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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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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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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