Black, beautiful, and bound to spark necessary conversations.



A collection of essays and photographs that examine what it means to be Black.

“Is Blackness a matter of biology or consciousness? Who determines who is Black and who is not—the state, the society, or the individual? Who is Black, who is not, and who cares?” These are questions sparked by the “one-drop rule” that says any amount of “Black blood” renders a person Black. Blay opens with a primer on the history of the one-drop rule in the U.S., the laws that codified it, and the rulings that later deemed it unconstitutional. Through nearly 60 crafted first-person essays paired with striking portraiture of the essayists, the collection explores how historical definitions of race continue to influence our present-day view of racial identity. The author interviewed 70 people ages 21 to 103, representing 25 countries, with most living in the U.S. The contributors self-identify in various ways, but all consider themselves part of the racial and cultural group called “Black people,” and all have had their Blackness questioned because of their physical appearance. Grouped into three categories—Mixed Black, American Black, and Diaspora Black—the essays are heartfelt and provocative, a “testament to the power of Blackness, not the inferiority of Blackness.” Danielle Ayer (“Black and Mennonite”) writes of her childhood: “Race was never, and I mean never, discussed growing up.” Koko Zauditu-Selassie, who is “lighter than Halle Berry,” identifies as African. Jay Smooth prefers “Mixed” to “Biracial,” and Guyanese American Anita Persaud Holland recalls an in-law asking her husband about her: “She’s not a regular old [N-word] is she?” Blay, who identifies as a “Black/American-born Ghanaian/African” scholar, puts her views of Blackness under the microscope with a candid, reflective essay of her own. There’s also an essay by the book’s director of photography, Noelle Théard, who is Haitian.

Black, beautiful, and bound to spark necessary conversations.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8070-7336-0

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

Did you like this book?