The ranks of black journalists and columnists has grown over the years, but most are writing for local papers, and few get national attention. In 1996, DeWayne Wickham, a syndicated columnist with USA Today, brought together more than two dozen columnists from around the country in his anthology, Thinking Black: Some of the Nation's Best Columnists Speak Their Mind. In essays that treat topics from the family to sports to racism, these columnists describe trials and pleasures in an embattled community in distinctive and personal ways.
Thinking Black is divided into 5 sections: Our Mothers, Ourselves; About Black Men; Glimpses of the Past; The Color Line -- And Degrees of Blackness; and The Ballot, the Bullet, and Other Alternatives. Each features 4 or 5 essays, typically touching on deeply personal experiences for the writer. The positions are sometimes difficult, and they encompass a wide range of political and social attitudes, but the voices are clear and clearly authentic, always expressing and never dictating.
These essays have little room for the sociologic claptrap that bolsters the myth of the welfare queen. The columnists who address family and community issues in this anthology do so with open eyes, but they offer positive examples as well. They also hold the Right and the Left to task -- the Right for policies that punish the poor, and the Left for clinging to welfare models that haven't helped. The dominant theme in these sections, even when commenting on the failings of welfare, is endurance and survival. There is a tired but deep sense of faith in these essays that there will be a future, even as there is an unflinching honesty about the likelihood that that future will be all one could hope.
The jewels of this collection are the columns that look at history and race. These are mainstream pieces, and there isn't much material about Afrocentrism, but there are some affecting stories from columnists who visited Africa and worked to intregrate that experience in their self-identifications. It also includes sensitive and nuanced discussions of the role of color -- degrees of blackness -- inside the black community and the evolution of terminology from Negro to African-American.
These essays are uniformly careful and articulate. Only one seems to generate more heat than light, an essay comparing the overtly violent and bloodlust rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan with white anti-Semitism from mainstream politicians. (The example is a politician remarking that Jews are racist, a statement many Jews would agree with.) While a double-standard clearly exists when it comes to what is "acceptable" to the mainstream from black versus white leaders, Farrakhan isn't a great example of a misunderstood, embattled guy just trying to get his message out.
Thinking Black: Some of the Nation's Best Columnists Speak Their Mind is an enjoyable collection of essays that offers plenty of food for thought. These are obviously short newspaper columns, and in a book they can seem a bit curt, even glib, but that style also makes the dozens of chapters easy to read and remember. Thanks to DeWayne Wickham for giving these columnists a wider audience, raising their voices in the nation's debate.