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

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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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