An alternate history rife with violence and class oppression, presented with rigor and detail, though with a strident tone...

MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA

A HISTORY OF SCAPEGOATING, SURVEILLANCE, AND SECRECY IN MODERN AMERICA

Penetrating account of xenophobia and the officially sanctioned persecution of minorities and the politically undesirable.

Feldman (When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes, 2005, etc.) has his hackles up regarding the labyrinthine history of scapegoating and political repression in the Land of the Free, arguing that we tend to excuse or misunderstand this narrative, which actually tells the story of how the powerful keep the powerless in check. Beginning with the ugly lynching of a supposed German “spy” in an Illinois coal town, the author assembles a concrete narrative spanning the years from World War I through the Church Committee investigation of the 1970s, showing that governmental and private forces consistently ginned up “red scares” in response to social and labor unrest. Few remember, for instance, that Woodrow Wilson spoke of “the fine gold of untainted Americanism,” adding to anti-foreign suspicions before WWI. After the war, which saw the demise under pressure of the Socialist party, the expulsion of anarchists like Emma Goldman and attacks on the radical Wobblies, this patriotic fervor led to the first Red Scare and the Palmer raids, “a cynical and sordid manipulation of the American public by government and business leaders.” Improbably, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed to lead the growing Bureau of Investigation in 1924 as a supposed moderate, “a choice that would have devastating long-term consequences” for American civil liberties. Feldman argues that the federal government’s hostility to radicals and undesirable immigrants continued through WWII—most notoriously, via the internment of Japanese Americans. After the war, Joseph McCarthy witch hunts continued the hysteria—as one fired teacher recalled, “There were many wrecked lives.” Even as the country became more progressive, Hoover relentlessly pursued civil-rights and antiwar groups through the FBI’s notorious Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Feldman is an attentive historian, unearthing many disturbing, forgotten examples of official malfeasance. (He only addresses the post-9/11 era in an epilogue.)

An alternate history rife with violence and class oppression, presented with rigor and detail, though with a strident tone that renders it somewhat dry.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42534-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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