Read radical chic mau mauing the flak catchers by Tom Wolfe Online


The phrase radical chic was coined by Tom Wolfe in 1970 when Leonard Bernstein gave a party for the Black Panthers at his duplex apartment on Park Avenue. That incongrous scene is re-created here in high fidelity as is another meeting ground between militant minorities and the liberal white establishment....

Title : radical chic mau mauing the flak catchers
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ISBN : 13481111
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 153 Pages
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radical chic mau mauing the flak catchers Reviews

  • Eric
    2019-02-12 20:36

    Tom Wolfe, full of snark. Wolfe's best work The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, the early Esquire stories centers on character who he clearly admires. He's often called a great observer, but in truth, he's always been a better king-maker. More and more, Wolfe's tendency is to attack what he doesn't really understand. At this point, he presents himself as an aging, out-of-touch buffoon decrying oral sex and extolling the virtues of the Scotch-Irish."Radical Chic" is one of Wolfe's first forays into the hatchet job genre that ended up destroying his work. This one, however, is a lot of fun to read, mostly because Wolfe knows the turf (New York's media world) so well. As in Wolfe's best work, the scenes are dynamic, the prose ecstatic, and the narrative a locomotive. The only place where it goes seriously off the rails is in Wolfe's choice of a target. Instead of picking on people his own size (Bernstein, Preminger), Wolfe saves his knockout punches for New York society wives--among the easiest targets in the history of world literature. His ire may be warranted, but picking on the quietly suffering Felicia Bernstein so mercilessly feels like plain bullying."Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers" foreshadows the out-of-touch vitriol that would come to define Wolfe's journalism. He deploys his gifts lazily and doesn't take the time to really get to know any of the characters. It's moralism and finger-wagging judgment even as Wolfe throws off enough flourishes to keep us reading.

  • Peter
    2019-01-21 15:40

    Still valid. Still extremely valid. Still so valid that you can see parallels of everything described in the book in regular life. I'm not a new your socialite, but the idea of radical chic applies to most every cause today. I do see group organizers on a regular basis, and they mau-mau as much as ever.

  • Grandma Sue
    2019-02-08 20:12

    I found a hardbound first edition of Radical Chic and Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers in a used-book barn in rural Pennsylvania over the holidays (unfortunately without the cartoonish book jacket). It gave me an opportunity to re-read these two magazine articles, a 130-page snapshot of late 1960s liberal society written in Wolfe's "new journalism" style ("radical" itself). This quick read is such a hoot for anyone who came of age in the '60s. For those younger, it offers a different point-of-view than your history books and an introduction to Wolfe's tongue-in-cheek non-fiction style.

  • Mark Taylor
    2019-02-09 12:24

    Tom Wolfe entered the political fray with the two essays in his 1970 book Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. “Radical Chic” describes a fundraiser that Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia held at their Park Avenue apartment for the Black Panther Party. Wolfe wasn’t actually invited to the party, but he saw the invitation on David Halberstam’s desk at Harper’s magazine. Halberstam wasn’t in, so Wolfe pocketed the invitation and RSVP’d to the party. Wolfe was struck by the incongruity of the Bernsteins hosting a fundraiser for radical black socialist/communist militants in their two-story, thirteen-room penthouse duplex, and it’s this irony, this inherent satire, that gives “Radical Chic” it’s bite. At the time the Bernsteins hosted the party, on January 14, 1970, what Wolfe calls “radical chic” was definitely a part of some elements of the liberal culture. It was considered hip and groovy to support very radical political causes. In 1969, various Black Panthers were arrested and accused of trying to blow up a number of buildings in New York City, including that bastion of racism and oppression, the Bronx Botanical Gardens. The party the Bernsteins hosted was to raise money for the defense fund of those Panthers who had been arrested, who were still being held in jail. Don Cox, field marshal of the Black Panthers, spoke at the fundraiser. Wolfe’s writing is as sharp as a knife throughout the essay: “God, what a flood of taboo thoughts runs through one’s head at these Radical Chic events…But it’s delicious. It is as if one’s nerve endings were on red alert to the most intimate nuances of status.” (p.8) Wolfe is always on red alert to the most intimate nuances of status! That’s his calling card! This is right up his alley! Tom Wolfe wasn’t the only journalist who was at the fundraiser that evening. Also present was Charlotte Curtis, a reporter from The New York Times who actually captured what’s probably the best-known exchange of the evening, between Cox and Leonard Bernstein:“’If business won't give us full employment, then we must take the means of production and put them in the hands of the people.’'I dig absolutely,' Mr. Bernstein said.'' Curtis’ article on the party was published the next day in the Times, and the party was considered so intriguing that a few days later a Times editorial was published about it, attacking the Bernsteins for hosting such a radical organization. Felicia Bernstein then wrote a long letter to the Times defending their hosting of the event, and protesting the fact that it was reported as a “party.” The Bernsteins split hairs by saying that the fundraiser was really for the defense fund of the accused Panthers, and that it was all about free speech rather than backing everything that the Panthers stood for. You can make that argument, but why not just give money to, say, the ACLU if you’re so concerned about the Panthers’ civil liberties?The whole event became something of a media circus, as pundits from both political sides weighed in on the party. Wolfe was quoted in Curtis’ 1987 obituary in the Times, saying, ''It wasn't anything she wrote that infuriated them. It was that she put down exactly what they said. That's always what seems cruelest of all, to hold up a mirror to people that way.'' Wolfe’s own article, titled “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” was published in June, 1970, in New York magazine. Don Cox was not happy about Wolfe’s article, as related in his 2011 New York Times obituary:“He added that ‘it was those media freaks and that bloodsucking Tom Wolfe’ who exploited the cause of black liberation to make money from it and ‘to be part of the machinery that tried to ridiculize {sic} it.’” According to the obituary, “Cox was charged as a conspirator in the July 1969 murder of Eugene Anderson, a Panther who had been a police informer in Baltimore.” Cox left the United States when a warrant was issued for his arrest and never returned.On the official Leonard Bernstein website, run by Bernstein’s estate, there is a lengthy section on the “radical chic flap,” which is quite an interesting read. Wolfe had some difficulty in writing the essay, and in a 1980 interview he said: “I started writing in the first person, which was a big mistake, telling how I saw this invitation, how I wrangled my way in. I wrote about thirty pages like that, and then it dawned on me that it was useless information and really detracted from the scene, which was the important thing.” (Conversations with Tom Wolfe, p.136) Wolfe was criticized for not taking a political stand of his own in “Radical Chic,” and like other works of Wolfe’s, critics at the time used him as a tabula rasa to imprint their own feelings about what Wolfe’s politics might be. Appearing on William F. Buckley’s show Firing Line in December 1970, shortly after Radical Chic was released, Wolfe spoke about the role of the writer, saying, “The real contribution of a writer is not to make the moral point, it is to discover. I think of a lot of moralistic writing as a moral cop-out. If you have your mind made up, or if you have a cause in mind, why should I really wear myself out gathering evidence when we already know the conclusion? This is the greatest vice of journalism in our time.” The point of “Radical Chic” is not that you learn about Tom Wolfe’s own political point of view. He’s a reporter, not an editorialist. If he had presented the book from a liberal point of view, liberal critics at the time would have cheered, but would the book have been valuable? Or would it have just been preaching to the choir? Likewise, had he written the book from a conservative point of view, liberal critics would have just attacked him because he was taking a conservative viewpoint. By making the book not have an editorial point of view, Wolfe ultimately wrote a better book. He leaves it up to the readers to come to their own conclusions.Every work of art doesn’t have to be political. But the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s were an extremely political time-in the lingo of the time, you’re either with us or against us, part of the solution or part of the problem. We live in a similar time now, when every decision people make seems to be politically informed, or is thought to somehow be a window onto one’s politics. “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” describes how various minorities groups in San Francisco would intimidate government programs into giving them money. Wolfe calls the process “mau-mauing,” after the Mau Mau Rebellion that took place in Kenya in the 1950’s. Wolfe is superb as he shows how a combination of bureaucratic ineptitude and white guilt combined to give money to groups who might not have been pursuing the agendas of the anti-poverty programs. My favorite part of “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” is Wolfe’s description of the “flak catcher,” the government employee who takes the heat, or catches the flak, from the minority groups:“All you have to do is look at him and you get the picture. The man’s a lifer. He’s stone civil service. He has it all down from the wheatcolor Hush Puppies to the wash’n’dry semi-tab-collar shortsleeved white shirt. Those wheatcolor Hush Puppies must be like some kind of fraternal garb among the civil-service employees, because they all wear them. They cost about $4.99, and the second time you move your toes, the seams split and the tops come away from the soles. But they all wear them.” (p.93) Wolfe is so good at painting such a vivid picture of a person by just using a few key details like that. In his profile of Wolfe in the November 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis described the experience of reading Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers when he was 11 or 12 years old: “At some point came a thought that struck with the force of revelation: this book had been written by someone. Some human being must have sat down and scribbled the Hardy Boys series, along with the Legends of the NFL-how else would I have ever known that Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Bob Lilly lifted a Volkswagen by himself? I’d never really stopped to ask who had written any of those books, because…well, because it didn’t matter to me who had written them. Their creators were invisible. They had no particular identity. No voice. Now rolling around a living-room floor in New Orleans, Louisiana, howling with laughter, I asked a new question: Who wrote this book?”Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is one of Tom Wolfe’s essential books, and Wolfe once said in 1987, “As a piece of sheer writing, it’s my favorite book.” (Conversations with Tom Wolfe, p.213) It's a terrific read, with a very strong authorial voice.

  • Kavitha Rajagopalan
    2019-02-13 14:24

    The prejudices are clear - purportedly and expose about the hypocrisies of Upper-East-Side armchair liberalism, the author's voice clearly belongs to the crowd he criticizes. But nonetheless a hilarious, insightful piece of living history.

  • Jrobertus
    2019-02-12 19:23

    This is a series of vignettes of American culture in the 60's and 70's. I loved Mau-mauing the flak catchers. The flak catchers were government bureaucrats at the interface of public programs for the poor and the actual poor. One local entrepreneur ran a school to teach the biggest, strongest, most aggressive blacks to terrorize (or Mau-Mau) these people and thereby convince the flakies that they were the "natural leaders" of the oppressed community, and would therefore receive the most government money. The description of the giant Samoans, and their impact on all concerned, was hysterical.

  • Alison
    2019-01-29 12:27

    "Radical Chic," the first long-form essay in this book tells the almost-too-good-to-be-true of Leonard Bernstein's soiree for his fellow New York glitterati and several key members of the Black Panther Party at his Park Avenue duplex. Wolfe's tone is about what you would expect. A hilarious, biting take on white guilt and the unbridled hypocrisy (temporarily replacing your long-time black servants with Latino servants so to appear more progressive, e.g.)resulting when revolution becomes fashionable. "Mau Mau-ing The Flack Catchers" is more dated and isn't as good of a read, but "Radical Chic" is completely worth it.

  • annemarie
    2019-02-01 17:22

    Had to read this for class too. I think his writing is flamboyent. In terms of content I really enjoyed it. I thought he was really writing about how everyone ignores the working classes. But for class we only discussed craft. Amazing how this style of writing only occurred in the sixties, it's kind of dated that way. If people were to write like this now, well some people do and when they do I find it cloying.

  • Josh
    2019-02-04 16:17

    An absolute character assasination of the would be hip, open minded, liberal left wing. Reinforces "the more things change......" This is as true of an indictment today as it was 37 years ago

  • Nick Gibson
    2019-01-29 17:42

    The father of New Journalism (RIP) spends his epochal fusillade on two targets. First, the aesthetic progressivism ('radical chic') of the WASP elite during the Civil Rights era. Second, the masochistic corruption of LBJ's bureaucrats - the boots on the ground in the War on Poverty. Wolfe's prose is electric and vertiginous. In one sentence he generalizes about national trends or the psychology of whole classes; in the next he plunges deep to focus on a breath mint or the muscles around a cringing G-Man's mouth.

  • Sir Michael Röhm
    2019-01-31 20:17

    Wolfe chronicles the relationship between blacks and whites - specifically, empowered blacks and high-class or governmental "powerful" whites - during the period of the late 60s.One essay chronicles the brief "radical chic" fad, in which New York intellectuals hosted meetings for groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, all laced with Wolfe's typical acid wit and eye for absurdity.The other essay covers the same period, roughly, in San Francisco, in which ghetto residents organised to "mau mau" the "flak catchers" - confront the white establishment to attain money from poverty programs in the San Francisco area. Less amusing, perhaps, but still an interesting look at a curious, now long forgotten period of history.Both essays are highly recommended, and the book is compulsively readable.

  • Ed [Redacted]
    2019-02-03 12:23

    What a great little book. I really enjoyed Wolfe's adroit skewering of slumming wealth liberals in "Radical Chic." "Mau Mauing the Flack Catchers" is a little more of a mixed bag. Some useful observations and clever turns of phrase, but ultimately less satisfying than "Radical Chic."

  • Jason Ross
    2019-02-09 18:37

    Great stuff... Wolfe is a little bit of everything: Gonzo and independent in terms of journalism, satirical and accusatory in his attacks, libertarian and counter-culture in principle.

  • Eduard
    2019-02-02 12:12

    Tom Wolfe is a genius writer in the pantheon of Hemingway. He devised the term "limosine liberal" and of course "Radical Chic". Remarkably this book reads like it was written in 2016 in the thrust of liberalism, social media, and political correctness. But it was written in 1970! Far ahead of its time and one could say Wolfe characterized the first seedlings of political correctness with that sapling planted in the late 60s. Who knows, if social media existed then the same nonsense happening today would have happened then in the media (fake news etc). Radical Chic exists in full force today with left wing celebrities jumping on any liberal bandwagon for relevance and attention: LGBQWRST, BLM, etc. Frivolous political agitators describes Madonna at the "Women's March" describing her thoughts of "often blowing up the White House", Rosie O'Donnell, The View, Ashley Judd etc. Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is also ahead of its time describing San Francisco city politics and graft. Apply that to any democrap run city like Chicago. It reads like Chicago today. The gem was Wolfe (mind you this is 1970) as the ultimate job for someone with no skills and ability but a great way to make money is being a "Community Organizer". Do we know any "community organizers" that rose to prominence but never really accomplished anything in the private sector (even in the law)? You make money on both sides being a community organizer. It is almost like a legally required job so the local government can have a chump on the take to keep the people from revolting while the people think they have a person representing their voice. In the meantime the community organizer profits on both sides doing really nothing and not needing skills (apart from conman skills) to do the job. Vigorously hilarious and distinctive Tom Wolfe genius. Wikipedia: adoption and promotion of radical political causes by celebrities, socialites, and high society. The concept has been described as "an exercise in double-tracking one's public image: on the one hand, defining oneself through committed allegiance to a radical cause, but on the other, vitally, demonstrating this allegiance because it is the fashionable, au courant way to be seen in moneyed, name-conscious Society."[2] Unlike dedicated activists, revolutionaries, or dissenters, those who engage in "radical chic" remain frivolous political agitators. They are ideologically invested in their cause of choice only so far as it advances their social standing.

  • Wanda
    2019-01-30 20:39

    So it all started in the 1960s.... I've heard that said so often, but I didn't really believe it. But this book shows that it did. And what's worse, that everybody knew that it--whatever you define "it" to be--didn't work and was basically just a racket, part of the race hustle put on rich liberal whites and on the government bureaucracy to get media face time and money. They were even hollering about "reparations" back then.And almost half a century later has any of it done any good? Has any progress been made? It sure doesn't seem like it. I read somewhere that 14 times the amount of government money has been funded to Detroit to solve its problems than the Marshall Plan lent to post-war West Germany. The Germans used the money to kick-start their country and get it going again, then paid us back. Detroit? Hah....What is at the bottom of it all--all this throwing money at the ghettoization of large swaths of urban America? According to Wolfe, it's because "the white man, particularly the educated white man, the leadership, has a deep dark Tarzan mumbo jungle voodoo fear of the black man," and it was in the late 1960s that blacks began to realize this. They didn't have to be eye-rolling Step-N-Fetchits nor non-threatening close-cropped hair, brown double-breasted-suit-wearing Toms, to get what they wanted from the Establishment. They could mau-mau them--scare them into throwing money at them. In addition as Wolfe says, "Mau-mauing brought you respect in its cash forms: namely fear and envy." It worked then. It's still working. But beyond making race hustlers rich it's not accomplishing anything and never has. But it's all institutionalized now.These comments are elicited mostly from my impression of the second essay in this book, "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers"--the flak catchers being government bureaucrats who have to deal with pseudo-angry blacks in face-to-face confrontations, and do so by giving them money for "jobs" and "training."The first essay, "Radical Chic," while interesting, wasn't so substantive in my eyes. It was pretty much what I expected. I'd heard the story of Leonard Bernstein's party for the Black Panthers in general terms countless times, but it was interesting to get a first-hand account of it. It wasn't as lame as I assumed it would be, with Otto Preminger going toe-to-toe with a Panther and not being intimidated at all; in fact being rather disdainful of his inanity and ignorance.What I hadn't known was that Bernstein's party got him in trouble with non-affluent Jews who didn't live in Manhattan but in Queens and Brooklyn. They had formed the Jewish Defense League to protect themselves against the criminal assaults of blacks and they didn't take kindly to rich Jews supporting their enemies. Reading that, I was reminded of Norman Podheretz's Commentary article from 1963, "My Negro Problem--And Ours." (Read it here ). Rabbi Kahan, national chairman of the JDL, blasted Bernstein, saying, "We defend the right of blacks to form defense groups, but they've gone beyond this to form a group which hates other people. That's not nationalism, that's Nazism, and if Bernstein and other such intellectuals don't know this, they know nothing." Wolfe goes on to describe how Jewish championship of black civil rights had backfired, with blacks inexplicably hating Jews as oppressors. Wolfe quotes a particularly nasty anti-Semitic poem called "Jew-Land" published in Black Power, the Black Panther publication.Wolfe is a very perceptive observer of the cultural scene and I always learn something from him it hadn't occurred to me to think about, such as: "At the very bottom of the class system, down below the 'working class' and the 'honest poor,' there was a 'spurious aristocracy,' a leisure class of bottom dogs devoted to luxury and aristocratic poses."These 'spurious aristocrats' are personified by the flamboyant pimp, but also may be gamblers, drug dealers or other sorts of street riff-raff. What struck me was that nothing has changed in nearly half a century. It's as if society got stuck in a side eddy of civilizational progress in the 1960s and has merely been spinning round and round in circles since then. Wolfe compares the era of the late 1960s to the Regency Period of English history, and perhaps we did enter such an era then. If so, we don't seem to have escaped it yet. He also speaks of a nostalgie de la boue, literally "nostalgia for the mud" but meaning a romantization of the dregs of society that formed a central tenet of radical chic as practiced by the upper stratosphere of the monied class.That, too, is still very much with us, reaffirming that we are stuck in a socio-cultural rut.Oh, and I didn't think the book was funny at all, as the Goodreads' blurb describes it. I think that's a way of defusing a pretty devastating cultural critique of a clueless and timid white power structure caving before confrontational posturing by black low-lifes. Nobody is helped and nothing is accomplished except that the government bureaucracy grows ever larger, controlling and more omnipresent. I didn't find the book racist at all, as some other reviewers did. Of course blacks have become the sacred cows of American society since Wolfe wrote this book, and anyone who dares in the slightest way to criticize them is "racist." Even citing FBI statistics on black crime can get you fired. Wolfe didn't say bad things about blacks any more than he did about super-rich New Yorkers (mostly Jews, apparently, though that's something else you are not supposed to mention, else you are anti-Semitic), or for that matter government bureaucrats. He just described what he saw. God help you if you did that today.

  • Corey
    2019-02-14 19:12

    Both essays are good, but ‘These Radical Chic Evenings’ is a must.

  • Ori Fienberg
    2019-02-05 12:24

    Tom Wolfe's middle name is Kennerly? Who knew?Should you read it: yes. Even if it's dated at times Wolfe's writing is insightful, snappy, and often hilarious. It's also a short, blazing fast read.This is one of many books that I, as a student of nonfiction writing, have had on my shelf for many years, and I'll admit, at times I've pretended I'd read the whole thing, rather than just the first 20 pages.I finally picked it up, because I just couldn't read only Proust for the whole Summer, I don't yet have a library card (soon, soon), and I had a minor epiphany... One of my students was going to a Gala-Grand-Opening Ball. This was the grand opening in honor of the Shepard [Kennerly:] Fairey exhibit. You may have read about it in the Boston Globe at the very bottom of the article with the headline, "Wahlberg and his girlfriend tie the knot." The Globe really has their fingers on the pulse. Of something. Anyway, they couldn't have the opening when it actually opened in February because Fairey was arrested as soon as his plane landed in Boston. And so I wondered, is my student going to a "Radical Chic" event? I suppose I could have looked it up on wikipedia, but I'm glad I read the book instead. Despite the presence of Chuck D from Public Enemy, I think the answer must be no. Chic, yes. Left-wing, yes. But really, once you're celebrating the work of an artist who has created the most iconic portrait since Alberto Korda's photo of Che Guevara, in support of a presidential candidate who was actually elected, well, it loses some of its radical appeal. You dig?Sadly, while I work for a non-profit I also don't see any mau-mauing in my future. But leaving aside whether my jew-fro is at all intimidating to the white man, I can see how the general strategy would be effective. I will bring it up at our next staff lunch.

  • Chris Avery
    2019-02-19 16:33

    This was my first Tom Wolfe experience, and it was a good one. His sensitivity for finding the plate tectonic social themes within the anthropology of factional interaction was so dead on I often found myself wanting to raise a first muttering my own "right on" in solidarity. Radical Chic in particular was a very "objectively" (hah) focused piece of journalism patched together with weaving threads of humor, fashion sense, and contemporary criticisms. Wolfe's ability to find the relevant sociological theme inside the most miniscule of social exchanges left me in a stuper where the rise of my laughter would be ambivalently matched by my desire to just sit in silent awe of his sensitivity for observation. He has more red stripes on his blackbelt of word karate than most anyone, Save Hunter S. Thompson-- I've ever read. I would love to observe his writing process, as it reads like an capricious first go, but twirls in my mind like the polished edit of an abridged classic. Bravo, and I will hope to see my next Wolfe adventure wax as forensically. I think I'm addicted to his word pairings.

  • Vivienne
    2019-01-31 17:37

    I mainly borrowed this combined volume for 'The Painted Word', his snark-filled take on the New York modern art scene.As a student of art history I adored it and time has proved Wolfe's argument about the insular nature of the art world. I enjoyed the other essays but they seemed a little more dated. I loved reacquainting myself with Wolfe's style.

  • Kat
    2019-02-07 18:17

    I still hate Tom Wolfe.Radical Chic was stupid; Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers was kind of interesting, but the only reason I finished it was because the whole book was approximately 130 pages long. Shut up, Tom Wolfe.

  • Sarah
    2019-01-22 14:27

    Okay, technically I read this in a packet in xerox reproduction form as part of an Introduction to Cultural Criticism class, my freshman year of college. I want to re-read this. Living in Oakland makes me want to re-read this, as I feel like I see this being re-enacted in the arts scene here.

  • Bruce Zimmerman
    2019-02-09 16:16

    I was on a big Wolfe kick, read about four or five of his books. I really enjoyed them

  • Chris
    2019-02-20 19:15

    I don't remember too much of this book, other than reading it very quickly and enjoying it. Wolfe's shorter collections of essays, magazine pieces are all worth the time.

  • rebecca
    2019-01-29 13:15

    i don't like this that much (which is ok b/c i found it in my parents book collection) but it seems like it might be a good catalyst for some internet research.

  • Will
    2019-02-17 17:34

    Funny little book of essays lampooning 60s/70s liberalism.

  • David
    2019-02-03 12:30

    Wolfe is a smart-aleck.

  • Troy Van
    2019-02-15 12:30

    Fascinating. Thanks for the lend, Brendan.

  • Ryan
    2019-02-02 17:27

    A good laugh. A bit of a drag though.

  • Geir Ruud
    2019-02-02 20:30

    Great storytelling, hilarious description of "white guilt meets black rage", as Time wrote some 40 years ago.

  • Gina
    2019-02-18 17:19

    So dated...and yet timely.