In This Review

Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race
Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race
By Eugene Robinson
Free Press, 1999, 288 pp

A reporter for The Washington Post (and now its assistant managing editor), Robinson was assigned as a foreign correspondent covering South America. Although based in Buenos Aires, he soon found himself on Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, escaping from the "confines of his own skin" into "the wonderful Brazilian racial landscape." But his early infatuation with Brazil's "benign racial anarchy" was gradually undermined. As he traveled more widely, he found himself shown to the service entrance when visiting fellow journalists and was struck by the stark contrast between the different carnivals for the (mostly white) rich and the (mostly black) poor. Despite its personal honesty, however, this self-indulgent and superficial book offers little insight into the Brazilian racial dilemma -- or even any indication that Robinson spent much time with activists or explored the recent literature on race and class in Brazil. It is also a very American story, with Robinson assuming that he had a special window into his subjects' minds. Brazil, he claims, made him appreciate having a strong racial identity -- something he believes Brazilian blacks lack to their detriment. Brazilians will be more saddened than angered by Robinson's tale, which says little new about race relations in Brazil but a great deal about Robinson's personal hang-ups: "new journalism" with a vengeance.