Book: Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: 2012
Pages: 294

Source: Library

Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby

A well-researched, but personal, story about race in America, especially in education, housing, the workplace, and church

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.

2014 Nonfiction Reading ChallengeChallenges: 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.

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


Some of My Best Friends are Black by Tanner Colby #BookReview #BookClub — 13 Comments

  1. This is a topic that has come up frequently with my kids. We live in a rural area and they attended rural schools. The student population up till high school was 99% white. I felt my kids were missing out on a rich cultural experience by not having different cultures at their school. Then son went to grade 8 at an inner city school and it was much more diverse, that school even celebrated that they have the most number of cultures attending their school of any other school in the district. While daughter continued at the rural school she did have exposure and interaction with other populations. She had kids with physical special needs in her class for years, her high school had a special program to encourage old order Mennonites teens to continue their formal education as well as quite a few foreign exchange students, many of whom she got to know quite well. I truly feel that they more intermixed our society, the better off we will all be in life.

  2. Looks interesting. I can’t remember where I read this report, but I remember that places of worship remain one of the least racially integrated institutions. Race is very complex and emotional. Few people are willing to talk or write about it. Thanks for the review. I like to read nonfiction, and it’s good to have more recommendations.

  3. I requested the book from the library even before I finished reading your review. I’m glad to know you are “a bleeding heart liberal.” Me, too. In the 1970s, I did management training for a government agency, trying to teach the managers about racism, sexism, and EEO compliance. (That’s Equal Employment Opportunity, in case you don’t know that acronym.) I knew you and I were kindred spirits!

  4. Stopping by from The Steadfast Reader–I read a lot about race and race relations, but hadn’t heard about this book before. It sounds interesting and it’s going on my TBR list! If you’d like another take on this subject, you may want to try (if you haven’t already) Lena Williams’ book “It’s The Little Things: Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide The Races”. Fascinating, very readable, and very thought-provoking.

    • It’s been a long time since I read it and I remember that it was complicated in a way — exploring four different topics in four different ways.

      Hmmm. The US is separated along racial lines due to structures that were put in place decades ago, often for reasons that have been forgotten and are now outdated. Dismantling those structures will require unraveling the complex tapestry that underlies our institutions and our neighborhoods.

      Something like that. What do you think?

      • I believe the thesis for this book is to show how american society failed at racial integration.. in a way. I’m trying to determine what the best way to explain it would be.

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