Colby (The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, 2008) turns his attention to one of the most vexing and violent topics in American social history.
With depressing persuasiveness, the author argues that we haven’t achieved racial integration, because, well, we don’t really want to. He looks at several social institutions—schools, real estate, advertising, churches—and finds just one faint glimmer of hope in a Catholic parish in Louisiana, a place where the separate black and white congregations, after decades of debate and nastiness, eventually merged. There is a personal dimension to most of the narrative. Colby visited the Alabama public school he attended as a child, and he looks closely at the case of Kansas City and its struggles to integrate some neighborhoods. A former copywriter, he examines Madison Avenue’s glacial acceptance of blacks into the world of advertising, a process that’s been both slow and icy. He also explores the irony of profoundly segregated Christian churches. School integration, he writes, came at enormous economic and psychological cost—and even in schools where both whites and blacks attend in large numbers, they tend to stay separate. Rapacious and amoral real-estate agents and complicit civic officials engaged for years in the gross practices of “red-lining” and “block-busting.” Madison Avenue was clueless about how to sell to black markets and hired black personnel only under enormous pressure—and didn’t know what to do with their new employees, many of whom left, some to establish all-black agencies. Intransigence and even violence have characterized attempts to blend church congregations; beneath it all flows a deep, turbulent river of white entitlement.
Occasionally thick with statistics and explication, but the author’s personal voice is compelling and his thesis is most disturbing. Recommended reading for anyone who still thinks we live in a post-racial America.