Reviews for Black Af History

by Michael Harriot

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A vibrant retelling of American history that explodes “the whitewashed mythology enshrined in our collective memory.” In his simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking debut book, journalist and cultural critic Harriot offers an impressively researched and thoughtful exploration of the African diaspora over the past 500 years. The author weaves humor and wit with history and advocacy, and he takes readers on countless edifying twists and turns that debunk myths or clarify accepted terms and conditions. Harriot is adept at reframing conventional history, showing us how the slave trade was human trafficking, plantations were “forced labor enterprises,” Jim Crow was American apartheid, and lynch mobsters were serial killers and ethnic cleansers. Though pertinent historical names and events come to the forefront, forgotten players and details receive equal attention. “The Emancipation Proclamation couldn’t free the slaves,” he writes. “Black people freed themselves. And in doing so, they defeated the Confederacy and freed America from its most undemocratic institution.” Harriot also injects appropriate modern analogies—e.g., regarding W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, “this beef was bigger than Jay-Z vs. Nas; shadier than Michael Jackson vs. Prince; more contentious than sugar vs. salt in grits.” After noting Ida B. Wells’ “allergy to white nonsense and patriarchy,” the author later devotes an entire chapter to the women who started and contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. In a nod to family, the book is also seasoned with stories from Harriot’s own life and family history, including the “Top-Secret Recipe for Aunt Phyllis’s Fried Chicken.” An uncle even steps in to share some of the narrating duties. Each chapter concludes with an amusing yet informative quiz, and the text includes a wide variety of digressive asides and illuminating sidebar passages—e.g., “The Difference Between Soul Food and Southern Cuisine,” “The Real Wakanda.” Fagbamiye’s illustrations complement the text well. Fresh eyes and bold, entertaining language combine in this authoritative, essential work of U.S. history. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.