It’s your empire, so get used to it. A thoughtful survey of things as they are, and an optimistic vision of things as they...

BEING AMERICA

LIBERTY, COMMERCE, AND VIOLENCE IN AN AMERICAN WORLD

No one ever said running the world would be easy. Wunderkind pundit Purdy (For Common Things, 1999) offers a pensive argument for the US empire: a humane one, but an empire all the same.

“We Americans live in an American world,” he writes, “more than the citizens of imperial Rome inhabited a Roman world or nineteenth-century Englishmen a British one.” Call it globalism, call it Pax Coca-Cola: whatever the case, Purdy observes, America provides to the world an image of attainable wealth and personal freedom, and the world loves and hates us for it. There is no guarantee that this image will continue to endure, nor that reality will back it up; the cost of maintaining it is not only eternal vigilance, but also an unceasing commitment on the part of all Americans to the idea of liberal democracy, a commitment that involves shedding our usual hypocrisy, arrogance, and opportunism for the better angels of our nature. All of this involves a high level of airy abstraction, and Purdy proves himself an accomplished dreamer and master of the hortatory subjunctive. But it’s no armchair argument; the author has traveled the globe, witnessing the profound misery of India and pessimism of the Arab world, and emerged with the conviction that America can do much to make the world a better place by advancing the ideals of “democracy, free markets, human rights, and peaceful behavior toward other countries.” Of course, he acknowledges, that will also involve picking better allies, inasmuch as the likes of Jonas Savimbi, Reza Shah Pahlavi, and Augusto Pinochet have not done much to further such values. Purdy’s outlook is nonideological and realistic, despite the occasional lapse into rosy rhetoric such as that characterizing liberty’s best friends as those “who can remember without ceasing to hope or to laugh.”

It’s your empire, so get used to it. A thoughtful survey of things as they are, and an optimistic vision of things as they could be.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41307-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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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

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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