Calm analysis only highlights the urgency of Roy’s warning that fundamental problems in American culture need to be...

NO RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

THE TRAGEDY AT VIRGINIA TECH

A Virginia Tech faculty member somberly narrates her fruitless attempts to secure counseling for Seung-Hui Cho and examines the implications of his subsequent rampage.

Poet-novelist Roy (The Hotel Alleluia, 2001, etc.) first met Cho in a poetry class in the spring of 2004. A year and a half later, his bizarre writing samples, harangues against other students and harassment of co-eds so alarmed poet Nikki Giovanni that she requested his removal from her class. Roy, at that time the chair of the school’s English Department, met Cho for independent study through the rest of the semester. Written in the present tense and filled with a poet’s mastery of tactile details, her description of these sessions is riveting, balancing sympathy for an anguished soul with horror over his presence. Wearing reflective sunglasses and a baseball cap as if for camouflage, waiting an agonizingly long time to speak, Cho drained energy from the room. Despite her e-mails alerting several Virginia Tech departments to his fragile mental state, and Cho’s attempts to contact the school’s counseling service, the student fell through the cracks. Roy was bewildered by the reaction of Virginia Tech’s administration to the massacre on April 16, 2007, which killed 32 and wounded 26. Overly strict adherence to student privacy laws, she stresses, hindered its response to both the threat posed by Cho and to the commission formed by the governor to investigate the crime. The author also carefully weighs the larger ramifications of the killings. Sorting through recommendations made after the calamity, Roy finds some helpful—for example, the suggestion that threat-assessment teams should be allowed to call high schools to trace troubled students’ histories—and others wanting. Gun prohibitions would not work, she argues, because weapons are ubiquitous. Federal and state budget cuts, the author warns, may further limit the attention school administrations can devote to student well-being.

Calm analysis only highlights the urgency of Roy’s warning that fundamental problems in American culture need to be addressed lest similar tragedies recur.

Pub Date: March 24, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-40963-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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