Book Review

Racial distrust in America

By John L. Jackson Jr.
Basic Civitas, 278 pages, $26

When clips from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons hit the national media earlier this year, colleagues and friends inundated me with questions: How could the Rev. Wright believe the words he preached? Does such a smart man really think that police officers supported inner-city drug use? Does Mr. Wright really believe that the government has anything to do with AIDS? At the time, I endeavored to explain Mr. Wright’s words in terms of history and the African-American prophetic tradition. Now, after reading John Jackson’s illuminating and penetrating Racial Paranoia, I would see Mr. Wright’s preaching and the responses to it as part of a broader American culture of paranoia over racial issues. Mr. Wright’s suspicion of the American government, his ambiguous claims, and the news frenzy all trafficked in a racial paranoia that Mr. Jackson wonderfully analyzes in the context of American media, music, literature and everyday social interactions.