White people seem to rarely engage in public discussions of racial equality. Perhaps this is partly why the term “integration” has fallen out of favor and been replaced by more popular term “diversity”. At least this was the case until Calvin Theological Seminary’s book of the semester, Tanner Colby’s Some of My Best Friends are Black, reintroduced it. Colby’s book is about his personal experience, and America’s experience, with integration.
Colby suggests that “some of my best friends are black” is a common phrase used by disengaged whites. He connects with this as he portrays himself as having been clueless, white, and disengaged. One of my concern with Tanner’s book, right from the beginning, is its scope. He gets the wide lens right, through dedicating sections of the book to schools, employment, worship, and neighborhoods. However, it gets very narrow from there, since all of the places he writes about in the book are chosen based on how his life was touched by them. Another problem I see with the book is that Colby switches between the clueless white person perspective and the gentle narrator. This comes off as patronizing. That being said, Colby’s narrative is superb, gentle, and poignant. He is a very empathetic narrator and skilled writer and really hits on the history of America in the 20th century in its struggle to end racism through court cases, National Guard supervision, and the civil rights leaders who continued the fight after the 1960’s.
My wish is that Colby would have left us with an action plan to march in solidarity with African Americans, as he indicated in his preface he would do. He does not keep his “eyes on the prize” and seems to have left the last chapter unwritten.
Written by Ronald Hunsucker