Ishmael Reed is mad. So what else is new?
Novelist, playwright, poet, anthologist, polemicist, and staple of ethnic-studies syllabuses, Reed (Multi-America, 1997, etc.) has made a fine trade of sometimes righteous, sometimes diffuse assaults on those whom he perceives to be the enemies of African-American society; he made a minor stir after the post–September 11 clampdown when he remarked to the Chicago Tribune, as he repeats on the very first page here, that “African-Americans had lived under a police state for three hundred years and that we were used to our civil liberties being threatened.” Those enemies are legion, by Reed’s account. The pieces gathered in this collection of mostly occasional and journalistic prose points a finger at everyone from George W. Bush to Don Imus, from the “neoconfederate” John Ashcroft to the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, “the African-American scholar whom the New York Times employs to promote its position that the cause of the problems of the ‘black underclass’ is their personal behavior.” Reed aims his scattershot at the barn’s broad side, and he often finds a target: it seems just right to wonder with him why black schoolchildren are typified as being illiterate when most collegians of whatever ethnicity can’t read or write, and it even seems reasonable to suggest, as Reed does, that “the media will ignore the pathogenic behavior among other ethnic groups as long as they can be used as model minorities against blacks.” Just as often, though, he misses (though to say so is to run the risk of joining his enemies list), and in any event one wonders what Henry Louis Gates Jr. ever did to irritate Reed so, why his well of hatred for the likes of Colin Powell and Amy Tan runs so deep when there are plenty of worse offenders at large.
A mixed bag, unified less by sustained argument than by the author’s spleen.