A comfortable upbringing is dangerous. Challenge children with books.

“Note to Rev. Jesse Jackson: Sorry, Jesse. You got it wrong.”

Thus began the first chapter of the book I had just picked up in the aisle of the Sam’s Club at the impressionable age of 14 while shopping with my mother one summer. It was the summer of 2002. She raised her eyebrows at the title, “The O’Reilly Factor,” by former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, but said nothing at first.

“Racism gets all the ink,” he writes, “but the heart of America’s somewhat unfair social set-up is class, not race.”

My parents were tried-and-true Democrats, black kids in the late 1950s and 1960s who’d met in law school, and our middle-class home full of books for my two sisters and me. We lived in white neighborhoods in Spring and The Woodlands and, with the exception of our progressive Unitarian Universalist Church, we spent much of our time with white moderates and conservatives. As a teenager, I had become skeptical of affirmative action and other attempts to address the effects of institutional racism.

“This sounds fascinating,” I said after reading one of O’Reilly’s sentences aloud.

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