An analysis of racism that not only explains it, but could contribute to its diminishment.

It's Not Always Racist...but Sometimes It Is


A scholarly reconsideration of racism.

Given that racism is such a persistent and ubiquitous issue in the U.S., any treatment of it could be considered timely, but this book is especially so since it compels the reader to fundamentally rethink the terms of the contentious debate. In her first book, Poulton, a career academic and teacher with a background studying diversity, argues that the accusation of racism is too easily dispensed. In fact, what most might consider racism is really an instance of racial bias or an unexamined prejudice thoughtlessly applied. So what is racism then? Poulton, who is black, defines it as a trinity of prejudice, power, and intent. In layman’s terms, racism is the intentional denigration of another race as inferior by a person in a position of some authority. According to the author, the conflation of racism with racial bias has stymied a more candid dialogue about race relations in the U.S, reducing opportunities for constructive discussion to a flurry of ad hominem attacks. And racial bias infects everyone to some degree; we all have our own unexamined presumptions. The author helpfully explains the often muddled concept of race itself and argues that a proper understanding of it requites it be placed in the context of class and gender as well. Overall, it’s a commendably sober contribution to a typically hotblooded issue. Combining rigorous empirical research with anecdotal observation, Poulton generally avoids needlessly hypertechnical language. The book also has a practical component: she provides readers with concrete methods for detecting and appraising one’s bias, essentially a blueprint for searching self-reflection. She applies her definition of racism to a myriad of popular topics. Were Paula Deen’s comments racist? How about Tyler, the Creator’s infamous Mountain Dew commercials? Her ultimate goal is to improve and moderate the quality of racial dialogue. “Bottom line: if someone disagrees with you or asks you to reconsider your beliefs, it should not be taken as a personal attack. We need to get to a place where our identities are not threatened whenever our ideologies are called into question.” This important book shows readers what such a lively but civil dialogue could look like.

An analysis of racism that not only explains it, but could contribute to its diminishment.

Pub Date: April 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1480805903

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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