“A Different Drummer” Book Review

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William Melvin Kelley certainly has the writing ability and creates an intriguing Tall Tale about a mythical African man whose blood has provoked his grandson to give up being a sharecropper/slave to the white owners in his town and to take back his dignity and manhood instead. Which is why the book was also disappointing. Kelley does not provide any viewpoint from the Black people’s perspective, instead the gaze comes from the White people in the town, their thoughts about their Black neighbors which are often incomplete and paternalistic. If he wanted to underscore the idea that Blacks in the South lack dignity and agency, his narration style proved the point. Instead, we find spiritual Negroes who save the White people from their folly, but the Whites (who have the money/power/resources) fail to save their Black neighbors in return, falling short each and every time. This failure is displayed in a sympathetic light. In addition, the female characters are drawn in a one-dimensional way.  On the other hand, I understand what he was trying to do because when Blacks address issues of race, our ideas are often dismissed. We are told to “get over” it and move on, or seen as complainers. Worst, our realities are ignored and constantly questioned (“Are you sure it was racism and not just…). Instead, by using White narrators, Kelley is able to address the injustices of racism and how Whites are complicit and beneficiaries (whether directly or indirectly/consciously or subconsciously) and have this message be heard in a clear way. While this book has left me conflicted, it’s still one of the best books written about the South and race relations.

 

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