A well-intentioned but prosaic book.

WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED

REBUILDING HOME IN THE WAKE OF KATRINA

Tales of community activists who salvaged their neighborhoods from natural disaster and governmental neglect in New Orleans.

After participating in a Harvard fellowship to volunteer with and research the stories of Hurricane Katrina victims, Wooten (co-author: No One Had a Tongue to Speak: The Untold Story of One of History’s Deadliest Floods, 2011) moved to New Orleans to more fully immerse himself in the community’s rebuilding efforts. Focusing on five distinct neighborhoods, he allows residents and organizers to convey their dismay at government failure, their pride in their communities, and their resilience in tackling unwieldy projects, from gutting damaged homes to applying for charter school status. Many of these neighborhoods were marked for “redevelopment” by the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, an ill-conceived mayoral project that essentially recommended that neighborhoods like the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward be bulldozed and turned into parks. Facing these kinds of odds, the scrappy New Orleanians who refused to kowtow to city officials and outside consultants command the utmost respect. They also provide excellent examples of how communities facing similar threats (blight, poverty, environmental problems and crime) can work together to improve living conditions, whether or not natural disasters loom on the horizon. Readers won’t fault Wooten for his sincerity in gathering these stories, and many of his subjects possess strong voices—e.g., octogenarian Phil Harris, who pragmatically speaks of saving his wife and son from the floodwaters, and Father Vien The Nguyen, who narrates the history of New Orleans’ significant Vietnamese population. However, potentially compelling tales often get lost in endless re-creations of committee meetings, charter school board applications and fundraising rallies. The author’s tone is a problem as well. Wooten vacillates between addressing a general audience interested in the social ramifications of Katrina and presenting an overview of urban planning better suited to a civics textbook.

A well-intentioned but prosaic book.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8070-4463-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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