The Struggle by Lincoln Gordon is a non-fiction work on the conformist attitude many people have about race and religion – especially in the African American community, of which author Lincoln Gordon is a part. He laments the ideas he found growing up about how one should behave as a person of color. A man who has lived his life by the beat of his own drum, Gordon’s The Struggle can be seen as something of a philosophical manifesto about identity in a multicultural society, as Gordon implores us to live by the rule that we’re all part of one human family, and we’re more alike than we are different.
The best moments in The Struggle are when Gordon talks about the racial and religious dynamics in his upbringing. The common thread with both is conformity: he was constantly implored to be “black enough” in his interests and speech, and be devoutly, unquestioningly religious. On both fronts, he had doubts all his life, intensely frowned upon — in a sense increasing his desire to question even further exactly why he was not permitted to be an individual. Most of us in the black community who have searched for our own path will recognize many of the themes here.
The weakness in the book is that while it is long on his ideas about Church and culture, but short on details. The book would have been sharper with more detail on the things he criticizes. What was church like – the sights and smells and sounds? What specific doctrine did he find most contradictory? What specific performers or songs are most egregious?
Without these details, Gordon mainly speaks in generalities, and repeats himself throughout. So while the core message about questioning preconceptions is an important one, it is one man’s opinion rather than a true soul-search of its subject, and thereby less persuasive than it could be.
Most people of color in the USA will have experienced feelings discussed here, and for them, it is affirming. Gordon’s calm, pleasant narrative voice doesn’t rail cynically or aggressively against religion – he’s troubled by his upbringing and trying to make sense of it all. He’s sympathetic to those who grew up around him, but he’s most empathetic to those who dare to go off the beaten path.
Oddly, the cover of the ebook is subtitled “A Short Story,” when this is by no means a work of fiction, and it’s actually novella-length. This speaks to the unfortunate lack of professionalism in places, as there are a fair number of grammatical errors throughout, most often in the punctuation in dialogue. To me also, the man shown on the cover should be black, not white, as this kind of negates the book’s premise.
At its core, Gordon’s anti-conformity message is a good one to take to heart – whatever culture you were brought up in. For non-African American readers, a lot of what he says about black culture and the emphasis on being “black enough” will be thought-provoking. For African American readers, they will find a kindred spirit, someone who brings new questions to the table that they may never have asked. Either way, this provocation is important no matter what your faith, race, or worldview, and could be an opener towards a more diverse and rich understanding for all.
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