A Review of Dasan Ahanu’s Everything Worth Fighting For: An Exploration of Being Black In America
Words by Michael Herriot
Blackness was once a soft spot. A vulnerability. Black people have always been strong, but “blackness” was once a collective Achilles Heel. It was strong enough to withstand a middle passage and resilient enough to bellow slave songs of freedom, but it whispered when “Massa” came around. It looked up to the heavens, but cast its eyes toward the floor when White women walked past. It stood up for freedom, but simultaneously sat on the back of busses.
But Blackness is armor now. It is frustrated and unsmiling. Lately Black art has reflected this. It is unflinching obstruction with arms folded. It is the defiance of fist raising and unapologetic noncompliance. Any art labeled “conscious” or “woke” has become grizzled and hard. Works like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly,” Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me or Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric find their beauty in the sour matter-of-factness that stares you in the eyes and dares you to…whatever. Black art don’t dance no more, all it does is hiss.
…we’re all just balloons
Strung to existence on earth
but desperate for the heavens.
When I received a copy of Dasan Ahanu’s Everything Worth Fighting For: An exploration of being Black in America, I didn’t know what to expect. Although I knew him as a spoken word artist, I was also aware that he was a scholar and researcher of hip hop holding the Nasir Jones fellowship at Harvard. I knew he was an English professor and had sat in one of his workshops on the fundamentals and contextual literary devices used by–wait for it… Lil Wayne, Beyoncé and Kanye. I didn’t know if Everything Worth Fighting For was a work of scholarly critiques, an autobiography, or a series of essays. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a collection of poetry examining Blackness from a unique perspective.
Everything Worth Fighting For is Black-skinned but not scowling. It shares the pain and the forlorn wistfulness of the Black experience without feeling hopeless. It is Blackness, once wounded, and still pink from peeling off the scabs–healing but not yet healed. What sets it apart from a lot of art that explores the Black existence is that he doesn’t contextualize this actuality as existing in a White world, he simply writes of existing, which makes this collection extremely human.
The poetry begins with personal fragments of Black lives that lay bare hope, sorrow, joy, and despair. It is the syrupy reminiscences of passed-down wisdom in “Grandfather’s Parable” that instills confidence but reminds that “the devil is watching. Read the full review in the Spring 2017 Issue 37.