For those of you who liked the whole "black-working class-strivers" vibe of the Michelle Obama story, I thought I should pull back the curtain a bit and make some recommendations. First Nicholas Lemann's book The Promised Land is just a monster. I read it a few months before I got the assignment, and was just stunned by Lemann's fusion of on the ground reporting and policy. Barack Obama should read this book (he may have already) because it shows how the failure of brains and good intentions empowers cynicism and cowardice. As a side note, it depicts Chicago's black population in truly loving detail. All the pathology is there--the projects, the gangs, the unplanned pregnancies. But the heart is there too, the sense of striving, the desire to work, the fight to be better. People describe The Promised Land as a tragedy, but I never read it that way. Also Lemann did much of his reporting in this august pages. Here are two links to the original stories.
Second, I wanted to reccommend St. Clair Drake's Black Metropolis. I think Drake wrote the book in the 40s or something, but man, does it ever hold up. It's a kind of precursor to The Promised Land, in that it's mostly concerned with orgins of the South Side of Chicago. I read Black Metropolis after I got the assignment, and really got hip to why South Siders had this rep for being so damn bougie. The answer? They had reason to be. But all jokes aside, it's a mighty, mighty history. The South Side is so different than the rest of black America--and yet it embodies just about all of it. I don't know how that can be true, but it is. Anyway I wanted to really recommend those books to you guys.