A myth-busting four-year catalogue of middle-class black life in small-town USA.
Dent (Journalism/New York Univ.) shows students what logging thousands of miles and hours can do to deepen your journalism, even if you're not Charles Kuralt. His focus here is on post—Civil Rights movement African-Americans who live comfortably in areas other than the inner-city ghetto. Discovered miles from the nearest fried-chicken or check-cashing establishments are members of the 17 percent of African-Americans with annual incomes over $50,000: Illinois rodeo cowboys, an Ohio dentist, ritzy homeowners in Maryland, a hairdresser-turned-preacher in New Hampshire, and a couple in Michigan whose mansion resembles an art museum. Dent follows, over several years, a few key figures, from a successful Republican candidate in Jesse Helms’s backyard to a pregnant teenage high school dropout (who, remarkably, lives in a small town, where her social circle is racially diverse) mixed up with drugs and gang boyfriends in jail. Dent’s interview subjects condone interracial dating and marriage only in theory. Politically, the interviewees, burdened by the Willie Horton stigma, suffered most during the Reagan years. Black middle Americans overwhelmingly support Clinton. Kenneth Starr’s attack on this “first black president” is thus perceived as racially motivated: “It is the bad white boys again.” Many of Dent’s subjects believe black self-respect will earn general acceptance. In daily life, few are victimized or even distracted by racism. Neither segregationists nor integrationists, they prefer the comfort of black society—even if their enclaves were created by white flight or racist attitudes: “There would never have been an American Beach [in Florida] if it wasn’t for segregation.” Black parents especially want their children not to associate success with whiteness.
Beyond all the angry rap videos, Dent’s eloquent reportage shows us that Dr. Huxtable is no fantasy, and the Fresh Prince may have family in Bel Air.