A must-read for anyone interested in the history of affirmative action and its associated legal conundrums.

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THE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PUZZLE

A LIVING HISTORY FROM RECONSTRUCTION TO TODAY

Can equality be legislated? So asks this thoroughgoing examination of legal efforts to rectify racial injustice through affirmative action.

Many discussions of affirmative action have been derailed through simple confusion of terms, writes Urofsky (Emeritus, History/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue, 2015). There’s “soft” affirmative action, which encourages equality by way of what amounts to goodwill, and then “hard” affirmative action, which imposes equality by way of quotas and makes it a zero-sum game. In the instance of hard affirmative action, he writes, consider what might happen if Jews were limited entrance by quota into certain professions even as, because of educational success, they lead in several areas of law, medicine, and the like. It’s for that reason that when, in 1970, the federal Equal Economic Opportunity Commission began pushing for hard, quota-based reforms, “every single national Jewish organization protested.” Urofsky’s comprehensive survey examines early efforts at affirmative action, a phrase that appears for the first time in the 1935 Wagner Act but some of whose outlines were in place in the Reconstruction era and during World War I, when women workers replaced men in factories. Urofsky notes that while the literature has emphasized the African American experience, affirmative action has extended to include other groups and has occasioned enough controversy in most instances to lend credence to Justice Harry Blackmun’s observation that “in order to get past race and gender, we have to take race and gender into account.” The author doesn’t stake an advocacy position, for the most part, except to note that in the strictest terms, hard/quota affirmative action is a violation of Title VII and “of the constitutional order, namely, that rights are individual.” He also observes that in recent quota decisions affecting, for instance, the admission of Asian Americans into elite universities, limiting their number has had the unintended consequence of benefiting white males who otherwise might not have made the cut.

A must-read for anyone interested in the history of affirmative action and its associated legal conundrums.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-10-187087-7

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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