Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man

Henry Louis Gates, JR., Author Random House (NY) $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-679-45713-8
Gates, the head of Harvard's Afro-American studies department, is not only the nation's most prominent black scholar. As the author of the widely praised Colored People and as an essayist, he has become a leading interpreter of ""the perplexities of race and gender."" Originally published in the New Yorker, these deft, absorbing reports on prominent black men-from literary critic Albert Murray to choreographer Bill T. Jones and singer/activist Harry Belafonte-are enlivened by Gates's own expertise and engagement. He likens Colin Powell to bootstrap philosopher Booker T. Washington and deconstructs the racial iconography that makes Powell unthreatening to whites. Though on record as a critic of Louis Farrakhan, a visit to the Nation of Islam leader reminds Gates that he, like most African Americans, ""feel[s] astonishingly vulnerable to charges of inauthenticity."" He finds Farrakhan alternately charming and chilling yet concludes that the scariest thing is Farrakhan's (and America's) lack of true vision to transform black rage. In the title essay, on black responses to the O.J. Simpson trial, Gates acknowledges his outrage was mingled with relief, and he teases out the mixed opinions of other prominent blacks. The book's closing essay, is the most surprising in its examination of how New York Times literary critic Anatole Broyard passed as a white man and how that passing, by which Broyard aimed to liberate himself from the shackles of identity, ultimately hindered his writing. Gates, on the other hand, suffers no such block. He offers here fine magazine journalism, substantial portraits that are great fun to read. Author tour. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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