Book: Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby
Publication date: 2012
Summary: Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends are Black, grew up in Louisiana and Alabama and works in New York, where he discovered during President Obama’s 2008 campaign that he didn’t, in fact, have any black friends to celebrate the successes with. He researched and visited four places in the United States to examine the continued separateness of blacks and whites in schools, housing, the workplace, and church.
Thoughts: This is the sort of approach to contemporary topics that I really enjoy — enough detachment to illuminate thorough journalistic research with a personal touch so the reader can vicariously uncover the surprises alongside the author. Some of My Best Friends are Black is a book with surprises. I’ve been reading books about race in America for six years (I wrote about our book club during Armchair BEA a couple of months ago) and I’m still astonished by how much I don’t know.
Our book group’s discussion kept coming back to how often interference by the government (sometimes well-intentioned and sometimes not) messed up situations that might have worked out better on their own. I’m a bleeding heart liberal with a fondness for government’s power to do good. This book is a cautionary tale for me.
The book recounts a lot of struggle and it’s not over yet, but there’s enough hope to keep it from being depressing. I felt at the end the book and the end of our discussion that we are making progress in small bits and pieces across the country — a senior center in Louisiana, a high school in Alabama, and our book club in Missouri.
A word about the title. I thought it was funny because, in recent years, I’ve heard the phrase “some of my best friends are black” used ironically. It turns out, some of our book club members still hear it said in all earnestness. So, if you’re still saying “some of my best friends are black” like it means something, cut it out. It comes across as ignorance or a lie or both. If some of your best friends really were black, you’d know better than to believe that’s enough.
Appeal: Most Americans, of any ethnicity, would learn something about themselves and their communities while reading this book. There’s enough humor and plenty of great stories to keep the reading from being a chore.
Challenges: This is my 13th book this year for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I should have no difficulty in meeting my goal of 16 books in 2014.
Are some of your best friends black? Heh. Okay. Let’s ask that in a different way: how much racial integration do you experience in your daily life? How much separation? Keep in mind that, with current demographics, if we were a fully mixed society in America, every 3rd or 4th person you encounter would be Hispanic, black, Asian, or another minority.