Gil Robertson’s literary work, Family Affair: What It Means To Be African-American Today, encompasses essays from the likes of Isaiah Washington, Beverly Johnson, TV One’s Cathy Hughes, actress Tasha Smith, Hip-Hop Doc Rani Whitfield as well as the late Isaac Hayes.
The contributors to the book all speak on subjects pertaining to Black life in America. They tell stories of pain, struggle and triumph through essays written in the first person narrative. The subject line varies from skin tone to hair, to abuse and misogyny.
It’s all real, all authentic stories that paint a picture of just how diverse we really are even in our own race. If you’re an avid reader and looking for a book of stories of your reality, Family Affair: What It Means To Be African-American Today is very thought provoking and will make you reflect on your own inner self.
The critically acclaimed author of the book, Gil Robertson spoke with HipHopWired exclusively about what he feels it means to be an African American and what he hopes to accomplish with his latest work.
HipHopWired: So first of all, where are you from and how did you become interested in writing books about our people?
Gil Robertson: I’m from L.A. and I graduated from Cal State L.A. with a degree in Political Science. That’s my academic background. And I started working and I wanted to write so I started writing. I’ve written about 50 magazine covers for places like Essence and Vibe and Black Enterprise. I’ve also written for the L.A. Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and I’m currently in the 15th year of my syndicated lifestyle column the Robertson Treatment, which is carried in 30 markets across the country.
HipHopWired: What about your family background, were you a part of a two-parent household?
Gil Robertson: Yeah. Mom and dad, a brother, you know just a typical American family I guess. I grew up in L.A. My brother is five years older than me. My dad died 10 years ago this month, so that’s the family.
HipHopWired: I ask that to ask this. As a Black man in America who grew up in a two-person household, what do you hope your book translates to young Black men who don’t have that same experience and might be in a single person household?
Gil Robertson: That’s a good question…just that. That it’s possible to find stability in your life and that it’s important to channel your energy in a positive way. And that it’s also equally important to forgive the shortcomings of others, be that a parent, your mom and your dad, whatever the situation may have been, you know. You’ve got to find a space for forgiveness. You just can’t carry that anger with you because it will fester and that’s not healthy.
If you didn’t grow up in that environment with both parents then look at your life as a chance to bring about some sort of change and to create a new picture for yourself and a new direction for your family.
HipHopWired: Exactly. Now let’s talk a little bit about the creative process for this book. How long did it take you to put this book together and gather all these different essays from different Black figures?
Gil Robertson: It didn’t take that long. It probably took about four months. The success of the last project, Not In My Family: AIDS In The African American Community, of course, certainly contributed to that. As an author, one of the things that I feel I’ve successfully done is provide a platform for others. Certainly as a journalist it was a big part of my work and I’m continuing in that vein as an author. People have a voice and I think it’s important and I’m very blessed to have an avenue where their voices can be heard. So I’ve spent the last 18 years working as a journalist and media person so it really wasn’t as hard as people might think.
Mostly, I’ve got a good reputation so generally when I call, people are quick to respond. It wasn’t that difficult. The subject matter of course with Family Affair What It Means To Be African American Today, it’s certainly a very germane topic. It’s certainly a very relevant one as well so the book is really about becoming a part of the conversation, the dialog that hopefully will motivate our community to change together and to fulfill the potential we all know we have. I think the project does a great job of showcasing the lives of beautiful African American people.
HipHopWired: The book has all these different opinions of different Black figures and of course you’ve contributed to it as well, so in your opinion what does it mean to be an African American man today?
Gil Robertson: It means standing up for what you believe in, it means being aware and embracing your heritage. It means loving yourself ultimately, it means respecting the traditions that our community holds dear, it means overachievement. It means good health, it means Black love, it means letting go of past baggage and shackles and really moving forward with a purpose or a goal.
HipHopWired: The book is excellent and I really enjoyed it. I’m an avid reader but as you know a lot of people aren’t. Were you nervous about putting out this book that was about 400-plus pages long in these days and ages where people don’t read as much anymore?
Gil Robertson: We are currently working on a documentary that will be coming out at some point next year. We’re talking to several networks including TV One and BET, but you know folks need to read. Reading is very therapeutic, it’s very cathartic, it’s also a keepsake. It’s something you can refer to again and again and again so reading certainly does have its place even though in some corners it’s fallen on hard times.
The good thing about an anthology is that it’s quick reading, it’s something you can read a story here, a story there, as Publisher’s Weekly said in their pick of the week review of the book. They called it the ultimate page turners, the guy even said it’s the kind of book you want to keep by your nightstand. It’ll be a well worn text because there are stories that you can go to and read and take from them what you need, because it talks about the community, the good the bad and the ugly.
It talks about the triumphs, the glory of it all. Wherever you might be in your life, you’ll certainly find stories that speak to your experiences, that speak to your day, that speaks to your present reality. You’ll find stories that speak to your goals, your aspirations, your dreams and you’ll find stories that speak to your fears and your questions you may have about your place and your life. So I’m hopeful that readers, particularly young readers, African American men will look at this as an investment in themselves. It’s really a gift from the community to the community. And I invite them to be become a part of this dialog because the African American community is at a crossroads right now and we really need all hands on deck.
For more information on Gil Robertson and Family Affair…, log on to http://www.familyaffairbook.com/.