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Yo' Mama's Disfunktional !: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America Paperback – September 17, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0807009413 ISBN-10: 0807009415
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Editorial Reviews


It is not too much or too early to call Robin D. G. Kelley a leading black historian of the age. But it may not be enough. —Paul Buhle, Monthly Review

"Kelley's crafted a funny, fast-paced tour of recent and long-standing debates about the quality, form, and function of black life, an interdisciplinary performance that has him kicking up dust across all kinds of boundaries. . . . Kelley doesn't skimp on historical detail or intellectual rigor; best of all, he can play the dozens with the best of them." —The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"A salvo in response to the latest conservative efforts to mine the familiar battery of statistics in search of proof that African-Americans belong at the bottom of society. Kelley, a historian, turns his considerable skill toward public policy and perceptions." —William Jelani Cobb, Emerge

"Robin Kelley writes about culture, politics, Negrocons, disgruntled former leftists, and contemporary activists with intelligence, passion, insight, and great humor. This important, fluid book makes it clear that Kelley's genius is his ability to bring complex ideas down to earth and simultaneously make them transcendent." —Jill Nelson, author of Straight, No Chaser: How I Became a Grown-Up Black Woman

"Robin Kelley is a major new voice on the intellectual left. In this book, he argues with authority and intelligence that the familiar babble of rhetoric opposing identity politics to class politics is mistaken. Instead, muliculturalism should be viewed as part of the fabric of a strong class movement." —Frances Fox Piven, author of The Breaking of the American Social Contract

About the Author

Robin D. G.Kelley, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, is professor of history and Africana studies at New York University and author of the award-winning Hammer and Hoe, Race Rebels, and Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! (Beacon / 0941-5 / $14.00 pb). He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (September 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807009415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807009413
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robin D. G. Kelley never met Thelonious Monk, but he grew up with his music. Born in 1962, he spent his formative years in Harlem in a household and a city saturated with modern jazz. As a child he took a few trumpet lessons with the legendary Jimmy Owens, played French horn in junior high school, and picked up piano during his teen years in California. In 1987, Kelley earned his PhD in History from UCLA and focused his work on social movements, politics and culture--although music remained his passion.

During his tenure on the faculties of Emory University, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Columbia University, Kelley's scholarly interests shifted increasingly toward music. He has written widely on jazz, hip hop, electronic music, musicians' unions and technological displacement, and social and political movements more broadly.

Before becoming Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Robin D. G. Kelley served on the faculty at Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies, where he held the first Louis Armstrong Chair in Jazz Studies. Besides Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Kelley has authored several prize-winning books, including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (The Free Press, 1994); Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997), which was selected one of the top ten books of 1998 by the Village Voice. He is currently completing Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2011), and a general survey of African American history co-authored with Tera Hunter and Earl Lewis to be published by Norton.

Kelley's essays have appeared in several anthologies and journals, including The Nation, Monthly Review, The Voice Literary Supplement, New York Times (Arts and Leisure), New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Color Lines, Code Magazine, Utne Reader, Lenox Avenue, African Studies Review, Black Music Research Journal, Callaloo, New Politics, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noir, One World, Social Text, Metropolis, American Visions, Boston Review, Fashion Theory, American Historical Review, Journal of American History, New Labor Forum, Souls, Metropolis, and frieze: contemporary art and culture, to name a few.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on July 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
There is a lot of research that attempts to describe or explain black urban culture. Few researchers have gone directly to the source to get their information, but Robin Kelley, a professor of History and Africana Studies at New York University, has done just that. He talks about black music, from blues to hip-hop, and its importance, whether simply aesthetic or economic. He covers graffiti artists and sports stars. Kelley explains how urban youth, who are facing severe unemployment as jobs move to the suburbs and out of the country, turn these activities into paydays for themselves. Using the public transportation issues of Los Angeles, he demonstrates how the poor people of color in this country can band together and bring about change.

This book covers history, as well as the issues facing black people in America today. In an easy to understand format, Kelley explains the politics of surviving the ghetto and succeeding in life. He is critical of those new liberals who want to turn the battle into an undefined class issue, rather than identifying the various factions that make up that class, such as race, gender and gender identity. He describes neo-conservative blacks as 'negrocons.' It is a book well worth reading, and even though it was written before the turn of the century, it is still right on the mark. What he predicted is coming true.

Reviewed by alice Holman

of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Anderson on June 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! by Robin DG Kelley is an extremely thought-provoking compilation of essays. Kelley offers his readers a social critique on Urban America. Using all he has, Kelley gathers everything from historical information to personal experience to make this book as powerful as it can be.

Kelley speaks of the chocolate cities that Blacks claimed and saw as being so great, until the whiles claimed the vanilla suburbs and the conditions of the chocolate cities declined. Who should help solve the problem? Our society has commonly placed the blame on the Black families; a common trend of leaving the problem to the oppressed. Additionally, Blacks who make it economically are seen as crossing over. As opposed to ostracizing those successful families, alliances should be made. Kelley attacks not only racism, but sexism, homophobia, classism and all avenues of discrimination. He particularly focuses on the economic impact in urban America. As the economy in these areas declined, the culture was heavily impacted. The economic situation brought about a division between the African Americans and a change in self-expression whether it was hip-hop or graffiti.

He goes on to discuss how Black America is regressing and going "b(l)ackwards". The number of Black males in jail continues to outnumber the number of Black males enrolled in college. The usage of drugs has proven to be taxing on the Black communities. What happened to the progress made during the Civil Rights Movement beginning in the early fifties? Kelley goes where most sociologist have not gone. He discuss the "normal Black" families that sociologists of the 70's seemed to have missed.

An interesting yet tedious read, Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! is definitely a must read.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is the bomb! Fast-paced, funny, biting, Kelley offers a sharp critique of the way popular images of Black urban America has shaped social policy. But that's not all. He shows how existing grassroots movements are already laying the ground for a new, emancipatory future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dana on June 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Robin Kelley's Yo mama's disfunktional! is an interesting and informative social critique. Right away, she points out a few critical points - how going into the 1970's, Blacks were making progress in the amount of African-Americans who held positions of authority in office. Then, as more and more gained power, they began leaving their Black communities and moved into white areas - or in other words, away from the "chocolate cities" and into the "vanilla suburbs". This point is often the topic of heated debates because many people believe that once the strong, influential African-Americans leave their Black communities, the communities start to decline due to the lack of role models and mentors. This leads to the belief that as soon as Black people gain some sort of power, they forget where they come from and flee to the money comfortable, but not minority-welcoming, rich suburbs of America.

Another point she also brings up is how much poverty contributes to Black identity. Black identity is almost synonymous with poverty, especially the way it's expressed in the media. This leads to conflict within African-Americans living in the United States. Many Black people who happen to be wealthy are made to feel "less black" or called "oreos" because they don't know what it's like to be black - or in other words, poor.

She goes on to discuss how Black America is "going backwards". According to statistics, so many Blacks are in jail, have criminal records, and are unfortunately hooked on drugs, especially cocaine. Instead of making progress - which was the goal of the civil rights movement, and the direction Black America was going in the 1970's - African-Americans are going backwards. Communities are deteriorating, and conditions are worsening.

Anyone who reads Kelley's book will definitely be opened up to the contemporary struggles of Black American, and realize that there is so much more work to be done.
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