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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man
by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.60
112 used & new from $0.01

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Rejoinder, June 10, 1998
One of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s stated goals is to expose the constant hovering shadow of racial identity that, unbidden and unspoken, lives beside us. In that venture he succeeds and, I suspect, most poignantly for Negroes. Yet as illuminating and cathartic as this book might be for the black psyche, it may be more so its white counterpart.
Daily news and live encounters too often remind us, or me anyway, of the unsavory and resistant pathologies that blight our black communities, so that the actual potential of an entire people can seem in doubt. (Is it too much to ask that reality matches our desperately hopeful cant?) But Gates's talent alone refutes this notion; his prose flows so smoothly and cuts so deftly that I'd do the shopping and pay the bill, just to read his grocery list. And if Gates alone doesn't accomplish that, then the seven complex lives he splays on his pages certainly do.
This happens not because of some strained attempt to rehabilitate an image. Rather, because he examines his subjects like the diamonds that they are, and unflinchingly rotates them to reveal both superb facets and fatal flaws wherever they arise. In doing so, any nagging questions of ability seem ridiculous, leaving cultural impediments as the villain in a national tragedy. Black excellence is the ultimate rejoinder.
I grabbed this collection in a rush at the bookstore, and only later did I realize that I had read two of the chapters in The New Yorker. Most (all?) of them were first published there. Still, I don't regret it.


Race Matters
Race Matters
by Cornel West
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.15
468 used & new from $0.01

24 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Writing Skills Matter, June 4, 1998
This review is from: Race Matters (Paperback)
I recently read D'Souza's "The End of Racism" and found myself agreeing so much with him that I needed a second opinion. Because of "Race Matters" success and West's status, I hoped to find a healthy crosscurrent of ideas and insights. But in this disappointingly muddled and facile book, Cornel West never leaves his assertion of pervasive and debilitating white racism far behind. Perhaps that world exists somewhere, but it just doesn't jibe with my experience in San Francisco and the vicinity. For West, very little has changed in the last generation or so. I suspect one of his lectures or a conversation with him would be more illuminating of his position, because his awkward syntax blurs all but the broadest outline of his thoughts---though in a more cynical vein, there might not be more definition to his thoughts.
This book might be subtitled "One Man's Views", because there are no footnotes and virtually no sources are given within the text to corroborate his assertions. His contention that whites both fear and are strangely obsessed with black sexuality is just bizarre and foreign to me. Still, this book has value in that it reveals sentiments that persist on one side of America's racial divide, even if what motivated those sentiments has largely disappeared. It's always harder for the punchee to forget than the puncher.
I'm still looking for for a cogent rebuttal to "The End of Racism". Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man", which I've just started, has promise, though rebuttal is not Gates's aim. Whatever else it is, at least it's eloquent, which puts it miles ahead of "Race Matters". Any other suggestions?


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