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In 1970, America's most celebrated Black author and the world's most acclaimed anthropologist met for a seven-and-a-half hour conversation about race and society. The transcript of their discussion is a revealing and unique book filled with candor, passion, rage, and brilliance. "Blunt, peppery, and spontaneous. . . ".--The Atlantic. In 1970, America's most celebrated Black author and the world's most acclaimed anthropologist met for a seven-and-a-half hour conversation about race and society. The transcript of their discussion is a revealing and unique book filled with candor, passion, rage, and brilliance. "Blunt, peppery, and spontaneous. . . ".--The Atlantic.


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In 1970, America's most celebrated Black author and the world's most acclaimed anthropologist met for a seven-and-a-half hour conversation about race and society. The transcript of their discussion is a revealing and unique book filled with candor, passion, rage, and brilliance. "Blunt, peppery, and spontaneous. . . ".--The Atlantic. In 1970, America's most celebrated Black author and the world's most acclaimed anthropologist met for a seven-and-a-half hour conversation about race and society. The transcript of their discussion is a revealing and unique book filled with candor, passion, rage, and brilliance. "Blunt, peppery, and spontaneous. . . ".--The Atlantic.

30 review for A Rap on Race

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susanna Sturgis

    In August 1970 writer James Baldwin and anthropologist Margaret Mead met for a total of seven and a half hours over a three-day period to talk about "race." They'd never met before. This book, first published in 1971, is a transcript of their conversation. Like any conversation, this one rambles and sometimes jumps around, so it's best not to come to it expecting the carefully organized progression of distilled insights that one finds in a good essay. Here two extremely intelligent, extremely art In August 1970 writer James Baldwin and anthropologist Margaret Mead met for a total of seven and a half hours over a three-day period to talk about "race." They'd never met before. This book, first published in 1971, is a transcript of their conversation. Like any conversation, this one rambles and sometimes jumps around, so it's best not to come to it expecting the carefully organized progression of distilled insights that one finds in a good essay. Here two extremely intelligent, extremely articulate individuals, one black, one white, one male, one female, are feeling their way toward each other across difficult, shifty terrain fraught with dangers both seen and unseen -- and taking us, the readers, along with them. Baldwin and Mead each bring a daunting diversity of life experiences to the project, and tremendous courage as well. It's the willingness of both participants to draw generously and bravely on these personal details that makes their journey both enlightening and inspiring to us. Communication about difficult subjects almost invariably breaks down when the parties fall back on grand generalizations. These two are sometimes tempted in that direction, but they always pull themselves back. They want the conversation to continue. This is not to say that they don't sometimes get impatient and even testy with each other. Since the subject is race, experiences were forced on Baldwin from a very early age that were never forced on Mead. This is how white privilege works: a white person can choose to listen or not where a black person has no choice. Had the subject been sex, the dynamics would have been different. Sex and gender expectations do come up here, but we can only imagine what might have transpired if Baldwin and Mead had come together for a second conversation with sex in the foreground. When this conversation happened in real time, I was a 19-year-old college student and antiwar activist. Reading A Rap on Race took me back to that time. War was raging in Indochina, Nixon was president, Watergate hadn't happened yet, the watershed year of 1968 still loomed large in the rearview mirror. So much has happened since then, but it was remarkably easy for me to pass between that time and our own, using this book as a bridge. The journey may be more difficult for readers who have no firsthand memories of that era, but I think it's worth making anyway, not least because as a society we're still struggling to communicate across our culture's several fault lines. In the last 50 pages of the book, Baldwin and Mead grapple with issues of responsibility and atonement -- of the role history plays in the present day. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently brought these issues back to the fore in his landmark 2014 essay on reparations. The polarizations afflicting the U.S. now have very deep roots, and our collective inability to communicate across them is making them worse. A Rap on Race suggests that we can do better than this, and provides plenty of insight into how it might happen.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book took about 6 months to show up though interlibrary loan, and I can't exactly remember what made me request it in the first place, but it's not quite what I was expecting. The whole book is just a transcript of seven hours' worth of conversation -- in front of an audience, no less -- between Mead and Baldwin. Just a fascinating, frustrating dialogue between two interesting thinkers who often talk over and around each other about everything from race and identity to consumerism, televisi This book took about 6 months to show up though interlibrary loan, and I can't exactly remember what made me request it in the first place, but it's not quite what I was expecting. The whole book is just a transcript of seven hours' worth of conversation -- in front of an audience, no less -- between Mead and Baldwin. Just a fascinating, frustrating dialogue between two interesting thinkers who often talk over and around each other about everything from race and identity to consumerism, television, and poetry. Sometimes I found it completely engrossing (especially Baldwin's complicated views on history and responsibility), but sometimes the unfiltered, unfocused nature of their talk was distracting (as was Mead's repeated use of the epithet "fiddlesticks").

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    "A rap on race" (I feel x10 cooler just typing the word rap in this context) was born out of several days of conversation between James Baldwin and the anthropologist Margaret Mead. At times, it certainly reads like that. At times rambling, and jumping from subject to subject, it feels very much like a conversation two very passionate and intelligent people might have. Running the gamut from race, colonialism, consumerism, and collective guilt, they often disagree but are always fascinating. I "A rap on race" (I feel x10 cooler just typing the word rap in this context) was born out of several days of conversation between James Baldwin and the anthropologist Margaret Mead. At times, it certainly reads like that. At times rambling, and jumping from subject to subject, it feels very much like a conversation two very passionate and intelligent people might have. Running the gamut from race, colonialism, consumerism, and collective guilt, they often disagree but are always fascinating. I found the last 1/3 or so of the book particularly interesting. Up to this point they have some mild disagreements but for the most part see eye to eye on most topics. That is until they broach the topic of history and collective responsibility. Mead is firmly in the camp of the past is the past and she refuses to accept guilt for something her ancestors did. Baldwin deftly swats this argument away with a story about when he was a frail 10 year old and was beaten to within an inch of his life by two policeman. Baldwin argues that his history was "written on my brow" and the same history follows every black man in America. It's powerful stuff and even Mead seemed temporarily flustered. What I took away from this dialogue the most was the feeling that this kind of conversation seems almost unthinkable today. Could say, Steve Bannon (not saying Margaret Mead is anything like him of course!) and Bernie Sanders sit down over two days and just talk? No shouting, no trying to obfuscate truths, just a simple sit down discussion about what they believe. It feels like although this conversation took place just 30 years ago, it is as distant a possibility today in 2017 as it's ever been. For that reason alone, this is a powerful and important read. As an aside, there is an audio version of this dialogue available on YouTube which I highly recommend as well to get the full experience.

  4. 4 out of 5

    K

    I could not stand reading Absalom Absalom with its Southyness and constant reference to things like Wild N****** and how the non-children children that white men have with black women aren't real children, without some kind of other discussion to frame and balance it. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that the book is racist. I think Faulkner is using the novel to explore certain very dark things that include and extend beyond race into the deepest paradoxes of the human soul. But it is still a I could not stand reading Absalom Absalom with its Southyness and constant reference to things like Wild N****** and how the non-children children that white men have with black women aren't real children, without some kind of other discussion to frame and balance it. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that the book is racist. I think Faulkner is using the novel to explore certain very dark things that include and extend beyond race into the deepest paradoxes of the human soul. But it is still a novel and still is set in a time and place that horrifies, mystifies, and overwhelms me. Thank god yet again for Baldwin. His book (a conversation with a very sharp lady, no less, which adds even more much-needed perspective and a frame of reference for experience that I can relate to) explicitly addresses in an intelligent, loving, passionate, and human way every single thing I want to investigate and understand and rant about in Absalom, Absalom. Instead of having to form a book club to discuss the intense racist, etc. shit in Faulkner I am letting these two brilliant men just talk to each other in my head through their work. I feel an enormous sense of relief.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Karpiak

    I don't know what funnier about this book, the archaic use of the term "rap" or Margaret Mead trying to convince James Baldwin he's not really black. I don't know what funnier about this book, the archaic use of the term "rap" or Margaret Mead trying to convince James Baldwin he's not really black.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Fascinating how little curiosity and what poor listening skills Margaret Mead displays during these extended exchanges.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    For long stretches, it's a little dull to read a transcribed conversation word for word, interruptions and digressions and all. Nevertheless, there are some worthwhile passages; Part 3 is by far the most interesting, containing both the sharpest challenges and the questions still most relevant. It helps to have some background information on Mead, and to understand where Baldwin was at this point in his life; the context of their exchange is important. It's almost impossible to imagine a similar For long stretches, it's a little dull to read a transcribed conversation word for word, interruptions and digressions and all. Nevertheless, there are some worthwhile passages; Part 3 is by far the most interesting, containing both the sharpest challenges and the questions still most relevant. It helps to have some background information on Mead, and to understand where Baldwin was at this point in his life; the context of their exchange is important. It's almost impossible to imagine a similar conversation happening today. Because it's a conversation (a very long one, at that), their arguments circle back and are inconsistent, and while they seem to be on the same page, they often talk past each other or don't fully address each other's questions, which is a little frustrating. Mead is logical and intelligent, but she's also incredibly defensive and a little obtuse at times. Baldwin is impassioned and eloquent as always, but he often tanks his own arguments and is inconsistent. His despair toward the end is palpable.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Black Bibliophile

    I would love to hear the audio (if available) to experience the contexts of emotion, but I found this endlessly interesting. Especially towards the end. Baldwins perceptions of the self with complicity in the systems that move and guide our lives is highly engaging.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jean Fauntleroy

    i would have preferred reading a concise analysis of the interview

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    c 1971. Very very interesting. Several hours of conversation over the space of two days, with breaks. They were meeting *for the first time* August 26, 1970! Mead, a generation older, was certainly holding her own, not about to let Baldwin dominate the exchange. Mead believed herself to be free of racism. I think Baldwin occasionally challenged that but indirectly, not aggressively. I agree, though, that from today's perspective we can see that Mead was not entirely free of having been indoctrinat c 1971. Very very interesting. Several hours of conversation over the space of two days, with breaks. They were meeting *for the first time* August 26, 1970! Mead, a generation older, was certainly holding her own, not about to let Baldwin dominate the exchange. Mead believed herself to be free of racism. I think Baldwin occasionally challenged that but indirectly, not aggressively. I agree, though, that from today's perspective we can see that Mead was not entirely free of having been indoctrinated [like all the rest of us European Americans] in white supremacy. Mead was convinced that black/darkness was *universally*, to all peoples, a frightening and therefore bad thing, so it was too bad but couldn't be helped that black people have their skin color against them. I feel certain this can be argued against. Mead: 73 "But the whole spirit of the North [of USA] has been to keep other people out. It's not only been about keeping out black people, it's been about keeping out *everybody*....The North has always tried to establish identity by cutting other people *out* and off." This is a very good point, but Baldwin goes on to argue that blacks still are consistently and everywhere kept out. Baldwin: 72, 75 "Harlem is a dreadful place. It's a kind of concentration camp, and not many people survive it....[a 15-year-old boy in Harlem] There's no way for him to see that he will ever get anywhere. And he won't ever have any control over his own destiny, which is the most demoralizing thing that there is." Mead: 77 "You treat this country as if it had one problem. It has a lot more than one problem." Baldwin: "Yes, but that one problem is a problem which has obsessed my life. And I have the feeling that that one problem, the problem of color in this country, has always contained the key to all the other problems....It is a symptom of all the problems in this country." The first half of the book is very very good. You can learn a lot from it. The second half gets a bit repetitive and I got the feeling they were starting to talk in circles, or maybe trying to make sure they didn't get bested [especially Mead]. Mead's opinions and ideas seem largely progressive, by today's standards, but some stand out as strange. [Or is she actually right???] She is sure Christianity can be credited with "conscience" [and I guess also morality????] 97: "I think you have to look at the part of the Western tradition of which what conscience it has--the impetus toward peace and brotherhood...They *have* come out of the ideas of Christianity. We took them to India and we took them to Japan.......The good things we have, that people should love each other and recognize each other as brothers, is a Christian idea. Baldwin: Isn't it also a Muslim idea? Mead: No. Because Muslims don't believe in loving everybody as brothers. They only love Muslims as brothers. They don't really have an idea of universal brotherhood." 114: Mead brings up recent debates about 'black English': "Americans tend to call everything except standard English 'bad English' or 'bad grammar' and don't recognize the vitality of all of these regional languages.....I think we also ought to be able to recognize the far greater dependence of black people on the ear, which I don't think is genetic but has been a direct, continuous inheritance from Africa." [Rita is guessing it is more related to the many generations of African Americans that were denied access to reading and writing, and even today blacks have much less access to decent schooling.] And there's an interesting bit on GUILT, which I can't find now, where Mead insists she feels no guilt for what past generations of whites have done. Baldwin insists there needs to be not guilt but acknowledgment of wrongdoing, taking responsibility for what your government, your class, your whatever group does or has done. I think this is right. Mead feels no guilt about Hiroshima because she was not asked whether to drop that bomb. Incredibly, here is Margaret Mead in 1970 saying: "It is really the poor middle-class white man who is having a terrible time too. First he had the white boys that let their hair grow and made them look like girls, and that upset him. Then he gets the Afro haircut where the hair stands straight up on the head and is threatening and nothing on earth... [interruption] ...all these black boys, so that he has had it from both sides. It is really rough." And 50 years later we are again [or still] hearing how sorry we should feel for those poor white men, what with being criticized by feminists, told they are racist, politically incorrect and so on!!! James Baldwin [1924-1987] was a whole generation younger than Mead and I think [naturally] deferred to her age somewhat. Margaret Mead [Philadelphia 1901-1978] was an American cultural anthropologist who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the '60s and '70s as a popularizer of the insights of anthropology into modern American and western life but also a respected, if controversial, academic anthropologist. Her reports as to the purportedly healthy attitude towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures amply informed the '60s "sexual revolution"...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    This book is the transcript of three long form conversations between Margaret Mead and James Baldwin. I'm less familiar with Mead's work so I'm not sure how well this fits in with her other works, but Baldwin in this reads a lot like he does in the other interviews I've read from him. This one is better though because there's more time for the two of them to expound on and feed off each other's ideas. The first two sections they seem like they are mostly in agreement and they spend a lot of it te This book is the transcript of three long form conversations between Margaret Mead and James Baldwin. I'm less familiar with Mead's work so I'm not sure how well this fits in with her other works, but Baldwin in this reads a lot like he does in the other interviews I've read from him. This one is better though because there's more time for the two of them to expound on and feed off each other's ideas. The first two sections they seem like they are mostly in agreement and they spend a lot of it telling each other stories. The last section though is rough. They interrupt each other a lot, speak about the same things as each other but don't really seem to see they're talking about the same thing, and it just kind of comes off as hostile in parts. The last section was difficult for me to read. Having said that though I'm going to bring up something that I brought up in one of the other Baldwin interview books I read. The problem in this book isn't what is being said, it's what you can't know by reading this book. Interviews are maybe 60% what is being said and the rest is how it is said. Are they laughing with each other? Smiling? Do they lean in? What's their tone like? So many parts of this book, especially the last section, could come off so much more differently if there was some context to the words being said. In the first two sections there are enough clues in what's being said to feel that they're probably getting along, but it's really hard to tell if they aren't passively yelling at each other by the end. I'm not sure if there's a current print of this book. I had to order mine from a used book store. When it came I got a lovely thank you note and a ton of fun stickers on the package. It was a weird thing to see with a book about something so serious, but I still love it. And really I like the book too. If it weren't for the weirdness in the last section I would have given this five stars. I think if you're into Baldwin and want more to read this is a good one to pick up. If you're just looking at getting into his work I would put this as one of the last ones since it's kind of expensive right now and tricky to find. If they ever do a reprint though I would move that up the list for sure.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bull Durham

    A transcript of a ‘conversation’ between two intellectual lions of the late 60s / early 70s, this book’s value was more as an exposé of what passed for an informed conversation between two elites of the time rather than, as I hoped, an examination of race relations of the time. I walked away disappointed with Mead and frustrated with Baldwin. Mead was a cultural anthropologist scientist whose sociological studies of primitive societies were incorporated into the popular culture of the time. My pr A transcript of a ‘conversation’ between two intellectual lions of the late 60s / early 70s, this book’s value was more as an exposé of what passed for an informed conversation between two elites of the time rather than, as I hoped, an examination of race relations of the time. I walked away disappointed with Mead and frustrated with Baldwin. Mead was a cultural anthropologist scientist whose sociological studies of primitive societies were incorporated into the popular culture of the time. My problem with Mead’s side of the conversation is that she comes across as a poor listener, which was shocking given that such skill is required in her line of work. Because of that too much time is wasted in drilling down on topics that got no where. On the other hand, Baldwin, a prolific essayist of the time and whose work is the basis for the 2018 Oscar-nominated feature-film documentary “I am Not Your Negro,” seems to indulge in too much baiting of Mead to the detriment of the conversation. Mead catches on during the last 20 pages of the transcript, but too late. When she does challenge him on that point, he just throws up his hands and commences to destroy his arguments. I didn’t learn much about race relations in the early 70s except that not much has changed. There are some nuggets from Baldwin that resonated with me: “[T]he salvation of America lies in whether or not it is able to embrace the black face. If it cannot do that, I do not think the country has a future.” “It is a terrible omen when you see an American flag on somebody else’s car and realize that’s your enemy.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jonatan Södergren

    ”I think we can’t do anything with it until we understand that the past is present. And we can’t change the past, but we have to change the present” (p. 193). Baldwin’s conversations with the anthropologist Margaret Mead remain highly relevant in the contemporary zeitgeist, especially in light of Black Lives Matter. It takes a long time to understand anything at all about the past—and begin to be liberated from it. Moreover, this could be perceived as a double liberation from both the sufferings ”I think we can’t do anything with it until we understand that the past is present. And we can’t change the past, but we have to change the present” (p. 193). Baldwin’s conversations with the anthropologist Margaret Mead remain highly relevant in the contemporary zeitgeist, especially in light of Black Lives Matter. It takes a long time to understand anything at all about the past—and begin to be liberated from it. Moreover, this could be perceived as a double liberation from both the sufferings of the oppressed and the morally scarred oppressor.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Remy

    "Then I started reading. I read everything I could get my hands on, murder mysteries, The Good Earth, everything. By the time I was thirteen I had read myself out of Harlem. There were two libraries in Harlem, and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-Second Street… What I had to do then was bring the two things together: the possibilities the books suggested and the impossibilities of the life around me." "Then I started reading. I read everything I could get my hands on, murder mysteries, The Good Earth, everything. By the time I was thirteen I had read myself out of Harlem. There were two libraries in Harlem, and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-Second Street… What I had to do then was bring the two things together: the possibilities the books suggested and the impossibilities of the life around me."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Backer

    Occasionally challenging to read (you're reading a conversation, including the interruptions), but so timely and relevant. You're 'listening'/reading a conversation between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead as they talk about issues of the day (1970s), specifically race, and the difficulties that can entail from the white and black perspectives. Sadly, some things have not changed in 40 years. Occasionally challenging to read (you're reading a conversation, including the interruptions), but so timely and relevant. You're 'listening'/reading a conversation between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead as they talk about issues of the day (1970s), specifically race, and the difficulties that can entail from the white and black perspectives. Sadly, some things have not changed in 40 years.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kit Fox

    The kind of book that doesn't seem to be written anymore and which there sorely needs to be more of. Seriously, this needs to get a big old "40th anniversary" re-release with an updated version to follow; hell, things like Robocop get more attention. Then again, Robocop is a pretty amazing movie... Anyways, not that this was a contest, but towards the very last part when things got a little contentious (and Mead kept saying "fiddlesticks!" instead of swearing), Baldwin seemed to be making more c The kind of book that doesn't seem to be written anymore and which there sorely needs to be more of. Seriously, this needs to get a big old "40th anniversary" re-release with an updated version to follow; hell, things like Robocop get more attention. Then again, Robocop is a pretty amazing movie... Anyways, not that this was a contest, but towards the very last part when things got a little contentious (and Mead kept saying "fiddlesticks!" instead of swearing), Baldwin seemed to be making more cogent points regarding the inherent inequality black people experience in American society than white people, and Mead seemed a little out of touch. She wanted to relate and understand, though, and the gesture this book represents is monumental all around.

  17. 5 out of 5

    ēva

    i'm glad that i was able to both read the entire transcript of "a rap on race" as well as see a live dramatization by seattle's spectrum dance company. the book is deeper, broader, & more nuanced - both in its subject coverage, and in what it reveals about baldwin & mead. but the performance made it come to life and somehow make sense in a way that the transcript never could. impossible to read these final words without getting a little teary-eyed as donald byrd's powerful voice seeps through th i'm glad that i was able to both read the entire transcript of "a rap on race" as well as see a live dramatization by seattle's spectrum dance company. the book is deeper, broader, & more nuanced - both in its subject coverage, and in what it reveals about baldwin & mead. but the performance made it come to life and somehow make sense in a way that the transcript never could. impossible to read these final words without getting a little teary-eyed as donald byrd's powerful voice seeps through the page.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    Mead's input was cringeworthy and tone deaf. Baldwin's was far more insightful, but I'm not sure it's worth reading simply for his comments, since similar sentiments expressed by him can surely be found elsewhere. Mead's input was cringeworthy and tone deaf. Baldwin's was far more insightful, but I'm not sure it's worth reading simply for his comments, since similar sentiments expressed by him can surely be found elsewhere.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    This book is a transcription of a public seven-hour "conversation" between Margaret Mead and James Baldwin in 1970 at Columbia University. I had thought it would be worth reading (and went to the trouble of asking my public library to get it through interlibrary loan). I was wrong. This book is a transcription of a public seven-hour "conversation" between Margaret Mead and James Baldwin in 1970 at Columbia University. I had thought it would be worth reading (and went to the trouble of asking my public library to get it through interlibrary loan). I was wrong.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I am not romantic. Thanks, Jimmy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    A book that is a transcription is a very bad idea! This was a failure I fear.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

    Amazing dialogue between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Very thought provoking.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    It doesn't matter how brilliant and relevant and forthright they are. I just can't read book-length transcriptions of other people's conversations. It doesn't matter how brilliant and relevant and forthright they are. I just can't read book-length transcriptions of other people's conversations.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    A clear-eyed view at race and women in America that spoke for far more than just its own time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dot Enns

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shana

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jane F

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