Vorris Nunley’s Keepin it Hushed: The Barbershop and African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric (Wayne State University Press, 2011), uses the black barbershop as a trope to discuss black talk within literary, cultural, and political sites. Nunley’s brilliant analysis of Aaron McGruder’s cartoon Boondocks, the well-known play Ceremonies in Dark Old Men by Lonne Elder III, and Barack Obama’s Race Speech, substantiates his bold claim that “to not know [African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric] is to not know Black people, their subjectivities, their perspectives” (3).
By reading this book you will understand just how African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric is specific to black people, generated by them, and speaks to their worldviews and experiences—even when black talk is directed to white people. As I understand it, Hush Harbor Rhetoric is often undervalued and grossly misunderstood in the mainstream because whites sometimes prefer to hear what Nunley calls the African American Podium-Auction Block Rhetoric, racially domesticated talk that both caters to and comforts white sensibilities and concerns. While hush harbor rhetoric is criticized sometimes for not being as palatable as podium-auction block rhetoric, Nunley’s book underscores why “palatable” is in the ears of the beholder. He encourages us to stop finding unnecessary fault with black people’s philosophical tongues and start listening more astutely to the type of talk they express, particularly in that corner barbershop on the West Side of Chicago.