Domestic radicalism and militant chic charge this energetic but uneven essay collection by the black American poet (The Women and the Men; Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day). A fiery presence in the 60's formation of a black political aesthetic, Giovanni is now 40-plus, a mother, Cincinnati resident (and Bengals fan), and willing consumer of mass culture. ""Research"" for Giovanni apparently means TV and USA Today; trivia and arcana inspire these homespun generalities on the American condition that alternately tickle like Erma Bombeck and strut like Malcolm X. In essays like the title piece, Giovanni portrays 1980's America and its present-day race relations as an unhappy muddle. After trenchantly noting that American blacks have perhaps the most sober view of modern America, ""since we have no land that we can in any historical way call our own,"" she goes on to indict black leadership, which ""has finally managed to convince the young"" that the problems of blacks in America are ""neither their fault nor their responsibility."" Yet ever-conscious of signs of political nostalgia (she admits to still wearing an Afro and bell-shaped pants), Giovanni constantly sidesteps full-blown militancy so that sassiness replaces sock. Feminism is compared to football in an entire section of essays dealing with sport, and elsewhere Giovanni's peripatetic mind draws random linkages--from Vanessa Williams to Nixon to Hemingway to Lite Beer, for example--that evoke rather than illuminate cultural chaos. A lightweight joyride that in the end crashes.