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He Talk Like a White Boy: Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics and Authenticity.

He Talk Like a White Boy: Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics and Authenticity by Joseph C. Phillips Running Press, May 2006 $22.95, ISBN 0-762-42399-6

You might remember Joseph C. Phillips as Cliff Huxtable's son-in-law on The Cosby Show or perhaps from his role opposite actress Halle Berry in the film Strictly Business. More recently, Phillips has made a name for himself as a columnist and a cultural critic who maintains strong ties to the Republican Party.

In his new book, He Talk Like a White Boy, Phillips devotes a lot of space to discussing his views on conservatism, liberalism and everything in between. He also writes about his experiences as a husband and father and the events that shaped him into the man he is today. The essays (more than 40 of them) reflect Phillips's desire to challenge "the one-dimensional portrayal of black life in our cultural discourse" and "the limits placed upon black individuality."

The question of authenticity and what it means to be black in America has been addressed many times before, but Phillips makes it personal, using the successes and failures of his own life to speak to larger issues. Thus, instead of just writing about family values, he speaks about his father's emotional distance and his own struggles in raising his sons. Rather than simply praising the institution of marriage, he writes about the realities of his own fulfilling, but imperfect union. Phillips writes about his personal affairs with warmth, candor, intelligence and good humor and in doing so, he fully engages the reader's interest.

However, when Phillips addresses broader political or social concerns, his tone changes and his writing loses the sensitivity that characterizes his other essays. Instead, he repeats much of the rhetoric we already find in newspapers and political talk shows and, for all his talk of individualism, proves that he is not above making some generalizations of his own. Readers who are weary (and wary) of politicians and their promises, political independents and those who have Democratic leanings will likely be turned off by the combative tone of these essays, and the author's tendency to ridicule people who don't share his political views. Add to that a rather one-sided interpretation of recent history, a few contradictory statements (for example, he praises Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his "nonviolent movement based on Christian love" but dismisses a present-day pacifist as naive), and the occasional rant about abusive, insincere, or misguided liberals and you have a book which will delight some readers while infuriating others.

In the end, some may be so distracted or enthralled by Phillips's political views that they overlook his essays on issues that transcend party affiliation, nationality or race. This is unfortunate, because Phillips' essays on parenting and relationships and finding one's place in the world are what make this a book worth reading.

--Reviewed by Denise Simon
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Author:Simon, Denise
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
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