The acclaimed work that debunks our myths and false assumptions about race in America
Maurice Berger grew up hypersensitized to race in the charged environment of New York City in the sixties. His father was a Jewish liberal who worshiped Martin Luther King, Jr.; his mother a dark-skinned Sephardic Jew who hated black people. Berger himself was one of the few white kids in his Lower East Side housing project.
Berger's unusual experienceand his determination to examine the subject of race for its multiple and intricate meaningsmakes White Lies a fresh and startling book.
Berger has become a passionate observer of race matters, searching out the subtle and not-so-subtle manifestations of racial meaning in everyday life. In White Lies, he encourages us to reckon with our own complex and often troubling opinions about race. The result is an uncommonly honest and affecting look at race in America todayfree of cant, surprisingly entertaining, unsettled and unsettling.
Courageous White Lies Opens Eyes
a Bill Curtis Book Review
The measure of a good book is in how far it chases readers somewhere new. In White Lies, author Maurice Berger gives us an insightful glimpse into white lies, its self-deception and objectification of everything but itself.
Using poignant autobiographical reflections, recent media events, and comments from other writers, artists and researchers, Berger intrudes the silent, racist, mentality of "whiteness". His edgy presentation makes you laugh, feel dread, and pity at the sheer stupidity of racism. White Lies is an equal opportunity to examine how the paradigm of racism limits personal thought and freedom.
Mr. Berger meanders across issues of class, racist myth and hype, his mother, integration, silence, his background and a myriad of insights which penetrate personal comfort zones. Drawing examples from popular culture and news events, Berger scoops the sugarcoating off white western world racism, cultural imposition and nullification. Berger chases readers somewhere new.
He quotes various authors, including Farai Chideya, journalist and author of Don't Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation about African-Americans, who "finds that cultural disinformation about African Americans is everywhere in the media, concerning every aspect of life: sex, love, family values, primary and secondary education, affirmative action, wages and employment patterns, the arts, sports, the criminal justice system, politics. No matter how free of racism white people think they are, no matter how much white people love jazz or enjoy the company of black friends, their racial politics cannot help but be distorted by hype."
In White Lies, Berger contends that "Whiteness" as a "cultural" expression discounts every other culture and people to be less than "whiteness." He says, "Racist hype justifies white anxieties about an unknown or unfamiliar blackness. It shores up white power by justifying white people's need to curb black power or expression. These are some of the reasons why it is so hard for white people to acknowledge the lies and distortions that underwrite hype."
"Hype," Berger indicates, "predisposes white people to see even the most innocent black person as dangerous, sinister, or scary: the black medical student walking down a dark street at night reads as savage, licentious, criminal. The black mother pushing her son in a stroller down that same street in the light of day reads as unmarried and irresponsible."
For readers willing to examine the dynamics of how white racism works as false cultural expression, Berger's White Lies is a primer into whiteness, its limitations, and its paradigms. He says that white supremacy practices are legitimate as long as Blackness is negated, vilified, criminalized, animalized, marginalized. Like a PC mouse click, whiteness perpetuates its power by maximizing negatives about other cultures, while minimizing negative racist white practices, behaviors and cultural expressions. The snow job (pun intended) is so thorough that people think the dominance of whites over blacks is "normal".
In White Lies Berger says, "Cultural and social institutions controlled by white people have been slow to reward black accomplishment not because African Americans don't excel but because such rewards declare that a black person may, in fact, be far more talented, more intelligent, or more beautiful than his white peers." This compelling book pulls the sheet off the Klan mentality draping the perception of the typical white American mind into bizarre, illogical paradigms of oppressive dualities, anti-black propaganda, and true white lies. Maurice Berger's White Lies is my first recommended Must-Read-Reading (MRR***1/2) for even the fainthearted.
Bill Curtis' commentaries and reviews have been published in the Afro-American, The Baltimore Chronicle, The Baltimore Press, The Baltimore Times, The Baltimore Sun, Financial Independence Magazine, Every Wednesday, Blind Alleys, African-American News & World Report, and at Barnes and Noble on the internet. Contact Mr. Curtis at WebReady@theglobe.com or P.O. Box 2043, Baltimore, MD 21203-2043.