First-timer Hale’s impressive examination of the Jim Crow South—an erudite intellectual survey of the sweeping social, historical, and economic trends that shaped white racial identity in opposition to blackness—is obscured by deadly academic jargon. The central myth Hale debunks is that whiteness is an organic, rather than manufactured, racial identity—that it is, somehow, the American norm. She identifies several large cultural forces that influenced white racial identity. The replacement of local merchandise with a national mass market, for example, gave rise to advertising (much of it created in the North) that manipulated southerners’ nostalgic remembrance of loyal, subservient slaves by using African-American icons like Aunt Jemima to sell goods to a nationwide audience—presumed to be entirely white. Advances in printing technology made it easier to distribute demeaning images of African-Americans, reinforcing negative stereotypes. Just as black racial identity was largely defined in relation to whiteness after Reconstruction, Hale asserts, whiteness was defined by blackness. Analyzing how whites of different economic and educational backgrounds shared a unified sense of supremacy, she fleshes out Ralph Ellison’s famous declaration: “Southern whites cannot walk, talk, sing, conceive of laws or justice, think of sex, love, the family or freedom without responding to the presence of Negroes.” But in place of Ellison’s simple eloquence, Hale raises an impenetrable thicket of theoretical jargon (terms like —transhistorical,— —isomorphic,— and —dialectics— rain like candy from a Mardi Gras float). She glosses the Civil War’s outcome thus: “Union victory delegitimated that nascent nationalist collectivity, the Confederacy.” Furthermore, her contention that “this corresponding depth of racial obsession occurred only with passing” for African-Americans spectacularly understates the totality with which whites controlled black life during Jim Crow’s dark reign. One senses in Hale’s (American History/Univ. Of Virginia) cogent, encyclopedic scholarship the debut of an important new intellectual voice—all the more reason to regret the cloaking of provocative thinking in the fusty duds of academic prose. (8 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-44263-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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