Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What I Read: Democracy in Black

I'm on my way out the door to a debate club meetup, but I want to take the time to let people know that this is a book that exists and that they should read it.

Image courtesy Crown Publishing
There are two big things I want to say about this book: one thing I disagree with and one thing I agree with. (For completion's sake, I did agree with basically everything else Glaude says, but then it's hard to disagree with facts!!! Anywho.)

But the one big thing I disagreed with was his proposal at the end for a "blank out," i.e. that people opt out of voting by way of turning in a blank ballot. And while I think Glaude sets this up more as a thought experiment ("wouldn't it be an awesome thing to see?") than an actual call to arms, I don't think it would happen as he envisions it. There is a reason certain groups are doing what they can to disenfranchise and limit certain other groups when it comes to voting, and that is because at the end of the day, voting...kind of matters? I understand—at least on an intellectual level; probably not at the instinctive, gut-wrenching visceral level—the frustration to be a POC in America advocating for racial justice and racial representation in governance, only to have those POC representatives downplay or flat-out ignore the very real problems many citizens of color face on a daily basis. (I definitely know the frustration of watching certain female figures vote and speak out against the best interests of women at large, but that's a drama that plays out almost entirely among white politicians, so not entirely comparable.) Who wouldn't want to just give up on the whole thing? But it's better to at least try to tread water and keep things from backsliding than to just give up and drown.

The one big thing I very much agreed with and loved was the frank assessment of how we define "American." Glaude points out that the common narrative we tell ourselves about American and American-ness is that the American ideal is a perfect and unassailable thing, and that our assorted failures (slavery, Jim Crow, resistance to black [and I would also add women's] suffrage) are separate from this American ideal; that we eventually realized these failures were "un-American" and attempted to resolve them because we wanted better align the actual America we live in with this ideal.

But Glaude thinks that narrative is misleading and I do too, and he managed to articulate things that have been bothering me for years but I haven't been able to find the words to say.

The American ideal is not perfect or unassailable; the Founding Fathers envisioned a country where, ideally, women could not vote and slavery was a significant part of the economy. We can't keep retconning the American ideal and suddenly declare certain things that were well within the scope of this idea of American-ness 100, 50 years ago are suddenly "not American." No, they totally are. They were American, just as the resistance to same-sex marriage is definitely American, and just as this clusterfuck over bathroom laws is definitely American. Just like McCarthyism and the Red Scare was American. Just like the resistance to entering World War II was American. You can keep going back like that to the foundation of the country.

"American" is not a synonym for "moral high ground" and it bugs me when people use it like that. I guess that's why I moved abroad.

So with those big ideas out of the way, I want to say that this is a book based in a helluva lot of research, studies, and statistics. I live for that! It definitely helped improve my understanding of the situation for the black population in the US today. I think this is a book that everyone should read, even though I know the people who would most benefit from it either won't read it or will jump through some serious mental hoops to say that Glaude is just overreacting or playing the race card or etc. And maybe me talking about this book will lose me some blog readers, but hey, that's how it is.

I got this book for free from NetGalley/BloggingForBooks in exchange for sharing my VERY IMPORTANT THOUGHTS on it.


  1. This looks like a book I need to read but can we please talk about this debate club?!

    1. I mean it's called a "debate club" but it's more like a casual discussion club, hahah. (I did a little bit of debate in high school and then got a BA in philosophy so I have ~~expectations about how a debate should go, and this one stays super chill.) It's one branch of a larger language exchange group here in Stockholm, so it's really great mix of native English speakers and non-native speakers from all over. I mostly go to get out of the house, see some people, and get a beer or something once a week.