A few years ago, journalist Cora Daniels was invited to speak on a panel about James Baldwin at the Harlem Book Fair. Daniels, author of favorably reviewed books such as 2007’s Ghettonation (Broadway), thought about Baldwin’s mastery of the essay form in such classics as Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time. Baldwin’s work was prescient, elegant in its style and unsparing in its quest for the truth. You may feel the same after reading Impolite Conversations: On Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion (Atria, $25), in which Daniels, a journalist and former Fortune staff writer, enlists John L. Jackson, Jr., dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, in lively point-counterpoint dissections of a range of hot-button issues.
Daniels describes the book as “tell-it-like it-is” honesty. That’s probably an understatement. Readers may bristle at the frankness of both authors’ divergent views. Take the Sex section, for instance. Jackson’s essay addresses the “conspiracy” to make Black boys hypermasculine, removing any traces of sensitivity for fear they’ll be labeled soft. Meanwhile, Daniels will have folks reaching for the smelling salts with the line “Let’s pray for sexually active daughters.” But the authors aren’t trying to raise hackles or folks’ blood pressure. In an age of social media, where anonymity allows many to throw around loaded language and plenty of shade without being recognized, these two are owning their words. And they should. Impolite Conversations is a reminder that, yes, everyone has opinions. However, when an attitude is backed up with solid facts and contemplative thought, we’re challenged to think, sometimes in delightfully refreshing ways.
This article was originally published in the October issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands now.