by Ralph Wiley ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 27, 1996
A broad, often wildly funny examination of ""blackness"" in America, by the author of What Black People Should Do Now (1993). The quotation marks are Wiley's, and he uses them to raise questions about what the words ""black"" and ""white"" mean in America. In this regard, he approvingly cites the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, who observes that ""United States Negro culture . . . includes all Americans."" Wiley's larger interest, however, is in those who would exclude African-Americans from American culture. Warming to this task, he has a fine time poking indignant fun at the authors of The Bell Curve in an essay provocatively called ""Why Black People Are So Stupid,"" and sending up Saul Bellow, to whose question ""Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?"" Wiley responds, ""Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus--unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership."" Wiley's aim is sometimes scattershot; he fails to hit the mark in a too-cute, surreal reverie on the O.J. Simpson trial. He more than makes up for any lapses, however, with a long, sinuous, and altogether elegant essay called ""One Day, When I Was on Exhibit,"" which effortlessly glides from professional basketball to the woes of former NAACP president Benjamin Chavis to the question of self-governance for Washington, D.C., and scores big points at every turn. Equally pointed is Wiley's spirited defense of Mark Twain against those critics who deem him a racist; as he tells his young son, ""If you know a little math, can understand Mark Twain's writings and, most difficult of all, can avoid being a victim of ever-ominous Circumstance, you have a fighting chance; if you show some 'heart' . . . then you pretty much have living in America licked."" Humor is a formidable weapon, and Wiley puts it to outstanding use in this sharp-edged book.
Pub Date: May 27, 1996
Page Count: 320
Publisher: One World/Ballantine
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996
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