A valuable contribution to the history of the early republic and to the scholarly literature of civil rights.

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SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS

CONTESTING EQUAL RIGHTS FROM THE REVOLUTION TO THE CIVIL WAR

In actual practice, it has been far from self-evident in America that all men—all people—are created equal.

It should come as no surprise to historically minded readers that civil rights have not been a given in the United States: first there was the matter of slavery, then the lack of suffrage for women, and then a legacy of oppression of minorities of various descriptions. Some of this ongoing struggle, suggests Brown (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Connecticut; The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America, 1650-1870, 1996, etc.), can be charted to the various constitutions and statutes at play in a complex negotiation of states’ rights and also to the fact that throughout history, “the ways Americans thought and acted regarding race and rights could be ambiguous and fluid.” The Enlightenment ideal of natural equality, of those self-evident truths and inalienable rights, did not always meet well with ground-tested reality in a land of propertied insiders and disenfranchised outsiders: Native Americans, enslaved and free blacks, women. As Brown charts it, some of the first stirrings of the idea of equality played out on the field of religion, as British anti-Catholicism gave way to religious freedom. “Revolutionary leaders,” writes the author, “recognized that if they grasped religious privilege too tightly they might doom their cause.” Even if this tolerance had an expedient function—those leaders hoped to win over French Catholic Canada to their cause—it opened the door to decades of contested ideologies concerning race and what was bound up in it, from ideas of the “aristocracy of color” to arguments over property rights, including human property. Brown’s narrative is densely researched but lucidly written, and it contains many revealing asides that by themselves would be oddments—the note, for instance, that in the revolutionary era, infanticide was “the sole crime for which more white women suffered death than women of color.”

A valuable contribution to the history of the early republic and to the scholarly literature of civil rights.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-300-19711-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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