Provides welcome perspective on an explosive topic.



A well-considered, nuanced look at “post-racist” America.

Since the 1960s, writes Ford (Law/Stanford; Racial Culture, 2004), racism has become socially and legally unacceptable, reflecting a major change in our values. Today’s racism is far more complex and ambiguous, a matter of interpretation and a card that can be played to one’s advantage. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas accused his critics of bigotry; Michael Jackson blamed prejudice for his declining album sales; Oprah Winfrey suggested skin color was a factor in her being turned away by a chic Paris store; O.J. Simpson’s lawyers alleged his framing by racist cops. Since such accusations are plausible in America, Ford avers, questionable claims are often made. His reasoned text delves behind the headlines to examine these and lesser-known accusations of bias. He finds an instance of “racism without racists” in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, where government ineptitude combined with the legacy of pre-civil-rights-era housing segregation to victimize African-Americans. Elsewhere, he sees accusations of “racism by analogy” when people charge discrimination over their size or appearance, as if to invoke the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination strictly on the basis of “race, color, sex, national origin, or religion.” Noting that there has never been a “weight riot,” he explains, “Weightism or lookism aren’t problems of social order or of social injustice.” The real danger in unmerited charges of racism, Ford concludes, is that they draw attention to trivial slights and distract from the pressing need to address larger social injustices. He writes with authority, fairness and even humor as he examines profiling, affirmative action and other issues, reminding us that we have come a long way on race but still have a great distance to go.

Provides welcome perspective on an explosive topic.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-24575-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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