Pleased to announce that the American Library Association has nominated Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America for its 2013 Carnegie Medal for Non-fiction. Awards will be announced later this Spring. Full details are here.
I'm happy to announce that I've been added as a panelist at this year's Harlem Book Fair, being held this Saturday July 21st at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
It's a full day of readings, panel discussions, and events featuring Cornel West, Ellis Cose, and many others. Complete information on the event can be found online here. The panel I will be featured on is listed below.
WHAT PASSES FOR FREEDOM: THE 150TH YEAR CELEBRATION OF THE EMANICIPATION PROCLAMATION
LOCATION: Schomburg/Hughes Auditorium 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (map)
TIME: 5:00p – 6:15p
African Americans have long-been ambivalent about the idea of ‘freedom’. It sometimes occurs as elusive and a benefit of the privileged. But is privilege and freedom the same? Is the elusiveness of ‘freedom’ an exclusively African American experience? What is the distinction between emancipation and freedom?
This is an exploration of three basic freedoms – freedom of movement (migration); freedom of religion; and the freedom of expression, within the historical price African Americans have paid for freedom – a conversation of returns against perceived investment. To what freedoms are we entitled? What freedoms do we feel have been earned? What ‘freedom’, if any, has yet to be delivered? Should the idea of freedom be re-defined to 21st century realities?
MODERATOR: Christopher Paul Moore (Fighting for America: Black Soldiers – The Unsung Heroes of World War II)
OTHER PANELISTS: Nell Irvin Painter (The History of White People); Obrey Hendricks (The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible, the Church, and the Body Politic); Farah Jasmine Griffin (Who Set You Flowin'?: The African-American Migration Narrative)
"Some of My Best Friends Are Black is a wonderful book that deserves to be read widely by white and black Americans and both by young and old. It tells the story of post-civil rights American society in a down-to-earth manner combining sense and sensibility."
"Kansas City residents who are proud of their metropolis might wish Tanner Colby had never written “Some of My Best Friends Are Black,” despite the book’s superb qualities. Why? Because Colby examines the failure of racial integration in the United States by examining the separation of African-Americans and Caucasians in the workplace, in churches, in schools and in residential neighborhoods.... And in the neighborhoods section of the book, Colby damns Kansas City as one of the most racist American cities when it comes to keeping African-Americans in their place through housing discrimination.
Read the rest of the review here.
From The Daily Beast:
"Colby, emerging from the “comedians who died young” pigeonhole that he had made for himself after penning biographies of both Chris Farley and John Belushi, finds a new way into a national discussion, which is so cluttered at this point that it can be difficult to find the floor.
His refreshing angle is based in aw-shucks honesty and an earnest humor. As he lays out in the preface, the book came about when Colby (who is white) realized, in the wake of the Obama election, that he had no close black friends. With this admission as an end point, he goes back to try to figure out how, even after a half-century of integration policies, the “standard middle-class pipeline” could have moved him through a public education, college, and a professional life in New York City without forming any substantive relationships with people of a different skin color.
This is not a legal history but rather a series of vignettes about everyday people and their experiences with integration across four different venues: school, real estate, the office, and the church. The picture Colby creates, of base tribalism and failed good intentions, is simultaneously disheartening and inspiring, but this contradiction seems perfectly in keeping with the larger contradictions of the land of the free."
Another pre-publication review:
With depressing persuasiveness, the author argues that we haven’t achieved racial integration, because, well, we don’t really want to. He looks at several social institutions—schools, real estate, advertising, churches—and finds just one faint glimmer of hope in a Catholic parish in Louisiana, a place where the separate black and white congregations, after decades of debate and nastiness, eventually merged.
There is a personal dimension to most of the narrative. Colby visited the Alabama public school he attended as a child, and he looks closely at the case of Kansas City and its struggles to integrate some neighborhoods. A former copywriter, he examines Madison Avenue’s glacial acceptance of blacks into the world of advertising, a process that’s been both slow and icy. He also explores the irony of profoundly segregated Christian churches. School integration, he writes, came at enormous economic and psychological cost—and even in schools where both whites and blacks attend in large numbers, they tend to stay separate. Rapacious and amoral real-estate agents and complicit civic officials engaged for years in the gross practices of “red-lining” and “block-busting.” Madison Avenue was clueless about how to sell to black markets and hired black personnel only under enormous pressure—and didn’t know what to do with their new employees, many of whom left, some to establish all-black agencies. Intransigence and even violence have characterized attempts to blend church congregations; beneath it all flows a deep, turbulent river of white entitlement.
Occasionally thick with statistics and explication, but the author’s personal voice is compelling and his thesis is most disturbing. Recommended reading for anyone who still thinks we live in a post-racial America.
The initial pre-publication reviews for Some of My Best Friends Are Black are in and...the verdict so far is good. Fingers are crossed for more. On sale July 9th. You can pre-order the book now.
Who would expect a coauthor of two Saturday Night Live alumni biographies (The Chris Farley Show; Belushi) to pen a thoughtful, judicious, yet provocative social history of American race relations? Colby quips that ignorance is his one qualification as a white writer on race, then gets serious in exploring four key areas: school desegregation (in Vestavia Hills, a suburb of Birmingham, AL), homeownership and neighborhood (in Kansas City’s 49/63 area), advertising—as a career and a product (in Madison Avenue’s old boys’ network), and church membership (in Grand Coteau, LA). Colby considers the close connections among suburban development, advertising, and racial fear. His tour of Kansas City, still divided racially by one thoroughfare, underlines how years of misguided federal housing and loan policies institutionalized residential racial stratification. And he reveals how, after 40 years, 13 pastors, and untold strife, it took a hurricane and an ailing priest to integrate neighboring black and white Catholic parishes in one Louisiana town. Evenhanded, felicitously written, and animated by numerous interviews, Colby’s book is a pleasure despite its overall bleak message.
In his latest, Colby (The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts) takes a fresh, honest look at race relations, tackling the issue in four realms: school, neighborhood, workplace, and church. He probes school integration’s turbulent history in Birmingham, Ala.—test case for Brown v. Board of Education, and also the place Colby went to high school. He visits his old school district to track its bumpy progress from racial homogeneity to integration and to find out whether the black kids and the white kids still sit at different tables in the lunchroom. In Kansas City, Mo., he uncovers how real estate practices like blockbusting, redlining, and racial covenants created ghettos and urban blight, and how one neighborhood group is fighting back. Then, a former adman himself, Colby returns to Madison Avenue to examine an industry still divided into mainstream white agencies and niche-market black agencies. Finally, he winds up in a Louisiana Catholic parish scarred by racial violence and learns how the church was able to overcome a self-segregation perpetuated by decades of silence and mistrust. Pointing out the shortfalls of court-ordered busing, affirmative action, and other well-intentioned programs, Colby’s charming and surprisingly funny book shows us both how far we’ve come in bridging the racial divide and how far we’ve yet to go.