Two surveys reveal that among high-achieving African-Americans, there is a new feeling of hope and optimism about race relations in the United States.

Newsweek columnist and contributing editor Cose (Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, 2004, etc.) conducted surveys of nearly 200 members of Harvard Business School’s African-American alumni association and more than 300 alumni of A Better Chance, an organization that sends underprivileged but talented teenagers to selected secondary schools to prepare them for college. Questionnaires and interviews with members of these elite groups show that they are upbeat about their potential to compete in a white world. Their answers are quoted at considerable length, as are those of other prominent blacks whom Cose interviewed about their experiences and their views. The author cites three factors as sources for the optimism he found: generational evolution, a transformation of American values leading to a widely shared ideal of racial equality and the election of Barack Obama. To categorize generational differences, Cose labels the civil-rights generation Gen 1 Fighters (blacks) and Hostiles (whites), and succeeding generations Gen 2 Dreamers (blacks) and Neutrals (whites), Gen 3 Believers (blacks) and Allies (whites) and Gen 4 Reapers (blacks) and Friends (whites). His interviews highlight their different attitudes. Today, he contends that as white racism has become unacceptable, black rage has become inappropriate. However, while the future seems bright to some, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and the number of blacks in the underclass is huge. Furthermore, while anger may be mellowing in black America, a segment of white America is up in arms about political and social changes that it sees as threatening a fondly remembered way of life. As for the spirit of hope and optimism among successful blacks, he writes, “at some point, absent real change, reality is likely to force a reassessment.” Heavily laced with anecdotes and lengthy quotes from other African-Americans, this report reads more like an accumulation of a journalist’s notes than a careful analysis of race relations in present-day America.


Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-199855-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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