A pamphlet more than a sustained analysis—but progressives can always use a good cheerleader.

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HOPE IN THE DARK

UNTOLD HISTORIES, WILD POSSIBILITIES

Writer/activist Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking, 2000, etc.) argues that things are not as bad as they seem for the Left.

“Born the summer the Berlin Wall went up,” the author reminds us that in 1961 the Cold War seemed never-ending, civil rights for African-Americans a long way off, equal pay for women laughable, and laws to protect the environment a fantasy. “We are not who we were not very long ago,” she asserts; the Left has won more victories than it remembers, and new ways of organizing and thinking can build on them. It's true, Solnit acknowledges, that the massive peace marches in the spring of 2003 failed to stop the Bush administration from invading Iraq, but the movement's democratic, essentially leaderless, Internet-based organizing drew on strengths that were formed during the 1994 Zapatista uprising of indigenous peoples in Mexico (on the day that NAFTA went into effect), demonstrations against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and the conflict at the September 2003 WTO talks in Cancún, which collapsed when representatives of the globe's impoverished nations walked out rather than make further concessions to free trade. This kind of activism rejects the late-’60s New Left's apocalyptic extremism: either you change the world or you've failed. Change also comes in increments, Solnit avers: “This is earth. It will never be heaven.” Writing with her customary elegance, the author embodies the most attractive features of undogmatic turn-of-the-millennium progressivism. She's short on concrete solutions, and when she approvingly quotes her brother's contention that “the notion of capturing positions of power . . . misses the point that the aim of revolution is to fundamentally change the relations of power,” battered survivors of the government repression that decimated both the Old and New Left may find her naïve. Then again, who thought Nelson Mandela would ever leave Robbins Island?

A pamphlet more than a sustained analysis—but progressives can always use a good cheerleader.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-56025-577-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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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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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

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