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The ugly side of race and sexuality
on September 8, 2005
The main problem with Love The One You're With - like others in this series - is that it takes itself too seriously. The plot - such as it is - is pure soap. Mitchell's partner, Raheim, is out of town, and Mitchell is suddenly faced with an onslaught of attractive men vying for his attention. Naturally, they're all super-attractive, big-booty bruthas desperate for Mitchell, and either hyper-masculine or hyper-groomed. This could have been funny, but is handled with such a lack of modesty by our 'hero' (who is attractive and talented in equal measures) that it rapidly becomes both tedious and unreal. Such conceit and self-importance are a turn-off to most people, and these suitors would turn on the haughty Mr. Crawford as rapidly as the reader does.
In fact, the unappealing characters who fill the pages particularly grate on the nerves. Never before have a pool of such arrogant, vain, judgemental, bitching queens been assembled. Hardy's work has been called `the black gay Sex And The City' by some, a serious slur on that show. At best, Hardy's brand of `razor sharp wit' is a sort of banal carping. At worst, it's a dangerous, unnecessarily vicious attack on those whom Hardy judges as either traitorous, or the enemy, in his war on integration. What are young men of mixed black/white (or any other mix) parentage to make of a book that tells them they are born of a fraud? Or the multitude of men in interracial relationships, who are told they are immoral? Hardy has set himself up as the ultimate authority on issues of race and sexuality, and from his position on high, has decided what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, in his world, everything is black and white. No room is left for men who don't fit his limited view of black or white. It's wrong for a black man and a white man to love one another, apparently, because the white man will always use the black man to live out slave fantasies. Okay, so what if two mixed-race men love one another? Is that allowed in Hardy's world? Or doesn't mixed-race count as black? How black do you have to be, one wonders, if you are only one or the other? It seems that Hardy's characters prove their `blackness' by denigrating Caucasians at every opportunity. It's utterly cringe-inducing that every Caucasian encountered in the book, or referred to, is either an out-and-out racist or worse still, liberal (Hardy sees no difference between the two. A liberal is merely a redneck in disguise, or one attempting to salve their guilty conscience).
As an aside, it's worth noting that Hardy considers it wrong for white men to fetishise black men (it's BAD AND WRONG if they find large lips, dark skin or a big booty attractive), yet Hardy has deemed it okay for his middle-class, sanctimonious lead, Mitchell, to fetishise the down-low, straight-out-tha-ghetto lover, Raheim.
Hardy over-estimates his own intellectual stature. Take the scene in which Mitchell interviews a black (gay) republican. Mitchell floors the republican with some cutting questions. I'm sorry, but reality check, Hardy! Almost any politician would have a slick comeback rehearsed - politicians know how to deal with difficult questions, and those Hardy (I'm sorry, Mitchell) puts aren't rocket science. Has Hardy ever actually spoken to a black republican, or read one of the many books penned by them? Hardy wishes to establish Mitchell's, and by extension, his own intellectual standing, yet everyone he meets who dares to have a different opinion is a babbling idiot, unable to make any argument once Mitchell opens his mouth. The reader is left with the distinct impression that Hardy his so righteous that he has never listened to anyone who might have a different point of view.
His style of writing itself is peculiar. Desperately trying to be hip and trendy, he comes across as patronising and holier-than-thou. If his target audience is young black men (which it clearly is) then he clearly has a low opinion of them. At times it's rather like reading a lecture by a boring do-gooder. Even his fans have criticised his long, tedious digressions into politics, education, or whichever issue happened to cross his mind on that particular day. There's a particularly bad chapter in a supermarket where Mitchell is standing in line, which tries to come across as a Jerry Seinfeld "have you ever noticed how..." moment, and fails miserably.
There are seemingly endless pages of filler. Trying to up the word count from his last effort, the wafer- thin The Day Eazy-E Died, Hardy gives us lengthy catalogues of the songs played in whichever club the characters found themselves in. He describes in minute detail the menu every time a character has a meal. And there are whole chapters of meaningless fluff, in which Mitchell and Raheim have late night, long distance "I miss you" calls. None of this furthers the plot, or character development, and served only to antagonise this reader. It's another indication of the author being so in awe of his creations, that he expects his readers to be intrigued by every detail of their lives.
The first novel in this series, published a couple of hundred years ago, it now feels like, was fresh and original, and lacked much (if not all) of the spite and nastiness of its successors. But Hardy has proven himself to be a cynical opportunist, shamelessly flogging this dead horse for all it's worth. Worse still, a sixth (and apparently final) instalment is to follow.
And after 262 pages of righteousness, we're told that it's okay to cheat on your lover, so long as you don't actually kiss the other man. At least it's in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book.