How Race Is Lived in America: Pulling Together, Pulling Apart

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9780805067408: How Race Is Lived in America: Pulling Together, Pulling Apart
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In 1999, the New York Times embarked on the most ambitious project in its history. Starting with one central question--What are race relations like today?--a dedicated group of editors and writers began work on an intense, demanding form of narrative journalism, finding compelling stories in fifteen communities around the nation and following their subjects for up to a year until their stories played out. The result, How Race Is Lived in America, captures the emotions and candid words that often churn just below the surface and presents an uncommon view of the country's private and public discourse on race.

Whether it's the struggles of a biracial partnership in a high-tech start-up, the tension-filled merger of a white church with a black church in the South, the simmering resentments of a multiracial slaughterhouse workforce, or the hip-hop dreams of a suburban white teenager, the powerful and intimate stories in this book follow real people leading complex lives, often but not always side by side.

Aqeelah Mateen, one of a trio of young friends in Maplewood, New Jersey, finds herself torn by racial identity as she approaches adulthood. Sergeant Maria Brogli suspects that the black undercover officers on her Harlem narcotics squad fear being accidentally shot by white officers. Achmed Valdes, a white immigrant from Cuba, wonders why his best friend from Havana has chosen to align himself with Miami's black community. As each shares hopes, fears and assumptions, an intricate and poignant understanding of race relations emerges.

Throughout these chronicles, which are enriched by an extensive poll and commentary from the journalists and citizens, it is clear that America has not become two distinct nations--one black and one white--as was feared a generation ago. America is now an inescapably multiracial society, discovering day by day how perceptions of race affect the fabric of human relationships. But deep divisions and frustrations persist, in minds and hearts if not in the laws of the land.

This landmark book offers a personal yet panoramic view of real-world conflict and aspiration, pain and resolution--a portrait of a country torn apart and brought together by its attitudes towards race

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Review:

The Assembly of God Tabernacle in Decatur, Georgia, has succeeded at doing what most institutions in America have failed at--achieving full integration. White parishioners who thought of blacks in the worst terms in the past have now decided that all believers--black and white--are going to the same heaven, so they might as well get used to it here on earth. After a black man hugs an elderly white woman, he says, "Man, 30 or 40 years ago I would have been hung for just touching this lady." While there is genuine affection between many of the parishioners, all the complex feelings and questions that plague the races at the turn of the century are being reckoned with here. Is integration a blessing or a sellout, blacks wonder. Is it ever acceptable--or even helpful--to make race the issue, or must a preacher and his congregation always feign colorblindness? What are the burdens of blending in, and are they worth it? And will this last, or is the church just like so many neighborhoods--enjoying a fleeting moment of integration on the way to becoming predominantly black? These are just some of the touchy issues explored in this remarkable and eye-opening book.

Originally published as a series in The New York Times, the 15 stories are the outcome of a yearlong examination by a team of reporters who managed to overcome the taboo of discussing private attitudes toward race and uncover the daily experience of race relations in schools, friendships, sports, popular culture, worship, and the workplace. The result is a wide range of intimate portraits, from bringing up slavery in the Old South, to drug cops reacting silently to the Amadou Diallo verdict, to the making of the HBO special The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.

Race clearly remains a source of misunderstanding and alienation, but there are also heartening signs of reaching out, reconciliation, and even unity. This book is an important leap into an area most fear to tread, yet also yearn to change. --Lesley Reed

About the Author:

The New York Times team is comprised of Ira Berkow, Dana Canedy, Timothy Egan, Amy Harmon, Steven A. Holmes, N. R. Kleinfield, Charlie LeDuff, Tamar Lewin, Mireya Navarro, Mirta Ojito, Kevin Sack, Janny Scott, Don Terry, Ginger Thompson, and Michael Winerip. Joseph Lelyveld is executive editor of The New York Times.

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