Ace of Spades

David Matthews
  • Review
By – January 23, 2012

Being Jew­ish is hard. Being black is hard. Being both means you’re up against a lot of adver­si­ty. Born across the racial divide, the son of a black father and a white Jew­ish moth­er who aban­doned him as a tod­dler, David Matthews was born with skin pale enough to pass for white. Grow­ing up in racist Bal­ti­more he opts for white, even going so far as to burn a cross in a neighbor’s yard after get­ting beat­en up by three black girls. Lat­er, in a lib­er­al col­lege, he opts for black. Ace of Spades is his sto­ry of com­ing to terms with him­self in an Amer­i­ca that claims racism doesn’t exist. Matthews’ writ­ing style is the high-ener­gy, drunk-on-words sort that either infu­ri­ates or delights, infus­ing even the most mun­dane details with humor and grace. He makes a num­ber of fas­ci­nat­ing points about cur­rent racial pol­i­tics, such as when you’re white, fail­ure is a tragedy; when you’re black, it’s a sta­tis­tic — ,” but miss­es oth­ers — what was it about Jews and their peo­ple that super­seded their gen­er­al alliance with the whole of human­i­ty?” The ques­tion of Matthews’ race ends anti-cli­mat­i­cal­ly in a late 80’s New York, but the sto­ry and Matthews’ telling of it cap­ti­vates. The obvi­ous par­al­lel is James McBride’s mas­ter­piece, The Col­or of Water, and in that regard, Matthews’ mem­oir doesn’t fare too poor­ly, though it’s far too coarse (and fun­ny) for Oprah’s book club.

Michael Orbach is a free­lance writer and the edi­tor of 72nd Avenue, a Queens Col­lege publication.

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