A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib - Book Review

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$27.00
ISBN: 9781984801197
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Published: Random House - March 30th, 2021

“The problem with approaching history in America is that too many people measure things by distance and not by impact.” This should be the book that catapults Abdurraqib to public intellectual. A gorgeously written, deeply moving, and intellectually rigorous collection of essays that is also a memoir and a topical meditation on the black experience and the history of black performance in America from the acclaimed poet and music writer. From the formally experimental essay in the form of a poetic crown that juxtaposes Mike Tyson and Bernie Mac,to essays on Joesphine Baker, Beyoncé, and Merry Clayton the haunting backup singer on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” to the essay “Sixteen Ways of Looking at Blackface,” Abdurraqib always takes the reader on a journey through culture and history, both American and personal. He explores how Black Lives Matter as a statement is “commodif[ied] into silence,” the “weapons people disguise in small talk,” and how “if you are Black, and you are twice as good as a lot of [white] people doing [the same thing], it serves you to remind the public of your greatness from time to time.” Come for the intellectual engagement with Aretha or Lando or self-congratulatory Hollywood movies where race relations are sanitized, stay for the memories of Abdurraqib’s late mother, for his poetic prose, and moments like the one late in the book in which an embrace saves a life. ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood