Various chapters on aspects of black life in America--but too disparate in nature and uneven in quality to complement the...


LONG MEMORY: The Black Experience in America

Various chapters on aspects of black life in America--but too disparate in nature and uneven in quality to complement the standard narrative histories, as the authors intend. The first, on the cultural heritage of slavery, winds up in a mix of hyperbole, imprecision, and clichÉ that is characteristic of the first several: ""Without Africa and slavery, American folklore, speech, music, literature, cooking, and religion would be unimpressive replicas of European ones, barren and somewhat sterile. Without Africa and slavery, America would not have created spirituals, blues, jazz, or rock and roll."" The second chapter deals with antebellum free blacks: we're told that their numbers vastly increased, but not in what respect or why; on one page we're given to think that all ""enlisted in the antislavery campaign"" (an obvious implausibility), on succeeding pages we learn of those, north and south, who didn't; and the same is true of social distinctions--first denied, then affirmed. In their zeal to portray black attitudes positively, the authors fall into unnecessary contradictions. To depict blacks as victims, on the other hand, they succumb to rhetorical excess: ""As [black travelers] emerged from the shadow cast by the American eagle, they escaped for a while the talons fastened irrevocably to their hearts and the horrifying tearing of their flesh."" Succeeding chapters in this vein review the black family and church, from slavery to the present, and ""sex and racism"" (i.e., interracial sexual contact and intermarriage). Then comes a somewhat more straightforward sequence: black political participation, 1830-1976; the economic history of blacks; blacks and criminal justice; black education; and black military service. But here, too, there are clinkers: socialism and Communism are lumped together; we are told that blacks didn't embrace Communism because (for one thing) ""Subjected to a massive barrage of propaganda from the American news media, few of them knew about Russia's constitutional safeguards for minorities, the extent of the equality of opportunity, or the equal provision of social services to its citizens"" (cruel jokes, one would think, today); we are also told that Richard Wright joined the Party--but not that he left it. The two concluding chapters take up ""white proscriptions and black protest"" and black nationalism. Though there is, without doubt, a great deal of material here, little of it is in an entirely coherent or trustworthy form.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1981

ISBN: 0195029100

Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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