At its best, despite an occasional lack of analysis, this affecting study of self-definition perceptively reminds us that...

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER

A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE

An honest, often poetic memoir about growing up biracial.

Obama was the son of a Kenyan student at the University of Hawaii and a white woman, the daughter of transplanted Kansans. Their marriage broke up after Barack Obama Sr. left Hawaii in 1963 to pursue a Ph.D. at Harvard; he died in a car accident in Kenya in 1982, when his son was 21. The author met his father only once, when he was ten years old, and this encounter with a stranger did not resolve his emotional confusion about his identity. "I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know what that meant,'' writes Obama. He turned to books by Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes and to neighborhood basketball courts, where he bonded with older black men. Obama records his interior struggle with precision and clarity as he confronts racism (a high school basketball coach calls a group of black men "niggers'') while maintaining love for his white relatives. He turns to drugs and alcohol to dull his confusion, but finally realizes that his identity as a black man in America must be a path he creates for himself. Subsequently, while a student at Columbia University, he learns of his father's death just after they have made plans for him to visit Kenya. The unresolved nature of their relationship gnaws at him even after he moves to Chicago, where he practices civil rights law. A pilgrimage to Kenya to meet siblings from his father's two other marriages finally enables him to put his demons to rest.

At its best, despite an occasional lack of analysis, this affecting study of self-definition perceptively reminds us that the dilemmas of race generally express themselves in terms of individual human struggles.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8129-2343-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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