"Begin Again" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
"Begin Again" is a rugged analysis and harsh critique of white supremacy and American exceptionalism. Author Eddie Glaude Jr. observes that the history of the United States has been shaped by the lies that only Whites can determine who is human and that the U.S. is "the shining city on the Hill."
From this country’s founding, those in power have propagated the lie that human inequality is the natural state of things and that the U.S. is "the redeemer of nations." Glaude also contends that a third lie—claim that current clashes over human rights and equality are new—is the biggest one of all. He warns that lies about race hollow out a nation's soul and leave its democracy vulnerable and calls for a painfully eye-opening act of national repentance.
Glaude is a James Baldwin scholar and reflects on past U.S. human rights struggles through the lens of Baldwin (1924-1987). He mines Baldwin’s writings to illustrate how the United States refuses "to turn its back on racism and to reach for its better angels." Using some of Baldwin’s biography, as well as literary analysis of some of the writer’s key works, Glaude reminds readers of Baldwin’s reflections on "the ugliness of who we are."
Glaude is unrelenting in pressing the tender spots of the U.S. story many would like to forget: the Civil Rights Movement and the gains lost; the mass incarceration of Black people and the frequent, legally authorized murders of young Black men. He reminds readers of the realities of many recent shocking homicides to support his argument.
The U.S. has faced two critical times of moral reckoning when the union was challenged to begin again. The first was during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Civil Rights Amendments to the Constitution. The second opportunity to begin again came during the Black freedom struggles of the 1950s and 60s that aimed to complete the "unfinished revolution."
Glaude demands a third founding of our government and society in which "becoming white" is no longer the requirement for citizenship. Evidence of a successful third try would include the U.S. freeing itself of the belief that White people matter more than others, based on the reverence for all human life, regardless of race, zip code, gender, or who you love.”
Glaude's book is a powerful, at times angry and at times gracious, history of 20th Century racism as experienced by James Baldwin and examined by the author. Both men argue that we must begin again but such beginning again will only make a difference if we honestly address the hard truths about American history.
Glaude calls for individuals to confront their racism and reject the idea that White people matter more than all others. He calls for the examination of institutions to ascertain, repent and repair how white supremacy shapes schools, places of worship, employment, and more.
About the Author: Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. He is a frequent guest on political talk shows.