A sui generis and essential work on Black music culture destined to launch future investigations.

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LINER NOTES FOR THE REVOLUTION

THE INTELLECTUAL LIFE OF BLACK FEMINIST SOUND

A spirited study of how Black women musicians and writers have informed each other despite gatekeepers’ neglect and dismissals.

Brooks, a professor of African American Studies at Yale, ranges from early blues icons like Bessie Smith, who created “jams that revel in the complexities—the affective ambiguities—of a Black woman’s inner lifeworld,” through contemporary phenoms like Janelle Monáe and Beyoncé. But it’s not all about the musicians. Women writers on Black music—Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, blues and jazz historian Rosetta Reitz—are crucial to Brooks, but this book is not strictly about music writing, either. By synthesizing both groups, the author develops an engrossing and provocative secret history of Black artists developing their own modes of history and celebration, exploring “the myriad ways that Black women have labored in and through sonic culture.” Hurston, an anthropologist before she was a celebrated novelist, made the case for blues music as central to American life; Hansberry’s defense of her own work and Black culture in general established a model for future writers; blues duo Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas opened up questions of Black (and perhaps queer) defiance of expectations to this day and how history is often warped by self-declared White keepers of blues history. The supporters for Brooks' thesis aren’t exclusively Black; she writes rhapsodically about music critics Ellen Willis, Greil Marcus, and Reitz, who reissued the work of Black blueswomen. However, the author emphasizes a culture in which “Black women are rarely in control of their own archives, rarely seen as skilled critics or archivists, all too rarely beheld as makers of rare sounds deemed deserving of excavation and long study.” Brooks writes with a scholar’s comprehensiveness, only occasionally overly fussy and digressive; her record-geek’s enthusiasm is explicit, and her book is a powerful corrective.

A sui generis and essential work on Black music culture destined to launch future investigations.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-674-05281-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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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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