Re-conceives the dialogue about race in America, which is too often reduced to glib generalities due to a false sense of...



“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” observes former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Daniels in this modern take on the ills of inequality.

He frames his argument around the candidacy of Barack Obama, the biracial Democrat whose unlikely success in the quest for the presidency has resurrected a long-dormant discussion about race in America. Daniels places special emphasis on a paradox of relatively recent development: Unprecedented achievement by high-profile blacks like Obama has overshadowed the poverty in which the majority of African-Americans still struggle. The author doesn’t cover much new territory, but his updates of oft-discussed troubles are particularly relevant in this historic election year. Among the issues he revisits and reconsiders: affirmative action, black identity and a failure of the traditional sources of African-American leadership. He bombards the reader with statistics and data seemingly without end but weaves them skillfully into the text with a literary aplomb. His exploration of the Republican Party’s failure to integrate black politicians or woo an African-American constituency is particularly engaging. Conspicuously missing from this otherwise balanced text, however, is an equally substantial investigation of the Democrats’ flaws. Daniels’s frank discussion of the failure of black civil society shines brightest. The editor for ten years of the National Urban League’s flagship publications, he takes both his former employer and the NAACP to task for failing to provide a cohesive national platform. Their ineffectiveness stems, he argues, from diversifying and delegating too many responsibilities to smaller organizations and a reluctance to embrace the new tool of social organizing—the Internet. Daniels also weaves into his theme such recent notes as the Jena Six, the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action policies and Obama’s degree of blackness.

Re-conceives the dialogue about race in America, which is too often reduced to glib generalities due to a false sense of propriety and desire for harmony at any price.

Pub Date: June 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58648-495-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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