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The Omni-Americans is a classic collection of wickedly incisive essays, commentaries, and reviews on politics, literature, and music. Provocative and compelling, Albert Murray debunks the "so-called findings and all-too-inclusive extrapolations of social science survey technicians," contending that "human nature is no less complex and fascinating for being encased in dark The Omni-Americans is a classic collection of wickedly incisive essays, commentaries, and reviews on politics, literature, and music. Provocative and compelling, Albert Murray debunks the "so-called findings and all-too-inclusive extrapolations of social science survey technicians," contending that "human nature is no less complex and fascinating for being encased in dark skin." His claim that blacks have produced "the most complicated culture, and therefore the most complicated sensibility in the western world" is elucidated in a book which, according to Walker Percy, "fits no ideology, resists all abstractions, offends orthodox liberals and conservatives, attacks social scientists and Governor Wallace in the same breath, sees all the faults of the country, and holds out hope in the end."


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The Omni-Americans is a classic collection of wickedly incisive essays, commentaries, and reviews on politics, literature, and music. Provocative and compelling, Albert Murray debunks the "so-called findings and all-too-inclusive extrapolations of social science survey technicians," contending that "human nature is no less complex and fascinating for being encased in dark The Omni-Americans is a classic collection of wickedly incisive essays, commentaries, and reviews on politics, literature, and music. Provocative and compelling, Albert Murray debunks the "so-called findings and all-too-inclusive extrapolations of social science survey technicians," contending that "human nature is no less complex and fascinating for being encased in dark skin." His claim that blacks have produced "the most complicated culture, and therefore the most complicated sensibility in the western world" is elucidated in a book which, according to Walker Percy, "fits no ideology, resists all abstractions, offends orthodox liberals and conservatives, attacks social scientists and Governor Wallace in the same breath, sees all the faults of the country, and holds out hope in the end."

30 review for The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    Albert Murray—the greatly under-recognized novelist, memoirist, biographer, and cultural critic—began arguing nearly 30 years ago that the blues, not slave narratives, are the definitive African-American art form. Furthermore, Murray believes that the blues represent our entire country’s most creative, cathartic means of confronting adversity; and that blues singers are America’s archetypal heroes, possessing “the ultimate human endowment” of on-the-spot invention (i.e., improvisation) in the fa Albert Murray—the greatly under-recognized novelist, memoirist, biographer, and cultural critic—began arguing nearly 30 years ago that the blues, not slave narratives, are the definitive African-American art form. Furthermore, Murray believes that the blues represent our entire country’s most creative, cathartic means of confronting adversity; and that blues singers are America’s archetypal heroes, possessing “the ultimate human endowment” of on-the-spot invention (i.e., improvisation) in the face of history’s dragons, which prove vulnerable to the blues’ ironic humor and resilient spirit. Murray’s inclusive aesthetic, which calls our culture “mulatto” and the U.S. Constitution “a jazz [i.e., improvisatory] document,” bears some similarities to present-day American feminist literary theory. Its practitioners, like Murray, find less truth in the fixed rise-and-fall of traditional narrative than in more associative, lyrical patterns. But the feminist theory of American identity has evolved largely into a non-assimilationist stance that values what Murray calls the “mosaic” over the “mulatto.” While the latter celebrates the profound effects of cultural mixing (think “melting pot”), the former seeks to honor each of America’s diverse, often fragmented traditions, which has proved problematic: One person’s symbol of tradition—like the Confederate flag—can be another’s symbol of oppression. Additionally, gender almost never operates in a vacuum: African American women have been rightly critical of a monolithic feminism that downplays the tension between competing social categories. By contrast, Murray’s “mulatto” metaphor seeks social connections and ways to improvise on them, thus broadening the terms on which people can meet. When that meeting takes place between books and a reader, and when the books are recent memoirs by African-American women and the reader is a white Southern female, the language of feminist theory seems less accurate, appropriate, and metaphorically rich than Murray’s blues-grounded “mulatto-ism,” especially since race, not gender, forms the core of each of these books. (originally published in the NASHVILLE SCENE)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dash Williams

    Albert Murray thinks your faves don't have the range. Albert Murray thinks your faves don't have the range.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marlo

    Although it's a few decades old, no book better describes the dilemma of race relations in the US than this classic by Albert Murray. Plus, he just such a pleasure to read. Although it's a few decades old, no book better describes the dilemma of race relations in the US than this classic by Albert Murray. Plus, he just such a pleasure to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A collection of penetrating, hilarious essays that out the "folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of black pathology" and affirm African American agency and continuity. I really enjoyed, was challenged by, and learned from, this book. A collection of penetrating, hilarious essays that out the "folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of black pathology" and affirm African American agency and continuity. I really enjoyed, was challenged by, and learned from, this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    wow, some very interesting common sense perspectives on things you may - or may not - have taken for granted. murray is razor sharp, and no nonsense. this is one i know i'll go to go back to again and again. wow, some very interesting common sense perspectives on things you may - or may not - have taken for granted. murray is razor sharp, and no nonsense. this is one i know i'll go to go back to again and again.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kohoutek

    This was an interesting book, which I picked up kind of randomly at the local bookstore. Murray makes some great quotable arguments about the pathologizing of black communities, in sociology, politics, and popular culture (like novels about "ghetto life"), staying grounded in the fact that the only problem is racism and discrimination. True! And has other interesting insights. Sometimes, though, he goes in directions I don't agree with, particularly in some of his literary opinions, which I thou This was an interesting book, which I picked up kind of randomly at the local bookstore. Murray makes some great quotable arguments about the pathologizing of black communities, in sociology, politics, and popular culture (like novels about "ghetto life"), staying grounded in the fact that the only problem is racism and discrimination. True! And has other interesting insights. Sometimes, though, he goes in directions I don't agree with, particularly in some of his literary opinions, which I thought showed he was as trapped by the contradictions of his time as everyone else that he rails against (James Baldwin, for example). Some of his side digressions seem like pet peeves, that I thought detracted from his main themes. I was particularly annoyed with his dismissal of J.J. Phillips' "Mojo Hand," one of my favorite novels, which I could go on about at length, but I won't; suffice that I thought the reasons he gives for not liking it seem to contradict his general points. Overall, though, it is great to see someone argue persuasively that black culture is American culture, that American culture as we know it wouldn't exist without black culture, that black Americans deserve the credit for it, and that the only thing holding them back is racism.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Bartley

    Excellent perspective from 1970 on the richness of the American cultural mosaic and critique of the cult of Black dysfunction. Critical commentary on the role of Black Americans in arts and literature and particularly in music during the season of the Black Power movement. Murray's comments are relevant 50 years later. "Many white writers go on year after year turning out book after solipsistic book in which they pretend that the world is white. In this they go hand in hand with most U. S. journ Excellent perspective from 1970 on the richness of the American cultural mosaic and critique of the cult of Black dysfunction. Critical commentary on the role of Black Americans in arts and literature and particularly in music during the season of the Black Power movement. Murray's comments are relevant 50 years later. "Many white writers go on year after year turning out book after solipsistic book in which they pretend that the world is white. In this they go hand in hand with most U. S. journalists, photographers, and motion picture producers. But any U. S. Negro sharecropper surrounded by a field of snow white cotton knows better than that. And he knows that the world is not black either. He knows that the only color the world has is the color of infinity. Whatever that color may be. This particular sort of U. S. Negro knows very well that the white man, for all his relative political and economic power, is not free." (Murray, p. 144)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Valarie

    The title of this book really piqued my interest, but I ended up being very disappointed. Described as a collection of essays on black history and culture (as it is American history and culture, of course), I had assumed the essays would each cover a different event or issue. Instead, the book read more like a rant, one that was interesting for the first section, but ended up repeating the same points over and over. I had hoped to learn more about the hidden history of American minorities, but i The title of this book really piqued my interest, but I ended up being very disappointed. Described as a collection of essays on black history and culture (as it is American history and culture, of course), I had assumed the essays would each cover a different event or issue. Instead, the book read more like a rant, one that was interesting for the first section, but ended up repeating the same points over and over. I had hoped to learn more about the hidden history of American minorities, but instead I had to suffer through yet another textbook-style monologue. To be fair, I gave up reading thoroughly after the first third of the book, and simply skimmed the rest to see if Murray ever brought up some new information (he didn't).

  9. 5 out of 5

    T.

    “Murray, a blues philosopher, novelist, genuine Renaissance man, lifelong friend of Ralph Ellison, and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, makes, with tremendous flair, the case that America is fundamentally a mongrel nation and that ‘any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black.’” Recommended by Thomas Chatterton Williams here: https://spectator.us/books-america-re.... “Murray, a blues philosopher, novelist, genuine Renaissance man, lifelong friend of Ralph Ellison, and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, makes, with tremendous flair, the case that America is fundamentally a mongrel nation and that ‘any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black.’” Recommended by Thomas Chatterton Williams here: https://spectator.us/books-america-re....

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    A totally different perspective and a great one.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christian Raab, OSB

    This book is a dense, sophisticated, wild ride and I think I would need to read it multiple times to really gleam all that it has to offer. Broadening by own knowledge of its 60s and 70s context would help too, since there are many references to what was happening in the world and in the halls of scholarship at the time Murray wrote. In any case, Murray serves in this text as a 20th century Black-American De Tocqueville, providing a host of rich philosophical observations about American culture, This book is a dense, sophisticated, wild ride and I think I would need to read it multiple times to really gleam all that it has to offer. Broadening by own knowledge of its 60s and 70s context would help too, since there are many references to what was happening in the world and in the halls of scholarship at the time Murray wrote. In any case, Murray serves in this text as a 20th century Black-American De Tocqueville, providing a host of rich philosophical observations about American culture, race relations, and racial categories. Refreshingly, Murray is suspicious of the category of race and this seems to be because race is often treated in an essentialist way, as an either-or proposition. Murray would rather talk about culture than race. Culture is dynamic and always changing through encounter and adaptation. His thesis is that mainstream American culture in general is mulatto, and thus more black than most white people acknowledge. At the same time, there are white elements to black sub-culture. White and black Americans he theorizes, without over simplifying (an important qualification!), have more in common with one another than they do with people in other places. That's true not only due to the fact of their long cohabitation in the same country, but also to their common human nature. The blues (and also jazz, and other art forms) serve as a source for his philosophy. The blues is an authentic expression of American culture. It is rightly associated with black Americans, but it has white influences (particularly Protestant Christianity). The way white and black musicians respectfully encounter one another and the way blues continues to innovate through encounter may be a paradigm for the wider society to follow. Murray rejects assimiliationist ideology. He defends integration and celebrates (without romanticizing) black culture. He opposes what he calls "the folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of black pathology." This is a hopeful book and a vision of America in both its reality and promise that I found encouraging.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kurt

    In The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture, Albert Murray issues spirited “counter-statements” to what he sees as troubling strains of culture and politics in the 1960s and 70s. He takes to task, for example, the Afrocentrism then popular in Negro communities. The problem, Murray believes, is that Americans mostly misunderstand American identity. Murray’s arguments build on the work of cultural critic Constance Rourke. In the “incontestably mulatto” species In The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture, Albert Murray issues spirited “counter-statements” to what he sees as troubling strains of culture and politics in the 1960s and 70s. He takes to task, for example, the Afrocentrism then popular in Negro communities. The problem, Murray believes, is that Americans mostly misunderstand American identity. Murray’s arguments build on the work of cultural critic Constance Rourke. In the “incontestably mulatto” species of homo Americanus (22), Rourke names four component parts: Yankee, backwoodsman, Indian, and Negro; she recognized in each a “mood of disseverance” (16): the willingness to break from a given constraint in search of something better. She writes, “Their comedy, their irreverent wisdom, their sudden changes and adroit adaptations provided emblems for a pioneer people who required resilience as a prime trait” (16, emphasis mine). For Murray, these characteristics of play define what it means to be an American because America is at its core an experiment—democratic tinkering toward the promises of life, of liberty, of happiness and its pursuit. And experiments, in his view, require the kind of improvisational “idiom that reflects [an]...open, robust, and affirmative disposition to diversity and change…smoothly geared to open-minded improvisation…Improvisation after all is experimentation” (53). Murray finds this idiom nowhere more fully or elegantly realized than in the history and present of Black life and art—particularly the blues and jazz.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Collection of magazine essays written in the 60s and collected and published in book form in 1970. I liked Murray’s basic perspective that American blacks and whites have much more in common than not, and that it would be good for people to realize that, and build on it, But these essays were really responding to events and discussions in the sixties and I didn’t follow a lot of it or find it meaningful. I did like the appendix with a summary of his life, which was amazing, and I think he deserv Collection of magazine essays written in the 60s and collected and published in book form in 1970. I liked Murray’s basic perspective that American blacks and whites have much more in common than not, and that it would be good for people to realize that, and build on it, But these essays were really responding to events and discussions in the sixties and I didn’t follow a lot of it or find it meaningful. I did like the appendix with a summary of his life, which was amazing, and I think he deserves a good biography.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    After reading this compelling collection of essays by Albert Murray about the Black experience in America, originally published in 1970, I understand why Henry Louis Gates calls him "the great contrarian of American cultural criticism." Agree with his arguments are not, Murray's gift of the written word is indisputable. He is a masterful crafter of eloquent, incisive, provocative prose. After reading this compelling collection of essays by Albert Murray about the Black experience in America, originally published in 1970, I understand why Henry Louis Gates calls him "the great contrarian of American cultural criticism." Agree with his arguments are not, Murray's gift of the written word is indisputable. He is a masterful crafter of eloquent, incisive, provocative prose.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Bublitz

    This should be required reading, especially in 2020. Id give it 6 stars if I could. There's a couple essays that seem to not fit, like the short one on Harlem architecture, but the good stuff here is REAL good. This should be required reading, especially in 2020. Id give it 6 stars if I could. There's a couple essays that seem to not fit, like the short one on Harlem architecture, but the good stuff here is REAL good.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam Sherman

    A highly compelling book that holds up more than 50 years after it was written. Highly recommended along with Racecraft, the New Jim Crow and others as reasonable arguments about the future of liberalism in the United States in comparison to How to Be an Anti-Racist or White Fragility.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Salvatore

    A tempering and occasional attack of some of James Baldwin's theories and writings. A thorough look at the social constructs of race, that we're all in the same boat, that saying someone who's 1/16th white is black but someone who's 1/16th black is white (or black) is insane and not productive. Murray's a strong writer who stands his ground, claiming to be more of the average-joe than Baldwin (who he says sees his homeland of Harlem through the eyes of the Greenwich Village elites, who he says fe A tempering and occasional attack of some of James Baldwin's theories and writings. A thorough look at the social constructs of race, that we're all in the same boat, that saying someone who's 1/16th white is black but someone who's 1/16th black is white (or black) is insane and not productive. Murray's a strong writer who stands his ground, claiming to be more of the average-joe than Baldwin (who he says sees his homeland of Harlem through the eyes of the Greenwich Village elites, who he says fell into the trap of writing the protest novel that he, Baldwin, had protested before). His work also gives a quick but celebratory look at the importance of the blues and jazz on the American psyche, the original artform born out of America. Perhaps what I found most interesting was the question of educating students regarding black history (then, it was Black History Week rather than Month). There are lots of good points to think about, even when Murray's language can be a bit overthetop. Also good: 'fakelore' and the idea of what 'traditions' are. Murray would probably have had a decent conversation with VS Naipaul on that...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will

    From Murray's response to Baldwin's "Everybody's Protest Novel" (Murray's italics):Nevertheless, there are many reasons why it is all but impossible for a serious writer of fiction to engage his craft as such in a political cause, no matter how worthy, without violating his very special integrity as an artist in some serious way. All of these reasons are complicated and some may seem downright questionable, but perhaps none is more important than the fact that, as well-meaning as he may be, the From Murray's response to Baldwin's "Everybody's Protest Novel" (Murray's italics):Nevertheless, there are many reasons why it is all but impossible for a serious writer of fiction to engage his craft as such in a political cause, no matter how worthy, without violating his very special integrity as an artist in some serious way. All of these reasons are complicated and some may seem downright questionable, but perhaps none is more important than the fact that, as well-meaning as he may be, the truly serious novelist has what almost amounts to an ambivalence toward the human predicament. Alarming as such ambivalence may seem, it is really fundamental to his open-minded search for the essential truth of human experience... Perhaps it is in the nature of things that activists, whether young or middle-aged, will have little patience with such intellectual checks and balances. Nevertheless, the serious apprentice to the art of fiction can never afford to dispense with them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eugene

    Celebratiing the fortieth anniversary of the publication of this pioneering book!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Albin

    I borrowed it from barron claiborne. Supplemental literature to our conversations.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

  22. 5 out of 5

    Haley Littleton

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan Doherty

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Golmon

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dmitri Leybman

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert Lashley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marvin Campbell

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Forman

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Pattison

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