As an African American and happily married father of biracial children, Thompson finds himself questioning his most deeply held convictions when Donald Trump ascends to the presidency. Through reflections on his own experiences and interviews with white Trump supporters, Thompson seeks to make sense of the political moment and his place within the nation.
This is a thought-provoking and moving personal account of ‘What It Is’ to be black in Trump’s America that will resonate with many people. Clifford’s experience is all the more poignant for the context provided by interviews with Trump supporters ... Clifford is a powerful essayist and a good interviewer ... there’s plenty to learn from his talks. The result of his labours is a powerful and engaging book. I can only admire his reason in an age of unreason.
Thompson concludes, with his penchant for self-examination, we are all indifferent to others in one way or another ... Thompson leaves us unsettled at this point. Should we all accept the fact of indifference and move on? That would seem an unsatisfying response to the racial crisis of our times ... He sometimes celebrates his individualism using stereotypical descriptions of African Americans who do not share his views, such as his curt dismissal of his more race-identified black college classmates as acting out psychological black-nationalist fantasies prompted by their integrated upbringings. At such times, he seems to be channeling some of the 1980s- and ’90s-era culture wars of his mentors, Murray and Stanley Crouch. Yet, when he confronts the contradictions of race in present-day America, Thompson’s individualism can lead him to moments of profound descriptive beauty, such as his too-brief recounting of his conversation about firearms and racial identity with the founder of the black gun owners group, and his decision, with which he ends the book, to go to a gun range and do some shooting. He imagines himself carrying a gun in defense of his race. It’s a fantasy experience, full of contradictions and in many ways simply absurd. But that’s also true, Thompson seems to be saying, of so much of the ways we imagine race in America.
In What It Is, the reader experiences, via Thompson’s plaintive and disillusioned voice, the discomfort of personal recalibration. Thompson explores the world as it is and carefully thinks through how each of us can find our place within it.