From Publishers Weekly
For our generation, writes Fordham University African-American studies professor Naison, part of becoming American was becoming culturally black.' In this forthright and thoughtful memoir, Naison (Communists in Harlem During the Depression), who became, in the early 1970s, one of the first professors (and the only white man) at Fordham's new Institute of Afro-American Studies, recalls a lifetime of fascination with black history and culture and of antidiscrimination activism. Growing up in then mostly Jewish and Italian Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the 1950s and '60s, Naison saw white flight transform his neighborhood and make his previously liberal Jewish parents openly racist. Naison grew up worshiping black athletes and musicians; as neighborhood tensions grew, he became increasingly estranged from his parents and found himself caught up in civil rights and antiwar activism. He recalls his days in Students for a Democratic Society and the Weathermen; his political organizing efforts in the Bronx; and his decision to turn from revolutionary activism to academia as radical movements fell apart or became increasingly fractious and militant in the '70s. At the height of his activism, Naison was also romantically involved with a black woman, and he reflects on the challenges of an interracial relationship at the time (he felt hostility from black men in the community; she was pressured by other black activists to leave him), and its effects on the heightened tension with his parents. An adroit writer with a winning voice, Naison avoids romanticizing his activist days; he is at times also critical of New Left tactics (particularly those that reinforced racial polarization among activists), and he interrogates his own interest in and identification with black culture. (May 1) Forecast: This book got some play in a February New York Times puff of Naison that solicited his views on college basketball. With the recent defections of K. Anthony Appiah and Cornel West from Harvard to Princeton, black studies departments are in the news, but pitching the book that way would be a stretch; baby boomer activists and whiteness studies academics are the more likely audience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"When W.E.B. Du Bois wisely cautioned in The Souls of Black Folk that 'he would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa,' might he have had some future Mark Naison in mind? In any case, if a shade of doubt had ever existed about this white boy's qualifications to teach and write African American history, Naison's engrossing, tumultuous memoir ought assure the author a place of honor not only among his professional peers of color but in the front ranks of all those for whom differences based on ideas and ideals-not on color or gender or class-are the only ones that matter."-David Levering Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., University Professor at Rutgers University and twice recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1994 and 2001 "White Boy is a happy exception to the absence of autobiographical writings of historians of social movements. It is also an inspired intervention into the history of Black Studies. Its ability to sustain optimism regarding interracialism while acknowledging the costs of long histories and deep structures of division makes the book a great asset."-David Roediger, Babcock Professor of History at the University of Illinois, and author of Colored White: Transcending The Racial Past "White Boy is one of the most fascinating memoirs I've read in a while. It does much more than provide us with an interesting coming-of-age tale of a smart Jewish kid who discovered and fell in love with black life and culture-a love, like all loves, full of discord and mad misunderstandings. Instead, Naison tries to be self-reflexive along the way, providing social historical contexts while attempting to reconstruct his own sense of naivete he experienced at the moment of certain cultural encounters. Chock full of stories, White Boy will be an important and much debated book."-Robin D. G.Kelley, author of Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America "...forthright and thoughtful memoir... An adroit writer with a winning voice, Naison avoids romanticizing his activist days; he is at times also critical of New Left tactics (particularly those that reinforced racial polarization among activists), and he interrogates his own interest in and identification with black culture."-Choice "Naison [writes] with unsparing honesty and personal revelation... Naison's memoir grows in importance. It has raised some crucial issues, many of which go to the heart of the continuing search for racial justice and interracial unity. It should be read widely and debated vigorously."-Science and Society "In this forthright and thoughtful memoir, Naison, who became, in the early 1970s, one of the first professors (and the only white man) at Fordham's new Institute of Afro-American Studies, recalls a lifetime of fascination with black history and culture and of antidiscrimination activism. ...An adroit writer with a winning voice, Naison avoids romanticizing his activist days; ...he interrogates his own interest in and identification with black culture."-Publishers Weekly "...engrossing... more than just a political memoir... White Boy is an extraordinary, valuable and often funny memoir in which Naison relates his personal odyssey against the social ferment of the 1960s and early 1970s."-The Nation "In a world where academic language waters down essential issues of truth and commercially driven art warps beauty, Naison's attempt to keep it real should be applauded."-Socialism and Democracy Online