Half memoir, half impassioned cry for change, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir has a powerful half: the memoir. If anyone ever wondered how bad racism really is when it comes to law-making, policing, and the justice system (not to mention everyday life), the first author’s story is a sad eye opener. But the systematic, searing assignation to racism of each and every problem she and other African Americans encounter weakens her argument and may make many avoid the book entirely. It’s too bad because the personal story is so strong.
Tag Archives: racism
Dance of the Jakaranda tells the story of three men, two white British settlers and one Indian emigrant, who live in what will become Kenya and initially build the railroad that connect the hinterland to the port of Mombasa. Their personal lives are linked in direct and indirect ways, and will play out through their descendants in the story, which takes us through the early days of independence. The plot is intricate and often has unexpected twists, and the author’s description of the land is affectionate and occasionally lyrical. The history lesson is a bonus.
Show, don’t tell! This classic piece of writing advice shines in Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Trevor Noah does not sermonize about the evils of apartheid; he simply describes how his (black) mother had to smuggle him to see his own (white) father. He does not fulminate against domestic violence; he matter-of-factly recounts police officers’ shrugs when his mother reports abuse by his stepfather. He does not belly-ache about how poor people cannot rise out of their poverty; he chronicle how his friend’s gift of a CD burner put him on a path of financial independence.
He is funny, as we would expect, but deadly serious, and this book-length tribute to his indomitable mother is very touching.
Ever wondered why city A (Richmond, say, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which the author uses abundantly as an example) is black while another (Milpitas) is not? The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America shows how many decades of zoning and building law boldly laid out cities where races were kept well separated. The federal government, through the Federal Housing Agency (FHA) for a long time would only guarantee mortgages to developments that excluded African Americans. Local zoning often prohibited apartment buildings in single-family home neighborhoods, at a time when non-white families could rarely afford single-family homes. Famously, during the Great Depression banks redlined entire neighborhoods and were supported by government agencies to do so. And the list goes on — to a scandalous length.
That said, I felt that the outraged tone of the book detracted somewhat from the message. Let the facts speak for themselves: they are appalling enough to persuade.
It’s not clear what Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is trying to accomplish. While the author rightly highlights the many privileges of white people in America, his strident tone will surely repel those who would most need to grasp the damage of their racist views, and discourage those who are working towards a more egalitarian society. The most effective part of the book, for me, were the personal stories of discrimination taken straight from the author’s family, full of law-abiding, educated, successful individuals that regularly encounter naked racism as well as more covert versions. He also clearly explains how black immigrants have a leg up on black Americans. But the vitriol…
Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families is a brave book for daring to tackle the topic of color bias within families. Sadly, the book does not rise above a series of anecdotes and casual chats, which certainly give interesting insights on how family members treat those with different skin tones in a society that is hyper-conscious of color — but it’s very difficult to see any kind of strong pattern without a more detailed analysis.
The author quotes Far From The Tree multiple times, a book that focused on raising children very different from oneself. I would suggest reading Far From The Tree instead of this one.
The author of They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement is a journalist who reported on police killings of black men, the inquiries that followed, and the protests they created. The stories come together in a rather disjointed manner, one chapter per location, and apparently one narrative per location, too, but it does not mean that the book is not interesting. In particular, the author shows how the sizes of the protests do not relate to the magnitude of the injustice, but rather to the social media fervor that each incident generated, and how long-time police brutality and insensitivity brought about a situation where residents no longer trust those that are supposed to protect them. Makes you wonder about the wisdom of entrusting local policing to individual communities.