Community Village: Black Like Me (Book Review)

See on Scoop.itMixed American Life

What does it mean to be a person another race?The answer to the question would lead John Howard Griffin on a journey through a side of America he had never known about. All he had to do was darken his skin.
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Community Village: Preview “The Warmth of Other Suns (Book Review)”

See on Scoop.itMixed American Life

“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson is an epic tale on par with classics like” Roots” by Marcus Garvey and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley.

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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life: Barbara J. Fields, Karen Fields

See on Scoop.itMixed American Life

Tackling the myth of a post-racial society.

Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference: the fact of race gives rise to the practice of racism. Sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields argue otherwise: the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call “racecraft.” And this phenomenon is intimately entwined with other forms of inequality in American life. So pervasive are the devices of racecraft in American history, economic doctrine, politics, and everyday thinking that the presence of racecraft itself goes unnoticed.

That the promised post-racial age has not dawned, the authors argue, reflects the failure of Americans to develop a legitimate language for thinking about and discussing inequality. That failure should worry everyone who cares about democratic institutions.

Glenn Robinson‘s insight:

Listen to Barbara J. Fields interview on KPFA
Her interview starts 6 minutes into the episode

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Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Book Review)

There are many books that delve into the America’s immigrant past, but I have seen few  that can express that history with so much detail and depth that is found in Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America by Mae M. Ngai. In just seven chapters, Ngai is able to provide an extremely detailed look at the policies and legislation that shaped America’s response toward immigrants and shows how one law can affect millions of people for years to come.

Growing up, I pictured immigration pretty much this way:

immigrant-children-ellis-island (1)

That is only part of the story (as I came to realize when I got older) because America’s immigration history because that history  also includes images like this:

:BorderpatrolHolding-764254 internment image010

In attempting to reconcile these two very different images of America’s past, Ngai examines the thinking process and subsequent  consequences of key legislation and policies on immigration that emerged during 1924 until 1965.  The author argues that this time period deserved special attention because it set the precedence of numerical quotas in our present day pollicies and redefined how the American government dealt with three basic questions:

  • If one is not born on American soil, how does one become an American citizen?
  • Who should be allowed into America’s borders?
  • What should be done for those who are not allowed in America’s borders?

What makes this so poignant is that America is still attempting to answer these questions today.

As Ngai demonstrates in the book, crafting immigration policy and legislation is never simple. There has always been challenges and struggles as the American government attempted to balance its status as a nation supporting immigration while at the same time discouraging immigrants that Americans did not want on their shores (either because of real or imagined fears). This led to a tumultuous and confusing series of policies and laws that simultaneously allowed some  immigrants to take advantage of America’s need for labor in the pursuit for a better life  while at the same time forced others to face the possibility of being arrested, deported, or even kept in internment camps (as the Japanese were in World War II). Because some of the policies set during that period are still in effect now, many immigrants still face the danger of being arrested or deported.  Immigrants, however, were not and are not passive victims in the process, however. They engaged in a range of  activities, from lobbying to protests (even illegal methods), in order to pursue their equality and rights on the path to American citizenship. It is these struggles that the author reflects on in her analysis of immigration policies from the viewpoint of the Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans, Filipino Americans, and Japanese Americans.

In my opinion, the main message to get from this book  is that in order to understand where we are now with immigration policy, we must understand where we have been.

images (1)

My Opinion: Overall, this is a very interesting book. It is well-written, extremely insightful, and overwhelmingly detailed in its look at American immigration policy during 1924 to 1965. It covers these policies from more angles (legal standing, social consequences, and departmental issues) than I have seen in other books covering the same issue. Most history books are content to tell you that a certain piece of legislation was passed. In this book, Ngai would take that same piece of legislation and explore why it was implemented, how it was implemented, and the consequences it would have on lives of immigrants. That is her strongest asset and the reason this book has won so many awards.

On the other hand, if you are just looking for a quick summary of immigration policies and legislation, you will not find it here. Ngai jumps into the topic with a college-level vocabulary and a scholar’s confidence to match. In other words, if you are not ready to put your thinking cap on, you shouldn’t read it. The chapters are a little long, but not so long that you get lost in details (for the most part). In short, after reading this book, readers will have a whole new appreciation for the struggles behind their own status as American citizens and an even greater understanding of what non-citizens have gone through and will go through as a result of their status in American society.

About the Book & Author

Book Title:  Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (0691074712)

Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publication Year: 2003

Number of Pages: (270 reading pages); All-evening read (4 or more hours)

Recommended: Yes

Available:  Amazon  Barnes & Noble Bookbyte Google Books (print only)

About the Author:

Photo Courtesy & Credits

Photo 1: Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.By Brown Brothers, ca. 1908.Vintage print.

Photo 2:  Photo from ” Turning the Tide on Illegal Immigration.” US Department of Homeland Security Leadership Journal Archive. (November 24, 2008 issue).

Photo 3: “Japanese-American Internment Camps in Idaho and the West, 1942-1945.”  Finding All Resources Relating to Idaho Program maintained by the Idaho Commission for Libraries.

Photo 4; Photo from Cesar de Chavez Page established by the California Department of Education.

The Berenstain Bears: New Neighbors (Book Review)

bernstein bears

Book Review: The Berenstain Bears: New Neighbors (ISBN: 0679964355)

Publication Year: 1994

Pages: 32

Author: Stan & Jan Berenstain

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books

Review Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

When I was a child, the Berenstain Bears was definitely on my list of favorite characters to read about, so when I was asked to review this book I jumped at the chance. That jump was a bit premature, though. This book has good intentions, but its focus gets completely lost in its intentions to share the message.

To be fair, The Berenstain Bears: New Neighbors deals with a tough topic within the confines of a children’s book, prejudice. Adults can’t even seem to get it right in “grown-up” books, so I give Stan and Jan Berenstain credit for the attempt. We need books that teach children early on that differences are meant to be celebrated and not cherished, not something to be afraid of. This book boldly attempts to deal with prejudice, but in a very oblique way.

The New Neighbors starts off with the Berenstain Bears learning that they will have new neighbors across the street. Everyone in the family seems excited at the prospect of getting new neighbors, except Papa Bear. There lies the conflict. While the rest of the family welcomes the chance for new neighbors, Papa Bear has his doubts..

This would make for a decent story, if the authors (in my opinion) focused on letting the lesson  come from the story instead of trying to force the lesson into the story. Instead of well-crafted and uplifting story, all you really got was an awkward and uncomfortable one. The most obvious example of this is Papa Bear, who spends the majority of the book holding onto the belief that something is “wrong” with the neighbors without actually saying why. Papa Bear hates the notion of new neighbors before he even sees them, which makes his beliefs even stranger. Ultimately, a reader is left with the simple conclusion that Papa Bear either is not the type to like neighbors or doesn’t like the neighbors because they are pandas. Take your pick.

The weird thing is that no other character seems to question or challenge it, which would have at least provided a basis for the lesson that the book is trying to teach. Instead, the book skirts around the issue and loses a golden opportunity to teach children some creative thinking skills.  The Berenstain Bears cubs are only focused on playing with the neighbors and Mama Bear disregards or downplays all of Papa Bear’s irrational comments. In fact, she plans a get-together so that the Berenstains and the neighbors (the Pandas) can meet. While all of this is happening, the Pandas seem oblivious to all of this as well. Papa Bear doesn’t say anything to the Pandas and instead tells his family about how the Pandas are different. Alas, it is the case of a prejudiced bear that only makes prejudiced comments about others only when at home. I guess the issue of a covert prejudiced bear may not be too complex for early readers to grapple with after all.

The even weirder part of the story is that when the Berenstains go over and visit the Pandas (Yes, Papa Bear goes), Papa Bear appears to get along just fine. He is even smiling in the illustrations. So I guess the morale of the story is that Papa Bear learned a lesson of acceptance by osmosis or he is still a closeted prejudiced person waiting for a new opportunity to make comments at home. Either case, it was a weird and hastily assembled ending.

Having said all of this, would I still recommend the book? It depends. If you would like to bring up the issue of differences between people, this book can provide the opportunity to do it. Just be sure to answer the barrage of questions that might come your way about Papa Bear.

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla (Book Review)


Title: I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla (ISBN 0375705899)

Author: Marguerite A. Wright, EdD.

Publication Year: 2000

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, GoodReadsPowell’s Books Wiley

Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are some books that cause you to re-evaluate everything you have ever been taught. For me, there are a relative few. There are books that cause me to think and others that cause me to ponder, but there are few that really make me re-evaluate how everything I have ever been taught. “I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla” definitely classifies as one of those few books. Written by a Black educational psychologist and consultant, this book challenges our society’s view of how children learn about skin color and race.  In writing this book, she seeks to offer guidance to parents, teachers, and anyone who interacts with young children on her insights based on clinical and anecdotal research.

The book boils down to three main concepts:

  1. Unlike what is commonly assumed, children have a very different view of skin color and race than adults.
  2. Unlike what has been reported in textbooks and popular media, Black children have an overall positive appraisal of their race.
  3. Children learn about race in stages and in conjunction with their parent’s behaviors, the media, and the community around them

Using these three concepts, Wright goes through how children process race and skin color from pre-school to adolescence. Along the way, she provides guidance, stories, and strong evidence to back her claim. While this book is heavily influenced by clinical research, the language in the book is geared more toward the parent or educator. Wright is more interested in helping share the message in a way that is easy to follow along and engaging. Instead of providing a long list of experimental studies, White presents actual interviews with children and case studies to provide her point.

Reading through the chapters, you will undoubtedly see (as I did) how different adult concepts of race differ from children. There are stories of children who believe that skin color is not permanent or children who don’t understand the difference that people who are “brown” are considered “black”. You also get a chance to see how strong adult beliefs can lead to erroneous or even dangerous beliefs. You will read about children who refuse to deal with people or act irrationally around another race. In either case, you will see from the children themselves, the author’s point that adults need to be concerned with how they choose to discuss race with their children.

The book’s strength comes its simple, down-to-earth advice coupled with the professional advice provided by the author. This advice is not only for the typical reader, like the parent or the teacher, but for everyone in our society (school administrators, neighbors, etc.). The author’s point is that everyone needs to reevaulate how they view race and how this is communicated to children. One of the ways that I think that the author does this brilliantly is by telling the story of her own children in a critique on her child’s education. Wright described on page 147 how her child’s first knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. was of being shot. Her son couldn’t understand why he was shot.  The author shared her opinion:

“The more he talked, the more obvious it became that he was more focused on the gory details of the King’s death than anything that the teacher mush have told him about King’s achievements…..As yet, he did not talk about people in terms of their skin color and I was saddened that one of the first bits of information that he learned about ‘whites’ is that they are “bad” people who killed Dr. King.” (Wright 147-148)

Those are sobering words indeed.

The only criticism I have would be a minor one. The book focuses an overwhelming majority on the issue of Black and White relations, without the same attention paid to the other topic mentioned in the title-biracial children. There are a few paragraphs on the topic of biracial children in some of the chapters, but not in a comprehensive manner.

In either case, the author does an incredible job of showing adult readers how our beliefs and attitudes reflect in our own children. Reading this book caused me to evaluate my own thoughts about race. I was able to look back at my own childhood and see instances where my ideas were created. Knowing that, I have to make a strong effort to ensure that I pass on a healthy awareness of race to my own children. I need to shield them from people and media who could potentially provide them an unhealthy view of race, while at the same time instilling pride in their own race. It is tough work, but it must be done because the cost is worth it.


Wright, Marguerite. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World. 1st edition. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers, 1998. Print.

Bodega Dreams (Book Review)


Title: Bodega Dreams (ISBN 0375705899)

Author: Ernesto Quinonez

Publication Year: 2000

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Random House

Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To me, Bodega Dreams reminds me of movies like Boyz in Da Hood. Although from a different cultural perspective, this book has the same unique blend of engaging storytelling and coming-of-age dilemmas that made America think twice about life in the “hood.” Like Boyz in Da Hood and similar creative works, the world is shown from the perspective of a person in the lower class-both the good and the bad. Reading or listening to works about life in the ghetto allowed audiences to interact with the stubborn realism, persistence, and hopes, of the ghetto’s inhabitants despite the unfortunate grim realities that surround them daily. The difference in Bodega Dreams is how that dream is expressed and played out in the life of the four main characters in the story Chino, Sapo, Bodega, and Blanca.

I came across the title in passing while working on a blog post for someone. At that time, the only thing I had to go on was that Bodega Dreams was a book about Spanish Harlem. Since I had an idea of what “inner-city” life was like, I decided to read yet another book about it. I assumed that it would be like all of the other “defying the odds” stories where a single character is helped to “get out of the hood”. This book was a little different and I am glad that it was.

From the beginning, I was impressed with the way I was able to interact with the story. Quinonez uses the authentic language of the characters, their inner thoughts, and their actions to create a compelling and highly realistic story that just grabs you from the first few pages. The book is told from Chino’s point of view and language, so you get a chance to experience Spanish Harlem from his perspective and thoughts. This perspective is strengthened by the author’s expert use of language. Reading the book actually feels like you’re having a live conversation with Chino as he describes parts of his life. When Chino describes his friendship with Sapo, you don’t feel it abstractly, you feel as if Sapo is your friend as well. When Chino feels bad when making a decision, you feel let down. If you have ever experienced life in an “inner city”, you will easily recognize characteristics of the characters in the book. Along the way, you get involved with the stories of people and friends through the good and the bad. This aspect is one of the best parts of the book.

Two other important parts of the book are the characters and the ending. The author does a nice job of portraying realistic characters instead of relying on the characters that are typical in a book about the “hood” and coming-of-age stories. The book does have some of those characters-gangsters, the friend who has a good heart but does the wrong thing, and the good girlfriend-but they are authentic and human instead of stereotypical. These characters also have different layers which become apparent as you progress through the story. Bodega, the character for whom the book is named after, is a case in point. At first, he seems like your typical gangster boss, but after reading a few paragraphs you realize there is much more to him. Bodega is an idealist, businessman, hopeless romantic, and ruthless criminal all wrapped up in human complexity. The way the author portrays this is pure brilliance.

This leads to my next point, the ending. This book had one of the endings that really shocked me. I haven’t been shocked in a while with the ending of most books, since I read so much. This one still shocked me. Everything unraveled so fast, yet in such a realistic way that I dropped the book when I realized what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it definitely does not end like I expected to. It also doesn’t end with a happy walk into the sunset, which so many books do. The ending here is more mixed, which is closer to reality and more exciting to ponder on.

The only caution I would provide prospective readers is the reality. Quinonez pulls no punches with language and the other “not so pleasant” activities that occur in the Spanish Harlem. He also discusses uncomfortable realities that most people would rather not confront. The book is not overtly filled with violence or drugs, but neither is this element shied away from either.

Overall, this is a great read which you can complete in a couple of hours (200+pages). It’s a deep, engaging story that allows you the opportunity to participate in the lives of people that are so often stereotyped, but never fully embraced in literature. I was impressed with Chino’s story, Bodega’s dream and the humanity that brought it all down.

Other Reviews of the Book:

Theodore W. Allen | Jeffrey B. Perry

See on Scoop.itMixed American Life

The website maintained by Jeffrey B. Perry the biographer of Hubert Harrison and literary executor of Theodore W. Allen (author of “The Invention of the White Race”).

Glenn Robinson‘s insight:

I haven’t read this book, but I have read “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter and through that book I learned that Europeans didn’t think much about ‘race’. The whole ‘white race’ idea started in the U.S.

From some of the confusing excerpts in this blog article, I’m not confident the quality of the writing would be very good in Theodore W. Allen’s book. However, I do expecially like his number four challenge that he posed before he passed away.

“…consider ways whereby European-American laboring people may cast off the stifling incubus of “white” identity.” -Theodore W. Allen

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Book Review:Multiple Origins, Uncertain Identities: Hispanics and the American Future


Book Title: Multiple Origins, Uncertain Identities (2006)

Author: The National Research Council of the National Academies

Review Rating:  4.75 out of 5 stars

Created by The United States National Research Council of the National Academies, Multiple Origins, Uncertain Identities is a six chapter book detailing the different variables that could impact American society as the Hispanic population transitions to become the majority in the United States. For such a concise little book, readers will be provided a wealth of data on the educational, occupational, and social changes that could potentially play a role in this transition. The chief focus of the book is to analyze and dissect the unique problems faced by the Hispanic population in the United States that stem from this culture’s unique identity, history, and characteristics. Different themes are explored in each chapter; however each chapter deals in some way with four basic questions:

  • The Identity Question: How should the United States classify people of Hispanic descent for research and governmental statistics (often used for programs, funding, etc.)?
  • The Immigration Question:How does the United States stop and manage undocumented immigrants while also providing legitimate citizenship options for those immigrants who want to become citizens?
  • The Language Question: What is the proper balance between accepting bilingualism and enforcing English language?
  • The Education Question:  What is the proper way to increase Hispanic participation in the US educational system given all of the problems that this system must face?

The book covers these questions from various different perspectives and vantage points. Since the book was created by a government agency, this book has all of the precision and organization of a government publication. Surprisingly, though, the language is more accessible than most other government publications and is actually an engaging read for people who would like a brief synopsis of potential challenges (and potential opportunities) for the Hispanic population.  With less than 130 pages of reading material, this book strikes the almost-perfect balance between being an easy read and an in-depth sociological report.


  • Authoritative research from a credible source
  • Concise & highly focused content
  • Good organization making it easy to navigate and retrieve information


  • Not a positive book-The book just states the facts, which doesn’t really focus on the strengths or resources of the Hispanic community.
  • No solutions provided in the book-While the book presents a lot of facts about the problems, it does not provide any information on possible solutions to the problems.