A bad book and a bad premise


THE BLACKMAN'S GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING THE BLACKWOMAN. By Shahrazad Ali. Civilized Publications. 184 pages. $10.50.

IF THIS BOOK doesn't leave you pining away for "The Memoirs of Gabby Hayes," nothing will. Already it has outraged black women with its gross overgeneralizations, invidious sexism and clarion call for black women to become doormats for their men.

It also has rehashed the spurious charge that black men and women in America do not "get along" and that there is some type of gender gap in the black race that does not exist in other races. The only difference between Ali's book and the works of black feminists is that the latter lay all the blame for the "gender gap" on men, while Ali faults the women. Both are extreme positions, and both are false.

That, however, is not the most disturbing aspect of Ali's work. The book isn't just bad; it's actually worse than bad. Amid the furor and controversy over her thesis -- that black women have "self-inflicted, nearly psychotic insecurity" which causes them to "out of control" and refuse to "submit" to black men -- no one has noticed that Ali simply can't write.

The author doesn't just dangle participles. She lynches them. This sentence from Chapter 3 is a glaring example: "Risking the threat of being further charged with overgeneralization and group stereotyping, the following lists describe the three basic types of Blackwomen." There are also problems of basic subject-verb agreement ("Her fantasies of what a relationship should be like is patterned right off television"), spelling errors ("These black children are shown by example that it is acceptable to live in squaller") and incorrect noun-pronoun number agreement ("The sisters who propagate this kind of life is most happy when she can find a Blackman who will go along with her alleged cultural statement").

Ali probably thinks such gawd-awful writing is excused by the disclaimer in the table of contents, in which she warns those foolish enough to try reading on that the book "does not contain perfect American English or grammar." It sounds as if Ali was too cheap to hire a good editor.

"The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman" is not Ali's first book. She has two prior offenses. "Day by Day" and "How Not to Eat Pork" were published in 1976 and 1985, respectively. And she's not done yet. Ali plans to publish "The Blackwoman's Guide to Understanding the Blackman" later this year.

I can hardly wait.

Gregory Kane writes from Baltimore.

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