A nuanced argument of interest to those who worry that nuanced arguments are no longer possible in quad or classroom.



A rousing call for speech on college campuses that is truly free, addressing uncomfortable issues while allowing room for dissent.

The habit of thinking clearly about big-picture issues of politics, philosophy, ethics, identity, and other realms, the very stuff of liberal discourse, is “virtually impossible for a great many people in academic life.” So writes Salmagundi editor Boyers (English/Skidmore Coll.; The Fate of Ideas: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals, 2015, etc.) in this bracing—and, at turns, eminently arguable—defense of norms of free inquiry against aggrieved identity politics. He’s pretty woke, a student told him, for “an old white guy like you.” Old white guys have feelings, too—and histories that embrace centuries of struggle and survival that don’t often figure in the modern narrative. Boyers begins by examining the modern notion of privilege, recalling what would probably have been an actionable case today of one of his own professors who advised him to lose his Brooklyn accent lest he not be taken seriously. Privilege, as in white privilege, is a real thing, at least of a kind, he allows: That professor would be hauled up today for classism and put through sensitivity training, but the very idea of white privilege is now a “formula resistant to meaningful conversations, which fuels insupportable assumptions and resentments.” Boyers cites cases: a student who cannot believe that Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer, can speak with any authority of the lives of black South Africans; the novelist Viet Tranh Nguyen, whose article on the supposed hostility of writers’ workshops to people of color rouses Boyers’ vigorous objections. Coming from a clearly liberal point of view, Boyers nonetheless courts controversy—and is bound to get it—with some of his tenets, such as the thought that identity politics as such evinces “a fear of the uncertainties and hard choices that come with modernity and the need to think.”

A nuanced argument of interest to those who worry that nuanced arguments are no longer possible in quad or classroom.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982127-18-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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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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