Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some of My Best Friends Are Black

Nonfiction by Tanner Colby.

Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America

The title is intended to be ironic, because this book is all about how the author has NO black friends, best or otherwise. He's pointing out how forced integration has been less than successful, despite its apparent success (again, it's IRONIC), especially in the South.

As a girl from the suburbs of Birmingham myself, (I went to high school near the lily-white Alabama town the author did at around the same time) I was interested in the idea of this book.  Although I'd heard of "bussing" black kids into the white schools during the sixties, I didn't think it was still happening in the eighties. At my school there were a few black kids, and as far as I knew they lived in the school district, same as the white kids (and the Asian kids, whom no one counts as non-white by the way).

But I knew, and everyone else knew as well, that we kept the lines carefully drawn between black and white, socially speaking. Black kids hang out with other black kids; white kids hang out with other white kids. We each had our own churches. At college, we had black sororities and white sororities, none of which was actually designated that way by name, of course. You just KNEW what was what.

No one I know back home considers themselves a "racist." Blacks and whites agree (at least in public) that we're all equal. We just also agree that "they" wouldn't be "comfortable" in here with "us," whatever "here" happens to mean for our particular race. So we stay on our respective sides. Usually politely. And we don't mention it either.

Back to the book: The author is pointing out these unspoken boundries between the races that keep us from true integration. (And everyone in Alabama is wondering why he's mentioning the unmentionable.) This may be true. So like I said, I was interested in the idea of this book.

Unfortuntely I didn't find the book itself quite as interesting. In fact, I kind of wandered off and didn't finish reading it. This may be simply because I've been reading too much nonfiction recently, and it's really NOT my genre. I don't deal well with reality, I guess. Still, the bottom line is: I got bored.

So I'll have to give this book a mixed set of thumbs.


P.S. To finish my little monologue on race relations, it is only distance from my own hometown that helps me to see things the way the author does. (He also is distant, writing from New York City. Feel free to say that in a total hick accent like the old Pace Picante commercial, "Noo Yarrrk Sitty!") I've lived in several different places during my "career" as a military wife, and it does give some perspective.

One thing that the military has done exceptionally well is integration. The Army is accepting of all races, and everyone truly works and socializes side by side, mostly regardless of race. This is partially because of the rootlessness of the armed forces, enforced by the transinet nature of military assignments, which forces people to abandon extended family structure and band together with their fellow soldiers. The main reason, however, is that the military has its own rather rigid class system, which can easily replace a race-based class system. So the uniformed serviceman can say, "I don't mind associating with white/black people, as long as they are officers/enlistedmen like me." It works.

P.P.S. Young Southerners, If you are embarking upon a mixed-race marriage, I advise joining the military. Seriously.

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