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WHO’S BLACK AND WHY?

A HIDDEN CHAPTER FROM THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY INVENTION OF RACE

An important collection of documents on scientific racism.

Enlightenment science and systemic racism meet in this probing account of a scientific competition nearly three centuries past.

Harvard African studies scholar Gates and Wesleyan humanities professor Curran join forces to examine the proceedings of the Bordeaux Academy of Sciences in 1739, when the organization decided that its members should address a compelling question: “What is the cause of the Negro’s dark skin and hair texture?” The question had corollaries: What does being Black mean? Why are some people Black and others not? The French scholars may have professed scientific detachment, but as Gates and Curran note, the Bordeaux of the time was deeply implicated as a slave port, bringing Africans in bondage to the French Caribbean—and responsible, write the editors, for “approximately 13 percent of the 1.2 million enslaved Africans who arrived alive in the French colonies.” As Gates and Curran show, the members of the academy were not innocent: Many of them had financial interests in the slave trade and overseas colonies, and one of their pressing concerns was to figure out physiognomic reasons why shipboard captives died of disease in such large numbers. Some of the essays that arrived in response to the competition addressed these issues of mortality, while other theses were pseudoscientific by modern lights—e.g., “Based on Newtonian optics, blackness results from the absorption of light”; “Blackness arises from vapors emanating from the skin.” Particularly interesting is the “belief in human consanguinity.” The scholars recognized that Black Africans were human, at least, if by their account degenerate or inferior. Some of the essays here even approach modern science in connecting skin pigmentation to environmental conditions. Still, most of the French authors of yore were content with the notion that the original and best color of humankind was a “pleasant whiteness,” with their science put to the job of supporting supremacism and servitude.

An important collection of documents on scientific racism.

Pub Date: March 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-674-24426-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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