A DREAM DEFERRED

THE SECOND BETRAYAL OF BLACK FREEDOM IN AMERICA

A black conservative confidently explains the motivations of white liberals. Steele, author of The Content of Our Character (1990), which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, sets the tone for the book by defining a black conservative as one who “dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate when it is offered as a totalism.” In other words, he identifies himself in relation to a potentially serious argument after all subtlety is removed and what remains is a rigid orthodoxy to be promoted or attacked. Not surprisingly, Steele attacks—but why expend energy demolishing this straw man unless you are intent on writing a polemic? The answer, of course, is that this is a polemic, and there is no room for subtlety between the covers of this volume. Somehow Steele has convinced himself that criticizing a flawed mainstream position automatically guarantees the truth of his own beliefs. Apparently, this specious logic excuses proceeding in a manner he would not tolerate in his opponents: while criticizing the work of a liberal social scientist because “rough inference and unexamined correlations” replace “rigorous science,” Steele offers only inference and anecdote to support his own pronouncements. It also seems to bestow an unusual ability to see into the minds and hearts of those with whom he disagrees and to explain their deepest emotions. As a result, Steele explains that racial politics since the advent of affirmative action have been a function of white guilt and that shame has produced policies that reinforce white dominance and encourage black feelings of inferiority. There is undoubtedly an element of truth here, but serious discussion of it will be foreclosed by Steele’s overreaching claim to have uncovered the sole motivating factor of liberal race policies. A contribution to that genre of political writing that appeals to those seeking arguments to buttress previously held policy preferences without promoting serious thought or improved public policy. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-016823-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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