Race, Respectability, and Masculinity
At the Valois “See Your Food” cafeteria on Chicago’s South Side, black and white men gather over cups of coffee and steam-table food. Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist, spent four years at the Valois writing this moving profile of the black men who congregate at “Slim’s Table.” Praised as “a marvelous study of those who should not be forgotten” by the Wall Street Journal,Slim’s Table helps demolish the narrow sociological picture of black men and simple media-reinforced stereotypes. In between is a “respectable” citizenry, too often ignored and little understood.
“Slim’s Table is an astonishment. Duneier manages to fling open windows of perception into what it means to be working-class black, how a caring community can proceed from the most ordinary transactions, all the while smashing media-induced stereotypes of the races and race relations.”—Citation for Chicago Sun Times Chicago Book of the Year Award
“An instant classic of ethnography that will provoke debate and provide insight for years to come.”—Michael Eric Dyson, Chicago Tribune
“Mr. Duneier sees the subjects of his study as people and he sees the scale of their lives as fully human, rather than as diminished versions of grander lives lived elsewhere by people of another color. . . . A welcome antidote to trends in both journalism and sociology.”—Roger Wilkins, New York Times Book Review
While a graduate student during the 1980s Duneier, who is white, hung out for four years with the black and white regulars at Valois Cafeteria, a restaurant on the fringes of the black ghetto on Chicago's South Side. Through his eyes we meet Slim, a reserved black car mechanic whose solicitude for Bart, a retired white file clerk from the rural South, strips the latter of his preconceptions about blacks. A moving testament to the power of integration over ingrained beliefs, this sensitive study reveals that the underclass has many faces. Unlike the ``outer-directed, attention-seeking'' black male stereotypes portrayed in sociology and the mass media, Duneier's African American cafeteria buddies are ``consistently inner-directed,'' deriving their sense of self-worth from adherence to personal standards of civility, solidarity, decency, pride and discretion. Duneier, who recently received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago, shows how the collective life of the cafeteria helps its clientele overcome their sense of living in a moral vacuum. Photos not seen by PW.