The fluid writing is enlivened by oral histories, chapter notes, and striking photos. Essential reading for all who want to...

BORN IN BONDAGE

GROWING UP ENSLAVED IN THE ANTEBELLUM SOUTH

A significant study of the hardships of raising children in antebellum slavery.

Schwartz (History/Univ. of Rhode Island) opens by surveying the previous scholarship in the field. Past studies rarely treated the issues of slave children and their psycho-social traumas—and the earliest studies even apologized for the relatively benevolent, if condescending, Southern plantation owners. Caribbean slaves had more arduous field work and were given less time off for childbearing and -raising, but Schwartz is less interested in physical conditions and pays little attention to statistical data (such as estimations of the age at which slave mothers and children were put into the fields). Her focus is inside the shacks, families, hearts, and minds of bonded parents and children. Most born slaves did have two parents, and Schwartz wants to know how much parents could counteract the prevailing slave culture. She sees that this challenge was formidable, as paternalistic owners ruled over parents in more insidious ways than the merely economic. At their very births, masters would hover at slaves’ bedsides like anxious, proud racehorse owners. The slaveholders’ meddling co-opted parental authority, denied their ability to provide necessities, and subdued their attempts to provide alternative cultural and social identities. Parents “hoped the arrival of children would encourage owners to recognize the authenticity of slaves’ personal relationships . . . [which] fostered the child’s loyalty to family and community.” So, despite the natural parental desire to foster independence in their children, they inhibited these feelings to dissuade owners from selling children and breaking up their families. Caught in a dilemma, most mothers opted for the survival of their families. Schwartz feels that slaveholders involved themselves in the lives of slave children, from cradle to marriage, largely to earn their loyalty and justify their horrific institution.

The fluid writing is enlivened by oral histories, chapter notes, and striking photos. Essential reading for all who want to understand the complex and long-lasting forces pulling at America’s antebellum slaves. (17 b&w photos)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-674-00162-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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