While on the ongoing journey to utilize my hobby for more than just enjoyment (and the resultant increase in empathy), I picked up this book, which has been everywhere. I read it more or less like a novel, in three long stretches, but with many more highlights than I usually employ. I don’t think doing so hampered my comprehension or intake of this book, unlike other non-fiction works that are really more textbook-y (lessons, takeaways) and don’t do that type of reading as well.
At the end of the day, this is an engaging, enraging work that fell a bit flat to me due to two choices: the metaphors and the personal journey framing device.
I’ve never actively read anything by Kendi before (which is to say, he’s a contributing writer at The Atlantic and I can’t say I’ve never read anything of his) so can’t speak to whether his use of metaphors is stylistic or something utilized in this book. I love a good metaphor just as much as the next person–one of my favorite lines from Freshwater: They were gathering in rain clouds, their voices distant and dreamlike, but grating like torn metal.–but Kendi’s tended to stretch from clarifying to heavy handed.
An example: the comparison of the intertwined natures of racism and capitalism to conjoined twins. The visual is apt, if not a bit uncomfortable (much like…the intertwined natures of racism and capitalism). The exact metaphor is actually the birth of conjoined twins = the birth of capitalism and the attendant racism. And then we hear about the various countries and regions that raised said twins from infancy to toddler, toddler to adolescence, through the angst of young adulthood to the heights of middle age etc etc. The metaphor starts to take a tortured, very literary life that starts to overwhelm the messaging–it’s meant to be a tool to help you understand the facts (or at least prime you to be receptive to them), not the evidence itself. I’m already a receptive audience for this messaging, but it ended up lost to me in the midst of the language.
The Framing Device: the personal journey.
On the personal journey–I never quite understood if the various stages of antiracism that Kendi details are meant to be concrete steps or more like Kübler-Ross stages of grief, where you constantly flip through different types of racism and have to pull yourself back to antiracism. I think it’s meant to the be the latter, but presented as it is, the image you get is that over time, you will slowly expunge these more obvious types of racisms and eventually reach the more subtle types on your path to being an antiracist.
And to that end, the neat journey that Kendi takes from one to the other strains credibility. Most of the book is a memoir of his journey towards being an antiracist, and you’re along that journey for him. It’s a useful way to present the information–there’s something reassuring to see someone else who has since done better falling for beliefs that you sometimes fall for, for example–but it feels like a literary device you’d see in a kid’s book.
My last question is more a philosophical one, which is I’m not sure that I got a clear view on how to apportion the ‘blame’ for failed protests–within the same chapter, Kendi talks about not placing all the blame on policies and instead being brutally honest about the types of protests and why they failed…and then also notes that the policies at play make protests a uphill battle from the start. I’m not sure anyone is sitting back on their haunches thinking that there’s no need to change the method of battle. Or maybe they are.
I don’t mean to imply that I only had critiques for this book–couldn’t be further from the truth, again judging by the sheer number of highlights that were meant as notes for myself. I’m on my journey to being a better human and I’m willing to learn. This book wasn’t the right medium for me but well written and might speak to others more.