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The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America

By Paul M. Barrett

The Good Black.gifThe Good Blacktells the story of attorney Lawrence D. Mungin's racial discrimination suit against Katten Muchin & Zavis.

296 pages
Dutton (1999)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard

The implicit argument of this book is that if someone as determined to succeed (and, by extension, assimilate) as Lawrence D. Mungin winds up suing his former employer for racial discrimination and constructive discharge, then something is gravely wrong. With patience and clarity, Barrett realizes the difficult task of portraying the gradual slide of an ambitious attorney with hopes of making partner to an angry foe of the corporate status quo. After Mungin's lifetime of preparation, it takes a number of slights, disappointments, and unspoken messages to tip the balance from hope to disillusionment. Those on the career track are likely to sympathize with him.

The Good Black is an excellent example of the ways in which books are superior to film or television. Probing rather than superficial, complex rather than reductive, and unafraid of ambiguity, this book engrosses without wearying. The politics of race in America is complicated, and The Good Black is up to the task of presenting this complexity. In a time when much of the public discourse on race veers from homily to diatribe, this book captures many of the more subtle and prosaic impressions that are more often thought than spoken. At the end of the book, Barrett writes that it is a "tragedy" that ultimately Mungin became known merely as a black person who sued his law firm, "because if the establishment cannot find room for Mungin at the higher altitudes of professional accomplishment, the Colin Powells and Arthur Ashes of American society will remain the very rare exceptions."

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer.