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  • Elizabeth Garcia

Review: Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain

At a time when overt suppression of African American history in this country is actively taking place, those of us who care about the truth of our national history must do our part to educate ourselves. Four Hundred Soulsis a wonderfully written, accessible, historical account of four hundred years of African American history that will broaden your understanding of historical moments you may be familiar with and learn about many others that have remained silenced in our mainstream histories.

The edited volume contains short narrative essays, each covering a span of five years, focusing on a particular historical moment or individual during each particular five-year period, beginning with 1619. Many of the essays connect the past to the present demonstrating the ongoing repercussions of past events and the long legacy of struggle and resistance among African Americans.

One of my favorite essays is found early on by Ijeoma Oluo, who explains why as a biracial man he identifies as Black. Tracing his reasoning back to the period of 1629-1634, when a white man was whipped in public for lying with a black woman. The only time in history when the white person was punished for such behavior. However, the punishment was not because he had polluted a black woman, but because he had polluted his own whiteness. Soon after, however, it would be Black people who were to be punished for their relationships with white individuals whether consensual or not. Thus, Oluo argues that you can never be part white. “Whiteness is a ledge you can only fall from.” Whiteness can only exist in its purest form, and this anti-black ideology began in this time period.

This is just one of the many illuminating essays found in this volume. As I read through all of these years of history what was most striking was how generation after generation, no matter what atrocities were experienced, an unrelenting belief in their right to freedom and a willingness to fight for it, has survived through the ages. This history is heartbreaking, enraging, educational, and inspiring and should be part of our standard history curriculum in all of our educational institutions.

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