Charming, whimsical read. I’m amazed how quickly I tore through this mini-tome. It works great as a reference book, dog-eared and highlighted on your shelf for those rare days when your newly intensified sense of observation kicks in and you notice something about the water you never have before. I will henceforth be more highly tuned to cats paws, dead wakes, refracted ripples, the direction of the prevailing wind, and the cardinal direction in which puddles form around paths and obstacles. Sadly, I don’t live on the water, though this book has encouraged me to spend more time on the lakes, streams, and rivers in my area. I might even dig a backyard pond!
This book blew me away. Reading it, I kept thinking “This is a gag, right? Surely this is some recent work of historical fiction, posing as journalism.” The writing is so relevant, so modern, it is difficult to believe it was written by a Jim Crow era Southern white man, even a civil rights activist. Griffin has a way of distilling the non-tangibles of racism, the sociological aspect. The “death stare,” the hair trigger to rage, the morbid fascination with sexuality that were all a normal part of black-white interaction in the parts of the South he traveled. Most importantly I appreciated the remarks in his prologue. “I could have been the Jew in Germany, the Mexican in any number of states, or a member of any ‘inferior’ group. Only the details would have differed. The story remains the same.” He has the ability to transcend the subject of civil rights from a uniquely American story to a universal story of poverty, oppression, and psychology. I really appreciate this deeper perspective, from which the entire subject of civil rights can take on a new relevance. All too often debates tend to center around “whether it was really that bad” or “whether we’re past it” which are meaningless questions. The real question, the deeper issue is a psychological one, one expertly explored in this book and best summed up by a James Baldwin quote:
“What white people have to do is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary for them to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.”