A weighty consideration of the cultural politics behind disturbing flash points like the death of Trayvon Martin.

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STAND YOUR GROUND

A HISTORY OF AMERICA'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH LETHAL SELF-DEFENSE

A legalistic polemic arguing that the “natural right” of self-defense has been perverted by American gun culture.

Light (Women, Gender, and Sexuality/Harvard Univ.; That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South, 2014) sees behind American exceptionalism an ugly tradition of violence, initially reserved for white male property owners. Today, she witnesses a troubling movement toward “individual DIY security as the solution to our nation’s most urgent anxieties, [which] criminalizes many who do not fit the terms of idealized citizenship.” She attributes this to “the spread of perceived insecurity, as well as a lack of faith in the protective powers of the government and local police.” This contradicts the common-law roots of self-defense principles, which historically held a duty to retreat. Light examines the case of Thomas Selfridge in 1806, which “provided legal foundation for the gradual decay of the duty to retreat.” Particularly after the bitter collapse of Reconstruction, marked by violence against black self-determination, “nineteenth century debates over self-defense implicitly centered on the urgent need to protect white masculine honor.” These privileges were not extended to women and black people who killed in self-defense, leading civil rights pioneers like Ida B. Wells to paradoxically embrace armed self-defense as “human nature.” This counternarrative manifested in the fascinating tale of African-American defense leagues in the rural South during the civil rights era, which “characterized ‘armed self-reliance’ as a necessity” in the face of threats against community leaders. Today, Light sees gun culture as selectively reminiscent of these historical complexities and devoted to a covert white male supremacy at the expense of others’ safety. The author is a keen legal analyst, deftly examining obscure cases that underlie this historical narrative, but her narrow fixation on identity politics leads her to disparage the broad consensus that “the good citizen is one who takes her own safety seriously.”

A weighty consideration of the cultural politics behind disturbing flash points like the death of Trayvon Martin.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-6466-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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