My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is one of those "culture" books that everyone who ever believed a black stereotype should read. I count myself in this category. And actually, I think black people should read it, too. Because this memoir is accurate in ways that most "black culture memoirs" are not. It is a forthright, unapologetic, "inside-then-outside" look at what makes a majority (in this case, a black majority) ascribe to a certain set of beliefs and habits. Williams admits that he bought straight into the "treat women like they're dispensable," "money is the goal," and "act like Respect is something tangible that people will can steal from you if you don't defend it with life and limb" ideals. However, he then debunks them as his upbringing and further education open his eyes to the fact that these ideals are passed down from people with whim he has nothing in common (i.e. rap artists and the like).
Unfortunately, when Williams' story moves out of the realm of his "black culture" life and into his "newfound revelations," the book gets very tell-y: less showing and more explaining which, in turn, makes it more boring. By the end of the book, I truly considered skipping the last few chapters and in fact did skip the epilogue. There is nothing novel or interesting about someone writing, "I decided to cast aside my economics major--which I had only chosen because I imagined I could earn shitloads of money on Wall Street--and pursue philosophy because economics bored me to death and I found philosophy stimulating. I am so enlightened!" In fact, that sort of self-congratulation is annoying, because it assumes no one else has ever come upon such a revelation. Likewise, his epic decision to "defy stereotypes" and travel to France comes across as equally annoying.
Still, Williams' analysis of black culture and what creates, perpetuates, and limits it is on the mark. I think this memoir is worth reading, if only for that reason: we all need to understand each others' motivations and preconceptions, whether we agree with them or not. Understanding is the first step to appreciation and a necessary component of coexistence and, perhaps, change.