A complex and nuanced academic book.




A sociologist examines how affluent white children think about race.

Hagerman (Sociology/Mississippi State Univ.) spent two years immersed with 30 privileged white Midwestern families to produce this timely ethnographic study. “Race shapes the lives of everyone in the United States,” writes the author, “whether people believe this to be true or not.” Her assertion is borne out in these interviews with 36 children (ages 10-13) and their parents, who “design” their kids’ social environments (neighborhoods, schools, etc.), shaping their interactions with and attitudes toward other races. She finds that these children “think about race and class inequality differently” depending on family experiences and daily interactions. Hagerman’s writing is scholarly and sometimes stodgy, but she provides revealing portraits: The Schultz parents think that “if ‘they’ could behave exactly like ‘us,’ we would welcome them”; Victoria and Ryan Chablis believe “current racial inequalities are the fault of people of color”; and the “well-meaning” Norbrooks, who keep their children in public school, “fail to acknowledge inequality and racism…[and] are unintentionally complicit in the reproduction of it.” Children, generally racially aware, often think for themselves: “Sometimes my mom is racist and tries to pretend like she isn’t,” says one 12-year-old girl. Yet while critical of racial inequality, the kids “believe they are better and more deserving than everyone else.” Hagerman is especially good on the “conundrum of privilege.” These families often want diversity but “choose to opt out of diverse spaces,” giving children the benefits of their wealth with all-white dance lessons and vacations. The ironies abound: “While some parents of black children are teaching their kids how to navigate racism to stay alive, some parents of white children are teaching their kids that race no longer matters in the United States.” The author concludes that white parents can fight racism “by rejecting the idea that their own child is more innocent and special and deserving,” but individual choices may not matter much “as long as structural inequality persists.”

A complex and nuanced academic book.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4798-0368-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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This exciting collective biography features ten important women in the historic struggle to win freedom and civil rights. Pinkney (Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, 1998, etc.) tells the well-known stories of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Other women such as Biddy Mason and Dorothy Irene Height are in the history books but are less familiar. They span the 18th and 19th centuries, from Sojourner Truth, born into slavery circa 1797, to Shirley Chisholm, born in 1924 and living today. Each story contains essential demographic and biographical information written in an accessible, informal style, which provides a vivid picture of the women’s lives, their personalities, backgrounds, and the actions that made them memorable. Many of the women also had to fight against prejudice toward women in addition to their causes. Some did not live to see the results of their struggle, but successful or not, all were courageous leaders who paved the way for a more democratic and inclusive America. The introduction gives the reader a glimpse into Pinkney’s own life and her rationale for the selection of biographies. A bibliography for further reading lists what are probably her research sources, but are not identified as such and quotations within the chapters are not footnoted in any way. Another quibble is a small mistake in the biography of Dorothy Irene Height as to the two degrees she received in four years. Both were in educational psychology, but Pinkney lists the bachelor’s as in social work. However, these flaws do not compromise the value of the book. Alcorn’s (Langston Hughes, not reviewed, etc.) paintings, oil on canvas, are as magnificent as his figures and add much to this handsome volume. Vibrant colors, rhythmic lines, and collage-like compositions are allegorical in design and convey the essence of each woman and her work. A truly inspiring collection for personal as well as institutional libraries. (Biography. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-201005-X

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.



The story of the Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp (1987), which underscores “the lingering racial and socioeconomic inequalities endemic to capital punishment in the United States.”

In 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia, Warren McCleskey, an African-American, was arrested for killing a white police officer during a furniture store robbery. After years of litigation, writes Maratea (The Politics of the Internet: Political Claims-making in Cyberspace and How It’s Affecting Modern Political Activism, 2014, etc.), his death penalty sentencing was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision that overlooked “compelling empirical data suggesting that Georgia’s death process was replete with systemic racial bias.” McCleskey was executed in 1991. In this thoughtful and disturbing account, the author traces the story of the case. He argues not that McCleskey was innocent but that he was sentenced to death under a system in which killers of white people were four times more likely as killers of blacks to be sentenced to death. The latter assertion, made by McCleskey’s lawyers, was based on a “detailed and peer-reviewed” study of 2,500 Georgia murder cases by University of Iowa law professor David C. Baldus. He concluded that all individuals convicted of murdering whites were far more likely to receive the death penalty. In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the defense failed to show evidence of deliberate bias by law officials and dismissed the data on disparities in sentencing as inevitable in the criminal justice system. Noting that the decision “affirmed institutionalized racial disparities” in the capital punishment system, Maratea examines the force of “old habits of mind and racial attitudes” going back to the Civil War era. He finds that “capital punishment has borne a close resemblance to lynching in Georgia, where more extralegal executions of black Americans occurred than in any other state.” As lynchings declined in the 20th-century South, “the infliction of the death penalty by the courts increased,” according to historian William S. McFeely.

Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4798-8860-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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