Blackface by QB WellsBlackface
by QB Wells
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Reviewed by: Push Nevahda
August 2009

Q. B. Wells’s magnificent book, BlackFace, is an ambitious attempt to wrestle and grapple with the psychic plights of a funky bunch of inner city youths. BlackFace reveals the dissonant ghetto rhythms of urban life which saturates the rambunctious lives of his characters. From black self-hate to gang violence, we get a full dose of Well’s brilliant social commentary and the psycho-analysis of what it means to grow up on the harsh and cold frontlines of Chicago’s inner city.

The book’s chief players are Black and Face. The other characters – Jazz, Asia, Penny, Chardonnay, Zero, the bishop, and White Boy Roy - serve as metaphors for everything that is wrong with ghetto life. These characters are realistic, and most of the things that happen with them we can relate to. For instance, Penny has a wicked jump-shot, and dreams of getting into the NBA so he can rescue his mother from crack-addiction. Zero represents the inarticulate sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness that permeates the aspirations of many inner city children. He ain’t shit, and he ain’t gone ever be shit. And Black’s mother reminds him daily of what Zero, Face, and other black children are confronted on the regular: “”You just want to be a no-good nigger.” Asia is the untrustworthy baby-momma, while Jazz is the town harlot, chicken-head, skeezer, and is an easy lay. Wells’ most challenging character is White Boy Roy. He’s white and comes from a privilege background, yet, he spends most of his free-time riding around the hood looking for blow. He likes black women, hanging with the “bros” and he aspires to be a rap star. For Face, White Boy Roy – a college student who sports a nice Grand Cherokee and mad bling-bling - symbolizes white mockery, condescendence, and insensitivity to black pain, grief and suffering.

Black and Face are at the center of the novels plot and story, and Wells treats the matter with the literary brilliance reminiscent of Richard Wright’s Native Son, Morrison’s Bluest Eye, and Baldwin’s biting protest novel, The Fire Next Time. This elegiac passage is perhaps the most poignant example of the psychological dilemma that anchors the entire novel:

“While staring at his reflection in the mirror, thoughts of his mother reverberated through his mind. ‘You ain’t never been nothing in the past and you won’t be nothing in the future, you no-good nigger.’… Black dreamed of lighter eyes and smoother skin, but nothing had changed in his physical appearance. Reaching beneath the sink, Black grabbed a loofah, splashed bleach on its surface, and scrubbed his cheeks. His dark neck and broad shoulders heated as his eyes welled up from the fumes. Forced to rinse his face, he looked at the discoloration he had caused, brushing his fingertips over the scars from the busted pimples of his grotesque face as if he were reading Braille….”

BlackFace does a masterful job probing the psychology of blackness, and what it means to be a black man, but he neglects to justly treat the representation of black women. Asia is a shady backstabber and a complacent baby-momma; Jazz is spiritually aimless and sexually loose; and Ms. Dean is the stereotypical loud-mouth, ignorant, overworked, mammy-mother. And Tiny is a mean, gruffy lesbian who has nothing better to do than smoke blunts and make out with her lover. Is she ONLY a lesbian? Do Asia, Jazz, and Tiny represent all black women in ghetto contexts? Wells does very little to explore the deeper humanity of these four black women. Also, does Blacks and Faces dilemma define the limitations of inner city black men? None of them seemed able to locate the source of their anger and resentment in order to move beyond their futile existence, and Wells doesn’t tell us why. They unconsciously project their anger and resentment onto themselves and each other before ultimately becoming just another ghetto statistic. Yet, for Face, eliminating White Boy Roy did not eliminate his personal feelings of self hate and worthlessness. Black is spared the grim fate of his running buddies but is then relegated to a Beckett-like dilemma of uncertainty and unresolve.

What did you like about the book?
I liked the classic feel of the story and the writing. Wells’s insight remind me of Morrison’s Pecola Breedlove, Wright’s Bigger Thomas, and Baldwin’s No Name In the Street.

What did you dislike about the book?
At times, the book reminded me of Ernest Dickerson’s Juice. But that didn’t really take anything away from the story. However, I would’ve loved to see a more triumphant ending. Also, there are editing errors. We expect a story of this caliber to be taken a little more seriously regarding the editing process. A marvelously gifted writer like Wells ought to know better.

What could the author do to improve the book?
Fire his editor.

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