Emotionally raw essays focus on racism, sexism, and manhood.
In a collection of previously published essays, journalist, activist, blogger, and podcast host Powell (The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood, 2016, etc.) writes with urgency and outrage about his identity as a black American. “To be Black in America is to live a sort of death every single day of your life,” he writes. “It makes for a stressful, paranoid, and schizophrenic existence: Am I an American, or am I not?” The author grew up in the slums of Jersey City, raised by a single mother who struggled to support them on meager wages and government assistance. When he was 8, his father, whom he had seen only a few times, refused to help financially, claiming that Kevin was not his son. Powell was besieged by images of men engaged in “toxic behavior,” with no role models to help him understand “that manhood is not, in fact, power, privilege, sex, rock and roll, hip-hop, violence, ego gone wild, material things, money, any of that. That manhood should be about love, peace, non-violence, [and] respecting women as our equals.” The theme of manhood recurs in many essays—about Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, O.J. Simpson, Harvey Weinstein, and Barack Obama, among others—in which Powell regrets the legacy of “patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, violence,” and hatred that characterized his relationships with women before therapy, education, and spirituality helped him to figure out “how to be a man who is not a human lethal weapon, to self, to others.” Toxic manhood and endemic racism have blighted him, causing “internal wars around self-esteem, staggering bouts with sadness, with depression,” and a feeling of “tremendous emptiness.” Internalized racism “becomes Black self-hatred, Black abuse” and also generates a “Black elite, the Black gatekeepers,” quick to pass judgment on poor blacks. Although racism continues unabated, Powell admits that he has “limitless hope” that efforts of America’s young people will change the world.
Passion and anger fuel a biting critique.