opinion | Read these books about the Black Experience: One Old, One New, One Coming Soon

A product of the New York City public schools, Rowe earned his master’s degree in business administration from Harvard and is now trying to give back to the black community. Successful black people like him are often told that presenting the strategies that propelled him forward as a blueprint for other black people by pretending that all people can be superstars is pretentious and pointless.

He doesn’t call for superstar behavior but an adaptation of the normal way of going through normal life. He wants to improve the lives of black people and sees many of his decisions as those that would benefit others. “I wrote this book so that the rising generation—those under 24—have a decision-making framework that will help them lead productive lives of their own choosing,” he writes, “that will let us know our work today has heralded a new age of freedom of choice.”

If you would record what is important What would you focus on in black American history between the founding of the Black Panthers and the presidency of Barack Obama? The Elevation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court? The trial of OJ Simpson? It lacks a certain resonance; it can look more like a period of churn than a period of clear progress. But one thing that has created a new lease of life for all of America happened, as so often, under the radar: the “tanning” of American culture, which accelerated in the 1980s.

This was masterfully covered in a now 20-year-old book by journalist Leon Wynter, American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business and the End of White America. Published in the summer of 2002, the book and its subject matter got somewhat lost in the discussion of the aftermath of 9/11 (and Wynter died in 2011 at the age of 57).

Charting various ways the culture tanned, Wynter noted how refreshingly understated it was to have Britney Spears singing and dancing in styles borrowed from Black Americans in the 1990s, and Brandy Norwood starring in a network Rodgers and Hammerstein’s TV reboot cast “Cinderella.” He wrote:

It has been a long time coming, but the American identity has finally begun to see the truth of its composition. The artificial walls between being American and being like an African, Hispanic, or Asian American are falling faster than anyone could have imagined a decade ago. Today we wouldn’t think of describing “American” by first excluding what “not white” is. The speech impediment that prevents a phrase like “as American as Ray Charles” from stumbling off the tongue has been almost entirely eliminated.

And I think what I wrote about “American Skin” for the Wall Street Journal two decades ago is true:

Wynter pins the beginning of transracial America to the [1979] Commercial featuring soccer star “Mean” Joe Greene handing his jersey to an admiring white boy in exchange for a cold Coke. The idea of ​​a white boy worshiping a black athlete solely for his performance on the field was ominous. Four years later, the tipping point came: Vanessa Williams broke the color barrier at the Miss America pageant, Eddie Murphy’s cheeky Beverly Hills Cop was just short of the top-grossing film of the year, and The Cosby Show became the top-grossing popular show on television short after her debut. All of this would have sounded like science fiction 20 years ago.

The tan has continued since the early days. In 2002, the year Wynter’s book came out, actress Regina King was cast as the only black friend in an otherwise white group of friends on an ill-fated and short-lived sitcom called Leap of Faith. But from 2009 to 2013 she starred in the great cop drama Southland and in 2019 in the acclaimed series Watchmen, for which she won an Emmy. No one is surprised today that King, who began her career as a teen co-star on long-running black sitcom 227, is now a Hollywood name, or that Watchmen isn’t treated as a black show.

Wynter, no Pollyanna observed, “I never claimed that transracial pop culture represented a trend towards political racial equality.” But what he wrote was important to what America became, and still does. If it weren’t for that cultural tanning, many would call it evidence of ongoing segregation and racism, and they would be right. If culture matters—and it does—the browning was good news and a key development in both Black American history and American history at large.

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