Told as a series of stories, The South of Black Forgiveness exposes racial prejudice among police.
Donna Clovis’s novel in vignettes, The South of Black Forgiveness, moves between crime scenes to confront police militarization and systemic racism in America.
Set in and around New York, the story follows Tanisha, a tenacious Black American journalist who is on a mission to investigate police corruption and report on the rise of police-related deaths. When Tanisha attends a press conference regarding the shooting of a Black child by a white policeman, she questions why it is not illegal to enter a residence without knocking or announcing oneself.
Tanisha’s question ruffles the feathers of a freelance crime reporter, Jonathan, who suggests that her “testy” attitude will be better received if she forms alliances with him and other journalists. Undeterred, Tanisha seeks neither alliances nor validation from the white establishment. She rejects his offer. Meanwhile, Tanisha is on high alert. She tells her colleague, Renee, that she is being stalked by a prostitute, who’s dressed in a blonde weave and red heels. When two unrelated stories—one about racism on college campuses, and the other about a white supremacist bomber in Harlem—become Tanisha’s focus, she is dogged in pursuing leads, and she connects more dots than she bargained for.
Color is employed in a clever way throughout, helping to expose the racially charged roots of language. In one scene, Tanisha remembers the “blackface incident” in the “white light” of her living room, juxtaposing the dawning moment of awareness with cultural misappropriation for a moment of clear irony. In another scene, a black cinder melts upon the “white concrete sidewalk” to reflect how the Black population is rendered powerless against white institutional power. Elsewhere, Tanisha’s colleague writes about “a silent killer in the darkness of Harlem” with a red pen on a whiteboard: the red, white, and black conjure the image of an institutional stronghold that’s aggressive in maintaining its power.
The book’s many short chapters mirror the nature of racial profiling and the struggles of Black and Latino Americans who are habitually targeted by police. In each story that Tanisha reports on, it is evident that skin color is the only detail taken into account by the police, and she concludes that Blackness is not only other, but automatically suspect or criminal. Also because the chapters are short, the book moves with speed, eschewing superfluous information. Points are made in a succinct, rapid way before Tanisha progresses on to the next subject or scene. These short chapters lead to underdeveloped characters and situations, though, resulting in a suspense void and a predictable outcome.
Told as a series of stories, The South of Black Forgiveness is more about social commentary than suspense; it exposes racial prejudice among police.
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