Book Review: Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture
by Greg Tate
Publication Date: Jan 14, 2003
List Price: $23.95
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Imprint: Broadway Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
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Book Reviewed by Rondall Brasher
"Of all of our studies, history is best qualified to reward ourresearch."
--El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X)
This quote could very well accent the depth of what "Everything but the
Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture" attempts to fulfill.
"Everything but the Burden" is an anthology of cultural essays
edited by Greg Tate, a cultural critic and writer for the Village Voice. The
book sets out to examine the osmosis of Black culture into White society. It
also focuses on the realization that no matter how prevalent this osmosis may be
the result is still a filtered and homogenized version of what it really means
to be Black. In other words, whites get to act black, talk black, dress black,
and assume the elements of a black life without having the stress of being black
or, for that matter, staying black.
The essays are built on the central theme of Whites pillaging blacks of their culture, but leaving the burdens and stresses of racism, poverty, social stigma, etc. Tate and the other essayists seem to expand upon the controversial essay, "The White Negro" written by Norman Mailer in 1957. Forty-five years later white America's tendency to view blacks as objects rather than people are even more pronounced. Greg Tate, in his riveting essay, "Nigs R Us, or How Black folk Became Fetish Objects," wrestles with the observation that blacks are perceived as stereotypical hypersexual and/or near super-men/women physically. While this warped idolization may inspire backhanded imitation, it continues the degeneration of blacks to objects.
Tate's work is just the beginning of a goody bag of essays that feed upon and support one another. While Everything but the Burden is written on an elevated intellectual level it does not come off as pompous. The authors used metaphorical examples from subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the near deification of some Black music icons. Everything but the Burden not only required an extensive of research on the part of many of the essayists, but also displayed a cross section of historic, cultural, and economic knowledge on blacks' experiences in America. Tate's editing has ensured that the book not only examines the "Hip Hop" era (e.g. his seething lambaste of Eminem and his pimp Dr. Dre), but also delves into cultural phenomena in the roots of soul and rock and roll, and its effects in Africa.
In the essay, "The 1960s in Bamako: Malick Sidibe and James Brown," author Manthia Diawara writes about the music of James Brown and its influence on the (social and political) consciousness in Mali in the 1960s. Another striking and brilliant essay is Meri Nana-Ama Danquah's "Afro-Kinky Human Hair". Danquah discusses her recent return to Ghana, only to find that the people of her native land had acquired an overt fascination with all that is White/European. The infestation of European culture had become so rife among Ghanaians that they had formed themselves into European caricatures. Whoa...
Everything but the Burden will set a new standard for intellectual discussion about Black culture. Everything but the Burden is a masterful collection of thoughts by Black 'culturalists'. The catechization works throughout the book, but offers no solutions to the continued co-opting of black American culture. Perhaps Greg Tate has amassed essays that are meant to cause Blacks and Whites to think about what is going on? Maybe it is up to us as a society to provide the answers to our own problems? Everything but the Burden does an excellent job of bringing us closer to self-examination. The book is a must have for those who "continue to carry the burden."