Review: On the edgeEditorial Review - Kirkus Reviews
A report that asks, and attempts to answer, the often sotto- voce questions: Why does violence seem so pervasive in black communities? Why has integration of blacks faltered behind that of others--Hispanics and Orientals, for example? Nightingale (History/UMass at Amherst), who's white, began exploring the history of black children for his Ph.D. thesis and got drawn into contemporary black culture--specifically, among black children in Philadelphia--as his research expanded. Contrary to popular opinion, he found, young blacks are American before they're African-American. They've bought into the ideas of pop culture--materialism, bootstrap mobility, individuality--and have left behind the African-American tradition of community. More importantly, they've learned the values of frontier justice, vigilante ``law and order,'' and violence, along with the idea that blacks are somehow more prone to violence than whites. With patterns of harsh discipline established in many black households, and with searches for jobs that would permit them conspicuous consumption frustrated by racism, many young blacks--usually males- -have turned to violence. Nightingale ties the growth in violence to the hope raised and then dashed following WW II: that African- Americans would become full partners in American society. At the same time, the black community lost touch with the traditions- -including street-corner stories and rhymes--that had permitted it to deal with earlier discrimination without physical violence. While rap may reflect that tradition, rap's lyrics, Nightingale says, offer messages that confuse rather than diffuse. The author winds up with some ivory-tower solutions: an overhaul of values and a commitment to jobs and the rebuilding of inner cities. Not entirely convincing, but jammed with information that may lead other researchers to answer some of those whispered questions.