This weekend I finished A Renegade History of the United States
, which was an interesting book. However, parts of it were not really fleshed out. With these sorts of books, I can't help but wonder if the idea is a gimmick or if there's an agenda involved. The first two parts--about the how the founding fathers tried to force new citizens into good ideas of citizenship to compensate for the loss of a king to provide order, and about how successive waves of immigrants in the 19th century at first identified with african americans but later but were later seen as white, both by themselves and people at large--were the most interesting, and well-argued. The chapter on the freedom of slavery is interesting, and given the longevity of the institution and how many people were involved it has to have a very complicated mess. So, some of that should go back into our understanding of the experience, but I have to question the idea that slaves were such valuable property that masters wouldn't punish them hard. I mean, think of the shit that people do to their children, and tell me that "value" whether commercial or emotional is a sure deterrent. Also the sources he uses (the WPA interviews and runaway slave advertisements) are very open to interpretation. I kept thinking of that slave cemetery that was excavated in New York City, and how the skeletons showed the result of hard work from a very young age. I know, physical evidence is also subject to interpretation, but I think exploration of more lines of evidence would have probably changed the analysis.
Some of the stuff was pretty poorly explored. For instance, the contention that we owe a debt to mobsters for providing gay bars, is a little bit of an eye roll for me. Yeah, I get it, there were no other available public spaces, but these bars were run exploitatively, (from what I've read) and I think that takes some of the bloom off that rose.
Still, it's worth reading for the different perspective it offers.
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