Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America (Tanner Colby)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Generally well written and interesting, this book is half-history, half-narrative: it starts really with the idea of how busing came about, takes us through White Flight, and quickly brings us to modern day, where we are more equal… but still not truly integrated. While the subject matter is interesting and Colby’s writing is clear, the book sometimes meanders into interviews and narratives in a way that makes you lose forward momentum. Despite being very interested in the topic and the book in general, I put it down several times, and found myself skimming near the end…

Greater Detail:
Perhaps one of the most interesting sections to me was the introduction, or rather, how Tanner Colby went from writing about Chris Farley to realizing he’d been typecast already, and wanted a new project to sink his teeth into. He was an Obama supporter who realized that, despite the fact that we were on the eve of electing our first black president, he really had no black friends… he pitched the idea and a book was born.

He goes back to his hometown, talks about Vestavia, Oxmoor, and the black kids he went to school with — he interviews one of his more successful classmates, a black girl who was taunted more by her black peers than her white classmates (and accused of being an “Oreo”), and later, interviews students currently attending his alma mater. One of the funnier bits is when a white student tries to explain what it’s like; I’ll give you the sample point:

I have a couple black friends, but, like, I know a lot of people in the school? I kind of feel like… like, not politically — I don’t know how you’d say it — but having, like, right now, especially in this school, if you have a black person on a team, it’s like… bonus points? It’s like, look here, government or whatever, yeah, we have racial integration, because — you know what I’m sayin’?

Though that particular quote is both funny and painful to read, it highlights the underlying tensions that Colby writes about: that we are integrated, but still separate, and that the topic of race is still one that we’re not very articulate about… and downright uncomfortable discussing.

Still, despite interesting interviews/narratives/personal stories here and there, it just meandered a little too much for me — instead of delving a little more into one particular section or story, we’d suddenly be in a new neighborhood, talking about how that particular city passed a zoning ordinance about where blacks could and could not live… And though additional examples were effective at making his underlying point about how busing came into play, and the class and race warfare that is an underlying commonality in too many towns… I felt like ultimately, the book delivered much less than it promised: a more honest and deep dive into our current struggles talking about race and racism in America.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I really haven’t read enough other nonfiction books about just race to know where this should fit in the spectrum. The writing is clear, but despite the hefty size of the book, I had trouble really engaging, and felt like we never delved deeply into any one section.

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