A scholarly but resonant analysis of ``the cultural meanings of the welfare system,'' probing the mistaken assumptions behind fundamental policies forged during the 1930s. Beginning in 1890, writes Gordon (History/Univ. of Wisconsin), single mothers were portrayed as a symptom and cause of social decay; unlike today, however, the situation was seen as a temporary misfortune that usually befell white immigrants, often widows. Middle-class women's groups helped to create ``mother's aid'' for the deserving poor; the author calls this policy (a forerunner of the current Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, program) ``maternalist,'' rooted in the subordination of women in domestic roles. But there were other points of view: Black women activists, notes Gordon (Woman's Body, Woman's Right, 1976), had less distance from those they wished to aid; they emphasized universal education and health programs rather than charity. The thinkers behind Social Security, all white and nearly all male, focused their lens on money and jobs for men, even though they knew it was a fallacy to consider men the sole supporters and protectors of women. During the New Deal, social movements ``valorized'' the elderly and unemployed, ignoring single mothers; the women's movement was quiet, and the lack of African-American political power meant that blacks' views on welfare were ignored. Gordon argues that the Social Security Act of 1935 created generous programs for the elderly and unemployed that operated under a single, federal standard; she cites a range of factors, including accommodations for southern employers and bureaucratic infighting, leading to the stratified, state-administered Aid to Dependent Children (later AFDC). Gordon doesn't enter the current policy debate, but she does note trenchantly that in order to fight inequality we must make such entitlements as corporate tax breaks and home mortgage deductions as ``visible as welfare.'' The arguments get complicated, but this is challenging history—and a goad to clarify modern-day rhetoric.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 1994

ISBN: 0-02-912485-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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