Tuesday, August 17, 2010

American Frankenstein (BOOK REVIEW)



American Frankenstein:

How the United States Created a Monster

by Kyle Stanford Cramer


Paperback, $14.95

218 pages, Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-4500-8568-7


Book Review by Kam Williams


                “American Frankenstein is written as a timely response to the need to revisit the history and realities of the Black existence in America… As with Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, African-Americans have been aimlessly trying t find their way in society, trying to fit in… Likewise, as with Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, the African-American plight has been filled with hatred, mistrust, neglect, and outright violent rejection...

                Society demonized and criminalized the Black man… and relegated him to second-class status, capable only of menial, labor-intensive, low-wage employment… While African-Americans strived to assimilate into society… they were still, by and large, unaccepted and unappreciated… They were generally rejected just as Frankenstein was.

                The irony is that if care and fairness had replaced hatred and bigotry, the African-American would have developed into one of the country’s greatest human assets over the last few hundred years… The question is, is there enough compassion in American society to recognize the error of its ways and enough esteem left in African-Americans to correct for past indiscretions?”

-Excerpted from the Introduction


Given the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the Presidency, and the country’s concomitant cultivation of black billionaires like Oprah Winfrey, and Bob and Sheila Johnson, there are many who point to such successes as proof that America has finally arrived at a point where it should congratulate itself for finally achieving that colorblind society envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King. Not so fast, suggests Kyle Stanford Cramer who argues that U.S. still has a long way to go to be considered post-racial.

 In his thought-provoking book, American Frankenstein: How the United States Created a Monster, Mr. Cramer makes a novel analogy between the history of mistreatment of African-Americans and the way the misunderstood movie villain was so heartlessly hunted down by an intolerant mob of townspeople armed with torches and pitchforks. The author is admirably earnest in his endeavor, recounting in chronological fashion how black folks have repeatedly been denied access to mainstream society, despite exhibiting extraordinary patience, bending over backwards while waiting for that ever-elusive opportunity to assimilate.

He says that the disparity created during slavery was not corrected in the wake of emancipation, given that the government reneged on the promise of 40 acres and a mule. The failure of Reconstruction was followed by the rise of Jim Crow segregation which was brutally enforced by the Klan via a century-long reign of terror which can only be described as domestic terrorism.

                Cramer concedes that the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties made some significant inroads, however even that effort was effectively undermined by the backlash of white flight from the inner cities, the crippling crutch of welfare and the tease of token affirmation action. He persuasively augments his arguments with both statistical evidence and personal anecdotes recounting his own experiences as a black kid growing up in Chicago where he miraculously overcame the odds to earn a master’s degree at Northwestern University.

                Seeing himself as an anomaly, Kyle Stanford Cramer is today committed to alleviating the persistently-desperate plight of the bulk of the still-marginalized masses of black people. His solution? While stopping short of a call for reparations, he nonetheless adamantly insists that America ought to opt to make amends by belatedly funding a Federal Reconstruction program which he envisions as incorporating everything from an apology for slavery and subsequent oppression to mental healthcare to an overhaul of the criminal justice system to education reform to job training to social support services to genealogical research critical to retracing roots and thereby knowing oneself. That’s a man with a plan.

Frankenstein resuscitated as a civil rights figure. I love it, What’s next, using The Joker to make the case for gay marriage? I think I just gave somebody an idea.

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