Greetings! In our effort to keep Nerd Cactus woke (can I use that term?), this week’s Boozy Books features on the latest rage-inducing book I’ve read about the way America has, well, f*cked over minorities, and African-Americans in particular. Because, newsflash: we have f*cked over minorities, and African-Americans in particular. And if you don’t know that, you are apparently not woke. (Again, can I use that term?) You are also part of the problem.
Now, I know this here Nerd Cactus crowd is of above average cultural and literary awareness (I’m sure you’ve all read King John), so I’m sure none of you are unaware of the problem. But that doesn’t mean that you are exempt from learning about and actively contributing to undoing the problem. And a book like this one, which describes how the very laws of our nation were written to keep one group of Americans — namely the black ones — inferior, is exactly the sort of eye-opening read you’re going to need.
But… be prepared to do some reflecting. And be prepared to feel like you’re being attacked, because Ibram X. Kendi argues that, well, pretty much all of us are some form of racist. Yes, even black people, and yes even people who protest the systemic racism at the heart of America. Hell, even President Obama is not exempt from Kendi’s definition of racism, which posits that there are two kinds: segregationist and assimilationist, the latter of which is far more insidious. (There is a third group of people, as well, whom Kendi calls the anti-racists, and this is the group we should all aspire to be a part of.) Segregationist racists are the more obvious, the racists that we all look at and go, “Hey now… f*ck off, racist!” But assimilationist racists… they’re often the very people fighting for progress. Even W.E.B. duBois and Frederick Douglass (who is being recognized more and more) do not escape Kendi’s definition of racism.
The heart of the argument in this book is that racist action actually precedes racist thought because racist action stems from self-interest. Basically, in an attempt to rationalize our actions, we create systems of thinking that then crystallize the thoughts and actions in cultural identity. And any attempt to undermine racism must not enshrine the supposition of black inferiority as truth or it is, itself, racist.
What Kendi does is to give us historical “tour guides”, for lack of a better phrase, to take us through all of American history (from Cotton Mather all the way to modern thinkers) and discuss how racist action and thought have been conflated for so long, and how racist ideas of the inferiority of blacks (born as an explanation of slavery being good for Africans, who needed salvation) has been woven into the firmament of our entire national identity. It is a powerful read. But it is also an easy one, so long as you are willing to give it your full attention.
So, you’ll want to get yourself a glass of wine and just nurse it while you read, preferably in a leather chair with a smoking jacket and a pipe. Or, you know, whatever you need to do to be able to focus on such an important book. Because this is an important book, and it needs to be read.
We’ll be back tomorrow with some Shakespeare!