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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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