I picked up Dalton Conley‘s Honky at a conference ages ago, with the intention of considering it as a class assignment in my Race-Ethnicity/Class/Gender course at UMass.  I never did get around to reading or assigning it until recently – I gave a chapter of it to my Principles of Sociology class.  I read the bits of the book that came before the assigned chapter in order to give them context, and then couldn’t stop reading it.

Honky is billed as a sociological memoir and it clearly is that, but it’s also a really interesting snapshot into a place and time (the projects of Avenue D during the late 70s and early 80s) and the story of how one kid who didn’t fit in really didn’t learn to make sense of the world.  Thanks to a semi-random series of events, the Conleys are the only white family living in these projects.  Dalton is the titular honky, and he learns first that his status as a white male lends him privileges despite being the numerical minority (he’s the only kid in his class who doesn’t get his knuckled thwacked with a ruler, no matter how much he misbehaves, because white kids are “spoiled”) and later that being privileged ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  He’s never comfortable with his place in the world, either at home in the projects or in the wider world of school; it’s a discomfort that you would expect to find in any good coming-of-age story, only in this case the tensions of race and class are foregrounded in a way that is especially interesting.

I will definitely be using the book as a teaching tool again, and I’d recommend it for anybody who’s interested in issues of race and class in America.


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