Natalie Hopkinson


Natalie Hopkinson is a staff writer for The Washington Post. She is a Scripps Howard doctoral fellow in media studies at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she is also a visiting professor of journalism. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Palm Beach Post, Washington City Paper and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A graduate of Howard University, she lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.

Deconstructing Tyrone

"With compassion, wit and keen intelligence, the authors have touched upon our rarely spoken truths. Here is a vision of the complex, vibrant humanity living outside the bleak statistics and damning headlines."
— William Jelani Cobb, author of To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

"Hopkinson and Moore have written a groundbreaking and provocative book that shows what happens when you care enough to deconstruct. This very important work breaks down the myths surrounding Black masculinity in a way that inspires hope and points the way toward change. From Detroit hip-hop mayors to babydaddies, these women provide fuller pictures of Black masculinity and use their journalistic training to begin the healing. Brothers and sisters will find a place in this work to begin much needed dialogues, and the world will find a space to see for the first time a real and honest critique of Black masculinity. A deconstruction done in love, this book is a must-read for all."
— Gwendolyn D. Pough, author of Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture and the Public Sphere

“A magnificent job. Deconstructing Tyrone is well-written, thoughtfully and masterfully constructed, highly informative, and provocative. I, a child of the Black Power and Civil Rights era, found substantial relevance to my generation and to my own experience. Indeed, there is much in Deconstructing Tyrone that is universal in its perspective, crossing lines of color, age, and nationality.”
— Blanche Richardson, Marcus Bookstores


An Interview with Natalie Hopkinson & Natalie Y. Moore

Regina Marler caught up with Natalie Hopkinson & Natalie Y. Moore to talk about their collaboration on Deconstructing Tyrone.

Regina Marler: First, tell me about your great title. Did that hit you in a flash?

Hopkinson: We were brainstorming titles that showed that we take black men seriously, but that we loved the topic and we were going to have a good time.

Moore: I said “deconstructing” (a word I was becoming obsessed with), and Natalie came up with “Tyrone.”

Hopkinson: We cracked up laughing. That title is the only thing that has stayed the same about our project since then.

RM: How did you two meet?

Moore: We met in the Pepto Bismol–pink office of The Hilltop, the Howard University school newspaper. This book is not our first collaboration. We wrote an article together our senior year about a storied happy hour haunt near campus. We did a lot of research for that story!

Hopkinson: We’ve been tight ever since. Natalie Moore is the godmother to my daughter, Maven.

RM: What is the genesis of Deconstructing Tyrone?

Moore: We wanted to do a project that reflected our experiences as Gen-Xers, feminists and members of the hip-hop generation. We also wanted to be among a cadre of young black cultural producers. Deconstructing Tyrone started off as an anthology of young black female writers writing about black men.

Hopkinson: This project started out in 2002. We hooked up with Cleis in 2004, and they had the great idea to have us write the book instead of edit others.

RM: Some of these chapters grew out of stories you covered for newspapers. Were there nagging issues or angles you hadn’t explored that you were able to pursue through the book?

Moore: Both of us have worked for mainstream media outlets. It was refreshing to write a book without time constraints and work with an independent publisher that is not so wedded to conventional ideas. We were also both out of the daily newspaper grind when we wrote the book. That luxury was extremely helpful in undertaking the “Boy Born Saturday” chapter about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. We think it’s a much more nuanced, complicated view about his first term in office, with issues raised that other media outlets didn’t vet.

Hopkinson: It is probably no coincidence that 99 percent of my biggest moral, ethical and professional challenges as a journalist have come from trying to publish articles about black men that are fair, even-handed and non-stereotypical. The book offered the opportunity to do that, as well as critique the way black masculinity is constructed in the media while being really transparent about the women doing the (de)constructing.

RM: In the introduction, you describe the range of responses you received from friends when they learned of the book, among them, “What could two black women possibly say that isn’t a verbal lynching of black men?” and some male friends’ assurances that the book was sure to be “positive.” As you worked, did you find this sense of anxiety from the larger community daunting?

Hopkinson: There is still that fear, definitely, but we’ve had years to work through it. Our biggest strategy has been, again, being transparent about our positioning and presence throughout the book. We don’t hide behind that typical journalistic protective shield of “objectivity,” which we think is a joke. The book has no “Voice of God.” We are in every chapter, struggling to be fair and taking full responsibility for our biases. Once that basic love and respect was established, we felt free to be brutally honest.

Moore: We never censored ourselves, despite this topic being a bit of a minefield. Both of us wanted to be accurate and fair while also bringing fresh perspectives to the public. Integrity is important to us, and we knew that neither a valentine nor a harangue would push the needle on black culture.

RM: You also write that much of Third Wave feminist literature isn’t relevant to you as black women, especially as it relates to masculinity. Tell me more about this.

Moore: Many Third Wave books, in my opinion, appeal to the sensibilities of white women, or women of color are merely lumped together. There needs to be a wider array of voices in feminist literature. There are some Third Wave books we read that had some uninformed discussions of hip-hop, for example. Black feminists have a unique set of issues that is played out in the paradox of loving hip-hop, a hypermasculine genre. We try to chip away at some of that in Deconstructing Tyrone.

RM: What’s your favorite chapter, and how did it come about?

Moore: It’s so hard to pick a favorite chapter. “Boy Born Friday” is such a layered piece that tackles media representations and misguided patriarchy — all wrapped in a haunting racial allegory.

Hopkinson: My mother, Serena Hopkinson, was the one who suggested “Boy Born Friday,” which profiles Kofi “Debo” Ajabu, who is serving a 180-year sentence for a 1994 robbery/triple murder in Indiana. In high school, my family knew Debo as my girl Nzinga’s big brother, a bookish college junior who did well on the SAT. Their dad was a high-profile commander of the Black Panther Militia. When the “Son of the Black Panther” was charged, along with two of his friends, in a gruesome crime in a rich, white Indianapolis suburb, the case exploded in the local media, rivaling OJ.

I had been out of touch with him since the murders. I sat down with him in prison in 2005 and reviewed thousands of pages of court records and media accounts of the case. As usual, mom was right! I can’t think of a better way to show the consequences of patriarchy and racism, starting with Debo’s childhood as a junior freedom fighter. Debo is not faultless, but he is not a murderer. It is a testament to Debo’s spirit that this particular chapter still ends on a hopeful note.

RM: What kind of responses are you getting from readers now that the book is finished? I wondered if men and women are responding any differently.

Hopkinson: Most of the responses have been incredibly positive and affirming, regardless of gender. But of course in this early stage it is a weighted sample! We had a blast researching and writing this book. It was deeply personal, an emotional roller coaster that I was sad had to end. I hope that the book sparks a dialogue with readers and challenges them to think about our culture in new ways so that we can keep moving forward.