A knotty but worthy attempt to stoke new conversations about a genre sometimes dismissed as moribund.



An outline for an alternative history of soul music that emphasizes the intersection of blackness, struggle, and femininity.

As Vanderbilt English professor Lordi argues in this academic but spirited book, too much recent writing about soul music treats the genre as if it were trapped in amber. Though the music had a relatively brief moment of prominence on the charts in the late 1960s and early ’70s, it speaks to enduring elements of black experience that were often suppressed. To that end, the author’s guiding lights aren’t James Brown or Stax and Motown legends; rather, she spotlights the likes of Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Minnie Riperton, less-appreciated artists for whom “stylization of survival is conditioned by pain, often led by women, and driven by imagination, innovation, and craft.” Lordi shows how this attitude manifests through the artists’ song choices (often reinterpretations of pop hits by white artists), live ad-libs and false endings, and falsetto singing, which explores “how vulnerable it is permissible to be—how sexy, how extravagant, how cool and effervescent.” The author’s use of jargon is sometimes overly thick, especially when she tussles with the “post-soul” theorists who downplay the music’s themes of femininity and struggle. However, Lordi’s distinct takes on the genre are refreshing, built on close listening to artists like Riperton and Donny Hathaway and explorations of albums that reside outside the soul canon. (Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul and Aretha Frankin’s live gospel album Amazing Grace draw special attention.) The author’s argument for soul’s continuing relevance would be stronger with more contemporary examples, but she concludes with some brief but thought-provoking commentaries on artists like Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe. They are, she writes, representative of what she calls “Afropresentism,” a mindset that is beholden neither to the past nor Afrofuturist fantasias but instead speaks to black struggles in the moment.

A knotty but worthy attempt to stoke new conversations about a genre sometimes dismissed as moribund.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4780-0959-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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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