Shahrazad Ali finally has hit the big time. She's been lampooned on ``In Living Color.'
In case you haven't heard about what may be the black community's most talked-about book in recent months, Shahrazad Ali is the Philadelphia Muslim who authored and published an odd little book called The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman.Ali doesn't think much of the intelligence of black women, even though she is one. Her advice to black men: Keep your woman on a short leash. If she gets out of line, remind her who's boss.
``Her unbridled tongue is the main reason she cannot get along with the Blackman,' Ali writes. ``She often needs a reminder. This does not mean she needs, or wants, to be battered or beaten to a bloody pulp. However, if she ignores the authority and superiority of the Blackman, there is a penalty. When she crosses this line and becomes viciously insulting it is time for the Blackman to soundly slap her in the mouth.'
The black woman needs such reminders, says Ali, because, ``Her brain is smaller than the Blackman's, so while she is acclaimed for her high scholastic achievement, her thought processes do not compare to the conscious Blackman's.'
For this, Ali has received major media attention, including stories in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsday and Newsweek and television appearances on ``Tony Brown's Journal,' the ``Sally Jessy Raphael Show,' ``Donahue' and ``Geraldo.'
This illustrates a classic weakness of the media. We're suckers for the new and the weird. It matters not that Ali has no scholarly or professional credentials, that her book contains nary a shred of documentation or research or that, as an exercise in self-hatred, her beliefs rank with, say, a rabbi endorsing neo-Nazi skinheads. In the mad rush to book guests or fill columns, the new crowds out the true.
But whether major media acknowledge it or not, this 180-page, $10 paperback has been as much a part of the African-American scene in recent months as T-shirts featuring ``Black Bart' Simpson or curiously Afrocentric pronouncements like, ``It's a Black thing; You wouldn't understand.'
And, not surprisingly, it has stirred a backlash. In community forums and black-oriented bookstores, it has stirred calls for bannings and burnings.
It has even spawned an answer-book. Chicago's black-owned Third World Press has released ``Confusion By Any Other Name,' a 26-page, $3.95 book of well-documented essays by eight black men and women ``exploring the negative impact' of Ali's book.
But the best response probably came from ``In Living Color,' Fox Television's biting black-oriented weekly comedy show.
The show's mostly black writers and cast satirized Ali in a fictitious commercial as a woman who has received an explosion of publicity (``You've seen her on Sally Jessy Rafael! You've seen her on The Farm Report...!') for advice that essentially boils down to ``an open-handed slap across the mouth' of that small-brained woman of yours.
It's the sort of risky but pointed humor that could be produced only by a comedy team that knows what's going on in black America these days and has a vision sufficiently broad to deflate the contradictions with a safety valve of humor.
Maybe we need a few laughs to keep from becoming thoroughly depressed or outraged by some of the odd notions passed off as earnest truths by some self-appointed leaders these days, like the wacky idea that the problems faced by black families can be blamed entirely on black womenfolk.
The notion that the distressed circumstances that have captured the lives of many young black males (unemployment, jail, gangs, irresponsible fatherhood) can be laid at the feet of black women resonates curiously and pathetically with ancient benighted notions that women are the root of all evil, notions that only divide families further, not strengthen them.
Yet, Shahrazad Ali's twaddle may have captured public attention partly because it fits so well into a scenario we have become accustomed to seeing spelled out in the media and in public debate about the ``urban underclass.'
Our discussions often focus on unwed mothers, for example, and give too little attention to the accompanying problems concerning unwed fathers, as if it did not take two to tango. Perhaps we should spend more time preaching what Jesse Jackson tells teen-age boys: It doesn't take a man to make a baby; it takes a man to take care of one.
``In Living Color' has the right idea. Shahrazad Ali's self-hatred calls for no response other than sheer mockery. That's not just a black thing. Anyone should understand.