Limited Passport

By Fears, Darryl | The New Crisis, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Limited Passport


Fears, Darryl, The New Crisis


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White Boy: A Memoir By Mark D. Naison (Temple University Press, $69.50/$19.95 paper)

When Mark D Naison began to write his master's thesis at Columbia University in 1966, he had a meeting with his master's supervisor William Leuchtenberg. In Naison's persona, Leuchtenberg saw a highly intelligent pupil with a undeniable love jones for Black causes. The student's attachment was so heartfelt that Lenchtenberg doubted Naison's ability to "maintain a scholarly distance from the subject matter" in his essay regarding the racially integrated Southern Tenants Farmers Union. Naison proved his mentor wrong and wrote an objective thesis. Now, 36 years later, Naison is proving his mentor wrong again with the emotional detachment he shows in his book, White Boy: A Memoir.

White Boy lacks the observation, color and emotion of a thoughtful, revelatory memoir. Naison begins his narrative with the details of his Jewish upbringing. He then takes the reader on his journey through African American life and liberation movements in New York and, ultimately, to his experience as an oddly placed, yet deserving, White professor of African American studies and history at Fordham University, where he is director of urban studies. As befitting any good memoir, Naison is at the center of its universe. But sadly, the supporting characters, including his longtime Black girlfriend "Ruthie," revolve around him like lifeless asteroids. It's a pity, because taking the extra step of fleshing out those closest to Naison would have added depth to this book. White Boy should offer a rare perspective on race relations, but falls short of its potential.

Naison fills the void with tales of his own activism, often with people whose name won't divulge or can't remember. His entryway into companionship with Black males is - drum roll, please - basketball. He shoots, he scores and on two occasions, wins fist fights, which made this reviewer wonder if he considered inserting the words "bad-assed" before the title of the book.

There's no doubting that Naison has the credentials to write this type of memoir. He either joined or had close connections to some of the most significant African American and White organizations influencing those times - including Students for a Democratic Society, the Congress on Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Panthers and the radical group of White mad-bombers known as the Weathermen. Naison logged time with Black tenants as a tenants' rights activist in Harlem, tutored Black kids as a teacher in a White-students-- meet-Black-world program called Double Discovery. …

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