An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

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STAKES IS HIGH

LIFE AFTER THE AMERICAN DREAM

A young Black man surveys the landscape and finds America a poisonous, broken place—but perhaps not irretrievably so.

Toward the end of his second book, Smith asks an arresting question: “Is the potential for the American Dream worth enduring the brutality of American life?” Anyone who has followed the headlines recently knows that life for African Americans is fraught with peril, the American dream ever more distant. This dangerous moment in history, writes the author, is “not an aberration…it is the course this country has always been on.” Exponents of “Afro-pessimism,” such as Frank Wilderson III, have expressed considerable—and well-placed—doubt as to whether things can ever get better, though Smith sees a flicker of hope and closes with guarded optimism: “Imagining where we want to go teaches us how to get there. No one ever said it would be simple, only that it is possible.” Meanwhile, there are the present realities to consider, some of them embodied in the person of Donald Trump, whom Smith considers absolutely the wrong person to be in office, if one who represents a logical point on a continuum of racism and reaction. The right New Yorker for the job, he writes, was Shirley Chisholm, who is coming in for fresh appreciation half a century after her run for office. Even so, “Chisholm was never going to be elected president. Donald Trump was inevitable.” Yet she was a serious candidate, just as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is serious—though, Smith counsels, what is more important is that the many people out there who are of like mind be encouraged to bring democratic socialism into office. The author is sharply self-aware (“Sometimes, reader, I write ‘you’ when I’m too afraid to admit my own failures”), and he would seem to expect his reader to approach his fine-honed argument with the same seriousness. Doing so is well worth the effort.

An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56858-873-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

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

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

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

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