A sweet Southern sampling of a new generation of talented writers.

A MEASURE OF BELONGING

TWENTY-ONE WRITERS OF COLOR ON THE NEW AMERICAN SOUTH

A collection of writers of color wrestling with the struggles and joys of living in a region rife with tension and possibility.

Edited by Barnes, a Charleston, South Carolina–based author who was raised in the Philippines, the book promises to document the American South “as big as it actually is,” refusing to engage with biased and flattened descriptions of the South that seek to portray a cultural homogeneity. The contributors, some emerging and some established, take on variations of the theme that readers may pull from Devi Laskar’s “Duos”: “I’m supposed to write about being a Southerner while simultaneously being a person of color. I’m somehow supposed to negotiate, on the page, how I have managed to be both at the same time for all of these years.” Fortunately, the roads taken by these authors are anything but rehearsed. In the wake of his critically acclaimed memoir, Heavy, Kiese Laymon digs into the complexity of race and class tension in Oxford, Mississippi, where he is a professor at the university. Soniah Kamal delivers a heartbreaking elegy for the loss of a child in Georgia. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Joy Priest remaps her childhood through male-dominated Southern rap anthems toward feminine self-possession and mental mobility. Natalia Sylvester walks us through a lifelong history of doctor visits due to dysplasia of the hip. “My case turned out to be different,” she writes, “in the way that all bodies are different, in the way that science can often explain how but not why.” Not all the contributors are from the South; however, as the title suggests, they all lay claim to the ways they have come to feel “a measure of belonging” there. Across the collection, the writers push against the limits of what we think we know about the South.

A sweet Southern sampling of a new generation of talented writers.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-938235-71-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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