Literature, [James] Baldwin suggested, was recruited to provide for everybody, in a manner noxious to none, the official story of racial difference within the emerging American project…Baldwin saw Uncle Tom’s Cabin as evidence that the actual work of sentimental discourses of liberal reform (past and present) was to establish an epistemology that guaranteed white salvation…For Baldwin abolitionist discourse was just a slight displacement of white supremacist religiosity. –Jody Melamed (2011)
In Row’s near-future, people (with the right insurance) may elect for racial reassignment, a radical plastic surgery that cherry-picks phenotypes social categories presume are signal enough.
Garner approvingly relays Row’s old quip about the French–which reads as a dig only within Anglo-American pragmatism–that while such personal choice may work in practice, making individual patients happier, will it work in theory?
Reviewed here within days of Michael Brown’s public murder and the police ground assault on the town of Ferguson to follow, Row’s new math sums to an indulgent game theory of a post-racial America whose value to the system lies in confounding ugly talk about slavery’s legacy, history’s path dependence, and reparations.
The book, Garner declaims, playing to liberalism’s penchant for substituting aesthetics for liberation, delves the “power and pathos of first-world longings.” After all, “trust a white boy to know his Bob Marley,” writes Row, who, apparently out of just such a surgery, discourses extensively on Spike Lee, Prince, rap, reggae and Barack Obama.
The crux of the matter is whether Row, and the rest of white America, is too.