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Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers  
First edition cover
Author Tom Wolfe
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) New Journalism
Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication date 1970
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 153
ISBN 0553144448
OCLC Number 219920390

Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers was a 1970 book by Tom Wolfe. The book, Wolfe's fourth, is composed of two articles by Wolfe, "These Radical Chic Evenings," first published in June of 1970 in New York magazine, about a gathering Leonard Bernstein held for the Black Panther Party and "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers," about the response of many minorities to San Francisco's poverty programs. Both essays looked at the conflict between black rage and white guilt.[1]


"These Radical Chic Evenings"

The first piece is set in the composer Leonard Bernstein's duplex on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Bernstein assembled many of his wealthy socialite friends to meet with representatives of the controversial Black Panthers and discuss ways to help their cause.[2] The party was a typical affair for Bernstein, a longtime Democrat, who was known for hosting civil rights leaders at such parties.[3]

The Bernsteins could not be seen with their usual black butler and maid, so they hired white South Americans to serve the party.[4] Bernstein's elite friends and guests (including Oscar-nominated director Otto Preminger and television reporter Barbara Walters) are labeled the "radical chic," as Wolfe characterizes them as pursuing radical ends for social reasons, partially because organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had become too mainstream.[1] Wolfe's criticism is implicitly of the general phenomena of white guilt and armchair agitation becoming facets of high fashion.[5]

When Time magazine later interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein's party, the official said of Wolfe: "You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?"[1]

"Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers"

The second part of Wolfe's book is set at the Office of Economic Opportunity in San Francisco which was in charge of administering many of the anti-poverty programs of the time. Wolfe wrote that the officials in the office did not know what they were doing, and would hand out money readily to whoever approached. He wrote about the resentment the program fostered among the young black, Chicano, Filipino, Chinese, Indian, and Samoan communities in San Francisco.[2]

Members of these communities developed techniques to get money from the system. Wolfe dubbed this behavior "Mau-mauing" (see Mau Mau Uprising). He described one mau-mauer who would show up at the offices and hand over ice-picks, switch-blades and straight-razors that he said were taken from gangs, in exchange for payments from the program. As a result, much of the money of these programs was not reaching its intended recipients, rendering the programs largely ineffective.[1]

Cultural impact

The phrase "radical chic" has entered into the political and cultural lexicon to describe the adoption of radical or quasi-radical causes by members of the wealthy high-society and celebrity class.[3] Both essays were later reprinted in Wolfe's collection The Purple Decades, indicating that he considered them among his best work.[6][5]

The "Radical Chic" essay was seen as exploring the complexity of race relations, much like the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which examined the superficiality of race relations when social-segregation was still the norm. With "Radical Chic" interracial harmony was only achieved through complete white submission.


  1. ^ a b c d Timothy Foote (1970-12-21). "Fish in the Brandy Snifter". Time Magazine.,9171,904627,00.html?.  
  2. ^ a b "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers". Retrieved 2007-07-22.  
  3. ^ a b Donal Henahan (1990-10-15). "Leonard Bernstein, 72, Music's Monarch, Dies". The New York Times.  
  4. ^ Lasch-Quinn, Elisabeth (1999). "How to Behave Sensitively: Prescriptions for Interracial Conduct from the 1960s to the 1990s". Journal of Social History 33 (2): 409. doi:10.1353/jsh.1999.0064.  
  5. ^ a b "Cry Wolfe; The Purple Decades by Tom Wolfe.". Financial Times. 1983-04-09.  
  6. ^ Jonathan Yardley (1982-11-07). "Tom Wolfe and His Dissecting Pen". The Washington Post.  

External links



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