A smart, witty account of America’s failure to communicate.

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AN EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND

HEARING ONE ANOTHER (AND OURSELVES) IN A NATION CRACKED IN HALF

A veteran writer delivers a plea for renewed communication in American public and private life in this collection of essays.

As the son of parents who were both “writers by trade” in the advertising industry, Murray was raised with a deep appreciation for the power of words. Today, he heads the Professional Speechwriters Association and serves as editor and publisher of the venerable monthly magazine Vital Speeches of the Day. In this book, he offers readers over 50 essays loosely centered on the thesis that America lacks meaningful avenues of authentic communication. Indeed, despite the nation’s ideological and cultural divides, the author maintains that most Americans actually “share vastly more common experiences and values than we know.” The work’s title comes from the famous remarks delivered by Robert F. Kennedy shortly after news broke of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, as the United States presidential candidate urged Americans to follow the slain leader’s example of making “an effort to understand” one another across racial and political divides. Though Murray, with a trademark candor, notes that in retrospect the speech “sounds so bland….So preachy. So white,” its message is “just as urgent” today. With a firm command of U.S. politics and history and a matching wit, the author’s short essays present keen insights on figures ranging from President Donald Trump to former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Despite his call to “understanding,” Murray is equally emphatic in rejecting a feigned civility that glosses over real differences, noting that some of the nation’s most acclaimed communicators, from H.L. Mencken to Hunter S. Thompson, were renowned for their acerbic critiques of fellow Americans. Though politics is Murray’s bailiwick, it is his later reflections on the importance of communication in one’s personal life that stand out. Essays on the value and intersection of effective communication with marriage, grief, and technology provide a poignancy that transcends politics, though they sometimes make for a thematically disjointed read. Some readers may also balk at the book’s suggestion that the term privileged is a counterproductive “fighting word” that fails to win converts while the essay itself neglects to supply a meaningful alternative.

A smart, witty account of America’s failure to communicate.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63331-048-3

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Disruption Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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