A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s...


Witness to Greatness


A self-described admirer of President Barack Obama makes the case for his greatness.

Whatever judgment one ultimately makes of Obama’s presidency, it is certainly one of historical significance, not the least because he’s the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office. Debut author Nwasokwa argues, as the book’s title suggests, that Obama can already be judged a great president on meritocratic grounds as well. Nwasokwa presents a detailed history of Obama’s rising political fortunes, beginning with his emergence into the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Shortly after, despite his own admittedly brief resume in Washington, D.C., Obama ran for the highest office in the land. The author gives a remarkably granular account of his subject’s implausible electoral success, surely an underdog against a powerfully entrenched establishment candidate, including a provocative discussion of the controversy involving Obama’s spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nwasokwa’s treatment then largely revolves around what he considers to be the major achievements of Obama’s tenure, focusing on his economic stimulus programs and the passage of health care reform legislation. The author liberally sprinkles in autobiographical asides in the book, sometimes discussing his own experiences as an African-American in the United States. These are some of the finest sections of this volume, and Nwasokwa thoughtfully considers the historical contradictions that beset the United States, a country of great opportunity and generosity but also persistent racism and social inequity. The prose often lacks discipline, providing pagelong paragraphs overloaded with information that too often tax the reader. But the principal failing of the study is that the author’s fawning adoration makes it impossible for him to capture the complexity of Obama’s often controversial presidency. Nwasokwa glosses over the criticisms of the president’s major policy achievements, even those forwarded from the political left. For example, despite nuanced debates even within Obama’s own party regarding his stewardship of the economy from the recession, the author concludes that all of the president’s reforms “succeeded beyond expectation.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to “savor and honor” Obama’s leadership, such adoration renders both objectivity and the appreciation of dissent impossible.

A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s presidency. 

Pub Date: March 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5144-5271-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2016

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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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