An eye-opening, damning indictment of the American prison system and the way its sins reverberate around the globe.

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A JOURNEY TO JUSTICE IN PRISONS AROUND THE WORLD

A writer and social activist chronicles her visits to prisons around the globe to gain insight into what works and doesn’t work.

This anthropological examination by Dreisinger (English/John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, CUNY; Near Black: White to Black Passing in American Culture, 2008) wears its agenda proudly, which is not a bad thing given the level of intellectual insight and emotional struggle the author brings to her argument. Though she founded the Prison-to-College Pipeline program in 2011 to help prisoners transition successfully back into society, she still had questions. “I decided I needed a shock to the system, to unseat basic truths, to ask myself what I used to get asked all the time, before my world became overwhelmingly filled with people who shared my passions and premises,” she writes. “Why care so passionately about the so-called wrongdoers of the world?” To that end, Dreisinger traversed the globe to speak with genocide survivors in Rwanda, reggae enthusiasts behind bars in Uganda and Jamaica, and imprisoned mothers in Thailand. In Brazil, the author met men broken by the savagery of solitary confinement. “Anything not to be in a cell,” one prisoner said. “I will do anything to escape being so alone. All those hours. I believe in love—in love as redemption. There is no love here.” Yet while she made a concerted effort to connect on a personal level, her ultimate goal was to understand the big picture. In Australia, she struggled, for example, with whether privatization of incarceration for profit can be humane. Dreisinger’s refusal to offer sweeping generalizations or simple directives in the name of restorative justice is bold and as confrontational as her sessions with her students. “I’m not trying to be cryptic; the reality is that there is no pat answer to the big questions around race and crime,” she writes. “Humanity is complex and contradictory; any system addressing it must be equally so.”

An eye-opening, damning indictment of the American prison system and the way its sins reverberate around the globe.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-727-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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