A guidebook for those uncomfortable with the status quo in race relations and unwilling to exploit white or black hatred. Jacobs, a poet and writer who is African-American, confronts a rarely admitted truth: there is much weirdness regarding race in the US. Often what is unquestioningly assumed would be considered ludicrous by any objective observer, e.g., "the myths of what ‘black' and ‘white' are supposed to mean; the casual acceptance of public racial mistrust," making conventional patterns of racial belief and behavior difficult to take seriously if they were not so serious. Consider the well-dressed, educated black man who notices, day after day, that the seat next to him on the subway remains empty as the car fills up. As a black man, he inspires such distrust that any other seat, or even standing, is preferable for whites to sitting next to him. Or consider the white woman whose idol, Elvis Presley, is scorned by blacks as a white who got rich and famous by appropriating black music. Is Elvis the King or the ultimate symbol of plantation exploitation, of living high off the work of others? The real question, of course, is why people actually care so passionately, about either Elvis or where they sit on the train. Jacobs observes a society in which the flashpoint of racial animosity resides at the level of daily life; no lynchings or O.J. Simpson trials are required for mistrust to bar the possibility of common sense. To navigate this strange world, he offers a primer to "lay bare everyday racial behavior and help make sense of it," and it works. He takes us through typical situations, pointing out assumptions and then challenging them. Overall, the effect is shocking: self-justifying pablum and inflated rhetoric so dominate discussions of race that arguments which are both strong and reasonable, that are in-your-face without offending, stand out. An impressive contribution that exposes the underlying silliness as well as noxiousness of American racial attitudes.
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