Haunting pieces that show how our window on the past is often a mirror.

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JACKSON, 1964

AND OTHER DISPATCHES FROM FIFTY YEARS OF REPORTING ON RACE IN AMERICA

A veteran reporter collects some significant pieces about race that originally appeared in the New Yorker, his publishing home since 1963.

The author of some 30 titles, Trillin (DogfightThe 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse, 2012, etc.) revisits the last half-century’s racial struggles in various regions of the country, and readers are likely to come away thinking, “so much has not really changed all that much.” The first essay, the titular piece, deals with the struggle for voting rights in Mississippi, and older readers will find themselves swept back into sanguinary events that will seem both historical and immediate. “No sophisticated study of public opinion is needed,” writes the author, “to establish the fact that in the United States, North and South, a white life is considered to be of more value than a Negro life.” Later on is a 2008 piece about the racial foundations of a 2006 shooting on Long Island. (Progress, we see, has been incremental and even barely visible in some cases.) Trillin investigates the racial aspects of Mardi Gras parades, racial turmoil at a Wisconsin university, the vast racial differences in criminal sentencing in Texas, housing disputes, racially discriminatory admissions to a Boston disco, a woman’s struggle to change the racial labeling on her birth certificate, and much, much more. Throughout, the author’s tone remains calm, analytical, and reasonable—though he invariably finds a detail or two, or comments by principals, that ascend to the level of symbol. He quotes, for example, a Texas district attorney about a case involving a man who sold a single marijuana cigarette and was sentenced to 30 years: “I don’t see that this is a very unusual verdict.” Trillin ends each piece with a brief update about the situation and the players involved.

Haunting pieces that show how our window on the past is often a mirror.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-58824-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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 clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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