The Bookworm Sez: Brown is the New White describes America's new political landscape

By: 

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your vote matters.

At least that’s what they tell you, but you have your doubts. You’re ONE of millions of people who’ll go to the polls in November. You’re a raindrop in the sea, a needle in a voting haystack. But as you’ll see in Brown is the New White by Steve Phillips, you are more powerful than you think.

In 1968, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, about 12 percent of the U.S. population comprised “people of color.” Forty years later, on the night that Barack Obama was elected president, 36 percent of Americans were African American, Latino, Asian American, Arab American, or Native American.

While that still doesn’t sound like a very high number, Phillips says that, for a politician looking to win in 2016, those demographics belie an “equation that’s been hiding in plain sight”: add progressive White voters, and “America has a progressive, multiracial majority right now…”

That’s good news for Democrats – the party most often favored by progressives and people of color – but it’s not the final word. Drawing a line from Selma to Obama’s election, Phillips says that understanding the interests and histories of each individual group (including progressive Whites) is essential for forward movement, politically. It’s also important to know how those groups vote and the issues they care about, because if the “truth of the lives of the New American Majority” is ignored, “they will ignore you…” Phillips says. Stirring things up, as he points out, are conservatives who actively court “communities of color” and Republicans who’ve shown that they’re trying to embrace new thinking.

Smart politicians, Phillips says, will “invest wisely” by speaking directly through media outlets that are important and relevant to voters in order to keep the New American Majority’s attention and retain their support. Both parties must examine ways to bring “justice” and, therefore, equality to constituents. They need to cultivate “great cultural competence and expertise.” And they’ll have to “educate themselves about the realities of the lives of people of color.”  

Jam-packed with statistics, numbers, and thoughts that whirl around the pages, ‘Brown is the New White” is interesting, but it’s not a book to finish in a weekend. There’s so much inside here to comprehend, that you may not even finish it this month.

Author Steve Phillips pulls together plenty of intriguing ideas, history, and cause-and-effect tales but too many stats, which often muddy his points. He seems to go off-topic, sometimes slightly, but enough to cause me to stop and wonder where this was going. And yet, what he says is compelling and impossible to ignore; to wit, we are on the verge of something that could be exciting, if we only coalesce.

To reach that point, there are suggestions here, some of which may be controversial and some of which will require serious work. Still, though this book is definitely on the heavy side, what you’ll eventually learn is meaningful, particularly in this election year. For anyone over 18, Brown is the New White could be a book that matters.

Brown is the New White by Steve Phillips c.2016, The New Press $25.95 / $30.95 Canada 249 pages

 

Terri Schlichenmeyer is a book reviewer based just across the river from SoMinn in LaCrosse, WI. She can be contacted at bookwormsez@gmail.com