A formidable polemic: You may reject the conclusion, but you cannot dismiss the argument.




Black America is being undermined by a depraved popular culture, avers Williams (Eyes on the Prize, 1987, etc.), while its leaders pursue anachronistic, self-serving causes.

At a 2004 gala to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Bill Cosby gave a blistering speech that deplored the black establishment’s indifference to the cultural pathologies crippling poor neighborhoods. Cosby was criticized for his remarks, but his thesis is defended here by NPR senior correspondent and Fox News commentator Williams. While taking care not to dismiss the reality of racism in American society, the author echoes Cosby in rejecting racism as an explanation for high levels of out-of-wedlock births, neighborhoods paralyzed by crime and deficiencies in education. The last particularly incenses the author: Brown was about getting access to a decent education, but a substantial number of poor African-Americans, he says, disdain to use that access. Williams assigns part of the blame to nihilism fostered by a thuggish, misogynist music industry. That industry would not be so successful, however, if the black establishment had not abdicated its responsibility to foster healthy cultural norms. Instead, noted African-American leaders occupy their time with projects that are not easily distinguishable from protection rackets (Williams condemns demands for slavery reparations) or in seeking further subsidies for the black middle class. Some African-American politicians, he concludes, rely on a pool of reliably poor people in whose name they can extract endless public funds for programs that they and their cohorts can administer. Williams has particularly harsh words for the maladministration and patronage politics of mayors Sharpe James of Newark and Marion Barry of Washington, D.C. There is also a hair-raising case study of the effort by such notables as Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters to squelch criticism of poor care at the largely African-American–staffed King/Drew Hospital in Los Angeles. In the author’s view, part of the solution would be simply to hold major black institutions to ordinary levels of managerial probity. The greater need is for a culture that promotes the discipline and enterprise that characterized black society at the time of the Brown decision.

A formidable polemic: You may reject the conclusion, but you cannot dismiss the argument.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-307-33823-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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 clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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