In her essay""Black Nerds,"" Harris laments the divide within black communities between those who engage in""practical"" pursuits and those who seek higher education, and concludes that though Ph.D. holders such as herself are loved and needed by their neighbors, they are accepted only as""intimate strangers."" Indeed, Harris herself seems to have taken on this role, using the book's 17 essays to lovingly critique the mores of black southern culture against a backdrop of her own experiences. A University of North Carolina professor of English and the author of numerous books (From Mammies to Militants; Saints, Sinners, Saviors), Harris offers plenty of anecdotes from her childhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Many, though, seem primarily to serve as pretexts for textual analysis of authors such as Toni Morrison or Harris's own socioeconomic and cultural theories. As Harris simultaneously tries to explain her background to a larger audience and claim ownership of her status as a true black Southerner, she sometimes compromises both efforts in the process. Still, Harris is a likable narrator, at her best when recounting vivid childhood memories. In""The Overweight Angel,"" she describes Aun Sis, a community elder (and""nobody's aunt in particular"") who passed judgment on and offered advice to the entire town from the vantage point of her front porch. At six feet and 250 pounds, Aun Sis""towered over everybody, including her diminutive husband, whom the neighbors fell into the habit of calling 'Mr.' Sis."" While one wishes for more gems like these, Harris offers a warmly intelligent portrait of home and sharp critiques of racist attitudes, including her sense that non-black Americans--say, kids who listen happily to rap music but have no black friends--""simply can't tolerate too much 'visible blackness.'""
Reviewed on: 04/01/2003 Release date: 04/01/2003 Genre: Nonfiction