Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apertheid
published by South End Press
In 1995, a South African journalist informed Frank Wilderson, one of only two Black American members of the African National Congress (ANC), that President Nelson Mandela considered him “a threat to national security.” Wilderson was asked to comment. Incognegro is that “comment.” It is also his response to a question posed five years later by a student in a California university classroom: “How come you came back?”
Although Wilderson recollects his turbulent life in South Africa during the furious last gasps of apartheid, Incognegro is a quintessentially American story. Wilderson taught at Johannesburg and Soweto universities by day. By night, he helped the ANC coordinate clandestine propaganda, launch psychological warfare, and more. In this mesmerizing memoir, Wilderson’s lyrical prose flows from childhood episodes in the white Minneapolis enclave “integrated” by his family to a rebellious adolescence at the student barricades in Berkeley and under tutelage of the Black Panther Party; from unspeakable dilemmas in the red dust and ruin of South Africa to political battles raging quietly on US campuses and in his intimate life. Readers will find themselves suddenly overtaken by the subtle but resolute force of Wilderson’s biting wit, rare vulnerability, and insistence on bearing witness to history no matter the cost.
A literary tour de force sure to spark fierce debate in both America and South Africa, Incognegro retells a story most Americans assume we already know, with a sometimes awful, but ultimately essential clarity about global politics and our own lives.
Frank B. Wilderson, III is the award-winning author of Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (Duke University Press, forthcoming) and the director of Reparations . . . Now (in progress). (CityLightsBooks)