An impressive work of argumentation, well timed for the election year, that will cause plenty of head-shaking indeed.




The Bush administration has taken rightist ideology into the realm of the antisocial, borderline illicit, and even illegal in the service of its tiny constituency.

So suggests Tiefer (Law/Univ. of Baltimore), former solicitor of the US House of Representatives, who admonishes a hundred-odd pages into his study: “The guiding rule in understanding politics is always to ask: who benefits? And then: who serves them? And, what do they get in return?” In the matter of Bush’s huge tax cut early in his administration, Tiefer adds, “a Sherlock Holmes is not needed”: the beneficiaries were America’s wealthy, totaling some 1 to 1.5 percent of the population, while the rest of the nation suffered the resultant “economic misery of 2002–2004.” The giveaway was just one of the efforts the administration has made to undo the New Deal, to cut away the social safety net that even Ronald Reagan realized the vast majority of Americans endorsed, and to serve only the very wealthy. The administration has been doing so, writes Tiefer, by making the federal judiciary into an instrument of right-wing activism, so that the court could “assist the unified government in cleansing the statute books of legislation left over from the prior system.” Added to this court-packing activism, Tiefer argues, is Attorney General John Ashcroft’s campaign against constitutionally guaranteed civil rights—to say nothing of his reversal from his confirmation hearing promise that he would not do anything to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ashcroft, Tiefer thunders, “would not let the FBI investigate terrorist suspects’ gun buys—the NRA wouldn’t like that—but sent out the FBI fifty times to demand public-library patron information,” as clear an indication of priorities as there could be. And those are but a few of the charges on Tiefer’s overstuffed docket. “Subversions of the law . . . may just involve straining it and manipulating it in a way that causes voters, if fully informed, to shake their heads,” writes Tiefer.

An impressive work of argumentation, well timed for the election year, that will cause plenty of head-shaking indeed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-520-24286-6

Page Count: 442

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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.


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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