Buck: A Memoir by MK Asante is a young man’s account of growing up in the inner-city. Asante has an impressive educational background including The University of London, Lafayette College, and UCLA School of Theater Film and Television. He has written four books and has been in or directed three movies. He has accumulated many awards including the key to my adopted city of Dallas, Texas. Currently, Asante is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Film at Morgan State University.
I will be the first to admit that I do not like Hip-Hop. I do not like hearing base thumping from a car a half mile away.* I don’t understand the culture…until I read this book. I grew up on the east side of Cleveland in the l960s and 1970s. I could identify with much of what Asante was experienced. There was the lower class, white not black, the city was extremely segregated and we all kept to our side. There was drugs and violence, too. Cleveland’s education system was, and still is, in ruins. There were kids you didn’t hang around with and places you just didn’t go. And there was music. Previously, I would never had made the connection to what I listened to and what Asante listened to. The sound is different but the message is, surprisingly, much the same.
Reading the book, I kept thinking this is the 21st Century version of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders or That Was Then, This is Now, except it is all real. Buck (Asante) has a rough life and loses most of those around him. He, like many others, did not see a way out through the established system. Looking outside the systems he sees hope, in criminal activity. However, it is a chain of events that puts his life on a different path; it’s not religion or some miracle, but smart and practical thinking.
The book is punctuated with hip-hop lyrics: “At exactly which point do you start to realize that life without knowledge is death in disguise?” K.O.S.. Other lyrics are more graphic and violent, but in them are message of repression, unity, and fighting for your rights. It is what I heard growing up,but to totally different music. Although twenty years his senior, Asante thought me to rethink what I know about hip-hop and its message. I understand it now; Thank you. It is rare to find a book that changes your opinions.
Buck is an outstanding memoir of culture, life, death, and redemption. The message is universal no matter what your race. In what most claim to be a fair and free society, many do not experience it. Many are locked into a cycle of poverty; some stay in poverty, some turn to crime, some to drugs , and luckily, a very few escape to remind the rest of us that there are major problems in society that go ignored. — Don’t live in that neighborhood, Don’t live in that school district, don’t even drive through that area…just pretend it does not exist. Asante, made it out and reminds us that we have a long way to go before fair or even a fair chance exists for all. A must read book.
*I do now understand there is a difference between rap and hip-hop.