A broad, often wildly funny examination of ``blackness'' in America, by the author of What Black People Should Do Now (1993). The quotation marks are Wiley's, and he uses them to raise questions about what the words ``black'' and ``white'' mean in America. In this regard, he approvingly cites the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, who observes that ``United States Negro culture . . . includes all Americans.'' Wiley's larger interest, however, is in those who would exclude African-Americans from American culture. Warming to this task, he has a fine time poking indignant fun at the authors of The Bell Curve in an essay provocatively called ``Why Black People Are So Stupid,'' and sending up Saul Bellow, to whose question ``Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?'' Wiley responds, ``Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus—unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership.'' Wiley's aim is sometimes scattershot; he fails to hit the mark in a too-cute, surreal reverie on the O.J. Simpson trial. He more than makes up for any lapses, however, with a long, sinuous, and altogether elegant essay called ``One Day, When I Was on Exhibit,'' which effortlessly glides from professional basketball to the woes of former NAACP president Benjamin Chavis to the question of self-governance for Washington, D.C., and scores big points at every turn. Equally pointed is Wiley's spirited defense of Mark Twain against those critics who deem him a racist; as he tells his young son, ``If you know a little math, can understand Mark Twain's writings and, most difficult of all, can avoid being a victim of ever-ominous Circumstance, you have a fighting chance; if you show some `heart' . . . then you pretty much have living in America licked.'' Humor is a formidable weapon, and Wiley puts it to outstanding use in this sharp-edged book. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 27, 1996

ISBN: 0-345-40055-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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?


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?