A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

This history is humbling—showing how hard it is to do the right thing and exposing the many barriers to unseating the status quo. It reveals that the perpetration of injustice is not always about hatred but often about indifference, fear, and personal comfort.

My goodness. A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis. I’ll admit it’s hard for me to review a book like this because I wish I could write down each strong, thought-provoking, or challenging point the author makes.

This narrative speaks on the tendency for many Americans to relegate the civil rights movement to something that’s (safely) behind us. It speaks on the tendency for people to applaud figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks while separating them from the totality of their messages, from their anger, from the fact that they were controversial and that the civil rights movement was disruptive and unpopular to most Americans at the time. If we now reduce Rosa Parks to a sweet, quiet lady who sat meekly on a bus one day, and we strip her of her years of politics and activism and most of what she actually said, we can comfortably celebrate her without being challenged by her anymore.

This book puts clear language to ideas I’ve been chewing on, including how racism isn’t merely about people’s feelings, that as long as enough individuals don’t feel or express personal malice toward people of color, then social injustice in America is no longer a real or serious problem.

My one issue with the reading was that it often seemed redundant, repeating the same information or quotes in places or using different words to make the same points over again. I also wasn’t able to comb through all of it (time constraints with a borrowed copy), but this is the kind of book I’d have no problem revisiting.

America has much more work to do for civil rights, and it’ll take having an accurate view of our history.

 

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