Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure

Monique Guillory
Richard C. Green
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 334
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    No other word in the English language is more endemic to contemporary Black American culture and identity than "Soul". Since the 1960s Soul has been frequently used to market and sell music, food, and fashion. However, Soul also refers to a pervasive belief in the capacity of the Black body/spirit to endure the most trying of times in an ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. While some attention has been given to various genre manifestations of Soul-as in Soul music and food-no book has yet fully explored the discursive terrain signified by the term. In this broad-ranging, free-spirited book, a diverse group of writers, artists, and scholars reflect on the ubiquitous but elusive concept of Soul. Topics include: politics and fashion, Blaxploitation films, language, literature, dance, James Brown, and Schoolhouse Rock. Among the contributors are Angela Davis, Manning Marable, Paul Gilroy, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michelle Wallace, Ishmael Reed, Greg Tate, Manthia Diawara, and dream hampton.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3856-6
    Subjects: Sociology
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-x)
    Monique Guillory and Richard C. Green

    A magazine reporter once asked Aretha Franklin to define soul.

    “Soul is black,” Ms. Franklin replied.

    And she should know. As the reigning Queen of soul, Aretha Franklin’s life attests to that sweet sensuality that lends power to the voice, spirit to the body and depth to understanding. Soul is the stuff of our dreams and marks that magical domain of powerful nothingness where fantasies and ancestors live. Aimé Cesaire recognized the revolutionary potential of such surrealist manifestations; but at the same time, everybody’s favorite soul-brother-number-one, James Brown, embodies a gritty, gut-wrenching reality which has transcended national boundaries and crossed...

  5. Part One: Black Power
      Steven Drukman

      For a white middle-class child of the seventies, Black Power ran in color on three major networks. Its “power” was ignited on cathode ray tubes or was motored at 33 1/3 r.p.m. I was aware of Stokely Carmichael’s coinage mostly through the sexy-but-safe denizens ofRoom 222,or through downcast, dark-skinned malcontents being preached to by a pious Joe Friday onDragnet. Or, I heard the phrase as anthem-like, its exclamation point coinciding with Sly Stone’s at the end of “Stand!” It was later, in high school, when I learned about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and how white...

    • 1 It’s All in the Timing: The Latest Moves, James Brown’s Grooves, and the Seventies Race-Consciousness Movement in Salvador, Bahia-Brazil (pp. 9-22)
      Anna Scott

      The “Afro” style of movement and performance began in Brazil in the seventies among radicalized sectors of the Black-mixtured community as a way to recuperate and politicize inherited African cultural practices that had been co-opted by the dictatorship as simply folklore, part of “our Brazilian Heritage.” Twenty years later, it appears that this particular style of dance has a fixed set of codes from which the dancer may construct/choreograph meaning into a performance. This position, however, reinstates the paradigm of the “folk” into a dynamic process of identification, communication, and insertion within transnational discourses about the various cultures of people...

    • 2 Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia (pp. 23-31)
      Angela Y. Davis

      Not long ago, I attended a performance in San Francisco by women presently or formerly incarcerated in the County Jail, in collaboration with Bay Area women performance artists. After the show, I went backstage to the “green room,” where the women inmates, guarded by deputy sheriffs stationed outside the door, were celebrating with their families and friends. Having worked with some of the women at the jail, I wanted to congratulate them on the show. One woman introduced me to her brother, who at first responded to my name with a blank stare. The woman admonished him: “You don’t know...

    • 3 Notes of a Prodigal Son: James Baldwin and the Apostasy of Soul (pp. 32-44)
      Nathan L. Grant

      James Baldwin, as a developing essayist and thinker, sought to fashion the Black reaction to anti-Black racism by iterating and reiterating the risk of genuine freedom for whites who refused to relinquish their hatred. Baldwin desired to dissolve the horror of American racism in the crucible of love, and thus pass to his brothers and sisters the cup of understanding. This idea was at the heart of his first collection of essays,Notes of a Native Son(1955), which was hailed by many as an enduring view on the Black condition in America. But perhaps the severest criticism was that...

    • 4 Fragmented Souls: Call and Response with Renée Cox (pp. 45-55)
      Artress Bethany White

      The electric narrative structure of this interview reflects a desire to communicate the ways in which history constantly informs and is reinformed by contemporary life and art. When I first encountered the work of Renée Cox I found myself standing in front of a seven-foot framed photograph of a naked black woman in pumps holding a baby titledYo Mama.Here stood a woman daring the viewer to make her someone’s mammy, bed warmer, or doormat. Cox challenges viewers to leave historical stereotypes about black female sexuality by the wayside and to engage in the act of reinventing the black...

    • 5 Wailin’ Soul: Reggae’s Debt to Black American Music (pp. 56-74)
      Grant Fared

      At the height of his experiment in democratic socialism in the 1970s, Prime Minister Michael Manley coined a stinging retort to those Jamaicans opposed to his government’s restructuring of this Caribbean island’s economy. “We have five flights to Miami every day,” he tartly reminded these disgruntled Jamaicans, the majority of whom were white and Creole. The prime minister’s information about the frequency of flights to Miami was, of course, redundant, since these disaffected citizens were infinitely more familiar than Manley with the plane schedules. However, the Jamaican leader’s contempt for both these malcontents and the U.S. city for which they...

    • 6 Aunt Emma’s Zuni Recipe for Soul Transition (pp. 75-86)
      Carl Hancock Rux

      August, Sunday, 9 a.m.

      Celery (seven sticks)

      Garlic (seven cloves—save some for altar space)

      Pork Sausage (made immediately after the death of the beast)

      Cayenne Pepper (seven dashes)

      Bell Pepper (from someone else’s garden)

      Fresh Tomatoes (from your own garden—crushed to the consistency of blood and pulp)

      Fresh Chicken Livers (store the body of the bird for later consumption)

      Onions (sliced in seven rings, then chopped)

      All-Purpose Flour (three tablespoons)

      Bay Leaf (save some for altar space)

      Salt from your tears

      Season with the blood of your last flow

      Sweat (seven dashes) from the last breast to give...

  6. Part Two: Black Politics
      Tracie Morris

      I’m flowing with reflections of poetic sisterhood politics and its meaning to this book’s theme. Playing with my dense rhyme scheme a tagteam partner in an attempt to marry analysis, opinion, and art. Intense word play is the way we poet types try to understand how we feel. For this artisan, soul is the reflection of culturalists looking for the most alternatives and bearing the most diverse array of accouterments. From my vantage point I see nuanced implications for political direction in Afrofern’s literally abstract articulation. The crystallization of hip black culture in general and its connections to the nation’s...

    • 7 From Freedom to Equality: The Politics of Race and Class (pp. 95-104)
      Manning Marable

      It has been more than a generation since Fannie Lou Hamer’s eloquent and moving plea for freedom and civil rights before the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. More than thirty years have elapsed since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of nonviolent protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to confront the racist phalanx of state police troopers defending segregation. The politics of resistance at that turbulent moment in our history gave new meaning to our sense of identity. The politics of soul in the 1960s was the personal and collective decision to fight for...

    • 8 From Sesame Street to Schoolhouse Rock: Urban Pedagogy and Soul Iconography in the 1970s (pp. 105-120)
      David Serlin

      One of the most memorable moments in Spike Lee’s quasi-autobiographical and highly underrated filmCrooklyn(1994) occurs just as the Lee children are watching an episode ofThe Partridge Family.¹ Crowded around the television set, secretly, in an upstairs bedroom of their Bedford-Stuyvesant rowhouse, the Lee children are mesmerized by the image of David Cassidy and company pounding through the harpsichord-driven white psychedelia of “I Woke Up in Love This Morning.” Like the faded, earthy 1970s colors chosen forCrooklynby cinematographer Arthur Jafa—brick reds, denim blues, canary yellows, and greens and oranges that look as if they were...

    • 9 A Sexual Revolution: From Punk Rock to Soul (pp. 121-125)
      Elena Georgiou
    • 10 Soul, Transnationalism, and Imaginings of Revolution: Tanzanian Ujamaa and the Politics of Enjoyment (pp. 126-138)
      May Joseph

      Revisiting seventies socialism and soul culture from the vantage point of the United States in the nineties raises important questions about the structures of enjoyment embedded in the anticapitalist stance of many emergent socialist states, such as Tanzania during that turbulent time. Most critiques of seventies socialist cultures readily dismiss socialism as having no soul. The inherent assumption of such critiques is that capitalism is the sole arbiter of enjoyment through free and ideologically uncontaminated flow of consumption. Such binary critiques oversimplify the relationship between state formations and citizens as consumers. These critiques further elide the intricate and nuanced strategies...

    • 11 Soul’s Revival: White Soul, Nostalgia, and the Culturally Constructed Past (pp. 139-158)
      Gayle Wald

      In May 1988, English singer George Michael became the first white solo artist ever to have a number one album onBillboard’s Top Black Albums chart. Having dethroned the debut of another British soul import, self-proclaimedwunderkindTerence Trent D’Arby, Michael’s albumFaithheld on to its number one ranking for six weeks, until New Jack artist Al B. Sure! precipitated its gradual slide down the charts and out of musical memory.Faithrepresented a sharp departure—artistically and commercially—for Michael, who achieved international fame as the more musically ambitious half of Wham!, an English pop duo known for...

    • 12 “Soul”: A Photo Essay (pp. 159-166)
      Marilyn Nance
  7. Part Three: Black Pleasure
      Ishmael Reed

      By writing about black pleasure, I risk being chastised by universalists for even positing that there might be such a thing. For the rigorousminded, the notion of black pleasure might be problematic, since, technically, those we designate as “African American” are transracial, having DNA from Asia and Europe. This is a murky area that serious intellectuals will have to deal with sooner or later.

      Moreover, with the grim statistics confronting African Americans, what is there to take pleasure in? Why does this topic even come up? One thinks of those didactic cartoons, printed inThe Final Call,showing African Americans...

    • 13 Ethnophysicality, or An Ethnography of Some Body (pp. 172-190)
      John L. Jackson Jr.

      “That boy can flat-out sing,” seventeen-year-old Shanita says to me as she ever so carefully drapes a just-ironed pair of Boss jeans over a wire hanger. And who am I? I’m AnthroMan®, the anthropologist-in-training who is superscientifically stretched out across Shanita’s pecan-sandy colored comforter.¹ I’m engaged in fieldwork on this day (that rite of passage called participant observation) and one of my first tasks as an ethnographer is to discursively render my environment. So I simply sit on the comforter, take in my surroundings, and jot down notes.

      Shanita’s living room is the same size as my mother’s, but the...

    • 14 Black Bodies Swingin’: Race, Gender, and Jazz (pp. 191-215)
      Monique Guillory

      It is a curious phenomenon of over-determinism and excess that the largest flower in the world smells like rotting meat. On July 30, 1996, when theTitan arumplant bloomed at Kew Gardens in London, throngs of people filed past the unsightly blossom—a phallic monstrosity with a yellow pistil towering ten feet above a mound of fleshy, deep-purple petals. Apart from the botanical significance of the rare sprout, the flower’s appeal lies not in its anticipated beauty but rather in its vociferous odor, news of which has permeated the countryside like, well, a putrid stench. People drawn to the...

    • 15 Stoned Soul Picnic: Alvin Ailey and the Struggle to Define Official Black Culture (pp. 216-226)
      Thomas DeFrantz

      Stone pony:Stand with a proud, wide foot stance. Hold your hands in fists at your waist, elbows to the back. Without moving your feet, turn your trunk to one side and push your weight forward. Swing your fists forward on the One. Snap your fingers as they release back on the Two. Let your back bone slip. Push forward again on the Three. Release the swing, snap, and slip on the Four, while simultaneously shifting your torso to face the other side. Repeat the four-count phrase with as much soul as you got.

      Choreographer Alvin Ailey often used contemporary...

    • 16 The Legend of Soul: Long Live Curtis Mayfield! (pp. 227-235)
      Michael A. Gonzales

      Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my boy’s ride listening to the radio or flipping stations in my own book-cluttered office, I remind myself of one of those cranky old bastards lounging in some ghetto barbershop, inhaling on filterless Camels and screaming their aged opinions as though they were carved in Moses’s tablets.¹ “They don’t make soul music like they used to,” I’m tempted to yell, over the latest sample-heavy Puffy/Bad Boy remix blaring from the bleak landscape known as urban radio. Yet, unlike Nelson George suggested in his groundbreaking textThe Death of Rhythm and Blues,I do not feel...

    • 17 The Stigmatization of “Blaxploitation” (pp. 236-249)
      Richard Simon

      In May of 1996, after some antsy weeks of waiting, I got to see the movieOriginal Gangstas,starring Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Pam Grier, with assists from Richard Roundtree and Ron O’Neal—stars respectively of the black action film classicsBlack Caesar, Slaughter, Coffy, Shaft,andSuperfly—theéminences brunesof blaxploitation.¹ From the first precredit notes of the soundtrack, the movie delivers a densely packed parcel for the viewer to unpack at top speed. At the level of basic narrative, it is almost a textbook example of the genre: cool civilian comes back to town, finds once-tolerable...

    • 18 Question of a “Soulful Style”: Interview with Paul Gilroy (pp. 250-266)
      Richard C. Green, Monique Guillory and Paul Gilroy

      This interview with Paul Gilroy took place in the spring of 1996 in New York City, In recent years, scholars and writers have begun to investigate the international dimensions of soul as it emanates from the Caribbean, Great Britain, and other urban metropoles. Gilroy’s work has been crucial to our (and others’) critical (re)considerations of soul because it calls for a rigorous investigation of the impact that the exchange of ideas and commodities across various national borders has had on these global communities. Similarly, he calls upon us to interrogate both the differences and commonalities among black diasporic communities in...

  8. Part Four: Black Conversation
    • 19 “Ain’t We Still Got Soul?” Roundtable Discussion with Greg Tate, Portia Maultsby, Thulani Davis, Clyde Taylor, and Ishmael Reed (pp. 269-283)

      Greg tate: Supposedly, it’s not an easy thing to meet your maker—not unless you’re a writer, that is. Our profession provides the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of inventing your parents, of creating a lineage and ancestry out of words others have set down on a page. The Soul Conference wasn’t the first time I found myself in the company of Amiri Baraka and Thulani Davis, but it was an occasion to pay homage to three writers I’d claim for birth canals any day. If not Baraka’s talesSystem of Dante’s HellandBlack Music,I’d have never run up on prose...

    • 20 From This Ivory Tower: Race as a Critical Paradigm in the Academy (A Discussion in Two Acts) (pp. 284-312)
      Monique Guillory and Manthia Diawara

      In a book about soul, a roundtable discussion on race as a critical paradigm in the academy may appear a bit incongruous, a sacrilege even. Academics have fallen under heavy fire for sapping the fun out of everything. From movies and music to the blind security most people feel with their own identities—we nitpick and dissect everything of value into nothingness. And now, after submitting “soul” to our unforgiving knife, we have to throw something about “critical paradigms” into the mix.

      But soul-searching is second nature to the fledgling Black academic who must constantly reevaluate and second-guess the personal,...

  9. CONTRIBUTORS (pp. 313-318)
  10. INDEX (pp. 319-324)
  11. Back Matter (pp. 325-325)


You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.