Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Black Is The New White by Paul Mooney
I don’t know why it happened this way but for some reason I bookended the reading of Black Is The New White by Paul Mooney with two YA books. I had just gone from Redshirts by John Scalzi to Every Day by David Levithan, and I found myself at a reading standstill where I was not quite sure what book I wanted to read next. I ended up skimming through the list of books on my reader and seeing Black Is The New White made me pause. I remembered how the last non-fiction book I read was a refreshing break from fiction so I went ahead and started reading. I’m glad I did. Black Is The New White was just what I needed. It was a good, heavy dose of reality after reading a book about secondary characters looking to control their own fates from the narrative and a consciousness that hijacks a different teenage body every day. All very fantastical stories that I discovered after reading them that I needed something to reground myself.
Paul Mooney is a writer, actor, comedian who has worked on or appeared on several TV shows and movies such as Sanford and Son, Good Times, Chapelle Show, The Buddy Holly Story and Bamboozled. He was also very good friends with the late Richard Pryor and it’s in Black Is The New White where we get a really good look into their friendship as well as Paul Mooney’s experience in Hollywood.
The insight into his friendship with Richard Pryor is very interesting and candid. He doesn’t hide or make excuses for Richard’s drug problems and speaks openly about them. But he also doesn’t let you forget how talented Richard was and the mark he left as a great comedian. I think the hardest part for me was reading about Richard’s battle with MS. My mom was diagnosed with MS and there were lots of late night ambulance calls when my mom’s legs would go numb and she couldn’t walk and she would spend weeks in a rehabilitation hospital to recover only to have to go through the entire process again six months later. Even though my mom hadn’t deteriorated to the point Richard had it’s still incredibly hard to watch someone you love suffer when they can’t get their body to respond the way they want it to. Reading about Richard Pryor and Paul’s thoughts brought back a lot of painful memories and I understood how hard it was for Mooney to see his friend go through such a debilitating disease.
What I found fascinating was seeing the different aspects of the entertainment industry on the West Coast in Black Is The New White, while around the same time as John Lithgow’s book, Drama: An Actor’s Education over on the East Coast. Both books roughly cover the same time period and they both offer an interesting look into TV, movies, comedy clubs and theater. But Paul’s experience is extremely frustrating to read about, to know how many doors were shut in his face because of the color of his skin. It’s inspiring that despite his struggles he persevered and didn’t change who he is as a person in order to make certain people more comfortable.
If you’re easily offended or don’t like to made uncomfortable when someone points out what’s wrong with our society or makes fun of it, this may not be the book for you. For me, I really enjoyed Paul Mooney’s honesty and thank him for it.