Announcing the 2015 One Book, One Firm Selection

Some of my best friendsEach year in our One Book, One Firm program at Warner Norcross & Judd, we select a book relating to diversity and inclusion and encourage everyone in the firm to read and discuss it. This year’s One Book, One Firm selection is Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange History of Integration in America, by Tanner Colby.   Nominated for the 2013 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, this book examines integration in the United States during the second half of the 20th Century.  In four sections of the book, Tanner Colby looks at integration of schools, integration of neighborhoods, integration in the workplace, and integration in the church.

As Colby admits in the introduction of his book, he was no expert on race.  His previous two books were biographies of John Belushi and Chris Farley. Worried that he had pigeonholed himself into writing books about “dead, fat comedians,” Colby begin thinking of another topic he could address.  Following the nomination of Barack Obama in 2008, Colby had an epiphany: “I didn’t actually know any Black people.  I mean, I’ve met them, have been acquainted with a few in passing, here and there.  I know of Black people, you could say. But none of my friends were black.”  Upon further reflection, Colby proposed to his editor that he write a book on racial integration in America. “Sure, I had no idea what I was doing,” he writes,  “but to be a white person writing a book about race, ignorance was the only qualification I would need.”

Colby appears to have approached the topic with few preconceptions.  His book is, at once, both entertaining and thought provoking.  To discuss school integration, he returns to his hometown in Georgia to learn about how busing worked.  The section on neighborhoods recounts the history of government sanctioned redlining and blockbusting with a focus on a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri. For integration in the business world, Colby focuses on the advertising industry, where he worked before starting his career as a writer.  And, for the section on religion, Colby tells the story of the Catholic church’s effort over more than 20 years to bring together two Catholic parishes in Louisiana – one white, one black – that were right next door to one another (they shared a parking lot and for a time a priest).

Described by The Wilson Quarterly as “a refreshingly honest and textured story that has much to contribute to conversations about race in America,” Some of My Best Friends Are Black should provide us much to talk about.