Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing Up Black

Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing Up Black

Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing Up Black

Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing Up Black


A collection of sixteen autobiographical essays by Africans in America, Afro-Caribbean and bi-racial college students, which explore the process of self-discovery and realization of cultural identity. They are accompanied by commentary from prominent African-American scholars Jewelle Taylor Gibbs and Peter C. Murrell. Together they create a vivid portrait of what it is like to grow up a a black person in America and offer a springboard to current debates about cultural identity and assimilation.


Race is probably the most challenging issue facing our nation as we move into the new millennium. Yet many Americans donít want to talk about it. The report of President Clinton's Commission on Race barely made a ripple. The highly acclaimed film Amistad played to small audiences. Too many parents don't discuss race with their children, leaving them vulnerable to negative and limiting experiences in the society. And many Blacks and Whites born after the very visible period of Civil Rights activities in the 1950s and '60s ask, “What's the problem?” Most people want to move on to the bright new America without undoing the ill effects of the past. The reason is understandable, but it can't be done.

In a nation caught in a historical contradictionóslavery and oppression despite a commitment to freedom and opportunityódenial is deep and well protected. Fear of confronting the “big lie” of white superiority, and losing the short term benefits of racial scapegoating underlines the nation's inability to listen and talk about race. Getting past the myths and blinders that protect denial is a significant challenge. For this reason almost all of my work over the past 30 years flows from an initial discussion of my own life experiences. My personal story allows the reader to see, hear, and, most importantly, feel as I do to a greater extent than does the “cold” analysis of the social scientist. And because of the process of identification with the author, it provokes less guilt and obstructive defensiveness.

While there has been much progress in American race relations, similar and new problems remain. An article in a recent issue of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences magazine, “A Sense of Belonging, A Spirit of Hope” by Lisa Sorg, described the racial challenges confronting today's Black students. The author compared some of my experiences at the university almost 50 years ago drawn from my book Maggie's American Dream, with those of today's students. I was struck by the similarities and the difference: only slightly increased Black student and faculty numbers, isolation, strained Black-White interactions in and outside of classrooms, subtle and occasional overt racist acts that challenge the sense of belonging, and I am sure, impair the performance of too many Black students. The difference is that such an article would not have appeared 50 years ago. And university officials are aware, concerned, and trying to create better conditions.

Souls Looking Back presents the emotionally honest reflection of sixteen

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