Journalist Malcomson (Borderlands, 1994) takes a sensitive and wide-ranging tour of race relations that offers more in the way of analysis than prescription.
The author begins his journey in Oklahoma City, the site of the white separatist bombing and part of a state whose history serves as paradigm of the American experience. For it was here that Native Americans, driven from their homes in the East, established themselves with slaves and free blacks—only to find their land again taken by the white man in the end. Although whites, blacks, and Native Americans have all sought (or been forced) to live apart, Malcomson argues that all three races not only share blood, but land and history as well. In order to identify this past so that we can learn to “ease the sharpness of our separations, overcome the thoughtlessness of our racial roles,” he visits in Oklahoma a Cherokee nationalist, a band of white supremacists, and the all-black town of Boley. In his hometown of Oakland, California, he talks to a black Baptist minister (one of the first appointed black judges), as well as aging white members of a declining white inner-city church. These vividly reported and intelligently nuanced visits alternate with sometimes dense but nonetheless provocative historical investigations of the meaning of whiteness and blackness. He quotes from Herodotus, Columbus, Shakespeare, the founding Fathers, Lincoln, and Twain, among others, to give a comprehensive record of the still-evolving thinking on the subject. He also details how the pernicious and far-reaching notion that one drop of black blood made you black originated in the late 1800s at a time of Populist white supremacy. The son of liberal Baptist parents (his father was a pastor), he nostalgically recalls his determinedly nonracial childhood in Oakland public schools—before white flight changed the city.
Admirable and instructive.