A pointed, relentless chronicle of a despicable part of past American foreign policy.




Scathing examination of American colonial policy in Puerto Rico, culminating in the violent, brief revolution of 1950 and its brutal suppression.

Filmmaker, former editorial director of El Diario and New York State Assemblyman Denis seethes at the injustices inflicted on the small island protectorate of Puerto Rico since it was seized from Spain during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and relegated to being a base for President Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” policy in the Caribbean. According to the prevalent racial policy of the time, Puerto Ricans were considered too ignorant and uncivilized for self-rule. Massive sugar cane–grinding mills run by American corporations would soon dot the tropical landscape, and the impoverished inhabitants were enlisted in the backbreaking labor of cutting and processing the cane for pennies a day. In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the island a territory, not a state, and thus the U.S. Constitution did not apply, denying the workers any fair labor policies enjoyed by U.S. citizens. A Nationalist Party was formed at the same time, closely followed and infiltrated by the FBI, according to documents the author secured. The Ponce massacre of March 1937—when the police opened fire on unarmed cadets marching through the town square, killing 19 and wounding over 200 people—galvanized unrest and rebellion. In telling this gruesome and little-recorded history, Denis concentrates on the personalities involved: the corrupt governor Luis Muñoz Marín; the Harvard-educated Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos; the documentarian of the Nationalist cause, Juan Emilio Viguié; and the humble barber Vidal Santiago Díaz, whose Salón Boricua became the fulcrum of dissent and political organization. The 1950 rebellion concluded horrifically in violent death or imprisonment at San Juan’s notorious La Princesa prison. Denis produces compelling evidence of U.S. government–sponsored radiation and other medical experiments inflicted on prisoners.

A pointed, relentless chronicle of a despicable part of past American foreign policy.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-56858-501-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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 clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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