Unboxing “Come to Selfhood”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden’s Come to Selfhood, the newest book from Ceiba Editions, might open up some things for me, if I pay attention…

As a white man in the United States in the early twenty first century, I was born on second base. If you’re reading this, and you’re a white man in the United States in the early 21st century, you too were born on second base, if you only knew. In the late 1990s, I dabbled in some the things I could never really know first hand and met some people who were born out in the parking lot, never mind even seeing the field. I didn’t think much of it at the time: we all lived in the same place and did pretty much the same things. But I had something they would never have: my skin, and my family background.

Some of the young men in Come to Selfhood were born on first or second or even third base, but none of them grew up to be white men in the United States in the 21st Century. They’ve all had to navigate the skin color in this world, find role models to help them develop into whoever they are today, and they continue to navigate the world in their skin, in this environment. Some of them had dads or grandfathers or uncles around to help out; some found it somewhere else, largely in music and sports figures, and most seem to be doing ok. Really, they’re not much different than me or you, which comes as no surprise: humans are humans after all.

Really, though, and thanks to this society in which we live, where slavey gave way to jim crow gave way to the war on drugs and welfare queens, I think some of the gentlemen in Come to Selfhood might take offense: we’re really not that much alike, and I’ve had loads of opportunities that they haven’t, and I continue to have opportunities that they won’t. Granted, these are white boy opportunities, but still. And I wonder if Mr. McFadden would disagree too, Allahu Alim.

Come to Selfhood joins contemporary portraits of African American men, mostly in their late 20s, mostly of the millennial generation, shot in a style reminiscent of old master portraits of princes and gentry, with handwritten text from a survey McFadden gave, with a vernacular photograph of the young man’s father or grandfather. Taken altogether, it’s a great archive of a small group of men as they start to figure out what “being a man” means to them and for them. I wish the sample was larger and covered a broader range of African American experience, but the 30 or so men in Come to Selfhood cover a swath of attitudes and experiences and outlooks, so perhaps it’s representative enough.

The book itself is right up there with Ceiba’s design and publication sense: great quality, with a bit of quirkiness that just works and presents the project beautifully. There’s just one small problem, and it’s one indemic to photobooks in general: at 300 copies and 10 special editions, this great archive of African American experience, something that loads of people could benefit from, will be seen by very few people. I’m not sure how to solve that, really, but it’s an issue.

Concept
Content
Design

The concept is solid, the content is a bit scanty, but of excellent quality, and the design is pure Ceiba goodness, so overall, I’d give Come to Selfhood a solid 4 stars.

It appears there are still copies available, and even if you don’t order one, there’s a good interview if you scroll down a bit. The 300 copies are sure to go fast, so pick one up while you can, and see if you can find a way to share it with as many of your white bread, country, friends and anyone who thinks that they are so different from us. It’s a lie, and maybe Come to Selfhood might help open some eyes, just a bit.

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