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Angry Black White Boy: A Novel by Adam…

Angry Black White Boy: A Novel

by Adam Mansbach

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This book is about a a suburban white boy who incorporates black sub culture heavily into his life. The book is about the way he is perceived by both blacks and whites as well as the larger culture and government. I think that this book could be affective in a classroom (barring the explicit language that may be problematic) because it deals with a character who is very much like the students of today in terms of his influences and views on modern society.
  becskau | Sep 28, 2010 |
"masters of affect, strangers to cause" ( )
  jjsreads | Apr 7, 2007 |
What happens when a white American kid from white suburbia turns race traitor? How does that transformation even take place? And what if said white kid started a grassroots movement targeting white folks?

These are some of the questions that Adam Mansbach's new novel Angry Black White Boy, or the Miscegenation of Macon Detornay tries to answer.

Mansbach himself has traveled some of the way down the path of his protagonist, Macon Detornay. Mansbach grew up a white kid in a white suburb of Boston, discovered hip-hop and rap early on, and is himself now a rap artist who records under the name of Kodiak Brinks -- check out his website (www.adammansbach.com) for lyrics, interviews, and other information.

In Angry Black White Boy Mansbach has hit on some themes that most white folks don't ever think about, and probably don't want to think about, mainly because so many white folks in this country are living in the white cocoon. They look out of the cocoon and are afraid or angry or resentful. They see affirmative action as a grave injustice; they think history is in the past and is irrelevant to the present; they think that we should all just ignore race, be colorblind, and everything will be okay; they think that everything now is okay. Anyone who complains about race is just a whiner or crazy.

I know that perspective, because I grew up in it. I grew up in a white middle class suburb in the Northeastern US, and from kindergarten through 12th grade there was exactly one black person in any of the schools I attended. I only saw black people when I went downtown. My knowledge of blacks was gathered from the same sources most white people learn from: television and movies. I grew up before hip-hop, so the direct black cultural influence on my friends and me was limited to Bill Cosby and Sanford and Son. My beliefs about black America were shaped largely by the evening news.

I also saw the knowing looks among adults when they talked about neighborhoods that "used to be nice" but "went downhill" when blacks started moving in. Blacks were scary, cities were dangerous because they were black—this was in the late 60s and early 70s, at the time of urban riots—and thank God we lived in the white suburbs.

One day though I left the cocoon. I went to college in a major metropolitan area, and though there were few black students in attendance, as a work-study student I worked alongside a mostly African-American staff, who I got to know personally. I worked in jobs off-campus and had the same experience.

In graduate school and afterwards I lived in a neighborhood where whites were a distinct minority. I remember when I first looked at the apartment, which sounded great on paper, I seriously hesitated because there were black and brown people on the streets. I took the place anyway, and ended up living there for 8 years. Those eight years changed my life.

The experience of Mansbach's protagonist Macon Detornay is quite different from my own. Yet the things he talks about, including the blindess of so many white folks, struck a familiar chord.

In the novel, young Macon, already immersed in black culture, moves to New York, where he is a first year student at Columbia University. He takes a part-time job as a cabbie. At one point, he is so disgusted with the smugness and arrogance of his white yuppie fares that he robs them, as a kind of punishment for being white.

After a few such robberies he is shocked to hear that the victims identified their assailant as black, so deeply ingrained are their assumptions. Once he sets the record straight, he is arrested, and then proceeds to become a media figure with an almost cultish following.

The story is a good one, and it gets at issues of race in a way that is not preachy or pedantic, but is instead very compelling. Mansbach's writing brings the characters alive, making real the unreality that Macon sees in the white world.

The subsequent course of events are a kind of caricature of racial dynamics. Much of it rings true, although parts are not necessarily convincing. But they don't have to be. The forward motion in the novel follows almost logically from the premises, and works really well to make the author's main points.

Macon’s honesty about race is one of the strong points of the book. At a press conference, Macon is accused of hypocrisy by one of the reporters. He immediately pleads guilty to that charge:
“Part of me believes we’re all the same, part of me believes in every racist fairy tale I’ve ever heard. … I’ll look at a black kid standing on a street corner and part of me will decide that he’s probably some undiscovered, disadvantaged genius, and want to step in and help him turn his life around like in one of those dumb-ass oh-thank-you-mister-white-man movies. At the same time, another part of me will look at him and see a menace, a drug dealer, somebody who probably hates me, and want to cross the street to get away from him.”

Macon continues this riff for another page, describing quite a few other conflicting, often contradictory thoughts that go through his mind when he sees this black kid. His conclusion is unassailable:

“All I know is that even the most concerned white people have always been able to back away from race—and alter their perceptions in amazing ways when the truth is too ugly or complicated.”

That line is the crux of the novel.

The novel's detour to the American South, while understandable in terms of the story line, is a bit troubling. Though not his intention, Mansbach, by resorting to stock southern racist characters—even if they are relatively young and have hip-hop listening kids—risks reinforcing the belief among white folks in the north and west that the south is the problem, and if only those bad southerners were more tolerant the race problem would be resolved.

This is clearly not Mansbach's intention. And the last part of the novel is very powerful, and does pretty clearly raise the main question he seeks to answer: can we white folks ever let go of our privilege, can we, will we ever be able to stand up, to risk it all, and fight for what's right?

I myself continue to struggle with that question. If there's an answer to it, I think that Mansbach's novel can help point the way. ( )
1 vote sabreader | Sep 7, 2006 |
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"Macon Detornay is a suburban white boy possessed and politicized by black culture, and filled with rage toward white America. After moving to New York City for college, Macon begins robbing white passengers in his taxicab, setting off a manhunt for the black man presumed to be committing the crimes. When his true identity is revealed, Macon finds himself to be a celebrity and makes use of the spotlight to hold forth on the evils and invisibility of whiteness. Soon he launches the Race Traitor Project, a stress-addled collective that attracts guilty liberals, wannabe gangstas, and bandwagon riders from all over the country to participate in a Day of Apology - a day set aside for white people to make amends for four hundred years of oppression. The Day of Apology pushes New York City over the edge into an epic riot, forcing Macon to confront the depth of his own commitment to the struggle."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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