In a workshop designed to prepare instructors for an upcoming fall course, I listened to a number of white instructors speak highly of Wes Moore’s best-selling book The Other Wes Moore. Each word spoken felt like a dagger to my flesh, as African adjacent instructors violently delineated the benefits of teaching black authors to a group of incoming black instructors.
This was the first hint of the problematic ideologies that encompassed the text.
For me, The Other Wes Moore delineates what it means to bean average person of African descent. Wes dreams of making it in a white man’s world are not unique, yet it is the pseudo consummation of this feat that continues to make headlines in the white media. Moore’s text functions as what I call a silencer text. Wes Moore’s text functions as a means to pacify the black collective, to fill us with what functions as hope, but what is not hope at all. This pseudo hope comes in the cliche suggestion that blacks must “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, an ideology that assumes the presence of boots. The result of this ideology is a hopelessness, where black readers learn to love the noose around their neck.
- The Distinction: Author and Architect
The “other” Wes Moore exposes in title the violence of intra-racial othering. This othering is not only present in title, but is a constant throughout the text. “Other,” though seemingly a means to distinguish two men with the same name, labels each Wes Moore by their proximity to the Western success. The author, is not the “other” Wes Moore despite the stories of hardship that compose the narrative. Therefore the author assumes central placement, and retires his physically incarcerated brother to the margins as “other.”
To avoid performing the same careless act, this post will distinguish between the two Wes Moores as the architect and the author. Wes Moore the author speaks to the voice of this narrative. Wes the architect speaks to a black man that sought to make a house for himself, a house that collapsed and bursts into flames. The flames though did not consume him, but they do compose a large part of this text.
II. Not His Brother’s Keeper
One of the most disconcerting components of this book is the disbelief Wes Moore the author regards Wes Moore the architect. The author critiques Wes for not taking “responsibility” for what the author believed were his crimes. Moore’s conviction reveals him as believing in the same justice system that legalized the enslavement of his people.
Moore, the author reserves his sympathy for oppressors wounded in the line of white supremacist duties. To be clear, I am not saying oppressors are not deserving of sympathy. I am articulating that to demand said sympathy of the oppressed is an act of violence. Likewise, to preoccupy oneself with sympathy for their master, as member of the oppressed group, is to demonstrate the impact of a blow.
Wes Moore, the author does nor believe Wes Moore’s claims of innocence due to his preoccupation with western truth. Wes Moore the author states that the “only” victim, is the cop shot dead during the robbery. To the author, Wes Moore the architect is guilty and the brother of a murderer. To the author, Wes Moore the architect and his brother are criminals, not victims of the most prodigious crime in this earth’s existence. Moore’s decision to include this disbelief in the book illustrates Wes’s desire to distance himself from Moore the architect, an act that stealthily reveals that Moore believes in a racist justice system more than he believes in his collective self.
Moore is also consistently ethnic in his text. Moore’s ethnocentrism exposes the author as
not only seeking to distance himself from the “other” Wes Moore, but from “other” black people. In his text, he states the following:
All chores had to be done before we even thought about going outside to play. If we heard any gunfire or, as my grandmother called it, “foolishness,” outside, we were to immediately return home, no matter when it was. These were not Bronx rules, these were West Indian rules. And my grandparents figured if these rules had helped their children successfully navigate the world, they would work on their grandkids too.
These rules seem pretty contingent with the majority of black house-holds, regardless of ethnicity. As a displaced people, one does not have to be highly conscious to be well aware that blackness becomes even more danger laden once the sun sets–as darkness can obscure a the presence of our oppressors. Blacks who roam the street or who are out late, commonly do so out of defiance. Yet, Moore’s statement implies that non-migrant parents allow their children to roam the streets–painting a picture highly similar (if not identical) to the caricatured black body conjured by western creation.
The author’s distinction between migrant and non-migrant blacks, implies that his Jamaican mother and Caribbean grandparents who raised him are what saved him from the fate that met Wes the architect. With this, Moore presents himself as the model minority, which again comes back to choice. Those who raised Wes chose to be in the United States, a choice made for the architect and his family.
III. A Father’s Place
Fatherhood is a core theme of the text, and presented as r crossroads for the two Wes Moores. Wes Moore the author, lost his father when he was three. Wes Moore the architect had a father that was not in his life. Though noted as a point of difference , there is a similarity between the two Wes Moores. Both men illustrate trickle down trauma as a constant in black life. The author delineates the his father’s botched hospital visit, where a fatally ill black man was sent home without diagnosis but with accusations of exaggerated symptoms.
A few hours later he was dead.
Moore revisits this traumatic moment during the first few pages of the text and its retelling leaves a lasting feeling of despair. A careless mistake cost a wife her husband, and a son his father. The same racial science that dismissed black illness ultimately strips the author of his father. This very science also strips Wes the architect of what should have been his paternal bond.
IV. Malcolm X
The author’s effort to distance himself from the black who colors outside the lines is
perhaps most evident in his distinction between The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Colin Powell’s memoir. Moore writes:
The canon of black autobiography sensibly includes scores of books about resistance to the American system. For instance, reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X—a book that begins and ends in the madness and pathology of America’s racial obsessions—is a rite of passage for young black men. Malcolm never stopped pursuing truth and the right course, based on the best information he had at any given moment. His response to the world he confronted in the middle of the twentieth century was profound and deeply felt, but he didn’t speak to my experience as well as Colin Powell did.
The term “cannon of black autobiography” is bothersome, as it suggests a formalized space that has yet to be created. The small amount of recognized black texts are too often the product of white invention and reflect white-friendly versions of the black narrative. However, this is the least of the evils present in this excerpt. Just as seen in the distinction between the author and the “other” Wes Moore, the author distinguishes between the hopeful black narrative and the “other” black narrative. Wes Moore states that Powell’s text resonanted so deeply with him, because he and Powell want the same thing “ a fair shot.” Essentially, what Powell and Moore desire is to be dark-skinned white men, or negropeans. They desire to be one with the white world, whereas Malcolm X wanted his own, and most significantly (and fatally) sought to inspire the black collective to want this as well. Malcolm X and Colin Powell illustrate the difference between being melanated and being black. Blackness desires its own, melanated desires inclusion. The inclusion coveted by the melanated is seemingly only fictively consummated in denying any affiliation with the black man or woman.
V. The Road to Rhodes “Scholarship”
In the same chord of the author’s detachment from The Autobiography of Malcom X,
comes the most troublesome moment in the entire text. Moore details the process of learning about, applying and embarking on his Rhodes scholarship. A process he correlates to Colin Powell:
Although I didn’t really understand it at the time, like Colin Powell, he was telling me that our blood soaked and atrocity littered past was important but that the future did not have to be its slave, Even a legacy as ugly as that of Cecil Rhodes—a nineteenth century imperialist, white supremacist, and rapacious businessman—could be turned around and used by a person like me, someone Cecil Rhodes would’ve undoubtedly despised, to change the world that Rhodes and ppl like him had left for us.
This was very disturbing to read. Moore’s words prove synonymous to the collective amnesia that surrounds Africans who celebrate holidays and covet materialism made possible by the blood of their ancestors. Upon reading this, it became evident that Moore was writing for a white audience. Moore like the late Frederick Douglass, wrote specifically for the white reader. Though unlike Douglass, Moore is not trying to get in the mind of his oppressors to free the oppressed, Moore presents his tactics like an initiation process. Moore’s efforts are to put his white audience at ease as he assumes a seat at their table. Moore is not trying to start a revolution of pro-blackness, but solicits the black body as part of an anti-black army.
V. Telling Secrets
Another thing that deeply troubled me about this text, was the amount of information
provided about the ins and outs of communal drug trafficking. Perhaps of a different caliber than other troublesome behavior exuded in the text, Moore divulges a lot of information pertaining to the “street life.”
Moore speaks to the dynamics of the street and outlines the roles of the drug circuit. Given that this text was quite obviously written for a while audience, it is highly problematic that these roles were made available to those incapable of understanding the extremities of black plight in the global system of white supremacy. Whites, and non-black persons of color, capitalize on what their research presents as the issues within the black community. Thus, the information presents a means to our oppressors to possible fester the wound of white supremacy.
Though this post may suggest the contrary, there are strokes of greatness present in the book. To be completely candid, these phases of greatness are consummated solely in Wes the architect’s story. Wes the architect’s story proved far more resonant to me than the author’s. I even found myself wanting to know more about Tony Moore, Wes the architect’s older brother, convicted of murder given a life sentence at and after birth, fulfilled in the thirty-eight years of his life. Moore’s talk of himself seemed boastful at times, and in a culture where pseudo esteem is pervasive, The Moore brothers offer a rare humility. Most importantly, The Moore brothers prove superior candidates for a pro-blackness, a stance Moore spends a large amount of his text backing away from.
Most black people have the juxtaposition Wes Moore references in his book, in their own
families, or circle of childhood friends. A close look at a black family or circle of friends, will reveal men/women who are the same age, but live vastly different lives. The difference, as illustrated in the two Wes Moores, is only superficial. Specifically, both Wes Moores depict identical ambitions. The two Wes Moore’s both sought to “make it” as black men in a white world, which is what turned them both into variants of contemporary enslavement. Though Wes Moore the author implies that he is the lucky one, I vehemently disagree. Moore the architect proves luckiest because his imprisonment in global hegemony is much more direct. The author however, falsely believes in freedom as given, and “takes” what he sees as opportunity.
In totality, The Other Wes Moore speaks to the shine of tokenism. Wes Moore is the revered token, who authors the book not only to gloat of the perks of being a societal wallflower, but to recruit others to the materialism of tokenism. Tokens appear seen, but are utterly invisible simply because they present a colorless blackness.
The text presents a misplaced ideology of choice. Specifically, the author suggests that single moments presented crossroads for both Wes Moores, ignoring the very pressing reality that much of black life is predetermined as a means to ensure the stagnancy of white supremacy. The bodily and monetarily rape of our ancestors yielded a slew of white privileges that continues to influence black disenfranchisement, a wound festered in beliefs of being “chosen”, or individualist beliefs that one chose “right.” This becomes a bridge for Wes Moore, the author and his narrative of exceptionalism.
In conclusion, I am glad I read this book. Its praise outlines America’s wish for the black man (and woman) to be a mimic man—a Colin Powell, Henry Louis Gates, or Clarence Thomas—men who personify the apple of the white man’s eye. But while white religion states that it is eve who bit the poisonous apple that spoiled humanity, for the black collective, this deed is enacted by people like Wes Moore.
Wes Moore the author, of course.
Black Power ❤