A trenchant assessment of our nation’s ills.

DISPATCHES FROM THE RACE WAR

A White social justice advocate clearly shows how racism is America's core crisis.

Educator and activist Wise collects more than 50 of his hard-hitting essays from 2008 to the present, most previously published online, that address racism, inequality, and injustice. “In a nation founded on the dichotomous values of liberty and enslavement, freedom and white supremacy,” he writes, “hypocrisy was baked in from the beginning. And white folks have been trying to smooth over the contradiction ever since.” Asserting, with ample evidence, that “post-raciality is a fantasy,” Wise comments on a host of events that bear witness to pervasive racism, including reactions to Barack Obama’s election, Henry Louis Gates’ arrest after being mistaken as a burglar, the rise of the militant tea party, the killing of Black men by police, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. “The biases that ended George Floyd’s life were explicit,” Wise writes. “Even more, they were part of an institutional and systemic process, whereby unequal treatment of black and brown bodies and communities is normative.” Trump, not surprisingly, comes in for vigorous criticism as a racist and narcissist. “It hurts,” Wise writes, “to see a nation elevate someone to the presidency so lacking in knowledge, so incurious about the world, so marinated in the politics of revenge, and hostile to a large part of humanity.” Debunking White denial, amnesia, and rationalizations, the author aims to “shore up the knowledge base of progressives who already have a commitment to racial justice and equity but perhaps find themselves less confident than they should be about the positions they hold” and, he hopes, “to inoculate uncommitted persons” against right-wing, uninformed arguments. He wishes schools would teach MESH subjects—Media Literacy, Ethics, Sociology, and History—“because if these are not given equal attention, we could end up being a nation filled with incredibly bright and technically proficient people who lack all capacity for democratic citizenship.”

A trenchant assessment of our nation’s ills.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-87286-809-0

Page Count: 300

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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