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Honky Paperback – September 18, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I've studied whiteness the way I would a foreign language," declares Conley at the outset of his affecting, challenging memoir, laced with the retrospective wisdom of the sociologist (at New York University) he has become. As the child of bohemian, white parents, he grew up in an otherwise black and Hispanic housing project on New York's Lower East Side. At elementary school in the 1970s, he found himself placed in the "Chinese class," after his stint in the black classAwhere he was the only student not to receive corporal punishmentAleft him uncomfortable. Despite the family's lack of funds, they had cultural capital in the form of social connections, and were able to transfer young Dalton to a better school, where he began to feel some snobbery toward kids in his own neighborhood. Yet the friend who accepted Dalton most was a black youth from the neighborhood, Jerome, who was tragically disabled in a random act of violence that helped spur Conley's parents to leave the Lower East Side for subsidized housing for artists. Part of the memoir concerns the universality of povertyAbut a thoughtful examination of the privileges of race and class also emerges. Despite the book's title, the author cites only one major episode in which he was threatened and called "honky." Conley acknowledges that he doesn't know how to account for such successes as gaining admission into the selective Bronx High School of Science: race? parental protectiveness? his own aspirations? It is "the privilege of the middle and upper classes," he observes, to construct narratives of their own success "rather than having the media and society do it for us." (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Conley, a sociology professor, brings to his analysis of race a unique experience in the social and racial maze of New York City. Conley grew up in a Manhattan housing project that was predominantly black and Hispanic. Yet his minority white status offered a perspective and insight into the analysis of American race and class conflict. Conley found himself placed with Asian students on a higher academic track in elementary school, later migrated downtown to the Village with rich white students in junior high school, and was finally placed in one of the more selective public high schools. Throughout his personal journey, he learns that class and race are interwoven in a complex social fabric making it somewhat difficult to determine which is the dominant factor. While Conley appears to maintain close personal friendships with minorities, his whiteness still provides him with opportunities not available to his black and Hispanic neighbors. Conley's perspective on his youth is likely reconstructive and colored by preferences. Yet his book offers a clarity and simplicity that is insightful and raises concerns of a more universal significance. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (September 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727757
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 99 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I found this book both conmfusing and troubling. As a black man who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, I find conley's observations out of sync with my own. First of all: the Masaryk Towers--the "project" where he lived--was not a PUBLIC housing project, nor was it low income. Its population was far more mixed than the projects where I grew up. His stories, while well written at times, seem forced--as if to prove a point: white people have privileges that black people do not. I think we know this already.
As a person of color, I felt a bit hurt by the book's constant opposition between white sucess and black failure. If it's stereotypes the author is trying to attack, he sure doesn't succeed. Black people are type cast in this racial drama. My life growing up was filled with rituals, joy, ideas. His picture of black life is filled with anger, tragedy, and sadness. Where is the positive, complex side of black life on the Lower East Side.
As for the book's title: I've never called ANYONE honky. Was Conley called honky? The title of the book--like so many of Conley's stories--typecasts black people in a confusing and troubling way. Our lives are as complicated as white people's. I wish this book had shown this. Too bad. I think Conley means well. He just doesn't get it.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Holt on January 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
I found this to be an interesting and frustrating book. Dalton is a decent, though self-indulgent writer, who is able to create good narrative momentum. He has some interesting if not very deep things to say about race and class and childhood. But everything positive about the book was deeply undermined for me because it contains a great deal of factual error and distortion. I know this because my family figures prominently in his story. He was my brother's best friend during a critical period of their childhoods, which Dalton recounts at considerable length. And much of what he says is simply wrong. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he wrote things as he remembers them and did not deliberately embellish the story. But the inaccuracies are significant because they pertain to the very heart of what he is trying to say. When Dalton transferred to PS41, he moved into a very different socioeconomic sphere, and the contrast between his earlier experiences and the new world he entered affected him deeply. Those contrasts--and the meanings he draws from them--are a great deal of what he tries to make sense of in the book. And that is what makes his inaccuracies so troubling. The portrait he paints of my family is of an extremely privileged, wealthy clan of economic and cultural elitists. That makes a better story, but it is also false. It makes me wonder just how accurate his other memories are. Is what he says about other people, places, and experiences as distorted as what he says about my family? His book is a clear lesson in just how subjective and unreliable memoirs are as sources of information about anything or anyone other than their authors. If you read this book, you'll know what Dalton thinks his childhood was like. No more, no less.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
About midway through his excellent, humorous and poignant memoir of growing up white in the mostly minority inner-city that comprises the edges of Manhattan's Lower East Side, Dalton Conley strives to comprehend the forces that enabled him, unaccompanied by his non-white peers, to transcend the urban blight that characterized both the outer and inner landscapes of those living in his neighborhood. "I'll never know whether it was my mother's protectiveness, my expectations and aspirations, or simply my race that spared me from a worse fate," writes Conley. "I will never know the true cause and effect in the trajectory of my life. And maybe it is better this way. I can believe what I want to believe. This is the privilege of the middle and upper classes in America - the right to make up the reasons things turn out the way they do, to construct our own narratives rather than having the media and society do it for us." Honky, at its core, is Conley's construction of his own narrative, a thoughtful examination of the trajectories that were at force in his childhood, as well as a personal and moving account of his gradual childhood acknowledgement of the significance of his whiteness and the privileges of race and class while growing up in multiple, unequal worlds. Clearly his book has a lot to teach - and it does - but in a thoughtful and non-preachy manner.Read more ›
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up this book after reading Conley's sociology book, "Being Black, Living in the Red." The latter is first rate--I found it very, very helpful. I was curious about the formative experiences of the author of THAT book. Except for that, I don't know that I would have finished this one. Conley gives sketchy details of all characters except himself--for instance, we get no idea why his father forsook his "artist" identity to take on steady work, though this seems an important event, with which Conley deals in half a page. Even of himself, he is less forthcoming than it initially seems--for instance, he tells us of his various misdeeds and psychopatholgies, but he does little more than report them. ("Show, don't tell," someone should have instructed him.) I found myself frustrating with a pile of, "But what about . . . " questions I wanted the author to have addressed. ("So what about your Mom's short-lived writing career? How did that affect her and your family?" "How did your OCD affect your place in your various neighborhoods? Did whites/middle class folk deal with it differently than blacks/lower class?")
I think this book is more a set of object lessons in the author's (very insightful) understanding of race and class than a compelling or convincing memoir. We get the details relevant to the lessons, not those that would make a full-fledged story.
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