A tour de force argument against entrenched attitudes regarding prison reform.

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N*GGA THEORY

RACE, LANGUAGE, UNEQUAL JUSTICE, AND THE LAW

An acclaimed law professor’s case against the systems and mindsets that undergird mass incarceration of Black men.

As the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, Armour is one of the era’s most distinguished legal scholars. His book Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America (1998) is a seminal text in critical race theory that anticipated many conversations that are now central to the Black Lives Matter movement. In this book, he lays out his own branch of legal and social theory that challenges not only mass incarceration, but also legal and moral arguments promoted by many self-described “progressives.” He’s particularly critical of the “New Jim Crow narrative” deployed by Black and White reformers that emphasizes unjust sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders. An emphasis on criminal justice reform toward nonviolent criminals appeals to the sensibilities of White liberals and the Black middle class, Armour notes, but ignores the majority of Black criminals imprisoned for violent offenses. The author keeps “attention trained on serious, violent, and guilty wrongdoers,” who he says are demonized by conservatives, by many progressives, and by members of the Black middle class who cling to the “politics of respectability.” By calling his argument “Nigga Theory,” Armour says that he seeks to harness “the ironic uses of the N-word to assert solidarity with Black criminals whom the word seeks to vilify.” The book’s call for “compassion for all wrongdoers” and for resistance to “reveling in the retributive urge” extends beyond violent Black criminals to other convicted people for whom many on the left have sought “draconian” punishments. Armour’s scholarly bona fides are on full display in the book’s ample footnotes, citations of case law, and sophisticated analysis of legal concepts such as mens rea. Yet this is not an esoteric tome written for academics; the author writes in a poetic rhythm that effortlessly blends complex legal theories with rap lyrics and his own personal biography. One is just as likely to encounter Jay-Z or Ice Cube in Armour’s pages as they are to find Karl Marx or W.E.B. Du Bois.

A tour de force argument against entrenched attitudes regarding prison reform.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-940660-68-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Los Angeles Review of Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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