Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hollers - Little Tokyo

The mention of Little Tokyo, of course, references the Japanese internment. After the removal of Japanese residents the area became known as Bronzeville for a brief time (because of the new African-American population). Japanese residents moved back after the war. The later discussion between Alice’s socialite friends references “the Little Tokyo problem” (82) – i.e. the lack of integration in the area’s new ghetto. The portrayal of Little Tokyo in the book points to a binary geographical definition of race. Although some distinction exists between the areas for blacks and Asians, their most defining characteristic is their lack of whiteness. Both can rotate through areas like Little Tokyo but neither can live in the white areas.,_Los_Angeles,_California

The scene in the bar is fascinating because it displays racial issues through the lens of gender. I thought of Frantz Fanon when reading this chapter. Fanon, a black Martiniquan educated in psychiatry, is best known for Wretched of the Earth (a book that develops a theory for decolonization). Before, though, he wrote Black Skin White Masks, a larger work about black consciousness and identity. Take this excerpt about the sexual objectification of black males: “[Women] endowed the Negro with powers that other men (husbands, transient lovers) did not have. And besides there was also an element of perversion, the persistence of infantile formations: God knows how they make love! It must be terrifying” (158). Then this passage about the white male response: “Since his ideal is an infinite virility, is there not a phenomenon of diminution in relation to the Negro, who is viewed as a penis symbol? Is the lynching of the Negro not a sexual revenge?... Is the Negro’s superiority real? Everyone knows that it is not. But that is not what matters.” (159)

A Fanonian reading of the text would conclude that issues of virility and masculinity are tied up in almost every interaction. The white woman in this scene flirts because of the sexual objectification described above. Her white friends are uncomfortable because they want to protect her but also because they feel the threat to their masculinity. This same sentiment makes Mac eager to punish Bob for insulting Madge. It would make the people in Madge’s apartment building “call the police and have [Bob] arrested on general principles” (139) if he were to enter the lobby. Interestingly, Fanon refers directly If He Hollers Let Him Go as an example of this mix of racial and gender issues. “Basically,” he writes, “does this fear of rape [by a black man] not itself cry out for rape?... In If He Hollers Let Him Go, Chester Himes describes this type very well. The big blonde trembles whenever the Negro goes near her. Yet she has nothing to fear, since the factory is full of white men. In the end, she and the Negro go to bed together.” (156)

Fanon obviously read the text with a certain bias. Nonetheless, his reading is interesting.

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