Breaking The Code Of Silence is a tell-all, by Mos Def's ex-wife, that tells little

Breaking The Code Of Silence is a tell-all, by Mos Def's ex-wife, that tells little

Alana Wyatt-Smith’s self-published memoir, Breaking The Code Of Silence, tells an all-too-common story of a troubled young woman who grew up in a broken home with little in the way of education, job skills, or self-esteem, and learned at an early age that her power lay in her sexuality and ability to attract wealthy, powerful men. Wyatt-Smith grew up in a maelstrom of uncertainty as the biracial daughter of a heroin-addicted stripper and an absent father. An eighth-grade dropout, she became a teenaged stripper who derived her identity and sense of self from her relationships with men. 

The author consequently developed no inner life or interests beyond the intertwined pursuits of money and men. She lost her virginity to a neighborhood drug dealer who morphs from the man of her dreams to an abusive nightmare over the course of several pages. This establishes a pattern: Wyatt-Smith falls madly in love with a man she’s convinced will be her eternal salvation and save her from herself, only to watch the relationship fizzle out a few paragraphs later. 

The men in Wyatt-Smith’s life tend to blur together into one giant ball of assured masculinity. Here’s Wyatt-Smith on a man she was so obsessed with that she had his name tattooed on her body, even though she was in a serious relationship at the time with Canadian rapper Saukrates, the father of her child, who was waiting patiently for her back in Canada with their son: 

But then I met “him”….the man I was afraid would take me away from reality and the real reason I stayed in Atlanta. He stood about 5’9”, was light-skinned with these real dreamy eyes… the kind of eyes that would make you soaking wet just by their focus on you. He had this swagger…. ooh, he was just that nigga… Mmm!

In her memoir, Wyatt-Smith makes her way through a dizzying, poorly differentiated mass of white-collar tycoons, athletes, and musicians before she meets Mos Def while partying with friends. The charismatic rapper-actor decides, for reasons that remain a mystery, that in spite of his devout Muslim beliefs and the inconvenient fact that he may technically still be married to another woman, that he must have this eighth-grade dropout, ex-stripper, and full-time groupie/hustler for his wife, despite knowing her only a matter of days. 

The Mos Def of Breaking The Code Of Silence is intense, dramatic, romantic, and enigmatic, the kind of guy who spends an evening staring at his smartphone, but only so that he can hire a skywriter to proclaim his love for his new wife in the wee small hours of the morning. He’s also a little nuts, as his bizarre courtship of Wyatt-Smith betrays. Yet the pattern persists: Wyatt-Smith, who does not care for rap music but trembles with excitement over being in the presence of members of the R&B group Jagged Edge, is at first overjoyed to be the wife of a rich, famous rapper and movie star, but soon Def turns jealous and possessive, their heated confrontations turn physical, and Wyatt-Smith splits. 

I bought Breaking The Code Of Silence thinking it was a tell-all about being Mos Def’s wife, but their tumultuous marriage only takes up one third of the book’s 112 semi-coherent, typo-riddled, borderline-unreadable pages. The rest of the book is dedicated to barely comprehensible accounts of relationships with other musicians, athletes, and millionaires whose identities she refuses to reveal, making the title thoroughly ironic. 

Like far too many other books I’ve written about here, Breaking The Code Of Silence is part of the curiously unsatisfying phenomenon of the  “tell-some.” Instead of telling all and favoring readers with a dizzyingly comprehensive list of the impressive men she’s slept with, the author gives just enough information to confuse and obfuscate. To cite a typical example, just before Wyatt-Smith hooks up with Def, she has a falling out with a basketball player we learn almost nothing about:

I was keen on the basketball player until I got a call from Banners, who got a call from someone in Dallas who relayed some unpleasant information. Needless to say, it killed all thoughts of anything happening with him! No more NBA man. By this point, it sucked because I thought I was falling in love. He tried, as I tried to forget it and we tried to reconcile, but it would never be the same. You feel me, ladies? I know you do!

To Wyatt-Smith, this both makes sense and is relevant: She was deeply in love with the anonymous basketball player (just as she was deeply into the dozens of interchangeable big shots that preceded him) until she discovered something shocking and horrifying that put the future of their relationship in doubt. But we have no idea what the “unpleasant information” was—He was an Objectivist? He thoughts kittens were gross? He was secretly a zombie?—so the anecdote is just as confusing and meaningless as everything else in the book. Breaking The Code Of Silence doesn’t feel like it was written or “told to” so much as it was blurted out in a long, rambling, manic episode that skips deliriously from one fabulously exciting but ultimately disappointing man to another. Wyatt-Smith desperately needs a ghostwriter, an editor, and a copy editor, but this is clearly a book she wrote and edited herself, to its detriment.  

Reading Breaking The Code Of Silence, I got the sense that the author was writing about experiences she didn’t yet understand and hadn’t adequately processed. Why was Def so intent on marrying the author? What did he see in her beyond her obvious beauty? Why won’t he legally divorce her? After reading her book, I have no answers to those questions. Neither does Wyatt-Smith. 

The book is full of potentially fascinating subject matter Wyatt-Smith does nothing with. She briefly converts to Islam (but not for Def, oddly enough). The father of her child is a fan of the man she runs away to marry. She returns to stripping in her 30s after her marriage to Def falls apart. She marries one rapper and has a child with another while finding the entire of genre of hip-hop degrading and distasteful. Yet Wyatt-Smith lacks the eloquence and perspective to do her potentially fascinating story justice. Her book lacks focus, structure, and shape. It’s just one thing after another, not a story with a beginning, middle, end, or point.  

Wyatt-Smith begins her memoir by addressing her son directly and assuring him that she wrote the book with him in mind, that she was cognizant at every stage in the process that someday her son would grow up and read a book about his mother’s life. That helps explain the maddeningly elliptical, evasive nature of the memoir, which lurches onto a sordid scene involving some sexy sugar daddy with bedroom eyes and the money to make all Wyatt-Smith’s dreams come true, then skips ahead to assure us that the arrangement was strictly platonic and said sugar daddy was happy to keep on peeling off $100 bills just to see a smile on Wyatt’s gorgeous face. 

Breaking The Code Of Silence is a strange, compromised creature, a sleazy tale of sex, money, power, and violence sanitized for the benefit of the author’s innocent son. It’s like a porn film minus the fucking; think of it as a PG-13 version of Karrine Steffans’ infinitely preferable Confessions Of A Video Vixen (the gold standard of groupie tell-alls, and a tome that looks like the complete works of Shakespeare compared to this nasty little cash-in).

Late in the book, Wyatt-Smith thinks she’s finally found the man of her post-Def dreams in yet another gorgeous professional athlete, but that too goes awry for reasons the author stubbornly refuses to go into, writing:

Two weeks later, I went out with some friends, the first time I had never been out without him in seven months. While out that night, I heard some bad news from him. I won’t say what it was in this book because that’s his personal business. It happened a long time ago, but it was him lying to me that hurt the most. For a short time, we didn’t speak, and when we finally did, all we did was argue and our relationship began to disintegrate. I started to play retarded games, lie and cause drama in areas of our relationship where it hasn’t existed before.

(Incidentally, that passage is taken verbatim from the book: all typos, errors, and nonsensical sentences are the author’s own.)

Bear in mind this is not the kind of casual hook-up that pervades the book’s pages. This is the man the author is convinced will be her happy ending, the white knight who would be her salvation and save her from an empty world of sex, partying, and money. And it all goes to shit over “bad news” the author doesn’t feel is our business. If I’m not mistaken, refusing to reveal damaging information because it might hurt someone’s feelings, while an admirable human instinct most of the time, pretty much epitomizes respecting the code of silence. 

Late in the book, when Wyatt-Smith is summing up all she has learned (despite having gone through the book doggedly refusing to learn anything), she writes, “I have grade 8 education but I have gotten by because I am a sponge for detail.” Judging by her dreadful memoir, Wyatt-Smith is anything but a sponge for detail. In fact, detail is exactly what’s missing from Breaking The Code Of Silence. I’m not just talking about the minor details of the names and identities of all the famous non-Mos Def dudes she’s slept with. I’m talking about the details that separate a captivating story from a confusing jumble of questionable information. 

To cite an example, in Confessions Of A Video Vixen, the author writes of going to P.F. Chang’s and watching Fred Durst order five entrées that he then picks at like a backwards-baseball-hat-sporting little bird. That sad little moment in the quasi-courtship of Steffans and Durst says everything about Durst and his flaming douchebaggery, and that kind of detail is fatally missing from Breaking The Code Of Silence. Wyatt-Smith has said in the press that if she wanted to go on record and name names like Steffans, her book would be a thousand pages long, but that she edited the book seven times for the sake of her son’s innocent eyes (without ever catching a single glaring grammatical error, astonishingly). That helps explain why the book feels like a juicy tale that’s been gutted of anything of interest, until all that’s left is the hollowed-out skeleton of the scandalously entertaining tell-all that might have been.