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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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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