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June 27, 1973 - Image 10

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Michigan Daily, 1973-06-27

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Page Ten



B L A C K AMERICA, edited by
Thomas Kochman. University of
Illinois Press, 424 pages, $12.50,.
BACK IN 1944, Dan Burley, a
popular black Harlem news-
paper columnist, published a
paperback originally called Dan
Burley's Original Handbook of
Harlem Jive. It was the first
extended dictionary of the lan-
guage of the urban type of black
personality known as the "Har-
lem hep cat." The hep cat was
a peculiar product of Harlem of
the 1930s and the prototype of the
black "ghetto hustler" who
emerged as a community sub-
group with a very distinguish-
able life style.
The colloquial language of the
hep cat was called "jive tallt,"
an argot that was consciously
cultivated in Harlem's jive so-
ciety as an inner circle means
of Ii n g u i s ti c communication
among themselves. A very com-
mon example of the orthography
of this language was the adjec-
tive "beat." If a person or ob-
ject was "beat," it meant that
the person or object was "non
descript," "decrepit," "p o o r,"
"ugly," "down and out," "bor-
ing," "tired," "exhausted," or
"broke" (monetarily).
SOME TWENTY years later the
adjective "beat" had entered
the lexicon of the white world. I
recall that even C. Wright Mills,
the e in n e n t sociologist, once
used the word in his writings,
and the 1950s "white hipster" of
San Francisco and New York's
Greenwich Village whose philoso
phy, life style, artistic and liter-
ary values were celebrated in
the novels of Jack Kerouac was
called the "beat generation." In
this instance, being "beat" meant
"spiritually beat," which is not
precisely what the original tar-
lem hep cat meant by "beat,"
although there is some emphatic
correlation involved. The prob-
lem here was that the 1950s beat
generation did not acknowledge
that the concept of "beatness"
had been transferred from the
black world of Harlem into the
chic language of the white "de-
viant" by way of the black jazz
Later on, the younger extreme
nonconformists that followed the
heyday of Kerouac's beat gener-
ation were called "beatniks," a
generational phenomenon t h a t
lasted only a few years. After
that they were "hippies," which,
again, harks back to the original
terminology created by the hep
DAN BURLEY described "jive
talk" as "language in mo-
In jive language, a person whob
was uninitiated was a "square"
or a "lame" (sometimes
"lane"). The lexicon of jive talk
was pretty extensive; Burley's
dictionary I i s t e d almost eight
hundred words, many of which
evoked a variety of meaning. The
hep cat could engage in long dis-
courses entirely in jive. As a
"defense mechanism," the moti-
vations behind the cultivation of
jive talk was mainly to confuse
and confound whites, who were
called "grays" (or greys). The
grays were placed at the top of
the list of the "uninitiated," but
even a fellow black could be
labeled a square if he was not
identified with the life style of
the hep cats. To be a genuine
hep cat one had to have the soul
of a hustler-the male who was
committed to living by his wits
withoult holding down a legiti-
mate job (holding down a
But the Harlem community of
the depression of the 1930s was

a place where most everybody
was "hustling" to some degree
in order to subsist. Yet most
Harlemites who were not on re-
lief (welfare) tried to work on
those ten to twelve dollar a
week "slaves" downtown, some-
times indulging in low-key hustl-

ing on the side, e.g. pla;
numbers. As a result, th
ing line between the pure
Harlem hep cat as a s
and the ordinary Harlem
was often quite blurred.
genuine hustler, the real1
was a type recognized b
Harlemite. He was a ci
that was imitated and a
especially by the young
both male and female;
also suspect, if not avoi
others as a person with
underworld connections.
easily recognized by his
esque sartorial extremis
wide-rimmed Stetson h
exaggerated English drag
dered suit with ankle-siz
on his tapered trousers.
But it was his langua
language of "jive," that
password into the inner
the hep cat. It was a
world that was both allur
sordid; adventurous and
ous for the "square." Th
of the inner society of
cat had nothing to do wi
(or even black) stand
"morality." In the, game
sonal survival, the hep
not "immoral" but "amo
him, any enterprise, de
hustle, any kind of collb
scheme or device was e
as long as it was p.
enough to maintain a r
existence without having
down a slave. In this rei

ying the pologists and writers.'
fe divid- Thomas Kochman, a p
type of speech, has established
ubgroup lines and fixed the 1
citizen around the subclass
Yet the this study is focused.
hep cat, tum comprises a rail
y every defined young genera
haracter ner-city dwellers, calle
idmired, the "cool people" or "
blacks, ple," from w h i c h
he was contemporary version
ded, by hustlers whose langu
possible special idiom of th
He was Authors such as Clau
pictur- and the 1960s "black
m - the ists" such as H. Rap
at, the cited as genuine repr
pe-shoul- of the stratum. H. R
ed cuffs for example, in an ex
his book Die, Nigger,
"The street is wh'
age, the oloods get their edu
was the from reading about
world of Jane going to the zoo
hring and Claude Brown, who
hazard- Harlem, describes it a
e ethics -"The language of s
the hep it might be called, '5s
th white or 'colored English'-i
ards of honest vocatl portray
of per- America. The roots ofi
cat was than three hundredy
ral." To Not only is the ling
al, any acter of black cultura
oration, cation examined and
gitimate but also black music
rofitable fashion of Charles K
Marginal Urban Blues remains
to hold And there is that here
'ard the elusive area of non(

The editor, family-kinship relationships, and
rofessor of dress differently."
I the guide- An understandable f I a w in
parameters sotne of the reasoning in this
on which book, however, is that some of
This stra- the authors, including the editor,
her loosely have assumed that the language,
tion of in- living style, the "kinesics," etc.,
d by others of the "street people," as de-
'street peo- fined, are the true generic per-
comes the sonification of the social roots of
of khetto what they, the social scientists,
age is the perceive as "black culture."
te streets. Street people, says one author,
ide Brown, John Horton, do not exist by the
revolution- time schedules of industrial so-
Brown are ciety, which is "clock time,"
esentatives Moreover, standard American
.ap Brown, middle-class clock time is di-
cerpt from rected toward the future; it is
Die, says: also "rational and impersonal."
ere young "In contrast, time for the lower
cation, not class is directed toward the pre-
Dick and sent, irrational and personal.
." Peasants, Mexican - Americans,
grew up in Negroes, Indians, workers are
nother way 'lazy'; they do not possess the
ooul-or, as American virtues of ambition
poken soul' and striving for success." Thus
s simply an street people live by "street
l of black time." They are known to the
it are more outside world as "hoods," hood-
years old." lums who live on and off the
uistic char- streets. They are recognizable by
tic char- their own fashions in dress, hair
reassessed, stles, gestures, and speech, and
rafter the also by their acti ities "-duk-
.eil, whose tg (fighting or at least look
Sa classic. ing tough), "hustling" (any wiy
a very of making money outside the
a sorer co- legitimate world of work), "gig
.i n g (partying), and by their
apparent nonactivity, "hniging"
on the corner. What is called
elsewhere in this study the "hus-
tling ethic" cannot manage to
function in the ghettoes if con-
sciousness is bracketed into the
temporal regulations of clock
time. Street people are all pre-
sumed to possess the hustling
REGARDING this outlook, the
socialist Julius Hudson cri-
ticizes the social scientists,
whose works share one short-
"They focus almost exclusive-
ly on the typical, impoverished,
black lower class. They fail to
give attention to members of the
black lower class who are atypi-
cal in socioeconomic and other
respects. Sociology and other
academic disciplines have failed
to produce a thorough study of
the subculture of the black hust-
ler, to be specific, the hustler in
The present study attempts to
correct this flaw in sociological
approaches, but it implies that
the hustling subculture and the
street people lifestyle is deviant
not only to conformist middle-
class black norms but also to
- the "typical, impoverished, black
lower class" who might be near-
ly as conformist to white middle-
class norms as the black middle-
class in social aspirations if not
affluent acquisitions. In this fa-
shion Hudson himself casts some
doubts on just how representa-
tive of black culture value total
are the street people and the
The problem is not solved by
the claims made in this book by
the Baratz team and others that
the aim of the-e methodology is
to define black culture solely in
"black terms." The studies on-
ly partly achieve this. For one
thing, such a reorientation of the
traditionally ethnocentric focus
on black cultural styles and be-
it) scientifi- havior is coming very late. In
"kinesics." fact, it might be coming too
explored by late.

enjamin G. One should be obligated to say
Sithole. The amen to any degree of intellect-
in' out" is ual, theoretical, and academic
al manner- progress made on any social sci-
T the street ence front as better late than
'ms neither never. But it would help if a
middle-class number of the contributors rea-
hen Baratz, lized how late they really are in
ists, assert view of the worsening situations
have had in the black ghettoes of Ameri-
study and ca. More than that, a review of
-or: "Many the contents of Dan Burley's
roll their book on Harlem jive mentioned
ittle dance earlier not only indicates how
peak. a dis- late in history is Kochman's edi-
sh extended tion, but also that the contribu-

Wednesday, June 27, 1973
tors do not realize that their
lateness make their investiga-
tions all the more limited in
terms of assessing both the
forms and content of black cul-
tural norms.
MUCH is made by the Baratz
team, for example, of the
necessity of rejecting the "social
pathology" model otherwise
known as the "culture of pover-
ty" or "deficit" model in order
to approach black culture on its
own terms rather than by com-
parisons with certain "hypothe-
sized pan-cultural norms" which
are value - laden with racist
prejudices. Kochman, in this re-
gard, points out that the book is
an attempt to get beyond what
Albert Murray, author of The
Omni - Americans, has called the
"fakelore of black pathology"
and its corollary the "folklore of
white supremacy."
However, in dealing with the
cultural ramifications of the ur-
ban condition today it cannot be
said that the social pathology
model is all wrong. It is the
ghetto blacks themselves who
are the chief victims of ghetto
crime rates. Anyone who main-
tains that blIcks robbing, shoot-
ing, killing, and drug saturating
tther blacks is not a pathological
condition is not facing sub-cul-
tir:l realities. It is true thit so
ci1 scientists cited by lan Itid-
so sch as Kenneth Clark, Hor-
ace Cnytris, St. Clair Drike, and
others htve tended to focus al-
most exclusively on the "typical,
impoverished, black lower class"
which does not participate in the
subculture of the hustling street
people. It is precisely these poor
"typical, impoverished, black
lower class(es)," however, who
bear the brunt of crime by
blacks against other blacks,
crime that springs from the mul-
tifarious activities of the hust-
ling subculture.
John Hudson gets arounds this
problem not by glorifying the
philosophy of the hustler's ethic
but by asserting that the hustlers
he interviewed claimed that the
"games" they played did not
represent "crimes of violence
against individuals" but were a
means of "making it without kill-
ing oneself on whitey's jobs" ac-
complished by "tactful circum-
ventions of the law." Thus, in at-
tempting to define "black cul-
ture" in "black terms," the
book Rappin and Stylin' Out is
forced to define "black crime" in
"black terms" in addition to
"black folk music," "motion and
feeling through music," "names,
graffitti, and culture," "black
poetry - where it's at," "lovers
and exploiters" (a euphemism
for the lifestyle of pimping).
ALL OF this, of course, is quite
legitimate and also timely for
the social scientists, but the
study raises a number of ques-
tions and provocative specula-
tions growing out of the study's
limitations in scope. For one,
thing, all the studies contributed
on "black language" such as
Claude Brown's "Language of
-Soul" and Kochman's "Ethno-
graphy of B I a c k American
Speech Behavior" allude to the
importance of black language as
a unique style of "communica-
The language of the street
people of the seventies is not
nearly as extensive and pliant as
the language of jive of the thir-

ties when the hepcat could in-
dulge in long conversations or
orations solely in jive language
without being understood by the
CAROLYN Rodger's article o
"Black Poetry-Where It's A0
only proves this argument that
black language has,.in fact, lost
much of its originality. Most of
the contemporary black poetry
that she exhibits is not composed
in what the linguists identify
as "language of soul," "black
English," etc., but in good old
standard English. What makes
most of her poetry selections
"black" are the ideas, senti-
ments, and the "teachin"' as-

hep cat was, at once, the epi-
tome of the black cynic, the
black rebel, the restricted out-
law, and the extreme hedonist
all rolled into one. He was all of
these things on the nonintellec-
tual level of the dispossessed
R A P P I N' AND Stylin' Out:
Communication in U r b a n
Black America reveals a num-
ber of interesting contributions
to what is called the new social
science. What is presented is an
ambitious anthology of articles
and papers by 28 investigators
who are linguists, psychologists,
sociologists, musicians, anthro-

munication (stylin' ou
cally designated as
Kinesics is uniquelye
such specialists as B
Cooke and Elkin T.
black mode of "styl
observed in the soci
isms and behavior of
people, which confor
to white nor blackx
norms. Joan and Step
a team of behavior
that "genetic racists
ample opportunity to
describe black behav
Afro-Americans do
eyes, perform a I
when they laugh, s1
tinct dialect, establit

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