From Publishers Weekly
Clemens's life has been shaped by three powerful factors: his autoworker father's rock-solid decency and fair-mindedness; a good Catholic education through high school (and natural bookishness); and the experience of growing up as a white kid in a black city. This last aspect forms the basis of Clemens's probing, insightful memoir. In 1973, Clemens's birth year, Coleman Young became Detroit's first black mayor and reigned for 20 years thereafter. During that time, the city lost half its population and nearly all its white citizens, and became the murder, arson and unwed mother capital of the non-warring world, with enough crime, corruption and lack of common sense at government levels to classify as a Third World city. Is such a statement racist? Clemens wrestles with that question, using his own life experience, especially in high school sports, and his obsessive reading of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and even Coleman Young. He concludes that he is not a racist—he's in fact become a middle-class liberal. Though Clemens retains doubts, he seems as fair in his self-analysis as his much-loved father, and despite some scares, he has not yet abandoned Detroit.
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Detroit's population has halved since the nineteen-fifties, the result both of decline in the auto industry and, starting in the late sixties, of white flight in the wake of race riots. Born in Detroit in the seventies, Clemens grew up in a white enclave, and his memoir lovingly depicts his soft-spoken, gearhead father, who could shift from first to fifth without ever engaging the clutch, and his stalwart mother, who cleaned houses to pay for a private education that would keep her son out of inner-city schools. Embedded in his well-wrought, if conventional, coming-of-age story is an honest and bracing account not only of mutual mistrust across the color divide but also of the peculiar Rust Belt pride that kept whites and blacks locked together, even as the city collapsed around them.
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