DARK WITNESS by Ralph Wiley


When Black People Should Be Sacrificed (Again)
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 A broad, often wildly funny examination of ``blackness'' in America, by the author of What Black People Should Do Now (1993). The quotation marks are Wiley's, and he uses them to raise questions about what the words ``black'' and ``white'' mean in America. In this regard, he approvingly cites the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, who observes that ``United States Negro culture . . . includes all Americans.'' Wiley's larger interest, however, is in those who would exclude African-Americans from American culture. Warming to this task, he has a fine time poking indignant fun at the authors of The Bell Curve in an essay provocatively called ``Why Black People Are So Stupid,'' and sending up Saul Bellow, to whose question ``Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?'' Wiley responds, ``Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus--unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership.'' Wiley's aim is sometimes scattershot; he fails to hit the mark in a too-cute, surreal reverie on the O.J. Simpson trial. He more than makes up for any lapses, however, with a long, sinuous, and altogether elegant essay called ``One Day, When I Was on Exhibit,'' which effortlessly glides from professional basketball to the woes of former NAACP president Benjamin Chavis to the question of self-governance for Washington, D.C., and scores big points at every turn. Equally pointed is Wiley's spirited defense of Mark Twain against those critics who deem him a racist; as he tells his young son, ``If you know a little math, can understand Mark Twain's writings and, most difficult of all, can avoid being a victim of ever-ominous Circumstance, you have a fighting chance; if you show some `heart' . . . then you pretty much have living in America licked.'' Humor is a formidable weapon, and Wiley puts it to outstanding use in this sharp-edged book. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 27th, 1996
ISBN: 0-345-40055-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: One World/Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996


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