Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sapphire/PUSH

Push, by Sapphire was an uncomfortable, painful reading experience. Claireece “Precious” Jones is an overweight, illiterate black sixteen year old girl who is pregnant with her second child. She delivered her first at twelve and her father is the father of both of her children. Her mother is an abusive, jealous, reclusive figure who offers Precious neither protection nor love and she abuses Precious verbally, sexually and physically. This first novel is by the poet and performance artist, Sapphire. Sapphire spent time teaching literacy in Harlem, which makes this story with all of its broken characters all the more heartbreaking. Through the intervention of her school’s principal, Precious is sent to attend a literacy program and encounters a teacher who finally helps Precious to learn to read and to understand that she has value and a future. When Precious first goes to the alternative school, she’s given a test to determine if she should be in the G.E.D. class, which requires reading at the eighth grade level. She does not qualify.
“For me this nuffin’ new. There has always been something wrong wif the tesses. The tesses paint a picture of me wif no brain. The tesses paint a picture of me an’ my muver – my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible. One time I seen us on TV. It was a show of spooky shit, an’ castles, you know shit be all haunted. And the peoples, well some of them was peoples and some of them was vampire peoples. But the real peoples did not know it till it was party time. You know crackers eating roast turkey and champagne and shit. So it’s five of ‘em sitting on the couch; and one of ‘em git up and take a picture. Got it? When picture develop (it’s instamatic) only one person on the couch. The other peoples did not exist. They vampires. They eats, drinks, wear clothes, talks, fucks, and stuff but when you git right down to it they don’t exist. I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. Don’t nobody want me. Don’t nobody need me. I know who I am. I know who they say I am – vampire sucking the system’s blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for.” I wanna say I am somebody. I wanna say it on subway, TV, movie, LOUD. I see the pink faces in suits look over top of my head. I watch myself disappear in their eyes, their tesses. I talk loud but still I don’t exist.”
Sadly, despite the tremendous progress Precious makes in learning to read and finally being able to leave her mother’s apartment to care for one of her two babies (the first has Downs Sydrome and has been with her grandmother since she was born), Precious begins to “age out” of the system and the social workers involved in her case are more motivated to see her get into the workplace as a home worker, taking care of the elderly than they are in seeing her achieve her G.E.D. or something better. Precious learns that she’s H.I.V. positive, the final legacy from her abusive father. Despite all this, the book ends on a hopeful note. It comes as no surprise that Sapphire became the center of some degree of controversy over the work. As a result of her well-publicized half-million-dollar advance from an "establishment" publisher, there were some subtle political connotations since her work seems to portray the black male, and urban blacks in general, in a negative light. Coincidentally, this book was recommended to me when I expressed an interest in reading Erasure, by Percival Everett. Read Push first and Erasure will make more sense to you. Erasure is about a black writer who writes purely literary fiction touching on themes about art and theology, but he can’t get a break. His would-be publishers complain that the work isn’t “black enough”. From reviewer Bernard W. Bell:
“Because his own most recent experimental novel has been rejected by publishers as not black enough, Monk is outraged at the national success of Juanita Mae Jenkins, an amateur black middle-class writer with little knowledge and less actual experience of living in an urban black community, and at her exploitative first novel in the neo-realistic vernacular tradition of the ghetto pulp fiction of Robert ‘Iceberg Slim’ Beck and Donald Goines, We's Lives in Da Ghetto. With self-righteous indignation, Monk, under the pen name Stagg R. Leigh and with little or no intellectual, aesthetic, and ethical distance between himself and the implied author of Erasure, writes MyPafology, an outrageously scurrilous parody in eye dialects, and its authenticity and authority are acclaimed by white editors and critics as well as a popular black TV talk-show hostess as a commercial and critical prize-winning success. In contrast to Monk's judgment that the parody, whose title Leigh has blatantly insisted that the publishers change to Fuck, is ‘offensive, poorly written, racist and mindless,’ the white judges on the Book Award Committee consider it ‘the truest novel’ that they have ever read. ‘It could only have been written by someone who has done hard time. It's the real thing.’ Ultimately, the huge commercial success of the parody and pseudonymous Stagg R. Leigh, engineered by a multi-million-dollar movie contract and the Book Club of Kenya Dunston, the nationally popular TV talk-show hostess, results in Monk's complicity with the media in the erasure of his integrity and individuality.”
I’ll make no judgment about the quality of the story or the writing as they're both so unconventional I have no basis for comparison. I will say that once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down. At times, the intentionally terrible grammar and spelling were a challenge. From a social consciousness perspective, it brought me to the very crux of the tension that we feel all across the country right now. I’ve pondered the opposing points of view and I believe it comes down to the ideological differences in our answers to the simple question: Am I my brother’s keeper? The protagonist in Push and both of her children, the products of incestuous rape are completely unequipped to function as productive and self-supporting members of society, through no fault of their own. Some of us believe that our society owes something to these children. Some of us don’t. The second thing Push brought to the forefront of my consciousness was the question of what this type of novel says to and about black authors. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Sapphire should muzzle her art because it shows a side of urban life that isn’t flattering to black Americans and that may indeed further perpetuate stereotypes. The story represents the truth of thousands of people of all races. On the other hand, I can understand that the literary writer, who happens to be black would feel frustrated with the publishing business and a seeming unwillingness to publish or promote serious black authors. I can’t say, although I imagine it’s not unlike the struggle any literary writer faces in our market driven economy where popular fiction brings in all the revenue.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi , I think that the overall assesment of the book was fantastic . However , you wrote "The protagonist in Push and both of her children, the products of incestuous rape are completely unequipped to function as productive and self-supporting members of society, through no fault of their own." I just want to make it clear that having a child with Down Syndrome is no more likely to happen as a product of incest than it wold happen typically. The last thing we need it the idea that children who are differently abled are the "consequences" of negative actions.

Anonymous said...

hmm , I should have spelled check . LOL

Lisa said...

Anonymous, I hope nobody would ever associate Down Syndrome with incestuous rape and I really hope what I wrote doesn't read that way.

But just in case anyone is likely to infer that kind of connection, thank you for commenting and clarifying.

Larissa lov prof. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

i cant wait to red this book im going to get it tomorrow

Anonymous said...

i would like to read the book and watch the movie...as a person that works with some of the most severely abused children in our society i think a movie will help keep theses issues back to the fore front.....i think its a shame so many of todays children and youth are being hurt daily ...graduating from high school not being able to read....and people are not speaking out ...if you feel a child is in danger speak out get them help .....

ksw said...

My husband I went to see this movie together and I have to say we felt the same emotional roller coaster in this film. It was great and I pray it encourages all to speak up if they are being abused there is help, It's not their fault it's the abusers and remember love is not suppose to hurt or tear down, it is suppose to built up...

Anonymous said...

I say Saffaire on the Mo'neique show and what she said was the character Precious was partly from one one the students she taugh who was abused by her father and had a down child.

I don't think she or anyone else is insisting that the child had a disability as a result of abuse its just some things she come across.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I recently saw the movie "Precious" and were emotionally drained after the movie, but in a good way.

The movie was a raw account of impoverished inner-city life and the still-taboo subject of incest in the African-American community. We can't remain silent about this issue. We must teach our children to speak up and have a voice because no one else will.

Precious' mother, Mary, was stuck in the quicksand of the welfare system, and it seemed didn't want to be rescued. Why? Perhaps it was because that was all she knew, or, because she was completey polarized and numb due to her low self esteem and self-loathing behavior.

The jealousy and hatred Mary had for her Scorpio baby, Precious, was so deeply disturbing and I dare say, evil, that I couldn't even feel pity for her. There was no redeeming value in her character. Why would Precious decide to go back to live with her? To perpetuate the cycle of abuse and self-hatred?

Sapphire's first hand account of a systemic and cyclical problem in the African-American community serves as a reminder that we STILL have much work to do to aid our young men and women. This particular account may have occurred in the 80's, but if you dig deep enough, you'll find little has changed.

I'm going to purchase the book, but, I'm sure I'll only be able to read it in doses.

Thank you for letting me share.

Anonymous said...

I think this movie was good. I would love to go ahead and read the book. Because ive heard that there is more stuff being discussed in their. I think precious, Monique and the teacher definently did a awsome job on there part. And people who start to judge Monique on the role she played remember its just acting. Wich she is definenetly good at. Good Job!!!

Anonymous said...

Im going to get this book 2day i just got to read it

Anonymous said...

Jean

Physical and sexual abuse has been and is ocurring in all races. There are children being used by their parents today in human trafficking and prostitution to get drugs.
The movie "Precious" puts the word out to any child that is in an abusive situation that it is wrong and it is not there fault. I feel that this movie will be a help line for all races and we need a wake up call to what the world has allowed to run rampant for many years and that is the abuse of our children. There should be more mass media and programs devoted to helping the children in abusive households. I applaud the aothor, director, producers and the cast for this revelation.

Anonymous said...

An easy read yet disturbing. Precious has so many redeeming qualities considering her circumstances. Her goals are high despite what others think of her and she succeeds. I'm passing this book on to another but I have qualms about how this emotional story may push someone over the edge who is an abuse survivor.

watkinssm42 said...

I just watched precious and cannot believe how close the movie entailed my upbringing. All the abuse, neglect...it was as if the author had written my past and put it in a movie format. A book can hold so much meaning and a movie can make you cry; like I did. I give two thumbs up for this movie.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just watched the movie Precious. I am a survivor of years of sexual,physical and verbal abuse. My mother was also extremely overweight and I being the oldest did all the housework and cared for my other siblings. I was luckier than Precious in one big way I could read and loved it. I made the honor roll up until I quit school. I finished the 10th grade. School was my refuge. I got married at 16 had 3 children before I was 21. I took and passed the GED test. My children all have good jobs my oldest daughter is a teacher and has her masters. I also raised my niece because she was also being sexually abused. She is grown now and doing great has two year degree and twins, she is planning on finishing her degree within a couple of years. I would have not made it with out the help of great teachers I had telling me I could life a different life. I believed them and I did. My children do. To me the point of the movie is that life is precious, and little girls are precious and it is up to us women to help girls in trouble anyway we can. I also have one other difference than Precious I am white. Bad parents are in all races. I feel good knowing I stopped the cycle in my branch of the family at least. I think it was my purpose in life. I am 50 years old now. I didn't know how to be a good parent. I only knew I wanted to do it better than my mother did so I read books. Books have always saved me. Watching the movie reminded be of what I have overcome in life. I didn't feel sad watching it I felt proud. The one part that stuck in my heart was when Precious said no one could take better care of her baby than her I felt the same way about my children. They were all I had and I knew they loved me. Love heals all things.

moonrat said...

thank you all for sharing your stories here. it's inspiring to realize how much literature is able to reach us on a personal level. i'm so glad you took the time.

watkinssm42 said...

My comment to all of you... Precious was an eye opener to many of us...I went as far as writing my own memoir and getting it published...my book Touching Temptation...it was difficult to write, but I did it... all of you that wanted to go to school, go for it...it's never to late to learn.

Anonymous said...

Well Im definatly late on this one. I just finished watching the movie Precious (rented it). Wow, very powerfull, disturbing, sad, mixed with hope and love. I dont understand why there is (perhaps was) controversy. Child abuse and poverty shouldnt be classified in any specific race. These horrid and tragic events occur in every race. To me its not a negative portrayl of blacks, its a true portrayl of mankind.

Anonymous said...

i saw the movie, and i cried, i can't believe that precious had HIV virus, she don't deserve, she is a strong momma girl, she confronted her mother to save her child....i cried a lot...beautiful book... i want to read it, and i'm portuguese...good movie, congratulations...