WHY THE COCKS FIGHT

DOMINICANS, HAITIANS, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR HISPANIOLA

Wucker’s first book is a richly textured social history of Hispaniola. Wucker, a freelance writer specializing in Caribbean affairs, unveils the seemingly chaotic yet ritualistic world of the Dominicans and Haitians. Her approach is historical but not chronological, moving back and forth from the time of Columbus to the 20th century and through the intervening years to emphasize recurring themes rather than a linear story. In the process, we move from one strongman and atrocity to another, e.g., conquering Spaniards complain about the noisiness of natives when they are punished by being roasted alive; Trujillo massacres at least 15,000 Haitians residing within the Dominican Republic in 1937; and the Duvaliers arrogantly loot their own country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Prejudices between Dominicans and Haitians, extreme differences in wealth, and a history of heavy-handed foreign intervention make Hispaniola a powder keg, yet the definitive explosion never occurs. For Wucker the explanation lies more in space than time; two nations share one island in a perpetual turf war paralleling the popular pastime of its residents, the cockfight. She argues that the cockfight is a symbol “of both division and community,” a combat which occurs within strict rules accepted by all as social norms. We are simultaneously horrified and fascinated because it presents an ugliness within ourselves, the natural aggression that emerges when one’s territory is threatened. For humans the contested space is more complex than the closed ring of the cocks—“it can be physical, economic, emotional, or cultural”—and the island’s geographic limits intensify the struggle. While the metaphor is suggestive, however, the cockfight is designed to pit equal combatants against each other, and among humans equality is in short supply on Hispaniola. Perhaps this explains why the victorious cock brings glory to his owner, yet the victors in the human competition have hardly been inspiring. A powerful cultural analysis. (b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8090-3719-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more