At the Valois "See Your Food" cafeteria on Chicago's South Side, black and white men gather around formica tables finding companionship over hot coffee and steam-table food.
Mitchell Duneier spent four years at Valois writing this moving profile of the black men who congregate at "Slim's table." They take center stage in stories that illuminate a new image of black masculinity and respectability.
Duneier introduces us to Slim, a car mechanic living in the ghetto, who shows his concern for Bart, a prejudiced white senior citizen. In this story of black masculinity and the possibilities of racial integration, Slim treats Bart with care and affection, which moves the old man to the limits of his own potential for tolerance and respect.
We meet at Valois a group of men who are firm, resolute, sincere, and sensitive. There is Ted, retired from the army and working in a photo lab, whose pronouncements about American society and politics illustrate the standard of respectability in black America. And Jackson, a semi-retired crane operator and longshoreman who lives in a ramshackle apartment without a telephone. In his old age, he struggles lifting boxes at the docks to pay off overwhelming medical bills.
Slim's Table helps demolish the narrow sociological picture of black men and the simple, media-reinforced stereotypes which restrict blacks to one of two groups - the ghetto underclass and the so-called middle-class role models. In between is a "respectable" citizenry, too often ignored and little understood.
Duneier demonstrates that a proper understanding of the men at Slim's table calls into question fundamental assumptions that have long dominated discussions of urban poverty. This leads him to fashion a new way of looking at role models and at the exodus of the black middle class from the inner city. In a pioneering, revisionist analysis of many classic works in black studies, he also argues that some of the most "enlightened" books ultimately confirm the basest stereotypes.
We see the men at Slim's table living with pride and principle, respect for age and wisdom, and devotion to civility. They are a model, not only for other blacks, but for middle-class white manhood as well. They act and speak candidly in an impassioned book that has the power to change the way we talk to and think about one another, across the racial divide.
Describes the working-class Black men who frequent a Chicago cafeteria and what they reveal about being both African American and a man
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