A bold, incisive book on heavy topics with a call to action for a more equitable future that doesn’t center White men.

MEDIOCRE

THE DANGEROUS LEGACY OF WHITE MALE AMERICA

The author of So You Want To Talk About Race takes a close look at the perils and constraints of White male identity.

In the U.S., a country built on slavery and exploitation, millions of Americans insist that our political, economic, legal, and educational systems are meritocracies when they clearly aren’t. While everyone else has to excel in order to get by, writes Oluo, we reward mediocre White men’s bad behavior: “We have, as a society, somehow convinced ourselves that we should be led by incompetent assholes.” White male mediocrity sustains “a violent, sexist, racist status quo” and robs others of greatness and keeps them powerless and poor. When average White men fail to reap what they believe is their natural birthright, they turn their rage not on elite White men but rather on the women and people of color they blame for their loss of opportunity. Not surprisingly, White men are currently the “biggest domestic terror threats in this country.” As the author clearly shows, “today’s titans of white male mediocrity” are part of a long line of “arrogant, entitled, irresponsible, willfully ignorant bullies” in powerful positions. Understanding this history, Oluo believes, is a prerequisite for survival and for enacting the systemic change that is required to alter the situation. She traces mediocre White men across centuries to the present, including the bloody U.S. westward expansion and cowboy mythology that fueled Native American genocide; male feminists; the two-facedness of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and the often vicious Bernie Bros; the war on higher education; racism in the NFL; and mediocre White men in the workplace. A gifted storyteller and thorough researcher, Oluo analyzes these histories, many of them lesser known, with solid scholarship and useful pop-culture references.

A bold, incisive book on heavy topics with a call to action for a more equitable future that doesn’t center White men.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-58005-951-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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