The readable companion, in the oral-history tradition of Studs
Terkel, to the PBS documentary series, peeking behind the veil
"that still, far too often, separates black America from white."
African-Americans, observes Harvard literary scholar Gates (The
African-American Century, 2000, etc.), "often speak
differently-more colorfully and openly-when talking with each other
behind closed doors, as it were, than they do in interracial
settings." These one-on-one discussions are certainly open, in the
main, and immediate; they speak of the considerable successes that
many African-Americans have won in places such as Hollywood and
Washington since the 1970s, but they also reveal how far the
country has yet to go. Colin Powell, for instance, acknowledges
that he "wears his blackness every day" and that when he travels
abroad, "people see a black man." Yet, he adds, as secretary of
state, "I represent . . . the power of this country . . . and once
we sit down and they get past whatever color I am, they want to do
business with me." Powell encourages young black people to find a
white mentor, for "more and more people in the white community are
anxious to help those who are less fortunate." Colorblindness, at
least of a kind, also extends to film stars, for, as the saw goes,
the only color that counts in Hollywood is green. Even so, the
actor Samuel L. Jackson tells Gates, "Hollywood can be perceived as
racist and sexist, because that's what audiences have said to them
they will pay their money to come see." Jackson suggests that more
African-American directors, producers, and studio executives may
help-but what's really needed are African-American-owned theater
chains. Not all of Gates's interviewees are as familiar as Powell
and Jackson; some are millionaires, others gang-members and
prisoners. But many share similar ideas about what is needed if the
lot of ordinary African-American citizens is to improve.
Provocative and worthwhile. (Kirkus Reviews)
This portrait is painted largely by essays drawn from interviews
Gates conducted with such notable names as Colin Powell, Morgan
Freeman, Russell Simmons, Vernon Jordan, Alicia Keys, Bernie Mac
and Quincy Jones and provides a fascinating and unique perspective
viewed through the lens of four intrinsic elements of the African
American experience - Black Hollywood, The Black Elite, The Ghetto
and The New South. Henry Louis Gates' latest contribution to
American scholarship examines the legacy of the Civil Rights
movement, tracing the fate of black people since the death of
Martin Luther King Jr.
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