cover image Inheritance: An Autobiography of Whiteness

Inheritance: An Autobiography of Whiteness

Baynard Woods. Legacy Lit, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-0-306-92419-4

Journalist Woods (I Got a Monster) misfires in this disconcerting attempt to “see [his] own whiteness.” “It might strike people of color strangely, that the force of whiteness remains so obscure to us white people,” he writes before proving that in a narrative that feels achingly out of touch. Woods grew up in South Carolina, in a family where calling Black people “bears” instead of the N-word was considered a mark of some degree of tolerance. He grew apart from them, and shares that process, while reckoning with his family’s troubling legacy: “In 1860... the Baynards and the Woodses combined held more than seven hundred people in bondage. My name is... a testament to a totalitarian slavocracy.” Woods’s penchant, however, for trite summations about his whiteness and the bewildering explanation behind his deliberate choice to keep his name (“to change [it] would only continue the cover-up that has constituted whiteness for the last 150 years”) may cause readers to wonder if he fancies himself some sort of modern-day martyr. Bloviated sentences that try to imbue gravitas into trivialities—after eating a boiled peanut, he “dropped the shell into the water, where it drifted like a canoe in a naval battle... as the sun cut through bloated clouds”—suggest a writer in need of an editor. Good intentions aren’t enough to save this one. (July)