Reed (Blues City, 2003, etc.) thinks the media’s portrayal of black people is racist—and he’s probably right.
The author is perhaps better known by vociferous reputation than for his prolific and diverse career as a writer, and his polemic spirit is alive and well in this latest collection of essays. Selections ruminate on subjects of varying closeness to the author (his mother figures largely in several), but all dance—or perhaps box—around the media’s portrayal of African-Americans and its insidious effect on race politics. Reed, with ample evidence, albeit some hearsay, spares no one: Don Imus, Toni Morrison, Orlando Patterson and the Manhattan Institute are all skewered as enablers of racism. The validity of his arguments is at times somewhat undermined by his irascibility (and consequent clouded judgment), but this collection as a whole is provocative and relevant. “Assisted Homicide in Oakland” asks important questions about the city’s skyrocketing crime rate and the power of the gun lobby. “The Patriot Act of the Eighteenth Century,” originally published in Time, should be required reading for every lawmaker. Reed’s dissection of minorities in the media in “The Colored Mind Doubles” is on par with any mainstream op-ed piece and, though surely controversial, makes a salient point about the lengths to which some networks go to advocate “scientific racism” and perpetuate the stereotype that African-American problems are largely self-inflicted. Also included is his landmark 1998 Baltimore Sun essay in which he calls President Clinton a “black” president, a qualified accolade that preceded similar, more widely publicized statements by Jack White and Toni Morrison. A MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer nominee, Reed’s shortcomings are hardly analytical, but rather editorial: His talent is often preceded by the cacophony of sensational one-liners he’s amassed over the years. As a critic of the media pundits, he should know better than to bait them.
Worthwhile reading from an important voice.