Baker & Taylor
A coming-of-age memoir of a white boy growing up in predominantly African-American and Latino housing projects on New York's Lower East Side reveals how race and class were pivotal factors in his life.University of California Press
This intensely personal and engaging memoir is the coming-of-age story of a white boy growing up in a neighborhood of predominantly African American and Latino housing projects on New York’s Lower East Side. Vividly evoking the details of city life from a child’s point of view—the streets, buses, and playgrounds—Honky poignantly illuminates the usual vulnerabilities of childhood complicated by unusual circumstances. As he narrates these sharply etched and often funny memories, Conley shows how race and class shaped his life and the lives of his schoolmates and neighbors. A brilliant case study for illuminating the larger issues of inequality in American society, Honky brings us to a deeper understanding of the privilege of whiteness, the social construction of race, the power of education, and the challenges of inner-city life.
Conley’s father, a struggling artist, and his mother, an aspiring writer, joined Manhattan’s bohemian subculture in the late 1960s, living on food stamps and raising their family in a housing project. We come to know his mother: her quirky tastes, her robust style, and the bargains she strikes with Dalton—not to ride on the backs of buses, and to always carry money in his shoe as protection against muggers. We also get to know his father, his face buried in racing forms, and his sister, who in grade school has a burning desire for cornrows. From the hilarious story of three-year-old Dalton kidnapping a black infant so he could have a baby sister to the deeply disturbing shooting of a close childhood friend, this memoir touches us with movingly rendered portraits of people and the unfolding of their lives.
Conley’s story provides a sophisticated example of the crucial role culture plays in defining race and class. Both of Conley’s parents retained the "cultural capital" of the white middle class, and they passed this on to their son in the form of tastes, educational expectations, and a general sense of privilege. It is these advantages that ultimately provide Conley with his ticket to higher education and beyond. A tremendously good read, Honky addresses issues both timely and timeless that pertain to us all.
"Americans have a tough time admitting two things about themselves: Race matters. Class matters. Dalton Conley's journey back and forth across the dividing lines invisibly etched on the map of Manhattan does with good story-telling what good sociology can't. He closes the sale. Through the eyes of a growing child he shows the difficulty of navigating without a map, the hard-won mastery of the unwritten rules. Young Dalton is bewildered by what most of us peers can't even perceive, the easy acceptance of white privilege. But instead of making a whiny tirade out of it, he makes us smell the street. It's a much more effective choice, if you ask me."--Ray Suarez, author of The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, and senior correspondent, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
"Honky is dope. For all you white kids that grew up in Hip-Hop dominated America, this book is for you. It's a hard honest look at why, no matter how poor and ghetto you are or want to be, as long as you're white, you've still got an advantage in this country. . .very brave."--Danny Hoch, producer and star of Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop
"An eye-opening account of what it is like to grow up white in a black inner-city social environment. It is marvelously rich with insights--and a good read, too."--Elijah Anderson, author of Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City.
"I love Honky -- Dalton Conley is a very clever fellow to have strip-mined material so close to home and come up with pure gold. Told within the narrative framework of a white boy's friendships in the minority projects where his liberal, artistic parents raised their family in conditions that came to resemble a fortress, this ruefully comic memoir of growing up fast in the city easily outdistances a dozen sociological treatises on the deep social clashes and warring values of our time."--Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape