Cambridge Center for Adult Education; WGBH Forum Network; Henry Louis Gates and Ilan Stavans: Culture Wars and the Canon
But I am very very honored to introduce our very special guests. And I just started with Professor Gates Gates Jr. He is the Alphonse Fletcher University professor and be the director of the W E B Dubois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He has done all projects for PBS including African American Lives and faces of America which I enjoy very much. And he's the he's the general editor of the Norton unthaw logy or African-American leaders are assuring us of whale call and response. Innovative Corps reserved for African American studies. And here we have all thought that once who you deal with Severin but of a certain Latino Latin American and Latino culture at Hearst college and he's also
the general editor of the newly published Norton installers of Latino litter assured and I also want to mention some of his other books which I enjoy very much as well as fund which Latino USA on board worth many many many more. We will begin the program with this question we do with between these two great thinkers of our time and on their relationship between Latinos and African-American communities are reflected in literature short then they will take questions from the Algerians. We will I know that some of you have some index cards and we will collect them before the Q&A session so let's just start. Great thank you. Yes yes but the BCA Thank you Skip of pleasure to be here with you if I knew one. Welcome welcome to the hood brother. It well let's start there and tell me about how you
convinced Norton to do the view of African-American literature. Tough tough job. I went to I taught at Yale for nine years I mean elite you know everyone knows where I work but I'm went to Yale and I love Yale as an undergraduate and then I went to Cambridge graduate school and I came back I thought you know for nine years then I got tenure at Cornell. I was a Cornell five years and then from 85 to 90. Why is that relevant. Well the man who invented the whole genre of Norton anthologies for those who don't know the Norton anthology is the Rolls Royce or the Mercedes Benz or the Prius or whatever your metaphor for excellence is. I've anthologies. It makes a canon of literature they're adopted by more professors more universities in the United States and any other single thing is a lie knows it's the gold standard and cracking it. Getting them to publish an anthology of your people's literature makes your literature
legitimate in the eyes of the establishment. The literary service you can argue about a politically we're not here to discuss whether it's good or bad though you can you can in your questions you can say you know what do you think that should be canon what Bible blah. But this is the bottom line in this business and I had this about my ex-wife Sharon Adams and I had this beautiful house and just down the hill. We have a man named MH Abrams and the person who Mike Abrams. And it was Mike Abrams who invented the genre of the Norton Anthology. He published the Norton anthology of English literature and then in the 50s and then that led to them doing American literature. Then they started doing other people's literature and in fact my Gaiman's is a multimillionaire from his royalties on the Norton theology of English literature just the way it is. And he was the king of the genre ignored him would go to him and say Mike should there be
this anthology. Mike in his wisdom would say yes or say no. And he liked me I liked him we were both colleagues in the in the sport. And we remember a member we were members of a secret society of Cornell professors you know Harvard got a couple BS as well. I mean some started by one star by Emerson for example. You know they're very exclusive and people don't talk about him but this one was called the vicious circle. And Mike Abrams and Max Black the great philosopher are members and anyway the when Anthony Oppy and I went there we were both main members of the vicious circle so I got to know this guy and he liked me and I liked him. So I you know I couldn't every day had come out of my driveway and I'd be looking at the Norton anthology of English literature my mind because my gait was big mansion just down the road. And I thought it didn't take long if you were an entrepreneur like you are and like I am it doesn't take long you get to see the model and you paint it black. You see the model you painted Latino. Right
yeah. And so I said Mike I want to edit the Norton anthology of African-American literature. And he goes oh oh wow. So. It took me two years to persuade Norton to do the same goals. And you know why. They said we don't think there are enough sales in the classroom of people studying a whole course in black literature that the work the permissions for this anthology are huge and it's a business man. There's nothing sentimental about this is not. Norton is a commercial company a profit making company and they were only willing to do it if it could be shown that there would be a profit. And so you know how the I would have to show it. So I wrote to all my friends teaching black literature throughout the world. I said that you were you write to the editor of the Debian every Norton thing and it really with all of that I really did that.
But with all that it took two years and finally I'll never forget the dying he called me and he said they're going to call you tomorrow. It's been approved. And then I picked for political reasons. I think I should have done five like you did. But I picked 10 other people half man half women. Some on the left not many but left of center nobody really on the right. But I wanted to democratize the process. I didn't want a whole bunch of people to feel excluded in my generation of critics I'm one of them to be because we were making history and I remember when I had the organizational meeting of these editors at Cornell we posed for a picture aware that we were making history. And you know what the punch line is the hardback edition is called the trade edition the edition because in the classroom it's paperback and the Norton anthology of African-American literature as Eli knows is the bestselling trade edition Norton in thought in history and the reason is the black middle class
well-educated people the same people you know when you all were growing up you had either Britannica or World Book and it was a piece of intellectual furniture as well or the great books you know more of the great books of probably the most unread piece of interlacing furniture. People get abut who's going to read you Cities you know what are you doing WANT TO WATCH TV today I'll know what I'm reading through cities. Yeah but the north an anthology of African-American literature is the best selling trade edition and I am pleased that before us of this question I think what the line is accomplished. In terms of persuading them subsequently to do this for Latino Literature because remember think about how well established the black minority is in two years was not. I mean I was there I just beat on him. I knew I was going to win. I hoped and prayed. You know I think I figured I'd get Jesse Jackson Al Sharpton up there on their ass if they did. But you couldn't do that. So I want you ladies and gentlemen to give it up for a line Stay with us for what is cool.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU IT'S GOOD. He asked me to do that. If you are one of the things that Norton says is that you wear astonishingly successful in selling this to the black middle class. But it strikes me skip that if. No doubt about it. This is such a bestseller. It's because you were able to sell it also to the middle class that is not black. While not in the trade edition it sold I would say first we have library sales but the bulk of those sales went to well educated black people who are professionals who just wanted to give it as Christmas presents or Kwanzaa present or wanted to have it on the shelf in their living room so that when you come in you would see that the same I think the CDs Buy did the same. Yeah I did the same thing with the Encyclopedia Afrikan and then answer you know its so that everybody in the black
middle class would get a copy of that. But we have a very well educated black you know middle class upper middle class and they're very proud of it like many closet black nationalists and they're proud. You know you go in there's a John Coltrane poster in the print and the north an intelligent African-American literature in this like Pete Afrikaner. It's it's bourgeois black nationalism is is but that's what it is. What you see and I like that we do as my market. Let me let me tell you the other side of the story. This side of the story is that my side of the story is that it was you editing the Norton a theology of African-American literature that made me think exactly what you thought when you saw these other anthology. Why not have one for Latinos Latinos have made it into this society we are being represented all over it is time that we have a book that makes a statement make sense and excuse me but and
I got the idea not only because I saw Mike Abrams but because they just published the Norton theology literature about women so the jhana was created. And all I did was Paint It Black. You know what you did was paint black Latino which is part black. We talked about it earlier today. The bases are you. Think of them as Caesar That's right. Thank you for saying that because it's a great triumph for me. Well you've been a role model you've been a compass a map for me and I've told you many times and I really I just met your wife so you're a role model for me. I was here all can laugh at that. How many years did it take you to put this together. Years 10 years and it took 10 years because this is a hard thing for people to understand but I think you did when we started only I only I know this is true because I looked in my coeditors eyes only I believe we could do it. It's the same when you have a student trying to write a Ph.D.
and you look at him you can see their fear. You know they're never going to finish. You have to teach him how to finish they have to imagine themselves across the finish line. So the way you do it if they're writing a 200 page thesis you can see they're going to have it nervous but break down what they usually the first side is I'm going to go to law school the same by Latino people and you know that they believe it's that they believe they don't believe they can actually write the Ph.D.. So God is poking them or going to law school or med school you know you get like you don't think you can do anything we don't know if it is a given. So I say well if you have written a 20 page paper and they say yeah and I said well the 200 page piece is only 10 20 page paper. They go oh well never thought. And then you have to break it down. So I had to do that the same with these editors. When we quit I had of the different co-gen editor Mary Helen Weiss and good friend was at the time. Be you would because of what. Well I think she had anxiety of that she couldn't finish it. And she created this ideological contra time. You know are we going to be left wing enough for some but it was all hot air. You know I mean much as
I love her personally we. But and I let her go and I thought and I replace it with Nellie McKay and then I had to sit down with each of the editors and say this is how the process is going to go and finally to finish what I did. I got my own graduate students to be research assistants to each of the period editors. No matter where they were I was the only person here boss so that was a way to kind of get them moving. And they wrote drafts. My graduate students wrote drafts of the head does the footnote you know they did the whole thing for the people and then the period editors would say they would rewrite them or do whatever but they needed to research this. And I was here my graduate students knew we could do it. But the but the scholars out there they would tell the story differently if they were here. But I know this is a true story. They never were going to finish. Never going to finish because they couldn't imagine finishing is my new mental. Now we take for granted the things about that were by the end of the third
edition. We I came up with this crazy idea that we would be the first anthology in history to include a CD with all of the black vernacular literature the oral literature the blues on the CD that took me another year to persuade North because the permissions to and then they thought what what will we do with it where is it. And if you look at the back of Iris anthology there's a little you know remember in the in of the law library card when you were in elementary school and high school has a CD in it and people couldn't figure out how we're going to do that how we're going but nobody could believe it. Remember in the Road Runner. And Wiley Coyote always runs off the cliff long as he don't look down. He's cool. Susie looks only for these but I have to keep looking down. I did say we can do it we can do it. I knew they could do it but you don't it. One time I was described as a mixture of some scholar and P.T. Barnum. But to be an entrepreneur to get people you have to lead to be you know something
you have to not there here because we can do this and many people whether in minorities whether they're women and all women are technically minority but they're minority in power centers. I would imagine brown people at Tinos and I know this is true for black I've been black six years many times. Many times powerless people feel powerless will create a diversion another crisis because they have an inferiority complex. Well let me let me because I want to ask you something about being an entrepreneur but let me tell you as you know I'll sell you the answer. Ambers doesn't have graduate students. I know the seabed. So you know who wrote all the entries you're undergraduates know myself. You see that the same thing I think I should have know I should have moved to Harvard and have a graduate student. Yeah I do all the hard work. But no I don't want to I don't want to impugn my colleagues they wrote draps you see so that all of a sudden these people who are busy and I didn't many of the Unlike you. If you look at a Norton anthology of American literature
Norton thought of English literature they're not super star editors the people who are editors who have time to edit are not the guys are on TV. These are just people who like work in the library all the time the way we used to be you know what I mean. But so I pick superstars because they were going to kill me anyway politically if I didn't include them right. But they were also the finest people in African-American literature without a doubt. But they were so busy and then they had this crisis of confidence they didn't believe they could do it and blah blah blah and it is a lot of work every entries got ahead. You have to footnote it and you need somebody who's in the library was a lot of very graduate students so they were my Ph.D. since and they would just send each of these current research and sort of like the Mexicans in California that are doing with. They were well paid. Everywhere you turn I mean you know IQ are comparable even spreading the wealth. You were talking about which one is longer and we decide that mine is a few pages longer but it certainly was so long ago in terms
of years it took me 13 years in Julia Reed had our common editor used to tell me it took Skip 10. That's right you're going to be able to do it in 10. You didn't care at 13 because I'm Jewish. You can't be talking about who is the longer this is going to embarrass me. The moment you where you were phoned by Norton and told you we would like to offer you a contract if you have a reaction from others saying why you why would why should you be the cannon maker who will decide what goes into an ordinance which you know because everyone knew that it was my dream. See when I get an idea I talk about all the time in public. You know the concept when you're a kid I'm spitting on it remember that you spit on it to yours within your family. Why would spit on the idea because I don't want anybody to beat me to it and I would give talks and said we're going to have a Norton and I was going to have a CD and they go can you do that I don't even know myself. But so everybody knew. And then I'm democratize a process by
including 10 people so you are smarter to do five with ironies of it myself. Yeah but for as yet but you could have done it by yourself. And so could have I I could have done it. We couldn't have done it ourselves in 10 years I could have done it in 10 years. Yeah but I didn't know it was going to take we would have been crucified in public had we done it. Oh no the question was could we have. Yeah. Did we have the capacity to yes but he's absolutely right if we didn't have women and men you know diversity within the community we would have been fried. Skip How do you how did you decide you and your colleagues you were graduate students. What was left out. Oh no no no. The let me be clear. The graduate students research I'm talking about in the editorial quote I know the I want to be clear. The research assistant grad students are just research assistants all scholars. You know if they can every census but it was the professors the editors we
decide and and the way I did it to avoid controversy. See initially people wanted to have these meetings and let's say I'm the 19th century editor I would be arguing with you the 18th century editor about what's in your period. I was smart enough to know we did not want that. So essentially I divided it up as fiefdoms. So the two 18th century editors you have total discretion. The 19th century energy you have total discredit your field. You're the expert. You're the man you're the woman. You tell us what's in it. That was a really good move. It was because we would have had nothing but fights and I did the same thing. I separated the different periods you know the colonial period 19th century. But I did also by national background that is the Mexican-Americans the Cuban-Americans the few that I had skipped was that I would have been ultimately be making many books that would be bound by common covers. That is that I was making a
Mexican I'm an American in theology and a Cuban American anthology and I needed at some point to be the bridge between those different editors in traditions because the Latino literary tradition is I think different from the one that you describe Absolutely. We are we have part of the alliance the Cuban-American tradition has not intersected with the Mexican-American or the Puerto Rican but for one or two places you want to but you so integrated them chronologically didn't you. Yeah but I think that's brilliant. You see I designed for Norton and has been approved yet because the next one we're doing is the North End dolls of African-American poetry. But I designed a similar north to the anthology of African literature which has the same problems you do. Which is all these national literatures but still it would be organized from you see. These anthologies are organized around something technically called historical principles and all that means is the birth of the author. So that if you write you open it up and illogically date of birth
chronologically by date of birth except period the period. Yeah I mean we have two tables of cartons in ours. Oh you do. We have the one that you're describing. Right and then we have for those that want to teach Cuban American literature. We have a section that is all Mexican and American authors all Cuban Americans all Puerto Ricans all Dominicans and so on and so forth. So they were afraid of Norton. They were afraid that this would end up being a book that would speak to everybody but to nobody in particular. And we needed to Mike to make some sort of connection between the particular and the universe. So how did you do. Well we did it by creating kind of multiple books in one. There's a chronology that goes for from beginning to end and then there are the parlor books the Mexican-American by having two tables of contents and by by me creating this kind of connections after receiving all the first draft of the head notes saying well now I have to create an organic book here that is not going to be only about Mexican-Americans or
the the biggest fight is that we would have WE'RE would be oh you guys are east coast the Norton anthologies going to be kidnapped by New York in Mexican-Americans are not truly being represented in spite of the fact they're there 30 million seven out of 10 are Mexican Americans the Cubans in the Puerto Ricans are going to take over. OK we'll explain to us. The national tradition the separate strands that are woven together to make quote unquote Latino America which is Hispanic American literature that we can't say that anymore. So there's Mexican-American they were going to get the military can in the mainland and in the island because remember Puerto Rico is part of the United States right this to Cuban-American Cuban-American then there are the there's the colonial period. It's going to be a period when Spaniards mostly. Right and then there are lots cotton sold right in there at the big number of Colombians Panamanians Arjan tines Dominicans Jesus Jesus is right. It's a long way.
Yeah. But so in effect by editing you see what he the importance what he thought by editing the sentence he's created a new tradition. He's made all these different strands come together in a new weave. And but now it will be perpetuated because I even I could teach. I could teach intro to let you know literature. It's all in English. You should do it you know but that's the point of doing it nor to them. What would any of you could teach intro that afro because there's a door today I think when when I sign the contract I remember as kids standing they the yes letter by by fax. I no longer have sex by thoughts thinking oh my god I'm I do I really understand what I'm getting into the process that I have in front of me and I did not. It was 13 years ago might I have a son who's 14. I had hair oh so many things have to do with it is a lot more normal for you we have the arguments among the editors about what's going to be and but to go back to your question
because I gave each. Editor period editor full discretion. We didn't have that argument. We never would have finished if we had people would have been in each others period and saying how could you have this by Toni Morrison can you have it it's like not your business and a couple times a couple times I had to have the editors who would say like the 18th century editor would say I don't like what's in the Harlem Renaissance or I don't like what's in the 60s I would say this isn't your business because I know in the end there are only two votes my Nellie McKay's dead now unfortunately she was my co-gen editor. The only two votes that mattered were not so much I mean we could have overridden any of the other period editors a push came to shove we didn't ever have I think maybe once we had to do them we just did it. But other than that we respected it. Tell you not like actually you know and it wasn't generosity wasn't just politics or power. We really I picked people who were experts in say the 18th century or the Harlem Renaissance. And so you know we let
them. Gave me head to how you would do were talking about the success of the anthology and I truly hope that the Latino anthology comes close to what you've been able to achieve because you were masterful in selling the product as Norton calls it to an entire community and skip the African-American community has been connected with literature for a long time and there is no see the differences with the Latino community are enormous We are a community that is made of storytelling but not necessarily connected with the book per se. Right. And it's going to be an interesting process to see in what way does the community respond to the anthology but I want to ask you something sure and I'll tell you and I'll tell you how did it. Yeah. Because I want to hear that when I'm going to hear also the announcer to this question. In what sense. In what way has the has the anthology changed African-American literature. Oh interesting. That's a good question.
Meaning that the new crop of writers sure all the new writers have now read the can it all of the new black writers have taken a black literature course that was impossible. I think my first black literature course. Per se I guess in 1976 when I come back from graduate school in England you know and if you think about the great black writers like Ralph Ellison he never took a black leadership or they didn't exist. There was a black literature course at Howard. It was introduced in the late 20s. So if you went to Howard it was only Mars somewhere there she could have studied negro literature with Sterling Brown. It was a great man. But 99 percent even of the historically black colleges than have black literature courses up to a certain period. Now every You can presume that every black writer whose works you read whose works are reviewed in say the New York Times Sunday magazine Sunday Book Review has taken an
African American literature course and most probably use the Norton Anthology B. So was he one of the reasons you do it is it is cheap. You could have a course of the text as I said earlier. And we have 11 full length works. So this thing cost and I don't know what it costs now. Thirty dollars let's I want to know what mine is. I think $60 it in hardback. Yeah I don't know it in paper but in paperback in the educational market it's more expensive. OK because that's what makes the money all right but you can instead of buying a leaven for books separately which would be a bunch more expensive you buy one books got 11 books right mind also has three complete novels and three complete play yes. But but go further. Does that mean that those writers that have read the canon that have been introduced to your own literature through your foliage have a different type of literature that they are producing because they are more conscious of the tradition and question to know it means.
Yeah I mean is there more formally trained in the tradition but black writers have been reading and revising each other since the 18th century. So the first you know the first Yama black literature many of you know it's called the slave narratives. And we found that when I rode signifie monkey there's one chapter talking about how these for the first five black men who wrote slave narratives between 1770 and 1811 used the same image and revised it. They all stole from each other. But it's not called Steel It's called Intertextuality. But they all have one figure and you know the figure is the figure is I was a slave and I was on the slave ship or I was in the plantation and they were illiterate and I'll show you. And this is Lady says I saw the most amazing thing. I saw a book speak to my master. And what they're describing is a master opening the book and using the book the Bible or the salt or the salt of those of you in the night of the Christian tradition. Well you don't have
to be it's the Book of Psalms right there is salt and the slave would say I saw the master. I saw the book speak to the master for so I thought it did. And then when the master left the room and put the book down I waited till he was gone and I went over syrup to sleep. And the book refused to talk to me. And the you know how you know the story because you're reading a book written by that sleep. It's about affords an allegory the slave made the book speak because a slave wrote a book which is speaking to you and telling a story about how the book refuse speaks of in that beautiful that same scene is in the first five slave narratives ever written. Now that didn't happen that much coincidence in the world. That's called Intertextuality. So even in the 18th century black people were reading and revising each other's works and I'm sure that's
true. I know it's true between some Latino writers and black writers like Nicolas Cage and in Cuba and blanks arguing has its Harlem renaissance in the late pope what do you think there is that among Latinos much more within their own national traditions say the Cuban-American writers reading you don't feel now until because of you and hopefully this will create a kind of Pan American. Yes. View of things for writers now that you have done something more dramatic than my colleagues and I do. Because you see you are forcibly forging the new Canon. All we did was consolidate what was already there and perpetuate it. But you see you're black and you're an intrapreneur only well you became white when you went to. But there was no money. There was never a big you know I am white and immigrant and Jewish in when if I had if I
answered the question that I ask you the moment that I signed the contract there was a lot of questioning why he would he's not Misty so he doesn't have a last name so artists or Stalins or what he did and you said because you had the idea. Yeah. And indeed I was. I did exactly what you did which is if I push did I was enamelled with did I spread the word and I said I want to do this this is my project. I'll fight for it as much as I can. But I admire you for that and you want. I want an employee happy but he didn't come without a lot of pain of other kind as I didn't have that problem because everybody all of our. I don't know Siri interesting. One of our editors was white is what William enters and nobody disputes exist guy's the world's expert on the slave owners and for the Norton anthology of African-American poetry. Kim Benson will be one of the editors and one of our editors has died. Whatever is retired. So the one who's retired will be replaced by a formal so I can say it is but by white
so there will be two white editors and let me say when I made the joke about being only part black no black person in the United States not one is 100 percent. African because of slavery. If I did the DNA of all the black people in this room the sort of the black man if I did this is off point but I want him I don't want to lose it because we're talking about purity and hybrid. Thirty five percent of all black men 35 percent. That's more than one out of three right descend from a white man who impregnated a black woman in slavery. And you all know my African-American Lives series have been the DNA of very dark black people like black people meaning black people not one not Don Cheadle is the 1000 percent white. Don Cheadle is in and make sure there's not one Bishop T.D. Jakes is not 100 percent African. We are hybrid people already because of the slave trade.
And that's I think that that is something that so already the Latinos Yeah that's something that both minorities really show that that you might be racial or ethnic or minority define but you are a hybrid you are a sum of parts. I want to I want to ask you something about the language but I just want to let the audience know that after this we'll open it up to look at to but I know everybody wants to know what I'm asking. How first of all it must been very painful for you to for people to say you are not legitimate that you don't have the authenticity because you're your. But would you say you're Jewish and you're European of Europe. You know I'm white and you're what. Yeah but there are a lot of white Latinos. He was you know I learned this because you're not Latino. I mean are you because you are questions that you are led to no good. That's enough if you did. Yeah I'll let you know that you learned a lot of there's a lot of internal debate within the community as there is in the black
community of how dark how black are you or how light you are in the Latino community. We don't talk openly about race we use diminutives when we have to refer to race. El Negrito the little there so that one or like one of the little fatty one stead of addressing the issue you know you know up front right fashion in the end there is also this years of blacks at the very bottom always in whites in every line society you know my new series is called Black in Latin America. It'll be on PBS in April. I filmed in six countries all summer and each one the bottom is always the darkest most African looking people in each society. Except for Haiti but Haiti still has mulatto elite to. Yeah but it's less pronounced than any other country. It's still color each of these societies is a culture of much racism within the Latino community as we were talking absolute day today but I want to ask you what
Fortunately for you one of the key elements in our anthology in the Latino anthology had to do with language. Because the early texts are in the colonial period they were written in Spanish by Spaniards missionaries Explorers can kiss the doors. We had to translate from Spanish into English. Not until 1951 is the first Mexican-American novel written English really until 1951. There's poetry that happens before but a lot is being done in Spanish. Up until 1951 in Spanish it gets changed after 1951 in 1959 and then there is this big move to write in English for an English speaking audience about the Latino experience up until the 90s when there there is a hybrid language Spanglish that is neither here nor there. The mixing of signage in English and Spanglish goes back to the 70s it might go back to the 19th century. But one of the things that we had to deal with was what to do with language in terms of. Making it accessible to
the reader of the Norton and foliage and I would have a copy editor who would say this is beautiful Spanglish but who's going to understand it can we translate it. I would say you can translate Spanglish. That would be like looking at a photograph from there. Reversed Yeah. Good for you. I'm glad you had to protect it. That's ridiculous. But that would be to change the literature but it's because they had at vision of who the reader would be. That was very different from mine. Mine was this is going to be for anybody who looks at this clash of two cultures and clash of two languages and embraces it. And worst thing here the worst thing that could happen would be for you to be reviewing the New York Times or to say this is a fraudulent book. I mean because you've done damage to the text so what you did was absolutely correct. But being accused of not being authentic enough is painful without a doubt. And you survived and you did it now you're the man. I like that. Let's open it to the. OK that's great. You don't have to. If anybody wants and we have a sled
to talk to but there's if you ask a question stand up it is what we're going to do. The two methods are we're going to stipulate. If you don't mind. Yeah no I like your name from the audience unless you're really shy. But let me say one thing before but there's one thing that's still hanging how I did it. Nelly and I had a big event at the New York Public Library that was packed and we had one in Harlem at the Schomburg which is the Harlem branch of New York. Right. It was packed. Then we went on NPR like we did today. We were on TV. We were on CNN you know we just we just hit it and then we got reviewed New York Times in the post and then Ebony and Essence in it. We did and that's why by going to your own People's magazines like Ebony and Essence and stuff you just little one paragraph thing every black family should have this thing. Oh the sales went through. That's what you have to do. Well that's what we've done that once we've done it and obviously this just came out a month and a
half ago and we've been I've been traveling the country nonstop. Hopefully it will materialize my dream is really that this is an unfolding not for Latinos. I did not want to make a ghetto until she went to make an anthology by Latinos for Latinas but for everybody else as well. Yeah but by our sales if we depended on white people to buy the Norden dollars or African-American leader hardback we wouldn't have any sales I mean we have a few liberal but you have a bridge you know the People's Republic AMOS They all give you this guy's a colored people this guy if there is a black. There is a black middle class that is far more solid and larger than a Latino. Yes but you have a HUGE in L.A. you got a big Mexican American middle class. So we had a packed show there. So you go there and you appeal to them in Miami did you have to show it. Hell I could sell this anthology going. You should come with me. OK we really have to begin by telling you that Latinos
are not an ethnic something that you know an ethnic or racial group where a minority group that is we are made as you can see of people of all colors of all backgrounds of all national lines. And so there are white Latinos and black Latinos and Misty's all Latinos and just as there are male and female Protestants and Catholics and so on. There are. There's a very soul the number of black Latinos that come from Puerto Rico from Cuba from the Dominican Republic from Mexico that live in the United States by Latino. We are describing people of Hispanic background that live in the United States not people in Latin America. Those are called Latin Americans in so we when talking about the Latino anthology we talk about black experience within it that is as essential as the misty saw experience or the white experience or the Asian experience there are Asian Latinos as well.
Yeah but where is the continuum. I mean to me and I'll talk about the series if people look black right. If your ass was in Harlem you'd be called black. And this is when I'm in Dominican Republic where nobody was black no matter how black they were they got going. I go where the black that they go in Haiti. This is true. I do a whole thing called divided island about the Bennigan's And so I'm interviewing this is I said when we were on TV the tape taping for GBH this anthropologist man who if he walked in you'd say Look at that black man right. And his name is Juan Rodriguez. And I said Juan you know we're walking through the middle of scent of Domingo and I go Oh you're very handsome like me. I said you know I can't find anybody any self-identified black people in Dominican Republic. So when did you find out you're black he said. When I went to New York I'm you know has always been we're not like we're Hispanic you know we're Dominican.
But they look phenotypically black. Now here's the problem with that. The reason that we have such crazy definitions of Blackness is because of slavery. Do you know the height the law of hypo descent which is the one drop rule still is the law of the land. And I was shot last week in the Harvard you know official university publication. My friend James today needs his black psychologist and another scholar. Did this new book you research on you know who is black and etc etc.. The Supreme Court as late as 1985 affirmed that this one woman was one 30 second or some ridiculous fraction. Black could not put the word white on her passport that she was black legally because she had this one black ancestor so many generations ago. We are the only society maybe you're party to that. But we're the only society really where that's true today. That if you have one black ancestor you are black it's ridiculous my
admixture to my heart not harm but to my shock as you know from the city I'm 50 percent white 50 percent black. But I don't look like I'm 50 percent white. And there people come up to me and said How do you have white because we think if you a black person marries a white person they look you know like a mulatto I don't look I mean I don't know how you think I look but I don't look like I'm half white even to me when but genetically I'm half white. But when you when you see this and you say it often on television in among people do you get a portion of the black leadership that is saying keep your mouth shut. We don't want to hear this you know because look at look at that look at the black people in this room. I have a I have a black friend who teaches at Harvard. I want a barrister. She's one of my best friends. She's like complected. She won't let me do her daily because she has to be 60 70 percent European. But she don't what she want to preserve this fiction that she's blacker than she is white. And it's just not the way it
is weak because of slavery it was because of rape and forced sexuality historically and then more recently choice. You know we've been in or marrying with no matter how separate the law of the land of the races to be in America when the lights came down people slept together. I guess it would be and they still are. I guess it would be the equivalent skip. I know we were talking about race earlier on and we're obviously talking right now as well. But when do you it. I come from Mexico and when you are in Mexico and as you can from Europe. From Polish background Jewish it when you tell Mexicans that they are half Spaniards they don't like it. Because there are only half no. No because the fact that the they want to be native They don't want to be Spaniards really feels this fine us were even raped and left but that's what Eva Longoria said to me. She wanted to be She's 60:40 about Spanish to Native Americans and some of you saw her on my last show she wanted to
be 60 percent native 40 percent and she has 3 percent blacks was thirty seven and three. But this isn't the way it is not the way they killed the Indians. I mean it's hard to have a lot of Native American Indians but they raped the Indians as well. Let's say that it was Timothy so that you inherit half of your genome from your mother and father so if you do the math if you kill everybody in 69 or 70 you know there's not that much of that DNA left. People ask me all the time how come if we all came from Africa which 50000 years ago we did hook up when you do the test say Meryl Streep didn't have any African ancestry The reason is that African DNA has disappeared because it's having each time it's been cut in half over 50000 years how much is left. So an admixture test really measures your DNA for the last 500 years since the time Columbus. Now I'm as interested as the person who has the question about you or your new series on Latin America.
Oh OK I looked at six countries is typical of larger themes in South America. Mexico in Peru is one hour Brazil's one hour Cuba is one hour and Haiti and the d d are one hour and I explore different music religion and culture how black they are their attitudes about race. Mexico here's a shock. Mexico receives 100000 more black slaves from Africa than the United States and nobody knows it. Five hundred fifty thousand Africans went to Mexico and 150000 went to Peru so I do that one as a surprise you know because a lot of people as you know don't realize oh suddenly in Mexico they don't want to hear about you know in Mexico but they have an expression in Mexico saying there's a black grandma in the clause and in every family get four kids one of them got little Negrito thing going on there and I would say and I have and if you go to Acapulco famous Acapulco in the 18th
century it was 70 percent black. And south of Acapulco is a place called the coast. It's a region of Mexico. So I guess Africa and on the East Coast on the Gulf it's Vera Cruz he says he sees the shipwright that you find in finding in encountering this the blackness is the same one that we Jews have been saying all Columbus must have been Jewish or the Pope. I mean. No no yes no black ness is like my friend M.F. is something we argue he's an Air Force and we argue in public. We like each other in private. And he'll say to me boy you know you could be so effective for us you just got your head together and I was like Yeah but you're too far. You know the black masses. But I am a black nationalist in another sense. I'm not like an F or a centrist like that says but what I do my whole life my whole intellectual life is is black. There is there will never be a need. Nobody will ever again have to worry about whether there could be a black encyclopedia.
Nobody will ever have to reinvent the wheel. Nobody will ever say. Can there be a black in dollars we did that and I'm proud that you know and it's a good thing. And you could say you might not like my politics by not liking fact I married a white woman you know you might not think this is too bad. I left the artifacts for my own people and that's the way it is and the other thing when you're black you know if you were people the most common thing black people say even imagine you're not black enough for you this is some like you go if you bleed if you let that bother you. It's like where was with hemophilia. Like he would just pick you to death. You just said to say my daughter Maggie is getting a Ph.D. I have two daughters you all know them. Maggie is she looks white and my father looks white. And Bill Gates a long line of me a lot of times I look like my mother. So my younger daughter looks like me. My mag looks white. So when she's a little kid I said to her because I remember my father told me his father said to him you don't have a hard time
because you look white and white people give you a hard time when they find out you're not white and a black people going to give you a hard time because you're so white they're going to think that you don't like them and stuff and I was very moved my father told me that. So I told Megan she's old enough I said. Sooner or later somebody blacks will tell you not black enough that you're not really black because you have straight hair you look white and she said well what do I say to them then. I said baby I want you remember this. OK. She said what. OK. I said Tell him kiss your black ass. And you do that. People go away. The guy there. But if you say oh I'm going to wear afro and get it DOES SHE DO you know police have to cover my son who gets this think that he's not Mexican enough to to do something similar. In Spanish. Wouldn't he be more perfect universe. If I were in thought which is did not exist and wait what. Yeah. And I could afford to sue and
there would be a true re presentation in the Norton and foliage of American literature where blacks and Latinos would have the space that they need to have. Did we end up doing this two books in Northern for the north and foliage of American literature to be more elastic. Yes and No. There are different ways to teach a text to different candidates. So look how fat this book is. And by the way it's 200 pages shorter than the north of me was I was in African-American literature. So I rather you got to try again next time you know the next edition right. You know my brother used to mark the king you have to take your time and your people will come along. I'm. I will give you one minute. So here it goes like this. This text from this anthology will seep into the north an anthology of American literature. So the Norton anthology of American literature is not going to get
bigger. See this is physically impossible to be impossible. The book will fall apart as any big in this and so but what will happen for the one on American literature. It will start to include in the next edition some of the text in here just like if you look at the Norton anthology of American literature it's blacker now than it was 50 years ago 40 years ago 30 years ago but it can't it can't have that much lead to you know literature in the Norden dolls of American literature right. So. You need your own discrete tradition so that you can have 26 under-paid just so discreet. Well I mean discrete in the sense of self-contained CRT TV and but they need to integrate the larger American canot so that we need an integrated American literature and then we need people have the right to have a course in the Latino Literature African religion to teach more of these texts. But both so we are canon bakers and Canon breakers at the same time
you know that she said certain marginalized groups can internalize oppression. Absolutely. And so why we see so much self destructive behavior among black people among poor Latino people same thing. Let me let me go yeah you know I don't want to take that one only different but I want to ask you something. How can people stop being self-destructive. How. Let me add to that what it is. We both put a lot of hope in that ature and we both think that literature is both a mirror and a tool for change. What kind of poem do what you can. Can a Poor Man really changes society. I don't know I To me it's too much of a burden to put on a writer. The goal changing society. What's literature about the two great things the literature of love and death. They're the first thing first things of all literature is about love and most literature that's explicitly political is not very good literature if it's
subtly political implicitly political then that's OK but I don't know revolution it was created by a book. Oh I fully agree with you and I don't think there's going to be one. This is one of the best points of Latin America's problem to do that one of the worst parts of Latin America's problem. Right. It went when he's being political Absolutely. Yeah and I think the same is true in the African American should look at Tony Morris. Toni Morrison says famously she people in our own town hate her books because they're complicated they're about they're not about noble black people chancing about black people turning in on themselves and all kind of crazy things happen. And we know it's true in the in the tradition 70 percent of all black children are born out of wedlock. OK. Half the black kids in high school don't graduate. Our people think it's easy to be a hip hop star than a doctor or lawyer. Do you know that their own according to the 2000 census. I haven't looked at the 2010 census. There were 100 more Black Cardiologists.
Then there are the total number of black men in the NBA. But nobody knows it. Kids think it's easy to be get into the NBA. It's impossible. You might as well plan on winning the lotto than making it as a professional basketball player. When I was growing up I remember I'm born in 1950 the blackest thing you could be was a doctor lawyer. And that's not true anymore. So we have I mean it is for the black middle class and upper middle class perpetuating itself in the black underclass is perpetuating itself. Now you ask me how to cure it. We need a jobs bill. We need a comprehensive jobs but we need people to be able to work hard and make it into the system in the way that our parents did from the no class to the working class in factories and the from the working class of the middle class. But those jobs are all gone. First thing went south and they went to India and now they're in China. You know so that we need a new economic revolution that gives people a stake in the system. That's the first thing. But the cause of poverty are both
structural and behavior. So we need reform of public education. We need job opportunities but we also need a revolution no mind when we actually believe. You know one of the leitmotif seceding is believing in a dream. And the slaves think about how hard it was to be a slave and believe that literacy would set you free when you were a slave. Think about how hard it was to be a Jew. For thousands of years of Western history but the Jewish people believed in deferred gratification. Well black people when I was growing up deferred gratification to baby Dr. King in that the kingdom got make a better and forget George Wallace You got to work hard you got to be a doctor. Cornell was still I sometimes sit around have a drink going to loves Casablanca around the corner when he was here we would have a drink and we'd say how crazy our parents were to believing grandparents that we would actually one page be sitting up at Harvard or sitting on the stage in the Brattle Theater or on WGBH or on the tenth of the million things that you know people
like you and all of us have been able to achieve. Take There was no repressive no logical for them to believe it but they did and we were stupid enough to believe it. And guess what it worked. It worked and now when we have more opportunities for our people a huge percentage don't believe it anymore. We need to reform the prison system. This whole the draconian drug laws so that as this Michelle Alexander said famously It's the new Jim Crow. Well where are all the black men. They're in jail. We've got to get them out we've got to get the right to vote again we've got to keep them going in the first place we've got to change the laws. Likewise I am very concerned because I've been in jail. Yeah. You've been to the White House too. Yeah yeah but I've been the White House already and it's it's a lot more fun to go on your own two feet then because you go out with a police officer in the whole world is how many people the beer called the beer called the miracle plays and as about the beer. Yeah. I was I was going to add to that that the Latinos
are close to 50 million in this country. One out of every four Americans is now almost one of out of every four years of a Latino background. And yet the dropout rate in elementary school is frightening. We are not having enough Latino kids even finish elementary school let alone go to middle school and that's economic man. And second the biggest attraction for many young Latino males is the army. If there is a future the Army's going to give to them for a lot of black males to a lot of women the same thing when I get my graduate students say you can write your Ph.D. You have to paint the picture you got to the yellow brick road. One foot from the other you can make it. And not just make it to jail. Right. Yeah because a lot of these kids when you interview they go I'm going to jail anyway. I'm going to jail anyway by the time I'm 20 I'm going to jail. My dad is in jail. My granddad is a skill. You know I think I need to add one element here that I think is important and
that is that the Latinos are defined by the yet another factor. You know another element that we have not mentioned here and that is immigration. Many of us Latinos are immigrants many of us see ourselves. Certainly me we see ourselves as immigrants and all of you when you came I was 25 25 25 rather late and I have to tell you that there is a sharp difference between the Latino group as a minority group and others in that the closeness and you know it because of all the things that you've been doing in your in your PBS show the closeness with the place once called home. It's nothing like what the talents had or the Jews or the Germans. You can be in the past if you live in California within 10 minutes by just crossing the border if you want or in Puerto Rico within an hour from Hartford. You are backing someone you don't close the past in such a sharp decisive fashion.
In this connection with a place called home the fines the Latino community in a way that is only like any other group. I think that this is a connection with Latin America and Latinos is something that makes us move in the way we move in mixed. If you get your hands out of this make mix a mix was much more transnational much more coming and going constantly. You're saying the border between your past ethnic self and your present I think is porous reapers and quite and you carried flu so absolute your time a lot of the people I interviewed in the series in Mexico would say yeah I've been back here three months. I used to live in L.A. I go like where you legally go now we cross illegally both ways and just like it was. Normal and it's a normal thing and it's part of the life of the community there are entire Mexican communities in one haka where there are no men. All the men are in the United States women children and old people. And then come
the winter men arrive and then they disappear again and it is not only about Latinos in the United States it's about the absence of those individuals in Latin America. Yeah I don't know anything about the brain of this movement but I'll look it up but you know more or people of color there were white Morison and black a boar's Othello was a black a Moore and that was Shakespeare right. And but there were people from northern Africa and who were Arabic and Muslim there is no equivalent of the of that of that 10 within the Latino community but Skip and I were talking today about an important figure that I would really relate to do boy in a way that might be less himself somewhat so more of a stretch but I think it's very important and it's my next book it's coming out in February in 1925 HOAs have us consider last who had been a minister of education is the guy who helped in the very last course Akkad was
put together all the year art in murals all over Mexico City in other parts of the country wrote an essay called missed the Saturday missed the Saturday is is the condition. That that brings together the different misses in his suggest we were talking about if you had read it that he missed these saws are going to rule the world that they are the ultimate. You can see it in kind of Darwinian but also racist in in Arion Nazi ways they have superseded all previous minorities all previous ethnic groups and missed pieces will come to rule the entire world with the Chicano movement in the United States in the nineteen sixties they were in that coincided with the civil rights era to pass consider laws as the main feel loss of for profit a year and believe that their quest to transform the United States was a quest to bring mestizos to the very center of culture. When Obama was campaigning there was talk of
looking at him as a misty saw through the prism of Consuelos very different discourse from two boys but one that talks about not a small elite but the masses being meant or targeted to dominate and there is within the Latino community this kind of prophetic utopian or this troubling vision of the we are subverting this country from within by demographic. He facts in that. Ultimately the country is going to be recontact step. And the immediate relevance here is that the new mixed race movement and you get a lot of people who are you know what we call mulatto still call me like those who would check not black or white they would check other or mixed race or you know now we have so many categories of the census invest Conseil as will be seen as a prophet of that movement he had his problems I
mean serious problems but so what's so funny is that independently in two weeks I guess the new Norton critical edition of Kane will be published which I've edited with my colleague Rudolph Byrd. We have a whole section on best Conseil as an influence on Jean Toomer because Jean Toomer said I'm not black I'm not white I'm I'm a new race. But he did it because he was embarrassed about being black. It wasn't a positive thing it was a negative thing. Yes Conseil us was more of a positive thing. Dubois was a mixed race person. But he was descended from a Haitian Dubois his father was a Haitian. People forget that. But he was and but he was obviously made a lot of look at Dubois's picture but Dubois was the blackest man of all. You know he would not it was not worth worrying about is hybridity because he was trying to you know say black people as as black people when I think about the town detent there's obviously some people going to be brain surgeons and some people who are or you know are going to do different
other different other occupations. We need to get more and more Latinos in the MIT and Harvard in Yale and Stanford but we need to get more and more Latinos in community because not everybody is going to be a neurosurgeon. Right. And they can't be what I would like to see is that the many spent a diminishing of the economic disparity between people who are working class and people who are upper class. I mean we have a class separation this country day we couldn't even imagine 10 years ago 20 years ago it was 1 percent of the people having such a huge percentage of of the wealth it's not. It's just not fair and it's not right. We need more economic economic democracy in this country. We need to be able to give poor people a stake in the system again like my father had. My father still live 97 worked two jobs worked in a paper mill the day he was a janitor in the evening. And he believed that my and my brothers chief of oral surgery Bronx Lebanon
- Cambridge Center for Adult Education
- WGBH Forum Network
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- Two leading cultural thinkers, Ilan Stavans and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., discuss Latino and African American relationships in the U.S.Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, and general editor of the newly published Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and general editor of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
- Business & Economics; Culture & Identity
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Speaker2: Gates, Henry Louis
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- Chicago: “Cambridge Center for Adult Education; WGBH Forum Network; Henry Louis Gates and Ilan Stavans: Culture Wars and the Canon,” 2010-12-16, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 15, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-t14th8bx58.
- MLA: “Cambridge Center for Adult Education; WGBH Forum Network; Henry Louis Gates and Ilan Stavans: Culture Wars and the Canon.” 2010-12-16. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 15, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-t14th8bx58>.
- APA: Cambridge Center for Adult Education; WGBH Forum Network; Henry Louis Gates and Ilan Stavans: Culture Wars and the Canon. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-t14th8bx58