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July 2016

The Lyrics of Identity

This is the second installment of the Wheelock Community Read Summer Blog Series. Each week, we will be posting a blog written by Wheelock faculty or staff that deals with a theme from this years’ community read; “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This week, please welcome guest blogger Gillian Devereux, Director of the Writing Center and Instructor in Humanities and Writing.

The Lyrics of Identity

By Gillian Devereux

Born in 1972, I was an only child until 1980, the only kid in my neighborhood who went to my Catholic school, the only person in my family distressed by the fact that we had a black and white television without cable for the first 12 years of my life. My parents encouraged me to entertain myself with books, music, and as little television as possible. I spent decades curled on my bed, stopping and rewinding cassette tapes so I could transcribe lyrics. Later I scribbled my own lyrics which would eventually become poems, or stories, or impassioned passages in half-empty diaries.

I will admit a lack of discrimination in my earliest years, a tendency to doodle Chicago and Journey lyrics on my notebooks, a weakness for Lionel Richie, a belief that “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” had taught us all a critical lesson about desire and fulfillment. But I was a lonely child, bad at making friends and easily depressed. As I entered adolescence, I felt more isolated at home and at school, and this isolation made me anxious and angry, lazy and ambitious, aloof and needy. I still found solace in books, but few I understood addressed the feelings I needed to process. Pop music offered no solace whatsoever, and so I turned, desperate and confused, to punk and new wave.

I buried myself in music, barricaded myself in my room, blasting Tinderbox, Billy Idol, Los Angeles, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Black Celebration, Never Mind the Bollocks …, and London Calling through the flimsy foam headphones of my Sony Walkman. These songs both reflected and revealed — mirroring the emotions my body could barely contain and unearthing other emotions I had not yet been able to acknowledge. This music, this style of lyrics, this raw expression of inequity and injustice shaped the girl I was and the woman I would become. I returned to these songs again and again, letting them guide me through my earliest attempts at feminism and social justice. I can trace their influence on the map of my life, seeing where those artists’ words intersect with my own writing, my own choices, my own beliefs about the world.

When I began reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle, I was immediately drawn to the points in the narrative where he discusses his own relationship with music and lyrics. As early as page 5, he references “KRS” while discussing the love he and his older brother Big Bill had for professional wrestling, and only a few pages later, he describes the summer of 1986 as the one when “KRS-One laid siege to Queensbridge” (pg. 11).

KRS-One – Sound of da Police

Coates juxtaposes KRS-One’s booming challenges to the legacy of black slavery — “You can’t stand where I stand / you can’t walk where I walk” — with words from LL Cool J’s Todd Smith persona, sharing an image of his 10 year old self “throwing up [his] hands, reciting” lyrics (pg. 11). He continues to equate the language of rap and hip-hop with reflection, revelation, and revolution throughout his memoir, frequently invoking the metaphor of music or song when examining how he developed a sense of identity. He describes his first day at Lemmel as one where “[e]veryone moved as though the same song were playing in their heads,” adding “[i]t was a song I’d never heard” (pg. 37). He explains how hearing “Lyrics of Fury” at age 12 showed him the path to manhood, to full participation in the battle for Consciousness, proclaiming “I put away childish things, went to the notebook, and caged myself between the blue lines. In the evenings, that summer, I would close the door, lay across the bed, and put pen to pad” (pg. 111)

Just as his father’s identity evolved and coalesced through his work running Black Classic Press, Coates’ immersion in rap and hip-hop culture altered his sense of self and his understanding of his place in the world. Although Coates believed “[e]ach black boy must find his own way to this understanding,” he also recognized that “under the aegis of hip-hop, you never lived alone, you never walked alone” (pg. 61; 111). In 1988, when “all the world’s boom boxes were transformed into pulpits for Public Enemy,” Coates became a “reluctant convert” to the music of Chuck D and Flavor Flav, falling captive to “the many layers, the hints at revelation, and a sound that I did not so much enjoy as I felt compelled to understand” (pg. 104-105).

Public Enemy – Don’t Believe The Hype


Public Enemy’s second album, aptly named It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, tapped into the “collective memory” of Coates and his peers, reminding them how injustice, corruption, and the Reagan era itself manipulated them, herded them into stereotypical roles (drug dealer, basketball player, thug, failure), and disempowered them (pg. 105). At the same time, Public Enemy’s lyrics resonated with fathers and mothers, linking generations through powerful imagery, insightful social commentary, and references to influential black activists like Dr. Khalid Muhammad, whose words became the introduction to “Night of the Living Baseheads:”

Have you forgotten that once we were brought here, we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language. We lost our religion, our culture, our god … and many of us, by the way we act, we even lost our minds.

Coates takes the time to depict his father, a man who eschewed popular culture, who “watched very little TV, because once Conscious, every commercial, every program must be strip-mined for its deeper meaning, until it lays bare its role in this sinister American plot,” making an authentic connection to Public Enemy, showing his readers how “She Watches Channel Zero?!” reminded his father of his mother (pg. 54; 104). Chuck D had the same fears and ambitions as Coates’ father and mother, but unlike them and their writers, Chuck D “spoke beautifully in the lingua franca of [Coates’] time” (pg. 104).

In the late 80s, Coates begins to realize “the claws of rage digging into” him would never disappear, that “[h]istory would be altered, not in the swoop but with the long slow awakening” (pg. 58; 91). In the penultimate chapter of his narrative, Coates submits his college applications and reaches the turning point of his senior year. This is the climax of his story; a college acceptance will forever separate him from the comfortable routine of Woodlawn, the powerful camaraderie of drumming, the familiar confines of home. As his identity shifts from child to man, his musical preferences, influenced, as always, by Big Bill, also shift.

Coates writes about Big Bill introducing him to the reggae legends of the time: Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley, artists who, like the activists whose words filled the shelves of Black Classic Press, rejected the language and conventions of racial oppression through their names, words, and beliefs. Coates calls these men prophets, explaining how their music foretold his fate: “I did not know where I was headed, but I knew I was mortgaged to the grand ideal—the end of mental slavery and the fulfillment of the book” (pg. 200).

Here, Coates references not only the lyrics to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” but also Marley’s inspiration and source text, Marcus Garvey’s 1937 speech “The Work That Must Be Done.” Garvey had been invited by the mayor of Sydney, Nova Scotia to speak about his work with the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and his speech focuses on the precarious position of people of color abroad and the means by which they might empower themselves:

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or for ill. If a man is not able to protect himself from the other man he should use his mind to good advantage. The fool will always pay the price. The fool will always carry the heavy burden.

Music critics, scholars, and Marley’s biographers have all observed that “Redemption Song,” more than any other track on Marley’s final album, represents a major departure from the musician’s earlier work. Garvey’s life, work, and death had a significant impact on Marley, just as it did on Coates, who references the activist multiple times throughout The Beautiful Struggle, referring to the Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey buttons on his tie-dyed book bag as “the totems of my champions” (pg. 127). And a young man such as Coates, whose father had risen through the ranks of the Black Panthers, whose playmates included Afeni Shakur’s son Tupac, who would search “liner notes for clues, play back lyrics until they were memory, and then play back memory until [he] gleaned messages imagined and real” must have quickly understood the implications of the line “How long shall they kill our prophets / while we stand aside and look?” (pg. 102).

“Redemption Song” became a prophecy for Coates, just as Marcus Garvey’s words had become a prophecy for his father. Like his father, Coates “took up that call, the charge to make Garvey’s kingdom real” (pg. 55). He brought the resources he had at hand — “an hour, a pen, a pad” — and the structure and rhythm of hip-hop to the fight (pg. 147). He transformed his talent as an MC into a talent for prose, fulfilling the book in the most literal, and lyrical, sense. And like the activists and lyricists before him, he used his words to show the world that “[n]one of us ever want to fail. None of us want to be unworthy, to not measure up” (pg. 170).

Bob Marley – Redemption Song (Official Music Video)


Author’s Note: While reading and reflecting on The Beautiful Struggle, I created a Spotify playlist that contains all the available songs named in the book. Periodically, Coates will either reference lyrics to a song or mention an artist without identifying a specific album or track. In these cases, I added songs hip-hop scholars have identified as the most influential to the playlist, which you can stream here.

The Mythical World of The Beautiful Struggle

This is the first installment of the Wheelock Community Read Summer Blog Series. Each week, we will be posting a blog written by Wheelock faculty or staff that deals with a theme from this years’ community read; “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This week, please welcome guest blogger Jenne Powers, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Writing. 

The Mythical World of The Beautiful Struggle

By Jenne Powers

The first chapter of Coates’s memoir opens with a fight scene described in terms that evoke Dungeons and Dragons, the World Wrestling Federation, Lord of the Rings, and the Transformers. Right away, Coates plunges his readers into the media- and myth-saturated world of his young mind. The opening lines describing Murphy Homes read, “When they caught us down on Charles Street, they were all that I’d heard. They did not wave banners, flash amulets or secret signs. Still, I could feel their awful name advancing out of the lore” (1). The lore here is local legend amplified by a boy’s imagined confrontation with orcs, goblins, and trucks that turn into robot killing machines. By including this kind of imagery and these references, Coates casts himself as a player in a monumental story. His mentors – his father, his brother Big Bill – are larger than life. His journey travels through time into the past and the future. Reading is ritual. He is struggling not just on the path to college, but to the Mecca.

As the chapter progresses, Coates develops the complex voice that characterizes this book. Like many narratives about childhood it is a double voice – at once a child’s and a man’s. His point of view is often limited to his child’s eyes and conveys a child’s enthusiasms and fears (“amulets or secret signs…”) but at the same time it is informed by the experiences and wisdom of mature Coates, the author.

His description of WWF wrestling and its juxtaposition to the Murphy Homes battle especially conveys at once his childish enthusiasm and his adult critique of cultural appropriation and racist media stereotypes:

I was open, and wanted to cheer the Birdman, resplendent in wraparound shades, a Jheri curl, and fluorescent gold and blue spandex. . . . maybe that night he dipped and glided toward the ring, flapping his arms and talking to the parakeets perched on each of his shoulders. I wanted to see the Dream, who was at the height of his feud with the Horsemen, and outnumbered, had taken to guerrilla warfare—masks, capes, ambushes, beef extended into parking lots, driveways and dream dates. But I lost it all out there, and when I dig for that night, all that emerges are the tendrils of Murphy Homes, how they dug into my brother’s head. (6-7)

His child’s eye delights in a grown man acting like a bird and bringing pets into the ring, while his adult’s critical eye sees a dangerous caricature of an African warrior, compounded by the subsequent rhetoric of the Dream, a White character who regularly appropriates Black culture. At the end of the passage, we feel a child’s confusion in the fray as well as an adult’s pain in the act of remembering. This double voiced narration allows Coates to develop the important ideas of Knowledge and Consciousness as expertly as he does. While reading this book, we are immersed in the experiences of a young boy who gains Knowledge every day, Knowledge rooted in his experiences as a young Black man in a world shaped by institutionalized racism. His child narrator may not always grasp the significance of his experiences (nor do we at times). However, we are led through the journey by an expert, Conscious guide – Coates.

Coates tells a story of growing up in a setting rich with myths – some patently fictional, some historically liberating, some media-generated, some community-minded. Young Ta-Nehisi demonstrates his resilience and strength by surrounding himself with so many myths. He is not one to succumb to the danger of a single story. He has many heroes to choose from and villains to battle. His coming of age will be, throughout the memoir, owning and telling his own story: Consciousness.

And his voice is not always easy to identify with. But maybe he is not asking us to identify with him. Coates’s language is intensely personal and powerfully political. It is not an everyday voice – no hero’s is. And his journey is not without peril – no hero’s is. But he will persist, and it is his control over language that gives him the tools he needs to complete his quest. This memoir comprises the mythical origin story of the scholar and public intellectual who brings us “The Case for Reparations,” “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” and Between the World and Me.

Screenshot of ejournal finder search results, with the Search within Publication highlighted

New eJournal Finder and a Google Scholar update

The Library has a new and enhanced eJournal Finder!  If you haven’t used the eJournal Finder before, it is a tool that helps you find Wheelock subscriptions to journals and the articles within them.  The new Finder looks a little different, but the functionality will remain very familiar, with additional improvements over the previous one.   You can access it through the Library homepage by going to the eJournal Finder tab.

screenshot of ejournal finder tab

Try searching for Journal of Social Work Education.  In your Search Results, you can go to one of the databases where full text is available for this journal.  For many of the journals, you can search within that journal.

Screenshot of ejournal finder search results, with the Search within Publication highlighted

The Search within Publication  feature is incredibly handy.  You can put in something as general as the term, “elementary schools” to find Journal of Social Work Education articles related to “elementary schools”.   You can also search for a specific article title, like “MSW students’ attitudes toward transracial adoption”.  This saves you several steps over the previous eJournal finder.  Here is what you will immediately get when you run this second search:

results from an article title search using the eJournal Finder's Search Within Publication feature. Two results.

This new eJournal Finder means you will also have to update your Google Scholar library links.  For those who don’t know what Google Scholar’s library links do: it finds full text from Wheelock subscriptions in your Google Scholar results.

first Google Scholar search results

Go to and select Settings.

Google Scholar homepage with a red box around the Settings link

On the next page, select Library Links.


Google scholar settings page with Library Links highlighted

Under Library Links, search for Wheelock.  Select everything that says Wheelock.

Google Scholar library links page with all 4 current options selected

Please let us know if you have questions!  You can come see us, email us at, call us at 617-879-2220, or chat us via the Library website.


Ice Cream with a side of history

Mint-Cookie-ConeIce cream is a perfect summer food, or if you are ice cream obsessed like I am, ice cream is a perfect food anytime of the year or day.

My obsession with ice cream is not limited to eating it. I am also obsessed with the process of making ice cream, the history of the food, the history of various ice cream companies, you name it. If it is ice cream related I am interested.

As July is National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of July is National Ice Cream Day, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to share some of the fascinating ice cream facts and materials which combine my love of ice cream and history.

First how is it that July came to National Ice Cream Month?

Presidential Proclamation 5219 signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 after is was requested by The Congress via Senate Joint Resolution 298. The Presidential Proclamation designated July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month and July 15, 1984 as National Ice Cream Day. Although the Proclamation officially only referred to 1984 the tradition of July as National Ice Cream Month and the Third Sunday of July as National Ice Cream Day has stuck every since.

Read the proclamation here.

And get more information about Senate Joint Resolution here.

Ice cream before National Ice Cream Day:

"The Yukon Freezer" hand cranked ice cream machine

“The Yukon Freezer” hand cranked ice cream machine, c 1935. Click image for more information.


Thomas Jefferson's vanillla ice cream recipe handwritten on a long piece of paper

Thomas Jefferson’s own vanilla ice cream recipe. Click image for more information.

Looking to expand your own ice cream knowledge check out these e-books from our collection:

Cover of the book, Ice Cream, by H.Douglas Goff and Richard W. Hartel.  Features a closeup of chocolate ice cream being scooped and cell particles.

This is a little to technical to be considered light reading, but it has a wealth of information from history to how to. Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.


Book cover of Edmonson's Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry's.  In the image are two cows with neckties looking at the audience.

Interested in learning more about how Ben & Jerry’s became the company we know today? Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.

Speaking of Ben & Jerry’s check out their blog post illustrating the evolution of the design of their pint containers over the years.

Cover of the book, Grow Your Own Ingredients Ice Cream!  A strawberry and a group of blueberries are propping up an ice cream cone with 3 scoops and a mint leaf.

Looking to make ice cream of your own? This gardening and cooking book will have you not only growing your own berries and mint but turning them into simple homemade ice cream. Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.