Unheardwords of Writers of Colour

ghetto of words - Min. Paul Scott

Editorial: A Ghetto of Words

An interesting article arrived recently from Minista Paul Scott, it takes up a theme that unheardwords has kicked around a few times now, namely urban fiction vs. literature and I thought it worth sharing a slightly edited version with you here. I can’t say I agree with all of it but it was an interesting and thought provoking read.

Who Says Niggaz Can't Read: The Ghettorization of Black Literature By Min. Paul Scott

"You don't know me like that, playa!"

That was all it took to set it off. Chairs started flyin', 40oz malt liquor bottles flew through the air as the crowd just started wilin'. It took the bouncer to bust five shots in the air before normalcy was restored. This didn't take place at the Three 6 Mafia after party. Naw, this scene was straight outta tha Brookhaven Cultural Book Fair.

With the current state of Black culture you knew that it was only a matter of time before the "gangsta-ism" of commercial Hip Hop crept its way into the sacred realm of Black literature. While Black literature used to be like a meal from a five star restaurant off of which Black folks could feed for generations, the literature of today is more like the two wings and a biscuit deal from some Southern Fried Chicken shack. This new flavor of the month literature is commonly referred to as "urban literature" and it can be found anywhere books, magazines or malt liquor are sold.

Walking through one of those bookstores in the mall, you would be hard pressed to find even one book by Dr. John Henrik Clark or one of our other great Afrocentric scholars but it seems that any negro who can pick up a pen has their whole catalogue proudly displayed at even the most middle-of-the-road book store.

The sacredness of the word has been a part of Black culture since the beginning. From the writings on the walls inside the pyramids to the Bible and other religious texts, our ancestors knew the value of preserving culture for future generations. This is what makes the transformation from hieroglyphics to "Ho" stories so disturbing.

In America, Black literature has not only chronicled the freedom struggle of Black people but has been the force that sparked movements. Where would we as a people be without W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903) or the Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley, 1987, 1992).  Texts like these have played a great role in our struggle; it was the written word that was the foundation that gave the symbolic sound substance. The powerful music of the "conscious" Hip Hop era was not only layered with beats and samples but also with book quotations and liner notes that you could use not only to feel the music but also to research the facts.

The Oppressors knew the power of the written word, so much so that for many years they would kill you for even trying to get a little education. Even today they treat a Brotha with a book like he was holding a gat.

So the trick has been, since I can't stop you from reading, I'm going to control what you read. Although, we have constantly been told how "black books don't sell", somehow the cultural gatekeepers have made sure that urban smut is in the hands of every man, woman and child.

The purpose of reading is supposed to be to expand your horizons, not sentence your mind to a sensationalized, Hollywood inspired ghetto prison. To educate, allowing you to make positive changes in your own life and those of the people around you, not trap you in some ghetto bizzaro parallel universe. You can tell a lot about a culture by what its people are reading. What is it saying about Black culture when for every book celebrating the glorious history of Afrikan people, you have 10 books all saying that "n****z ain't s***".

I just hope that those authors that have something positive to offer to Black culture don't sell out and dumb down their messages just to sell a few paper backs. I can see it now; a thugged out, gold toothed self-styled Maya Angelou goes on Oprah to promote her new book, "Tha Bitch in Me Luvs tha Thug in U".

Is this the angry rant of an unappreciated underground writer playa hatin' on commercially successful authors?

YA DARN RIGHT!!! But that's beside the point.

Let's see, maybe if I get shot nine times by my baby's mama and write a book about it...

© Min. Paul Scott, September 2006 (all rights reserved)

Min. Scott is a writer and activist based in Durham NC.  For more information on the Notes From a Hip Hop Refugee in Exile project/lecture series visit

Related pieces: Their Eyes Were Reading Smut