Book Review

Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black and Male by Elijah Anderson, Ed.

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Book Review Submitted by Julie Woodward

In June of 2008, on the eve of the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, Yale University scholar Elijah Anderson published an astute collection of essays and writings on the condition of the young, black man in America. Although the collection had nothing to do with President Obama per se, it was a timely reminder that the election of a young, black president did not mean the end of racism or, more importantly, an end to the structural inequalities that make it wildly difficult, if not nearly impossible, for young, black, impoverished males to succeed in this country.

At the same time, the writings sometimes struggle with gender politics; yes, the book is specifically focused on the particular problems facing black men, but this focus sometimes comes at the price of fully fleshed out, complex gender analysis – oversimplifying gender roles and relations, and leaving out almost entirely the presence of black men who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.

Reading the book almost 12 years after its original publication, I can see how Cornel West’s assertion that “we could very well be seeing the very early moments of a new wave of social momentum,” was a highly prescient one – these 12 years have seen, after all, the rise of #blacklivesmatter, among other black activist achievements, but Mr. West, as well as many of the other contributors to the book, skim over the surface of many of the complex intersectional politics that have given us the three black, queer women who started #blacklivesmatter, the transgender rights movement led by such activists as Laverne Cox and Billy Porter, the #metoo campaign begun by Tarana P. Burke, or even the comparatively trite #oscarssowhite moment, countered in powerful ways by black women artists and entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey and Ava Duvernay.

Sered, Michelle. Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair. New York: The New Press, 2019.

Elijah Anderson – Teachers Make The Differnence

In her pursuit towards Common Justice, Danielle Sered dismantles conventional wisdom that the mass incarceration of violent perpetrators provides justice for victims.  She exposes the gravely underdiscussed topics of what victims actually want, consider just, and perhaps most importantly, what leads them to any semblance of healing.

Of course, again, the writers were focusing on the particular struggles facing black men, and there is a huge amount of highly important information on the subject contained within the book – one could have just wished for a little more attention to the subtleties of gender politics, a little less characterization of black women as hard-working baby mamas in constant search of better husbands and fathers (a characterization which is, notably, unfair to women, men, and non-binary persons).

Against the Wall offers highly valuable insight into “how it feels to be a problem” in the United States, allowing its readers to both see on an intellectual level and feel on an emotional level, the reality of being young, black, male, and poor in our country, and the constant burden that immense uphill battle presents. It is a book that will teach you about the issues, but also urge you, inspire you, and offer you suggestions to really, truly do something about them.

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