Friday, February 16, 2007

Brownsville, Brooklyn by Wendell Pritchett

I had never heard of Brownsville prior to reading this book. It is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, probably most famous for producing people such as, Danny Kaye, Aaron Copeland, and Mike Tyson. Now I know what you're thinking, Hey Danny Kaye is a talented guy; I like the music in those beef commercials; and I find most everything Mike Tyson does amusing. However, while the author Wendell Pritchett mentions these famous Brownsville natives, it is only in passing. The book is essentially a community study, beginning with the creation of Brownsville in the late 19th century, and taking the reader up to the present (well 2002 anyway).

Pritchett's intention is to show that a myriad of factors caused the community to decline throughout the 20th century. He spends much of the book describing different social and political institutions, both inside and outside of Brownsville, that affected the community. Pritchett introduces group after group, and before long each page become awash with acronyms that are almost impossible to keep straight. There are large sections of the book in which Pritchett focuses on a specific group that no doubt was important to the community, but not as integral as he makes them seem.

After 270 pages describing the failure, or at best the inability of community groups and institutions, Pritchett chalks most of Brownsville's problems up to racial discrimination. While I think he is essentially correct, this conclusion does not fit the rest of the book. Pritchett describes all types of problems plaguing Brownsville throughout the 20th century, and then in his conclusion racism appears like a deus ex machina.

Brownsville was (and is) a unique community. One would be hard pressed to make comparisons between it and other communities; and for this reason it warrants some attention. But unless you really want to learn about Brownsville, Brooklyn, do not read this book. Much of it can only be described as tedious.

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