Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/


 
Introductory Note

Introductory Note

Toward the conclusion of the research for this ethnography, "African-American" began to replace "black" as the descriptor of choice for Americans of African heritage. Debate in the academic and popular black press continues. I have retained black for a variety of reasons: my informants used this term for themselves throughout the research; the obvious dichotomy between black and white has important implications for the residents of Harlem who utilize these terms to separate "us" from "them"; and most of my informants, who were educated in the 1960s and 1970s, regard "being black" as a positive form of self-identification. African-American was used by two of my informants after the research period came to an end. They explained its use to me as an attempt to "Africanize" black identity. People who use African-American opt to promote African roots in a positive light rather than to use the confrontational black. As well, African-American has political implications. Its users, wittingly or unwittingly, are part of a movement to replace race as a central issue in civil rights activism with a claim for ethnic status in the United States—for all intents and purposes a more successful pitch in the search for equality.

I quote extensively from tape recordings of interviews with informants, and I have attempted to reproduce black diction, while retaining a readable script. I hope I have avoided giving scholars such as Lawrence Levine reason to berate me for distorting both black


xx

diction and standard English. In discussing his own use of earlier renderings of black dialect, Levine noted,

The language employed in these quotations, of course, is not invariably the language actually spoken by Black Americans but representations of that language recorded by observers and folklorists, the great majority of whom were white and a substantial proportion of whom were southern. The language . . . is a mélange of accuracy and fantasy, of sensitivity and stereotype, of empathy and racism. The distortions, where they exist, were not always conscious; people often hear what they expect to hear, what stereotype and predisposition have prepared them to hear. Thus the variety and subtlety of Negro speech was frequently reduced to what the auditor thought Negroes spoke like. Even when the pronunciation of a given word was precisely the same as that of the collectors, their desire to indicate the exotic qualities of Black speech led them to utilize such misleading and superfluous spellings as wen for "when," . . . wuz for "was," . . . and so on and on. (1978:xv)

Because I have tried to avoid such parodies of black dialect, the vibrant intonation of black diction is missing from my transcriptions; I hope that this does not destroy the excitement of the spoken word for readers who have heard it.


Introductory Note
 

Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/