Well-chosen, enduringly relevant selections.

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WRITING POLITICS

AN ANTHOLOGY

Penetrating essays across three centuries consider freedom, power, and justice.

Bromwich, a Guggenheim fellow and professor of English at Yale, collects essays, from the early-18th to mid-20th centuries, addressing critical political issues not only of each writer’s time, but of our own. The essays, writes the editor, “show the changing face of oppression and violence, and the invention of new paths for improving justice. Arbitrary power is the enemy throughout.” Several selections are likely to be familiar: Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” and Gandhi’s “The Doctrine of the Sword.” Abraham Lincoln, though, is represented not by his Gettysburg Address but by a letter defending the Emancipation Proclamation; Ralph Waldo Emerson, by a moving protest against the Fugitive Slave Law; and George Eliot, by an argument against anti-Semitism. William James, a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, protests America’s aggression in the Philippines. Repeatedly, writers urge the need for independent thought against unexamined beliefs: As Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot wrote, many “wish others to think as they do, not only because they wish to diffuse doctrinal truth, but also and much more because they cannot bear to hear the words of a creed different from their own.” Likewise, W.E.B. Du Bois reminds us, “we have attempted to enthrone any chance majority and make it rule by divine right. We have kicked and cursed minorities as up-starts and usurpers when their sole offense lay in not having ideas or hair like ours.” In “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil,” William Morris cautions, “it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself—a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others.” Overall, the sophistication of language and argument throughout this anthology testifies to what public discourse used to sound like before it became dominated by Twitter rants.

Well-chosen, enduringly relevant selections.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-462-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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