Though replete with engaging vignettes, Erzen’s work is too narrowly focused and unrevealing.

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GOD IN CAPTIVITY

THE RISE OF FAITH-BASED PRISON MINISTRIES IN THE AGE OF MASS INCARCERATION

Erzen (Religion and Gender Studies/Univ. of Puget Sound; Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It, 2012, etc.) examines the rise of ministries in some of America’s largest prison systems, critiquing their motives and effectiveness.

The author’s research is based mainly on such prisons as Texas’ Darrington Unit and the Louisiana State Penitentiary, along with a smattering of other prisons in other states. Erzen focuses especially on Protestant Christian ministries, which evangelize prisoners with the goal of transforming them into ministers within the prison system itself. Though admitting at times that these ministries provide a certain level of meaning and self-esteem for prisoners serving lengthy sentences, on the whole, it seems the author sees these ministries as self-serving ways of controlling a bloated prison population. Ultimately, she argues, they continue a race-based view of retribution, punishment, and proper “place” in society, which goes back to antebellum days. Erzen also notes that faith-based prison ministries fail to rise above a simple focus on the prisoner at the expense of a larger view of the prison problem: “In focusing on individual conversion, many faith-based prison ministries neglect the broader issues of how people came to prison and end up fortifying the prison’s rationale of control, surveillance, governance, and vengeance.” Unfortunately, the author focuses too heavily on a handful of large prisons in the South, problematically assuming that these cases mirror a national trend. Readers are wondering what faith-based prison ministries in Maine or Minnesota or Montana must be like, as opposed to those in Texas and Louisiana. Erzen also laments the predominance of Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations in prison ministries, while traditions as diverse as Islam and Wicca are underrepresented, yet she goes on to admit this trend is due to a lack of volunteers from other faith traditions.

Though replete with engaging vignettes, Erzen’s work is too narrowly focused and unrevealing.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-8998-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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