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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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