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RACISM BY PROXY

A well-written, engrossing examination of racial bias and proposed policy reforms.

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A prolific author reflects on racism in America in this collection of essays.

Acclaimed essayist and storyteller Townsend has previously written extensively about his own experiences as a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as a gay, White Southerner. But it was only in the past few years that he truly came to the “painfully slow realizations” about his own implicit racial biases. With this book, he hopes to provide White readers with a clear perspective as they grapple with painful truths about racism in America. The collection’s nearly 50 essays, many of which originally appeared in publications like LA Progressive, average no more than five pages and are ideally read as “daily reflections” rather than in a single sitting. The volume is organized into four sections. The first part, which is the most compelling, draws on Townsend’s experiences with “racism by proxy,” whereby White people deflect their own complicity in racist systems. This includes the author himself, who found that “protesting at a Black Lives Matter rally revealed more of my biases.” Essays in this section also include arguments against conservative objections to “critical race theory,” White privilege, and “revisionist” histories of America’s Founding Fathers. Subsequent sections address concrete policy solutions to racial inequity, reforms that religious institutions should implement to address their own sordid histories, and a sweeping vision for social justice that includes the homeless, sex workers, and the LGBTQ+ community, among others. Written in a conversational style that often uses stories and personal anecdotes to reveal larger truths, this immensely approachable book skillfully serves its intended audience of White readers grappling with complex questions regarding race, history, and identity. The author’s frequent references to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be too niche for readers unfamiliar with its idiosyncrasies, but Townsend generally strikes a perfect balance of humor, introspection, and reasoned arguments that will engage even skeptical readers. Perhaps more attention could have been paid to highlighting the scholarship and research of Black authors beyond appendix materials for “additional resources.” Still, overall, this is an effective primer on the persistent legacies of racism in America.

A well-written, engrossing examination of racial bias and proposed policy reforms.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64719-694-3

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Booklocker.com

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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