The Back Room

With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.

In 1972 Gil Scott-Heron published The Nigger Factory

nigger factory

In 1972, Gil Scott-Heron published The Nigger Factory.  I read it for the first time this morning.  His first book, The Vulture, a murder mystery with a social conscience, hooked me from page one.  He dropped out of college to write it and the investment paid off.  The words singe the pages.

The Nigger Factory tells a different story.  The fictional Sutton University, a black college located in Virginia, is on the verge of total chaos.  The administration, the Student Government Association and a militant campus organization use faculty and students as pawns to feed their separate agendas. The threat of all out war has each group fracture into individuals fighting for personal survival.

Scott-Heron, as he did in The Vulture, leads us through every point of view, especially the ones who confidently predict the future only to be outmatched by their own pride and ego.  In a paperback-brisk 237 pages The Nigger Factory pins the reader to events that go from bad to worse.  The possible ways out of the battle are right there if only one side would listen to the other.

What transpires at the end is shocking.  Scott-Heron seems to invite both the shock and inevitability.  If the inevitability sinks in, a second, more traumatizing shock may occur.  He could be clever if it were his intent.  The verbal violence erupting from miscommunication speaks his intent.  What each reader sees in front of them and how they react is ultimately what he wants us to chew on.  Without getting gratuitous in the narrative he simply confronts us with the truth.  He’s not being clever.  He’s being compassionate.

This should be a dated book.  His characters express feelings that should show how far we’ve come, how much progress we’ve made in listening to each other.    Instead, there are days I can’t read another news story without burying my face in my hands.

Next week marks the four-year anniversary of Gil Scott-Heron’s death.    If we were lucky enough to have his spirit in our lives once more I doubt he would be interested in saying I told you so.

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This entry was posted on May 17, 2015 by in Book Review, Books and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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