threatening, disease-free relationship. She fails each time, not because of her shortcomings alone, but because of the pathologies that black men have acquired from childhood.

Stylistically, some of the book’s power is limited by excess, uneven writing and gross contradictions. Souljah spends too much time, for example, describing her “blockbuster screaming hips,” her luscious “mangoes” (breasts) and other physical traits that make men drool. The prose constantly shifts from poetic flourishes to crude reporting. The scenes swing from sweaty intercourse to philosophical diatribes to moments of brilliant insight to embarrassing revelations of naivete and ignorance. These flaws can be blamed on youth and inexperience in writing books.

But for all of its problems, No Disrespect is worth reading _ if for no other reason than to experience the final chapter titled “Listen Up! (Straighten It Out).” Here is where Souljah offers nothing but surprises, where she and Bill Clinton can find common ground, but where she also sounds a lot like House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Vice President Dan Quayle, whose favorite issues include family values, self-reliance, education.

Check out these surprising insights from Souljah:

On family: “It is important for all children to have two parents _ a mother and a father. The absence of either will affect the child.”

On welfare: “Welfare is designed to keep you trapped. We must abandon the notion of welfare as a way of life, or even as a way to survive.”

On education: “Do not assume that the public schools will properly educate your children. You must teach your child how to use the library. Make sure your child knows where the local bookstore is.”

Many critics have dismissed No Disrespect as being too anti-white. And much of it is so. But Souljah’s ultimate objective is to teach and inspire young African-Americans to become psychologically and spiritually healthy. Only when they comprehend the power of responsibility can young blacks put themselves on the path to general health and wisdom.

“When we make bad decisions, we suffer consequences,” Souljah writes. “Sometimes we blame God for the sins we ourselves committed. We blame God for the conditions we find ourselves in. We blame the racist system we live under _ and we are not entirely wrong to do so. But God gave us minds with which to think. No one will save us but ourselves. Neither God nor white people will do so.”

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.