A life on the front lines of academic and social change
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Mark D. Naison
Mark Naison is the recipient of the Poe Award for Literary Excellence of the Bronx County History Society, 2004
How does a Jewish boy who spent the bulk of his childhood on the basketball courts of Brooklyn wind up teaching in one of the city's pioneering black studies departments? Naison's odyssey begins as Brooklyn public schools respond to a new wave of Black migrants and Caribbean immigrants, and established residents flee to virtually all-white parts of the city or suburbs. Already alienated by his parents' stance on race issues and their ambitions for him, he has started on a separate ideological path by the time he enters Columbia College. Once he embarks on a long-term interracial relationship, becomes a member of SDS, focuses his historical work on black activists, and organizes community groups in the Bronx, his immersion in the radical politics of the 1960s has emerged as the center of his life. Determined to keep his ties to the Black community, even when the New Left splits along racial lines, Naison joined the fledgling African American studies program at Fordham, remarkable then as now for its commitment to interracial education.
This memoir offers more than a participant's account of the New Left's racial dynamics; it eloquently speaks to the ways in which political commitments emerge from and are infused with the personal choices we all make.
"White Boy is a happy exception to the absence of autobiographical writings of historians of social movements. It is also an inspired intervention into the history of Black Studies. Its ability to sustain optimism regarding interracialism while acknowledging the costs of long histories and deep structures of division makes the book a great asset."
"White Boy is one of the most fascinating memoirs I've read in a while. It does much more than provide us with an interesting coming-of-age tale of a smart Jewish kid who discovered and fell in love with black life and culturea love, like all loves, full of discord and mad misunderstandings. Instead, Naison tries to be self-reflexive along the way, providing social historical contexts while attempting to reconstruct his own sense of naivete he experienced at the moment of certain cultural encounters. Chock full of stories, White Boy will be an important and much debated book."
"...forthright and thoughtful memoir.... An adroit writer with a winning voice, Naison avoids romanticizing his activist days; he is at times also critical of New Left tactics (particularly those that reinforced racial polarization among activists), and he interrogates his own interest in and identification with black culture."
"Naison [writes] with unsparing honesty and personal revelation.... Naison's memoir grows in importance. It has raised some crucial issues, many of which go to the heart of the continuing search for racial justice and interracial unity. It should be read widely and debated vigorously."
"In this forthright and thoughtful memoir, Naison, who became, in the early 1970s, one of the first professors (and the only white man) at Fordham's new Institute of Afro-American Studies, recalls a lifetime of fascination with black history and culture and of antidiscrimination activism. ...An adroit writer with a winning voice, Naison avoids romanticizing his activist days; ...he interrogates his own interest in and identification with black culture."
"...engrossing.... more than just a political memoir.... White Boy is an extraordinary, valuable and often funny memoir in which Naison relates his personal odyssey against the social ferment of the 1960s and early 1970s."
"In a world where academic language waters down essential issues of truth and commercially driven art warps beauty, Naison's attempt to keep it real should be applauded."
"In this engaging and tough-minded memoir, Fordham's first white professor of African and African-American studies skillfully blends vivid storytelling with keen sociological analysis to discuss his career as an educator-activist, and to question all facile assumptions about race and identity."
"This memoir presents a fascinating look at the journey of activists energized by the struggle for racial and gender equality from the 1960s into the new century. Naison is a personable and worthy guide."
"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..."