A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

I really enjoyed this book and am really happy I read it. Generally I have a hard time finishing non-fiction books, because no matter how interesting I find the topic there is always about 60% more detailed information than I need/want/am able to process, and I am too compulsive to skim, so instead I just get bored and give up. Didn't have that problem with this book.

The author includes a lot of big-picture analysis but focuses on the experiences of three separate people -- two men and one woman -- who moved from the south to the north (or west) during the Great Migration. I got a better sense of the men than the woman, maybe because they had much clearer ambitions and flaws and the woman was just sort of plugging away and being reasonable. (Still, a neat lady.)

A major take-away is how hideously racist the white people in northern (and western, and mid-Atlantic) cities were to the migrants. Definitely made me think twice about my latent sense of northern superiority re: race relations.

The book has some great anecdotes, like how an ambitious black man in the south was put in an insane asylum, basically for being "uppity", and some northern friends helped break him out by pretending he was dead and making him lie in a nailed-up coffin (on a train) for 15+ hours. Also there's a really powerful depiction of this black doctor driving from Texas to LA and not being able to rent a motel room because of his race, and not being able to stop and sleep in his car because he fears being harassed/lynched, so he basically has to drive for 30 hours straight and nearly has a nervous breakdown.

Interesting fact re: "white flight": decline in property values often began BEFORE the first black buyer moved in -- "a by-product of the fear and tension itself." Also, despite popular belief, the Great Migration had little, if anything, to do with the boll weevil. (It was mostly about lynching and behaviors ancillary to lynching.)

So, to sum, a great book for helping to understand why our country is the way it is. Readable. Makes a good companion piece to the recent census results and analysis, such as this:

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