Thursday, August 25, 2005

Voice of America reviews Nashville author's book on interracial friendships

Some of My Best FriendsThe Voice of America reviews Emily Bernard's book Some Of My Best Friends: Writers On Interracial Friendships.

"The title of the collection refers to a phrase some people use to show how open-minded they are: I'm not prejudiced… some of my best friends are black, or Jewish, or whatever minority is being discussed."

"In her introduction to the book, Emily Bernard -- who is black -- recalls that she always had white friends from the time she was a little girl growing up in Nashville more than 30 years ago. It was unusual then, she says, but today, young Americans are more open to interracial friendship."

The book is a collection of essays. Among them is The Value of Things Not Said by Maurice Berger.

"Maurice Berger had admired opera singer Shirley Verrett for years before finally meeting her in person. He says, 15 years later, she remains one of his best friends. 'Shirley is African American,' he says. 'This is a woman who grew up in the South in the 1930s and 1940s and had to sneak into the backdoors of restaurants with her father just to order a sandwich. I come from a Jewish family; my mother was a Sephardic Jew [from the Middle East]. My father was an Ashkenazi Jew [from Europe]. I grew up in up in a low-income predominantly Black and Hispanic housing project in New York in the early 1960s."

"As their friendship grew stronger, they would talk openly about race and racism. Mr. Berger told Ms. Verrett about what he considered a family secret -- his mother's racism -- recounting his memories of the night civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. 'My mother said, 'He is a trouble maker,'' he recalls. 'I walked into my father's room and he had just heard the announcement on the radio, and he was crying. He said, 'This is terrible, this is a nightmare, this is a great man.''"

"Mr. Berger says he eventually started to understand why his mother had such a racist attitude. 'I began to realize,' he explains, 'as I grew older, how much my mother's view of race was shaped by her own disappointment at being poor, at living in a housing project with people whose skin was as dark as hers and not wanting to be associated with, you know, poor people of color.'"

The book was the subject of a Nashville Scene article in 2004.

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