All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island by Liza Jessie Peterson

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I picked this book up as part of a buddy read on #bookstagram. A buddy read is basically a one off book club, you all read the book and then discuss it (through video chat). All Day was the third book I’ve read with this group, and was our first miss, but it led to some great conversations. Before I dive in here is a little more about All Day.

 

Told with equal parts raw honesty and unbridled compassion, ALL DAY recounts a year in Liza Jessie Peterson’s classroom at Island Academy, the high school for inmates detained at New York City’s Rikers Island. A poet and actress who had done occasional workshops at the correctional facility, Peterson was ill-prepared for a full-time stint teaching in the GED program for the incarcerated youths. For the first time faced with full days teaching the rambunctious, hyper, and fragile adolescent inmates, “Ms. P” comes to understand the essence of her predominantly Black and Latino students as she attempts not only to educate them, but to instill them with a sense of self-worth long stripped from their lives.

All Day was a total miss. A book about incarcerated juveniles at Rikers Island and their teacher sounds like it would be a gripping and compelling narrative, Peterson, however, does not deliver. The book is mostly focused on Peterson and her thoughts and struggles, though she never gets vulnerable enough for us to fully see her. She puts up the front of a tough woman, but we never get to see her softer side. She barely shares with us information about her students and their lives and how they got to Rikers (however the few moments she does are great). Peterson mistakes the readers interest in what it is like to be a teacher at a jail, for what its like to be her. I did not care about her as the star of this story, I wanted to know about the boys, their lives, their struggles, and the battles they fight daily to survive. I felt most connected to the book when the boys were centered.

The writing is not great. The style is very casual, using a lot of slang. Peterson is making a point to her reader, that she is in fact a Black woman. Something that no one questions. She has insecurities around her own control and status, and they come across through out the book, both expressly and through inference. The book goes on too long and Peterson loses focus, drifting from subject to subject without any real points to be made. She retells the same stories over and over and tries to turn this book into a sort of comedy, relaying jokes and quippy interchanges between her and her students. Most of this is not funny, and makes little sense in the context of the book.

Peterson herself traffics in prejudices throughout the book. While she doesn’t say it expressly, the way she talks about the boys who come from single parent homes, how she dismisses their learning disabilities, and the words she uses to describe them are problematic and damaging. There is very little empathy toward them and their situation. She perpetuates stereotypes about Black and Latino youths, and even allows her own intuitions to be bases for condemnation. All Day was published by a very conservative publisher (Center Street), and this anti-Black lean allowed the publisher to get credit for a Black narrative by a Black female author, and still push forward damaging ideas about Black and Brown youth to their audiences.

I would not recommend you read this book. There is much better content (books, films, and TV) that captures the experiences of life as an incarcerated youth, and that of the people who work with them. All Day is self serving and has a conservative lean that is troubling and damaging.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Center Street (April 18, 2017)
  • 1/5 stars
  • Buy All Day on Amazon

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

E4E88BC8-78C7-4811-8809-5AA5AE55942EWhile I don’t believe in shaming people for not having read something, I am a little ashamed that Hunger is my first book by Roxane Gay. The good news is, I can finally say I’ve read a Roxane Gay book, and the even better news is, this won’t be my last.

If you’re not familiar with Hunger here is a brief rundown.

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

Roxane Gay is brave and strong and wildly impressive as a human and writer. This book exemplifies all of these things. I doubt I could ever write anything as honest and candid about myself or my body. After reading this book and reflecting on what it took to write this memoir, I am blown away by Gay’s willingness to get vulnerable.

Mostly the book revolves around Gay’s body. Gay is super morbidly obese, and much of the book focuses on how she got that way, and how she navigates the world, both figuratively and literally. She details her thoughts on TV shows like The Biggest Loser and walks us through her eating disorder, she even talks in detail about kinds of chairs and how they effect her body. The whole book serves as a reminder that we are all vastly different and our experiences and shape and color directly influence our world view.

While Gay and her body are very different from my own, we are both black women, and in that share some solidarity when it comes to the way we interact with the world. Gay is masterful in the way she uses her own story to bring the reader in and isolate them. She shares ideas that are at one moment highly relatable, and then she switches quickly to thoughts that are uniquely her own. This style of writing allows the reader to feel both close to and far away from the author, it is a thrilling, and surprisingly rare.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and Gay is our narrator. Her performance is solid, the words are really the star, not her intonation or expressiveness. I would not, however, recommend this as an audiobook. I found her stories and reflections to be so personal and traumatic that I wanted to turn her off. I wanted to turn away and disconnect, and with Gay’s own voice there recounting the pain it is impossible to get a break. The book might be more manageable, as a reader you have control over the pace and can take time to digest some of the more intense moments of the book.

This is a a great memoir. It deals with violence done to a body and could have some trigger warnings in that respect. If you like an honest and raw memoir, this is your book. It is not an enjoyable read so much as an important and moving one. There is so much pain and suffering, but also much empowerment and honesty.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

C3AC3073-5D3F-4AFD-AE59-A65863E1162FI have had this book by Celeste Ng on my list for a few months, and I finally decided to read it. I knew it had to do with the mysterious death of a teenage girl, and I knew that by the end of the book I would know “who done it”, which was important to me because an unresolved ending ruins my week.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little more,

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

This book is really well written. The story weaves through the thoughts and minds of all the members of the Lee family, and dives into their history as individuals and into how they relate to each other. I understand why so many people love this book. For me, it didn’t work, I couldn’t get myself to care about any of them, aside from a general feeling of “thats too bad”. I generally don’t like these types of books, family dramas. I decided to read Everything I Never Told You because of the mysterious death part, which I’m always interested in. I thought solving the mystery would play a more active part in the book. However after reading it, Lydia’s death is more of device to look deeper into the family’s dynamic. A device that gave us flashbacks that went on and on, and often times felt redundant. I wanted more plot and more movement forward.

The Lee family, like every family, has issues, and they are intensified by the racism they face as the only mixed race, Chinese and White American, family in the town. The book takes place in 1977 Ohio, which can only be described as intolerant and racist. In addition to racial taunting there are lots of elements dealing with sexism in this book, Ng questions a woman’s role in the family, and in the world. A lot of the racism and sexism in this book felt unspecific and stereotypical. Not that it wasn’t believable (I find that bigots tend to be pretty uncreative), but more that they are so commonplace they felt unexceptional. Which may have been the point.

The way that Ng writes about the shock and grief of the Lee family, is really well done. It is sometimes subtle, and sometimes not, which is true to how grief can look and feel. She takes care with each of her characters, even though I felt that they all kind of felt like the same voice. I enjoyed seeing the Lee’s carrying on and adapting after Lydias death. That is where I found myself enjoying the book most.

Overall I would say, that this was not the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book about the death of a teenage girl and what happens next, and instead I got a book that looked back and inward at a family. It is a solid book. If you like a family drama, if you like multiple perspectives on the same events, if you like flashbacks, this is your book. If you like a little more plot or action, I might skip it, however the writing is good enough to carry you through the 300 or so pages.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

78BB304E-DA7D-4F9A-BB17-42DF210C020EHere is yet another book I decided to read right away, because the movie is coming. I have read a little James Baldwin here and there and never been disappointed, but to be honest I was in no hurry to read this book, until I saw the trailer for the If Beale Street Could Talk.

If you’re not familiar with the this novel, here is a brief synopsis for you.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

This book seamlessly marries a fictional story with very clear and searing commentary on injustice in America. Baldwin never wavers in this convictions about racism and the corruptness of the criminal justice system, however these ideas don’t come at the expense of believable characters or dialogue. The people found in this book embody the spirit of Baldwin’s thoughts and they live effortlessly in his words. The interactions feel authentic and the characters all have agency. They are not puppets for Baldwin’s believes, nor are they just there to move the story along.

If Beale Street Could Talk moves between present day and flashbacks, and is told through the eyes of Tish. Baldwin’s economy of words is beyond impressive, with a less skilled writer this book could easily be over 400 pages, but Bladwin keeps the book short and the emotion charged through out. He knows what he is trying to do an he executes. There are scenes in this book that are so tense that I shrieked out loud and had drop the book and walk away for a few moments to get my heart rate down. That kind of writing is not common, it is extraordinary.

While I enjoyed both the main character Fonny and Tish, the supporting characters were the real stars of this book for me. From both of Fonny and Tish’s family to the waiters at a small Spanish restaurant. The world is made vivid through the thoughts and actions of those who live in and around our young lovers.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t love about this book, is that I thought it got off to a slow start. I wasn’t fully invested in the book until about 50 pages in, and in a book thats less that 200 pages, thats a good chunk. However, once I got in, I was hooked.

You should read this book before you see the movie. I would say you should read this book even if you have no intention to see this movie at all. James Baldwin is considered one of the greats for a reason, his work is great. It is that simple.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

IMG_7803This week on The Stacks Podcast, we discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The Stacks Book Club. I was joined by Jay Connor, a writer, and the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. You can listen to our conversation about the themes in this book right here.

If you’re not familiar with this book, which came out in 2015, here is a small description.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

To say that this is a good book, is almost trivializing all this book says and does. This is one of those books that changed the way I saw the world fundamentally. It changed how I interacted with the world as a Black woman, and also changed the way I saw other Black bodies. I all of a sudden felt as though I was part of something bigger, and also less a part of a something else.

The Dream is what Coates refers to when he talks about this notion of White exceptionalism or supremacy at the cost of the marginalized (and in this book more specifically Black folks). The Dream is the force that fights against Blackness. It is exclusionary, violent, and forgives all sins that are perpetrated in its name. To Coates, The Dream is how we can exist in a world with racists, but no white folks know any racists. The Dream is how we can excuse the horrors of slavery to the point that we have stripped the slaves of their humanity, even in the history books hundreds of years later. The Dream is what protects and defends Whiteness, and Coates calls this all to task. This book is not to make you comfortable, it is to make you think and understand how America functions.

Coates asks the reader to think and analyze ideas we often take for granted. To deeply question convention. One of his most controversial points is leveled around 9/11. Coates discusses why he is conflicted about the hero worship that came during and after September 11, 2001. He notes that this same neighborhood, Lower Manhattan, was home to the site of slave auctions and much plunder perpetrated against the Black Body. Its thoughts like this, really unpopular to many, that elevate this book. Coates is not sentimental, he is not afraid to speak his truth. And this is not the only moment that he confronts the reader on their beliefs.

Coates expertly weaves his own thoughts and feelings with the greater context of violence, racism, and hatred. However that is not all this book is, it is also a celebration of Blackness. Coates just as carefully reflects on the power of his time at Howard University, and how that time showed him the vastness of the Black cultural landscape. The diversity in the Black community, and the influence that had over him. This book is a master class in writing a thoughtful cultural critique. It blends the scholarly with the personal in both nostalgic and objective prose.

Most people could benefit from reading this book. Especially those people who live in The United States. What he is discussing and presenting the reader is a valuable perspective on race, violence, and Black bodies throughout the history of America. Read this book, please.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Jay Connor discussing Between the World and Me.

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Between the World and Me on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 20 The Stacks Book Club – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWe’re thrilled to have writer and host of The Extraordinary Negroes Podcast, Jay Connor, back with us this week for The Stacks Book Club,  discussing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This episode is spent talking about the three major themes from the book: race, violence, and the Black body, and how those themes are ever present in American society. There are no spoilers this week.

We cover a lot of topics, and you can find links to everything below, in the show notes. Use the links when you shop on Amazon and iTunes to help support The Stacks.

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Connect with The Extraordinary Negroes: iTunes Podcast|Android Podcast|Website|Facebook|Instagram|Twitter

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Devils Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

2912C833-EC19-4E44-A72B-70B58A50E35BA friend gave me her copy of The Devil’s Highway, and told me I had to read it. This was back in February, and I just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t motivate myself to pick it up. However, in the last few weeks with all thats going on with family separation at the US border I felt compelled to finally pick up this book.

Here is a little about this book.

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the “Devil’s Highway.” Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a “book of the year” in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.

This book is so well crafted. It is a heartbreaking story, however there is still strength in its telling.  Urrea uses beautiful yet uncomplicated prose to describe the story of the US-Mexico border and all those who are caught navigating it’s terrain.

The Devil’s Highway is the story of one group that is representative of a greater population. Those people who feel that life has gotten too hard where ever they are, that it is better to leave home and try to find something better. Even if that means going through hell.

I think it trivializes the magnitude of this book to say it is “timely”. It does speak to this current political moment, but it was written over 15 years ago, and it spoke to that moment as well. It speaks to any moment where one group of people is trying to keep out another group. It speaks to humanity. It speaks to human nature. That is what makes this book powerful. It is about how we treat one another, when the option is, to be kind or to be cruel.

Urrea makes a point to include the narratives not only of the men walking through the desert, but also that of the coyotes, and the border agents, and the US law enforcement. He includes consulate workers from Mexico, and families of those men who left home. He is inclusive in his work, and yet he is clear in his point of view. Its a challenging balancing act, that Urrea executes perfectly. It is what gives this book credence and authenticity.

This book is graphic, and there are moments where I wanted to turn away from the story, because it was overwhelming and bleak. This book is wonderful. It is powerful. It made me feel things. It allowed me space to think about immigration and compassion. It has allowed me more perspective as I think about what it means to be American, and who has to stay out, so I can stay in.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu

AF357627-167C-4A24-A9EB-25093AF52EB2Before I say anything about this book, here is the premise.

For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River goes behind the headlines, making urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.

This book enraged me. I found it to be a self serving and romantic look at immigration into The United States. Cantu’s story is told through short glimpses into his life. He tells us little antidotes of how he was kind to an immigrant he captured on the border, of how he literally takes the shirt off his back to give one man, and how he asks people their names. He tells us so much of his humanity, and so much of the humanity of all the border agents around him. Even the bad ones come off as not that bad, they’re Cantu’s friends after all. The problem is there is no journalistic integrity. Cantu never sites anything about his experiences, there are no dates, no records, no direct quotes. So how are we to know if any of this book really even happened? And if it did, did it happen how he says?

Every once and a while Cantu will give us a little historical context into the border, its development, the changes in its policing, and the violence that has led so many to leave central America looking for a better life in the USA. In these more academic moments, Cantu does use quotes from other writers. Thankfully. Its the only time actual quotations are used.

The Line Becomes a River is a love letter to Cantu. He writes about his trauma and his growth and the things that haunt him and the things he’s scared of, and his dreams, so much about his dreams. Its a memoir, so of course it’ll be told through his lens. However this book takes it to the extreme. He always does the right thing. He is never in the wrong, he just happens to be in the wrong profession (a profession he chose to go into for perspective). He is always our hero. There is however no one to corroborate any of his stories. It might all be fiction, how are we to know?

There is another conversation at play here, and that comes from Cantu’s desire to be a border agent in the first place. He says its because, after studying the border in college, he wants to see the border in a new way. He wants to be on the front lines. I got the sense that this book was always in the back of his mind. That when he took the job, he knew his experiences would become something more, a vehicle for him.

Cantu tells us, he is trying to humanize the immigrants he comes in contact with, but even that falls short. I couldn’t stop thinking about how the whole book felt like a ode to himself. His growth, his ability to see the humanity that others missed, his trauma, his struggling, his triumph. He is so centered in the book, its hard to believe he really can see anyone else.

When The Line Becomes a River received a lot a criticism after its release, Cantu took to twitter and said the following

“To be clear: during my years as a BP agent, I was complicit in perpetuating institutional violence and flawed, deadly policy. My book is about acknowledging that, it’s about thinking through the ways we normalize violence and dehumanize migrants as individuals and as a society.

I’m not here to defend BP. But I am here to listen and learn from the ways my writing may be construed to normalize, eroticize, or beautify border violence, and the ways my voice may amplified at the expense of those who suffer from it. Ultimately, I’m here to work against it.”

Even this clarification feels a little off. Cantu was not, as he states complicit, he was an active participant. Just like in the book, he misses the fact that he enables this activity and behavior. And it is worth noting, he does not ever truly condemn the border patrol or the US policies around immigration as violent, hostile, or hateful. He more notes that these things are true, but doesn’t do any work to say why it is that way. Just thats how it is, and isn’t it so sad that he had to live through this.

The last third of the book focuses on Cantu’s journey on the other side of the system. His undoucmented Mexican friend isn’t allowed back in the USA. Simply befriending an undocumented immigrant and helping out while he goes through court proceedings, does not wash away Cantu’s sins. Asking us to believe that it does is condescending.  It also does not mean that you’re humanizing other undocumented people. Cantu’s one experience is not neccessarily indicative of the greater picture, no matter how many pages he writes about it.

Cantu’s sense of entitlement to these stories is felt through out this book. Without any real research or journalistic integrity, we are told this story. We are asked to follow this man and trust his observations, because he is Mexican America, because he worked in border patrol, because he was given a book deal. I simply could not buy in. I don’t believe you should have to either. I would not suggest you read this book. If you’re looking for books about immigration that are both good stories and give insight into the lives of migrants and/or the border patrol look into, The Devil’s HighwayThe Far Away Brothers, and Tell Me How It Ends.Each of these books uses well sited research and beautiful writing to tell stories from the border. In addition, Radio Lab has a fantastic (and also very graphic) three part podcast about the border that is wonderful. I think these are all a much better use of your time.

Did you read this book? What did you think? I would love to hear your opinions. Comment below.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

C453A6E7-C6C0-4746-BDF9-2E68F8A3D081Before I share any of my thoughts, here is a little bit about Harriet A. Washington’s book.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.

This book is a major accomplishment on Washington’s part. It took her years of schooling and preparation to even be able to learn the correct way to speak of these medical abuses. You can sense her passion on the issues that are brought forth, and her immense understanding of all the forces at play. This book is ambitious and vast, and for that I am eternally grateful to Washington’s patience.

Aside from exposing the many atrocities against Black bodies, one of the most important things this book does is give context to the common idea that Black people are scared of medicine and doctors. Iatrophobia is the fear of doctors and medical treatment, and after reading this book you will come to understand that the Black communities fears are well founded.

The detailed language and intricacies of this book are admirable, however they do not make for an easy read. I really struggled to get through this book. Not only because the subject matter is devastating and infuriating, but also because the book is dense. Medical Apartheid is closer to reading a text book than anything else. It is a detailed history, and Washington takes herself and her subjects seriously. While there is great care to make sure the reader understands the medical jargon, there are plenty of statistics and clinical terms through out this book. There is a lot to get tripped up on. I made it through this book, but I had to work hard. I had to earn it.

The reward is an extremely well written expose on medical practices that target Black Americans. We are led from Marion Sims’ experiments on his female slaves through to governmental chemical attacks on Black neighborhoods in the American South. There is much that has been hidden away about the racist treatment of Blacks in this country, this book scrapes the surfaces of these events.

If you’re not sure you’re ready for such a dense look at a deeply troubling topic, you might consider reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which deals with one example of medical malpractice and theft of Black patients. Another book about racism in America is Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. I think Stamped from the Beginning (you can see my full review here) makes a great companion read with Medical Apartheid, as it dives into racism in America in a way that I have not often seen in books about race.

I recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about understanding anti-Black racism in The United States, anyone who works in fields where they conduct experiments on humans, or anyone passionate about medicine. Give yourself time, and be patient. This book is worth it.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Medical Apartheid on Amazon
  • Listen to Medical Apartheid on Audible (for your free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

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Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

Between The World and Me Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) is known for his work on dissecting the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me written to Coates’ son, is a powerful look at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.