Walt Harrington, a white journalist with a black wife, traveled around the US talking to black people from all walks of life. In the book Crossings: A White Man's Journey into Black America, he describes the people he encountered, his interaction with them, their lives, and their viewpoints.

His main conclusions weren't too surprising. American blacks have a variety of viewpoints and life stories; you can't view them as a monolithic block. Things are getting better than in past decades, though most blacks still face some racism. Overt personal and institutional racism has been replaced by subtle social obstacles involving how blacks are perceived and treated. One segment has entered the middle class, though doing so may entail 'acting white', which is unsettling for some of them and alienates other blacks. Many blacks are rather poor, among whom some have lost hope while others still aspire towards a better life. Hard work, dedication, and family support have helped many rise above their meager beginnings. The younger generation, especially among the middle class, are more socially integrated with the whites than their elders have been.

Of course, hearing from dozens of people with different backgrounds reveals more subtleties than a summary like that. Harrington talks to ex-cons and wealthy businessmen, teenagers and senior citizens, southerners and Californians. It's a far broader and better balanced selection than the African-Americans that the media generally focus upon.

On the down side, something about Harrington's style irritated me. I couldn't put my finger on why, but while reading the book I thought more about Harrington's presentation that the people he was talking to. I generally enjoy interviews with ordinary people, such as Susan Faludi's Stiffed, Mark Baker's Nam, and Studs Turkel's books. However, Crossings often bored me, even when Harrington was interviewing a fascinating person like Spike Lee. He described their appearances, clothes, homes, neighborhoods, and upbringing, instead of their life experiences and views of the world.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Crossings. The premise is promising, but other oral histories, such as Turkel's Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, are much better reads.

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