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a tragedy; when you’re black, it’s a statistic — ,” but misses others — ”what was it about Jews and their people that superseded their general alliance with the whole of humanity?”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.
Ace of Spades
Michael Orbach is a freelance writer and the editor of 72nd Avenue, a Queens College publication.
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