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REVIEW | 'INVISIBLE MAN, GOT THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHING'

Young author asks right questions about being black today

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By Laura Farmer, correspondent

We all need heroes who are truth-tellers: those bold and brave enough to make us face reality. In his debut non-fiction work, Mychal Denzel Smith, a contributing author for The Nation, examines his personal heroes — truth-tellers like Malcom X, Dave Chappelle and Kanye West — by blending their stories with his own of growing up young, gifted and black in a post-Katrina, post-9/11 society.

“Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching” is an ambitious, important work that couldn’t have come along at a better time.

Smith was born in 1986, raised in a strict, military family, and attended Hampton University, a historically black university. Inspired to be in service to his people from a young age, Smith doesn’t pull punches regarding those he feels were not in full support of his cause, including his former school, his father, and the culture of “misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class-based elitism, self-hatred, violence, untreated mental illness” that persists in the United States.

But he also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to his own struggles with mental illness, ambition and being open to love — a vulnerability that transforms the book from an academic work to a powerful classic.

This balance between memoir and academic treatise isn’t always consistent, though, and there are chapters where Smith moves too quickly from point to point, or fails to give certain topics due justice, such as “why racial justice movements have tended to focus on black men’s experiences,” not black women’s.

Even still, while Smith doesn’t have all the answers, he is asking the right questions. And if we want to truly understand one another and ourselves, we will need more authors like Smith: fearless young truth-tellers whose power comes from their ability to be vulnerable and honest.

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