I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
– Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Perhaps you didn’t know that the soft drink Tropical Fantasy is manufactured by the Ku Klux Klan and contains a special ingredient designed to sterilize black men. (A warning flyer distributed in Harlem a few years ago claimed that these findings were vouchsafed on the television program “20/20.”) Perhaps you didn’t know that the Ku Klux Klan has a similar arrangement with Church’s Fried Chicken—or is it Popeye’s?…
People arrive at an understanding of themselves and the world through narratives—narratives purveyed by schoolteachers, newscasters, “authorities,” and all the other authors of our common sense. Counternarratives are, in turn, the means by which groups contest that dominant reality and the fretwork of assumptions that supports it. Sometimes delusion lies that way; sometimes not. There’s a sense in which much of black history is simply counternarrative that has been documented and legitimatized, by slow, hard-won scholarship. The “shadowy figures” of American history have long been our own ancestors, both free and enslaved.
– Henry Louis Gates, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Black Man