The Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce must hate Kathy Y. Wilson.
Local columnists who have the fortune to gain national publication are supposed to say some nice things about their local stomping grounds - talk about the good restaurants, the festivals, the many exciting business opportunities. Itís not flattering to a city when their local writers talk about murder rates, police brutality, political scandals, and cultural racism.
Kathy Wilsonís columns arenít always easy for an outside audience to read. As is right for a local newspaper column, she mostly writes about local events. Brief footnotes discuss the most complicated news items, but thereís still an inevitable sense of confusion when she begins tossing people and place names out with a localís sense of familiarity. Reading Your Negro Tour Guide sometimes feels like taking directions in strange country from someone who can only navigate by landmarks: Go past the old store that got torn down, talk to Polly at the good farmerís market, stop by where that dog bit that kid, you know the place. Wilsonís writing style, which leans more towards personal journal than journalism, often increases the sense of disorientation.
But itís unlikely that either Wilsonís regionalism or her sometimes unorthodox prose will be the real source of controversy in her work. Harder to read, and sometimes harder to understand, is the constant focus of her work on issues of race. Even white people who arenít racist-- perhaps especially white people who arenít racist, and so have less reason to think about the uglier side of race relations--- will wonder why Wilson feels the need to mention the subject so often. While moments like a waitressí referral to a prominent jazz music festival as ďBlackfestĒ or sadly familiar tales of police brutality are obviously linked to racial issues, others-- a public snub of her looks, people getting a bit too personal in her personal space-- seem to be just the normal irritations of daily life. Why does it all have to be related to race?
But that confusion, that gap in understanding, is much of what Your Negro Tour Guide is all about. Wilson is at her best when defining the hidden crevasses and fault lines that make up much of urban American life. Your Negro Tour Guide is unlikely to change any minds, but it might help open a few.