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Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White

By Kathy Wilson
Emmis Books, 284 pp., $19.99 (hardcover)

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Reviewer: BRENTIN MOCK

 

If Negro Cincinnati columnist Kathy Wilson ever visited Pittsburgh she'd realize:  Cincinnati's record-breaking 65 total homicides in 2002 don't touch the 122 homicides we saw county-wide, nor the 74 we saw city-wide in 2003 -- at least 63 of whom were black; that we too had a 12-year-old black killed in our region by police; that -- after seeing our Bored Walk -- Cincinnati doesn't have the black-apathy monopoly she thinks; that Cincinnati at least has grocery stores to speak of in its blackest and poorest neighborhoods; and that our mayor has made the same name for himself while still in office that Cincinnati's ex-mayor, Jerry Springer, has made since leaving office.

 

If you can swallow most of that without a chaser then you're built for Wilson's Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, a collection of her Cincinnati City Beat newsweekly columns of the same name.

 

"While majority culture makes sport of observing and appropriating from The Other, I've made sport of -- and, most importantly, a living from -- observing and then reporting the truth of them."

 

That's the note she begins on.

 

Mostly everything after is definitions of the oft-neglected black creative class. Then there're columns abounding on Timothy Thomas, the black 19-year-old whose death by cops jumped-off riots that crushed Cincinnati's already over-crimed Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. An ensuing boycott continues today that even Bill Cosby has honored by refusing to perform there. All of this is your Negro's tour route.

 

There are a few evergreens on family, friends and distracting Negroes like Kobe Bryant and Jayson Blair (probably the most sympathetic ink dedicated to him outside of his own book). But mostly it's Spike Lee pie -- hold everything but the monologues. 

 

Wilson, the three-time college dropout, is a character plump both physically and in personality, like the black Mammy figurines she affectionately collects and uses for her book cover -- judge that.

 

As a woman she mostly strips herself of femininity and lesbian-ity. Where blackness is concerned, she strips herself only of being over-accessorized. She wears the "I'm Black and I'm proud!" T-shirt but it's ironic. She's got jabs and hooks for both black and white people, but it's the latter she saves her power punches for. 

 

"I love everything about my blackness every time," she writes in "Harlem on My Mind," recalling like-minded writers Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. This is what Toni Morrison means when she talks about blacks writing carefree of the "white gaze." Wilson writes for a white-run periodical with a mostly white readership, but her columns read like letters to her sista-girl pen pal, blind-carbon-copied to the rest of white Cincinnati (i.e., America).

 

It sucks being the Negro Tour Guide, Wilson says in her column, "Nigga." "Playing Sojourner to [whites'] runaway on a cultural drive-by gets tired. It can also be a gimmick. But sometimes the risk is worth the truth you'll help [whites] tell."

 

There are black writers who were first inspired to write by observing the beauties of black folk -- the way we walk, talk, wear our hair, jeans, teeth or whatever. They document blackness, from idiocy to genius, and why all of it is worth examining. Occasionally newspapers hire one, enamored by a black writer's verisimilar presentations, and calls the writer a "columnist" for lack of a better term.

 

This is Wilson.

 

Then there's bitter African-American curmudgeons who speak of blackness only when riling against our niggerisms, the lesser keys of Negritude, and don't care why black hoodlums are this way. They revere only black life that aspires not toward intellectualism but toward sophist capital.

 

Not Wilson.

 

Wilson doesn't hold niggas above reproach either, though. Anyone who reads "What's Matter with Self?" where she calls loitering, drug-pumping blacks "vermin" and "pure roach[es]" will get that. But she also acknowledges in that column and others that while despising them it's worth getting to the root of the fear, poverty and broken family-ness that produces them.

 

Every once in a while she lapses in her judgment, falling into the black conservative illusion: "Alas, we have seen the [worst] enemy, and it is us." But a bold ending-note vote of confidence on the pro-blackest, most controversial agenda item of reparations sets the race record straight. When she cues the lines "Cut to reality: Reparations are us," it comes off like Whitney Houston pumping her fist at the end of her superb rendering of the National Anthem at the Olympics, the Williams sisters waving their hands in the air after raping Wimbledon for its plaques, Tiger Woods upper-cutting his fist after sticking it to the crackers who 20 years ago wouldn't let someone of his hue on their course, and Bill Cosby canceling his show in Cincinnati in respect to that black boycott.

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