This delicious and diverse sampler of African American life culled from over 200 interviews by author Randall Kenan shows that the American idea of "blackness" is as vast as the United States itself and cannot be pinned down to simplistic sociological clichés. "More than a book of analysis," Kenan writes, "this is my book of soul searching. I am asking who we are." Crisscrossing North America, he visits some familiar settings--Oakland, New Orleans, and New York--and some unusual places (including Bangor, Maine, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to discover how everyday black folks deal with issues of race, identity, and nationality. From a black minister in Mormon Utah to a female judge in skinhead country to the state of blacks in the would-be utopia of Seattle, Kenan paints a revealing portrait of a people whose presence and perseverance may forge a better America in the 21st century. --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
Kenan styles himself as the heir of W.E.B. Du Bois and Gunnar Myrdal, but this massive collection of 200 interviews is ultimately not as enlightening as either The Souls of Black Folk or An American Dilemma. In his preface, Kenan (The Visitation of Spirits, a novel) puts his finger on the problem when he admits that the book is more of an attempt to answer questions about his own blackness than to figure out what it means to be black in the U.S. But his efforts on this score suffer from an apparent self-absorption born of his fear that he is "not black enough, inauthentic"?a fear that could conceivably anchor a short memoir but not a tome of this size. Kenan spoke with the young and the old, the middle and the working class (though rarely with professionals). Strong points include informative local histories (a passage about the Black American West Museum in Denver, which has archives on black cowboys, is particularly good). The book's fundamental flaw is that Kenan is determined to think about black culture as monolithic, but the form of the book itself, with its interviews of people from diverse places and backgrounds, shows readers that black American life is multifaceted, shaped as much by class and region as by race. Indeed, Kenan's own childhood in rural North Carolina speaks as much to rural Southern culture as to black culture. In the end, Kenan, faced with the diversity of black lives, finds very little of substance to say about black identity: "being black is a desire toward some spiritual connection with some larger whole, an existential construct: Who am I? Where do I belong?" How this differs from "being" anything else, Kenan doesn't say.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.