Leon E. Wynter, journalist, dies at 57

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 6:44 PM

Leon E. Wynter, a journalist and cultural critic who had written for The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal before turning to a career as a freelance writer and speaker, died Jan. 18 of brain cancer at Montgomery Hospice's Casey House in Rockville. He was 57.

Mr. Wynter covered education and changing demographics in Prince George's County for The Post from 1980 until 1984, when he joined the Journal's Washington bureau.

After covering banking and technology policy for several years, he created a column called "Business & Race," which he wrote for a decade, until 1999.

Mr. Wynter wrote essays and reviews for a number of publications, and his commentaries on race and popular culture had been broadcast on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

His first book, "American Skin: Big Business, Pop Culture and the End of White America," was published in 2002 and argued that the United States was becoming an increasingly integrated society.

That shift, Mr. Wynter wrote, was driven by the "browning of mainstream commercial culture." He detailed how, since the late 1970s, an increasing number of black figures - including the singer Michael Jackson and sports stars Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan - had gained wide appeal among Americans of all races. "The Cosby Show" depicted black family life, and movies such as "Lethal Weapon" were built around trans-racial friendships.

Marketers seeking to be perceived as all-American, Mr. Wynter wrote, were "compelled to depict a racially diverse image."

"The mainstream," he wrote, "heretofore synonymous with what is considered average for whites, is now equally defined by the preferences, presence and perspectives of people of color."

Book critic Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times praised "American Skin" for its "provocative illustrations of the melting pot at work today," but criticized the book for a thesis that overlooked the country's problems with racism.

Mr. Wynter became involved in politics, serving as adviser to Democrat Eliot Spitzer during Spitzer's successful run for New York governor in 2006.

Mr. Wynter collaborated with Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) on the Harlem congressman's well-received 2007 memoir, "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since."

While working with Rangel, Mr. Wynter became director of communication for Harlem Community Development Corp., a position he held until he moved to the Washington area to undergo treatment for his illness.

Leon Earl Wynter was born Aug. 30, 1953, in the Bronx, N.Y. He graduated from Yale University in 1974 and received a master's degree in business administration from New York University in 1979.

He was a commercial banker before turning to journalism.

His marriages to Karen Brown, Yvonne Parnell and Marie-Florence Jose ended in divorce.

Survivors include his daughter from the second marriage, Grace Alexandra Wynter of New Rochelle, N.Y.; his mother, Sylvia Wynter of Palm Coast, Fla.; and a brother.

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