LONG WAY TO GO: Black and White in America by Jonathan Coleman

LONG WAY TO GO: Black and White in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the best tradition of journalistic portraits of urban race relations, a writer's earnest and generous search for some sign of hope in an all-too-typically segregated American city. Coleman (At Mother's Request, 1985; Exit the Rainmaker, 1989) spent several months in Milwaukee, a city with a particularly stark racial gap, exploring the intransigent and increasingly dramatic division of American society. Loosely framed by the events that feed the media's discourse on race (Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, etc.), Coleman's account follows his journey, variously enlightening and frustrating, through the conversations that do and do not take place among people facing their own community in crisis. Coleman's generic feature-journalism writing style is unremarkable, but it is his reportorial skills that count, and the real voices of his book are those of the women and men struggling with a momentous historical burden as they conduct lives near Milwaukee's racial fault lines: community activists, city politicians, determined single parents, whites attempting to face their own roles in Milwaukee's dividedness. Their accounts of their experiences, ideals, and anger speak very vividly for themselves, and Coleman effortlessly weaves the pasts that brought them to this present-day impasse into a broad historical context. Indeed, Coleman is constantly attentive to the impact of wider issues (especially long-term economic forces) and other social divisions (especially class). But he invariably returns to the unique way that race penetrates deep into people's perceptions, assumptions, and actions, including his own, even as he gains an understanding of the failures of integration as it has been practiced. If Coleman inevitably finds little in the way of answers to such dilemmas, he and his readers depart Milwaukee with a richly expanded consciousness of their scope and seriousness, and of the lives at stake in them.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0871137232
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly