An Obama-Inspired State of Mind — A Bi-Ethnic Perspective
by Donald Wheeler Jonz (London-Paris-Rome Publishing Corporation, 2014) Kindle edition $9.99
This book is an imaginary dialogue between two Black intellectuals. In seven chapters, they argue over issues of interest to African Americans. The topics are a series of dichotomies that the author (an attorney, judge, and law-school professor) selected in order to highlight opposing views within the A-A community.
The first four chapters deal with such issues as: Does appreciation of western culture imply less self-identification with Blackness? How White lip service co-opts and diverts protest by the oppressed in order to protect the status quo. The need (or not) to demand accountability and reparations from the perpetrators of slavery and Jim Crow. Should criticism of anti-social acts by young Black males be stifled for fear of “airing laundry in public”. Is patience with the lack of progress in ending injustice reprehensible passivity? Which organized religions support Black struggles? Why don’t more Blacks vote? Why do Black leaders become corrupt once they get power?
The last three chapters were written after a two-year hiatus. The election of the first Black (or biracial) U.S. president inspired the author to offer possible solutions to the dilemmas presented in chapters 1-4.
Issues include: Why are successful Black entertainers often accused of selling out? Why are Americans obsessed with the “race” notion? The importance of collective injustice, collective memory, and collective despair. The historical role of good Whites. Vernon Jordan. Corporate self-interest may succeed where federal paternalism has not.
Before I tell what I liked about Jonz’s book, I warn that I am not Black and have little interest in Black struggles. I am Puerto Rican (genetically about 3/4 European and the rest split evenly between African and Native American). The author is my friend. When he was a law-school dean, he had me give several presentations to his students on my doctoral dissertation, Legal History of the Color Line, which explores how U.S. “racial” classification changed over the centuries.
The book’s strength is its back-and-forth debate format. The Socratic dialogs enable the author to present both sides of some very contentious issues. They remind you of opening and closing arguments made by opposing trial lawyers. <grin> Jonz pulls no punches. You are convinced by the first man’s persuasion and logic, only to be swayed 180 degrees by the other’s response, then brought back again by the first one’s rebuttal. The dialogs are an intellectual tour-de-force by a master of argumentation. They would be a great source for anyone who seeks rhetorical material regarding issues of import to the A-A community.
On the negative side, the historical exposition was a bit overdone. There was too much and it was unsubtle. “Too much” because many pages retell the popular version of slavery and Jim Crow, a story which every reader already knows. “Unsubtle” because it equates antebellum slavery with racialism when in reality the most vehement opposition to intermarriage (because it threatened White “racial” purity) came from abolitionists, and the most passionate defense of slavery came from biracial slaveowners who saw slavery as equal-opportunity employment, and who encouraged intermarriage (because it dissolved the color line).
As an observation that is neither positive nor negative, I note that the book offers no quantitative data. The book talks about police violence and the three well-studied U.S. Black/non-Black divergences (the test-score gap, the crime gap, and the net-worth gap), but presents no supporting numbers. This is not criticism; new research was not the author’s intent. I mention it only so the prospective buyer will know what to expect. Also, the book couches its problems and solutions in purely collective rather than individual terms (federal versus corporate solutions, antisocial youth caused by parental neglect versus inadequate schools, etc.).
In short, if you seek material to argue important A-A issues, or to learn what those issues are, this is the book to buy. But if you are an individualist, a fan of Kipling’s poem The Winners (“Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone”), the book will not interest you.
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Frank W. Sweet is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), an analysis of the nearly 300 appealed cases that determined Americans’ “racial” identity over the centuries. It is the most thorough study of the legal history of this topic yet published. He was accepted to Ph.D. candidacy in history with a minor in molecular anthropology at the University of Florida in 2003 and has completed all but his dissertation defense. He earned an M.A. in History from American Military University in 2001. He is also the author of several state park historical booklets and published historical essays. He was a member of the editorial board of the magazine Interracial Voice, and is a regular lecturer and panelist at historical and genealogical conferences. To send email, click here.
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