Given the powerful evidence they present, it seems a small price to pay for centuries of wrong—though “an admission that the...

ALIENABLE RIGHTS

THE EXCLUSION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN A WHITE MAN’S LAND, 1619-2000

Can whites and blacks ever coexist peaceably in America? The answer, to judge by this depressing essay, seems to be no.

Martin Luther King Jr. suspected that the issue of equality was insoluble largely because whites were “deeply racist” and were unwilling to address their racism. Historians Adams and Sanders (The Private Death of Public Discourse, 1998) give no reason to think King wrong, arguing that “our history is largely the product of an elemental desire of America’s white citizenry to keep blacks at arm’s length and deny them entry to white society.” Though that “largely” is debatable, the authors catalogue the many manifestations of that desire: the long history of slavery; the relentless drive of early-19th-century leaders such as Thomas Jefferson to expand American territory precisely in order to spread slavery; the long indifference of the North to the slave trade; the determined efforts of state voting commissions to evade 15th Amendment guarantees; the nationwide imposition of Jim Crow laws; and the continuing de facto separation of the great mass of African-Americans into a permanent underclass. Though significant gains were made during the decades of civil- and voting-rights activism, the authors acknowledge, many advances were just as significantly undone with the rise of the “New Federalism” of Ronald Reagan and company, who saw to it that “the search for racial equality had nearly disappeared from the nation’s domestic policy agenda” by the early ’90s. Bill Clinton was heralded by black voters, but his eight years in office revealed a constant “inability to get things done” on their behalf, and the present administration seems unwilling to recognize that a problem exists, despite the disparities between African-Americans and nearly every other ethnic group in nearly every facet of social and economic life. In light of this legacy of ill treatment, the authors close by making a reasoned if somewhat cursory case for reparations.

Given the powerful evidence they present, it seems a small price to pay for centuries of wrong—though “an admission that the majority of white citizens seem unwilling to make.”

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-019975-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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