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Another Day at the Front: Dispatches From the Race War.

by Ishmael Reed Basic Books, January 2003 $24.00, ISBN 0-465-06891-X

If there is one thing that can be said unequivocally about Ishmael Reed's new collection of essays--and there may be only one thing--it is that these essays are definitely by Ishmael Reed. His pet themes, the media's misrepresentation of African Americans and the scapegoating of black men by white feminists, are here. So are the elements of his stylistic thumbprint: sly humor, acid, reasonable beliefs held so fiercely that they occasionally take on strange shapes, and eccentric digressions that add depth to his pieces.

As its title suggests, Another Day at the Front is based on the central, guiding belief that African Americans are under attack in a war fought through propaganda, and these are the essays of a man committed to defending his people. If there is a heaven, then Reed, a novelist, poet and playwright and essayist, has already earned a place in it through his efforts--here and elsewhere--to expose distortions and flat-out lies about black people.

For example, in countering the image of black women as mostly unmarried welfare mothers, Reed points out, "the `out-of-wedlock' birthrate among black women has plummeted faster than that of any other ethnic group." Such concrete facts, flying in the face of uninformed assumptions about African Americans, are eye-opening, and they perform the invaluable service of putting readers on the alert for other inaccurate but commonly held views. Reed also makes trenchant points about those who attack black males for their sexism, while over looking men from other groups. Less illuminating--because they are seldom backed up by examples--are Reed's many references to the New York Times and National Public Radio as operations that habitually dump on blacks. And then there are the moments, admittedly rare, when Reed sinks to plain old eye-for-an-eye: "Kevin Phillips, in The Cousins' War, refers to a back-country South Carolina population of Scots-Irish of the 1770s that was devoted to `loose hogs, lewd women, and drunken lay-ahouts, something that contemporary Scots-Irish think tank wonks and op-ed columnists might consider when writing yet another article or study that goes after welfare mothers." Publish a similar piece about African Americans, attach a white writer's name to it, and the only question would be, do we boycott or riot?

Under the umbrella of race, the essays cover a variety of subtopics, including the legacies of Booker T Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, the career of Quincy Troupe, a Modern Language Association conference that included a discussion of Reed's work, and the fallout from September 11, 2001. Thus, Reed has many opportunities to voice opinions that will have some readers nodding in agreement, while others are saying "But...." (One phrase that drew a "Yes!" of gratitude from me was "the unreadable Wallace Stevens.") There will be readers who will want to give Another Day at the Front to all their friends; there may be an equal number who will throw the book across the room. No reader will be bored.

--Clifford Thompson is a frequent contributor to BIBR.
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Author:Thompson, Clifford
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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