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

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An incisive and candid look at how America got lost on the way to Dr. King’s Promised Land

Almost fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, equality is the law of the land, but actual integration is still hard to find. Mammoth battles over forced busing, unfair housing practices, and affirmative action have hardly helped. The bleak fact is that black people and white people in the United States don’t spend much time together—at work, school, church, or...

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

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Overview

An incisive and candid look at how America got lost on the way to Dr. King’s Promised Land

Almost fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, equality is the law of the land, but actual integration is still hard to find. Mammoth battles over forced busing, unfair housing practices, and affirmative action have hardly helped. The bleak fact is that black people and white people in the United States don’t spend much time together—at work, school, church, or anywhere. Tanner Colby, himself a child of a white-flight Southern suburb, set out to discover why.

Some of My Best Friends Are Black chronicles America’s troubling relationship with race through four interrelated stories: the transformation of a once-racist Birmingham school system; a Kansas City neighborhood’s fight against housing discrimination; the curious racial divide of the Madison Avenue ad world; and a Louisiana Catholic parish’s forty-year effort to build an integrated church. Writing with a reporter’s nose and a stylist’s flair, Colby uncovers the deep emotional fault lines set trembling by race and takes an unflinching look at an America still struggling to reach the mountaintop.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent: Peter McGuigan, Foundry Literary + Media. (July)
Library Journal
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. VERDICT Evenhanded, felicitously written, and animated by numerous interviews, Colby's book is a pleasure despite its overall bleak message. It updates, with only slightly more hope, Leonard Steinhorn and Barbara Diggs-Brown's By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
Kirkus Reviews
Colby (The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, 2008) turns his attention to one of the most vexing and violent topics in American social history. 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023714
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 7/5/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Tanner Colby is the author of Belushi: A Biography and the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Part 1 Letter from a Birmingham Suburb

1 Bus Kid 3

2 A Place Apart 9

3 Oreo 25

4 What Can Brown Do for You? 39

5 Go Rebels? 54

Part 2 Planning for Permanence

1 There Goes the Neighborhood 73

2 "Have You Seen the Country Club District?" 82

3 49/63 or Fight 101

4 Turf 115

5 Desirable Associations 128

Part 3 Why Do Black People Drink Hawaiian Punch?

1 The Old Boys' Network 143

2 Mad Black Men 150

3 A Whole New Bag 166

4 The Inescapable Network 187

5 What's Black About It? 208

Part 4 Canaan

1 The Race That Prays Together 225

2 The Strange Career of Jesus Christ 234

3 The Miracle of Grand Coteau 246

4 In the Wilderness 259

5 Milk and Honey 277

Author's Note 289

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    Good insight and thought provoking

    As a KC Realtor and as a JoCo kid who grew up in the 1970's (SM West Class of '83) I found the book enlightening to a history I didn't even know existed in our local market. Disturbing to say the least.

    But also obvious that author grew up in a culture at least 15 years behind mine. I never really knew discrimination until I left KC and went to DC for 15 years. There I got a crash course in an "integrated" neighbothood. As a white guy I saw it from both blacks and whites and was sad for everyone involved.

    Book is a great read. Author says he puts aside politics but never misses a chance to bust on a Republican administration all the while forgetting it was the Dems calling for easier access to mortgages in the late 90's and early 2000s.

    But this conservative finds this a must read for everyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Recommend

    When I purchased this book it was not quite what I expected by the title but extremely interesting. Having grown up during the time in history in the 50's and 60's when changes were starting to take place, my information about many of the changes was from the perspective of my parents in a white north. They talked about the issues, such as block busting, in a negative way blaming the black community for the things that happened, rather than white greed and exploitation. The author, provided alot of insite into what was and is really behind these issues. In each of the areas he noted the pros and cons of integration that I was not aware of, and the struggles, on both sides of the issue, to resolve some of the problems that lingered throughout the years.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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