‘Negropedia’ strikes a chord, for better or worse

 

Patrice Evans is The Assimilated Negro (TAN), a hyper-observant, savagely pop-savvy instigator devoted to turning modern racial discourse on its head. For the past half decade, ever since the debut of his popular “Ghetto Pass” column for Gawker.com, Evans has occupied a prime spot in the middle of the highbrow-lowbrow, Black-white matrix of today’s America. In other words, Evans has been the rare voice capable of speaking to junkies for both White Castle and Colson Whitehead with equal insight and aplomb. His first book, “Negropedia (Three Rivers Press, $14)” is a wide-ranging, deeply idiosyncratic tour through the tricky racial landscape of the Obama era, aimed at pop-culture consumers at the intersecting fan bases of “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show,” “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Boondocks.”

The book echoes the tones of his popular blog and reflects a background honed by his formative years as the beneficiary of New York City’s Prep for Prep program, where he was plucked from the South Bronx, and sent to a predominately white boarding school and liberal arts college.

“In prep school and college I always used the word ‘Negro’ in a jokey irreverent way,” Evans recalled. “Then sometime after the blog started, I often saw folks on the Internet using the ‘pedia’ suffix for content — Wikipedia most famously. And, at some point in brainstorming ideas for a title ,‘Negropedia’came up and just stuck. For a while we though it might be too controversial and the title was ‘The Book of Black,’ but then we went back to ‘Negropedia,’ which I think is the best. The name of the blog itself, ‘The Assimilated Negro’ has become a cultural Rorschach test of sorts. Some people laugh and immediately wink and tell me they ‘get it.’ Some people get upset, and don’t like the irreverent and/or reckless tone. Some people are confused. Some people get stuck on assimilated. Some get stuck on Negro. Some say I’m a sellout, some say I’m too ‘Blackcore’ — it runs the gamut.”

Evans has written about the intersection of race, class and pop culture for “Time Out New York,” Gawker.com, “McSweeney’s” and CollegeHumor.com, as well as “What Was the Hipster?,” an essay collection published by the literary journal “n+1”. In addition to writing for print and online, he also writes rhymes and stand-up bits for fun and profit and says there is a difference in him and his persona.

“It morphs a bit,” Evans explains. “Sometimes I thinks I’m still working it out. Of course, Patrice Evans is a full, living, breathing person and probably doesn’t talk or think about race and culture as much as his persona TAN would have you believe. I think it takes a lot more work, and also courage to be a full, living person talking about their life and ideas online — one, to be interesting, and two, not to have the hazards of online ephemera impose in your actual life. I started with TAN and Patrice having a lot more overlap on the Venn Diagram, but increasingly I’ve removed the Patrice Evans circle from the picture. I think the Internet culture is a little more settled, and you can let people in now with less risk. It was a little wild wild west there for a while, and you were advised to keep your personal self out of harm’s way. Now I think we can compartmentalize a bit better.”

Whether deconstructing rapper Lil Wayne’s “no homo hypocrisy,” outlining the all-important Clair Huxtable code for finding a mate, or assessing Susan Sontag’s street cred, Evans provides a stream of daring outsider anthropology.

“As a humor book dealing with issues many people take seriously, you’re trying to find that thin line where you can be provocative, but not overly offensive, and you want to be careful about just having something present for shock value,” said Evans. “I orginally concieved the book right before Obama got into office, and now he’s about to run for his second term. It’s amazing how a Black president can change the tenor of the conversation on race in America, for bad and for good. And with so may intelligent people writing immediately online, you also miss some topical windows. Ultimately, I do think there’s a huge void for this sort of book, a satirical take on the community of Assimilated Negroes, along the lines of a hipster handbook, or preppy handbook, and so I hope ‘Negropedia’ can be the start of a trend. The Assimilated Negro is dead, long live The Assimilated Negro — we are Assimilated Negroes, hear us roar. Let’s go get it!”

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or bbooker@phillytrib.com.

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