My interview with Herman Beavers was one of those occasions when I wished I had used a tape recorder, for not long after it began, it turned into a conversation that ranged from the cultural to the personal, with Beavers often drawing connections between our individual background and experiences and the issues he explores in his work. Beavers spoke easily and at length on a range of subjects of current import. Here are some of his observations.
On confusing celebrity for authority: "All of these highly visible black actors and sports figures makes it look like we [blacks] have influence over public policy, but we don't have the access--the economic wherewithal--to really influence it."
On single motherhood: "I'm convinced that black women can raise responsible sons. Things like showing up to work on time, learning how to pay your bills--your mother can teach you that just as well as your father can."
On role models: "Just because I have made it does not a 'role model' make. If we want to be honest [with those who look to us for influence], we have to talk about our failures as well as our successes."
On the "invisibility"of middle-class blacks in white environments: "Black men in the public sphere have to negotiate this daily, and it can be very stressful."
On films and videos that glorify violence: "Films of this sort work out our anger at living in a racist society, but we should ask, 'Why don't we create images of people who eschew violence?' In looking at our [America's] literary and cinematic discourse, I see that we [blacks] are participating in it, but we're not pushing the envelope."
On the Million Man March: "The problem with the March was that it didn't provide a space in which we could address femininity or what black women have to deal with everyday. ... In many ways, they've had a harder struggle, as they are at the bottom of the social structure."
On black attitudes towards homosexuality: "There's a good degree of tolerance when you look at African-American literature, but it only goes so far, and black communities are very conservative." And: "Racial solidarity [also] forced us to be silent on a number of subjects, such as homosexuality or spouse abuse."
On America's racial discourse: "As a scholar, I was concerned because our talk about racism did not engage some subjects adequately. ... We need to talk more about power. Everyone has power, but we need to find situations where we can use it for our benefit."
On the biological significance of race: "Your melanin content has nothing to do with your God-given abilities."
Originally published on February 25, 1997