Jerald Walker is a Black professor at a prestigious Boston college. He lives in an overwhelmingly upscale Boston-adjacent community, and on the surface would appear to have put considerable distance between his childhood days in the ghettos of Chicago and the present day. Yet, as he chronicles his daily experience as the one person who can be identified from a distance as “other” in an otherwise liberal setting, not all is well.
Walker’s essays are short, often funny, and almost always leave you with an underlying feeling of anxiety. When Walker’s child is accused of being “stinky” in elementary school, Walker wonders if the accusation borne of home-taught racism, and does he already need to explain to his son what he is about to experience, or just a schoolyard taunt? When Walker shops at his neighborhood Whole Foods, white women instinctively seal up their purses, pull them from their shopping carts, and draw them close to their bodies. When his child suffers a seizure, and then another, and he sits in a panic in the ER for an eternity, while others appear to be treated with greater speed, is it because his is the only Black family waiting, because by rules of triage, there really isn’t much to worry about?
This book was nominated for the National Book Award for good reason. The author makes us tighten up our shoulders with every page and we have to recognize that the fear he has engendered in us, accompanies him all the time.