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Stakes Is High

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An infinitely more honest State of the Union discussion than any given by the current White House occupant, Stakes is High offers an intelligent dissection of the myth of the American dream. Especially relevant in the wake of Black Lives Matter transgressions, demonstrations and attempts at improvement, it will find a readership in those seeking insight into the problems and perspectives facing our country’s citizens today.
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This should be on every American's to be read list. The author wrote such a timely and much needed portrait of what the American experience has been and still is.  The author does not pick just one topic, but touches on many areas where we need to come together and improve, such as with the justice system, endemic racism and much more.  Not only did the author support his argument with extensive data, but the book is extremely well written.
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An incredibly cogent call to revolution. The author is perhaps a cynic at heart (like me), but makes a great case that no matter how messed up this country is, it's not too late to change if everyone digs in and does the work of facing and dismantling our systems of oppression. The so-called American Dream is something that has never really been available to anyone. Mychal Denzel Smith eloquently explain how the American Dream is just a myth told as history, and why that is so dangerous. It's what made Trumpism inevitable, and why we have to reverse course as fast as we can.
A timely book that I hope will be widely read.
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Challenge yourself to think critically about all you've heard, read about, or learned in the past. Author Mychal Denzel Smith provides a path for you on this reflective journey about the myth of the American Dream. The book is divided into four parts: Delusions, Justice, Accountability, and Freedom, which drive the narrative about the American Dream as myth and continued belief in oneself above the belief in people as a community. 

This is a perfect book for racial justice book clubs, as I was wishing to discuss this book along with others as I read it. I also may download this as an audiobook, because I see it is performed by the author, and hearing an author speak their own words can be even more powerful than reading them in your head. Overall, this concise book is one to keep and re-read, share with others, and discuss widely. Many thanks to Netgalley for this advanced read, as we head into election season.
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This is a short book of just a few long essays that have a powerful punch. The book is sharp, intelligent, and well reasoned, as a statement about the most powerful issues the American people are grappling with today, and in the past. Smith covers race, policing, prisons, power men hold over women, the current presidency, and more.

Smith covers Shirley Chisholm, which I had very little knowledge about her, being the first black person to run for presidential nomination of a major party, and the first black woman elected to Congress. He imagines, briefly what might have been if she won the 1972 election and became president. 

There is the part that strikes home, how when we say “American” we mean the people living in the United States, when it discounts all those people living in the continent of America, more North and South of us. How the United States is an Empire, with colonies such as Puerto Rico. 

There is so much more here. The book is densely packed. A book that is part of the conversation that is not to be missed.
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In Stakes is High, Michael Denzel Smith states that he intended to write a book without mentioning Trump but that he was unable to get past the first sentence without doing so. He argues that Trump is not an aberration in the system but the end result of years of systemic racism, misogyny, inequality, and beliefs and policies that have led the country here:

Donald Trump is the inevitable result of holding tight to the American Dream. He was inevitable in 2016 and, barring a revolutionary turn...he will be inevitable in our future. He is the end result of allowing the delusion about our history, of making freedom synonymous with capitalist accumulation, of unearned arrogance and untempered individual ambition...he is all the things that create American culture, whether they are acknowledged or not. 

Using history as well as an unflinchingly clear analysis, Stake is High is, in fact, a call to arms. He looks at the roots of racism by showing the many small indignities in Black neighbourhoods, including the lack of garbage bins on corners compared to white neighbourhoods, that add up to huge inequalities. He also talks about his own ancestor born into slavery and denied the right to learn to read and write meaning that he left no record of his life. 

He examines systemic racism as well as misogyny and toxic masculinity; the failures of the justice and political system; police brutality and how the purpose of the police has, from its inception, been to protect private property; and he lays out the lie behind  the myth of the 'American Dream'. 

He argues that it is all inextricably tethered to 'white supremacist patriarchal capitalism", that he once believed that, although he would not see its end in his lifetime, his friends' children might live in a world without it. But that belief changed on November 8, 2016 and that is why he wrote this book:

I hope you already know, already feel, or if you don't, I hope I can convince you to feel along side me: stakes is high. Our very survival is on the line....[b]ut that something can be done about it. Revolution must be swift and uncompromising; it will be scary and potentially violent. Before it can be any of these things, it must be thought of as possible

This was not always an easy book. Many, no doubt, will agree with his analysis of the causes of the state of the nation but reject his conclusion. But, given what is happening right now in the United States, it is an important book and I recommend it highly.

Thanks to Netgalley and Perseus Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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What we ignored or believed to get where we are as a nation today.

I don’t actually know what put Smith on my radar, but I’m so glad I grabbed this book.  This is a short collection of powerful linked essays on the delusions of America and how it affects everything. His observations are passionate, personal, and reflective and should be required reading. He looks at the “America’s Dad” mask of Bill Cosby or the white-washed legacy of Martin Luther King, the difference between Justice and accountability, and ultimately the illusion of the “American Dream”.
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An frank and intimate contemporary dissection of the violence perpetuated through the delusion, discrimination and disillusionment upon which the American Empire has forever thrived. An essential document of the current moment in the United States. RIYL: "We Were Eight Years In Power" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
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Mychal Denzel Smith crafted a group of stunning essays in his new book, Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream. These essays are so spot on and relevant to current events as to be fully prescient. When in fact, they’re discussing complex conditions that have existed for a ridiculously long time.

Smith’s first book shares the internal journey of a young black man. And now he’s turned the same insightful eye outwards to the U.S. and its myth of the American Dream. He takes on issues that affect all of us, most especially people of color.

Raised in Virginia, Smith moved to New York City as a young man. Much of his essays are NYC-centric, simply because he lives there. It’s his frame of thought, but in no way a “coastal elite” perspective. And there are plenty of moments that encompass issues people in all areas will relate to.

The myth of the American Dream
Like so many essays published recently, this book starts with Smith’s reaction to the 2016 election results. So naturally he analyzes our current president and administration. But rather than addressing specific political actions, he considers how the 2016 election was a function of the myth of the American Dream.

Smith posits that the idea of our country as a merit-based American Dream has always been B.S. Collectively, we suffer from the long-term personal and political effects of this myth. We’re taught that all you have to do is work hard and you can attain that dream. And people of color are taught how much harder they must work to reach those goals. Personally, Smith discusses what happens when people get demoralized by the myth. Then politically, he reminds us that expecting politicians to solve problems and deliver on the myth will never happen.

This essay is the most political, although the myth threads its way throughout the book. Smith discusses the way we elect presidents (hello Electoral College), and why we put so much stake in who that one person in our government is. When in fact, the government is so much more. Adding the story of Shirley Chisholm’s political career to the mix here brings weight to Smith’s conclusions.

Here’s also where a lot of his Trump commentary comes in, because Trump is an example of one man creating an American Dream myth about his life. When, contrary to the myth, his money and success depended on a huge inheritance and possibly shady financing. And the average person, particularly a person of color, never would have that opportunity because of centuries of systemic racism and oppression.

A variety of topics
In 6 short essays, Smith hits hard, over and over. He discusses Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. He illuminates what it is, but more importantly, what it isn’t. And in one related section, Smith reminds us that uprisings led by oppressed people are not new. But they aren’t taught in most history lessons. Or they’re taught with a unbalanced perspective. We think they’re happening for the first time, but that’s not so.

Smith essays are wide ranging as well. Yes, he addresses justice versus patriotism. For example, the seemingly simple question of why there are few publicly-available trash cans in his Brooklyn neighborhood, but plenty of police presence. Smith then extends this and questions the concept of “protect and serve” versus police as soldiers in battle.

Again using his city as an example, Smith considers the effect of a primarily cashless society on the homeless. When we carry no cash to give to that person living on our corner. Or what happens when the homeless person scrounges a few bills, and can’t use them to buy a few things at the corner bodega because it takes only plastic.

Jumping into gender and its fluid possibilities, Smith talks about the cis gender, heteronormative culture of the American Dream myth. He discusses its negative effects on trans people, and especially trans women of color.

My conclusions
I’ll just leave you with one quote from my heavily-highlighted copy, although I’d love to share many more. This may change in all or part in the book when it’s released.

“Where America has fucked up is by telling the myth as history—pretending that who we want to be is who we have always been—then building a proud and belligerent national identity out of the myth. American myths obscure a shameful past and protect the powerful.”

Smith covers so much ground. From poverty and homelessness to racism, classism, and how all of these things play into the rise of Donald Trump. His retelling is honest, radical, and necessary. Not just for this moment in time, but in all moments in time. Smith does not shout, but it would be okay if he did. He ponders, analyzes, and connects events to emotion. And then he uses his writing to shout—or as the saying goes, “speak truth to power.”

It is precisely because the stakes are so high that we need to slough off this American dream myth, deal with the brutal realities of our culture, and do what is necessary to make change. For me in my fifties, I’m not protesting for myself. I do it for my multiracial kids and grandkids, and for the world they are inheriting.

If reading diverse voices with social justice content matters to you, please support this author and pre-order his book now. It publishes in September 2020.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Perseus Books, Public Affairs / Bold Type Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.
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A very good call to arms and critique of the state of the nation. It's not pretty, but Smith's wide-lens view is smart and lays out the root of American problems succinctly, shining a hard light on endemic racism, toxic masculinity, capitalism, the justice system, politics, and the longstanding delusion labeled the American dream. There are no easy answers or binary rhetoric, which makes this a good book to read right now. How we got to this place—or the place we were at when Smith wrote the book, which is just short of this even harsher point in time—is not easily answerable, but it is understandable, and he does a good job of making the case for a broad and deep revolution.
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"Stakes is High" falls into the category of books that everyone should read. As a self-identifying liberal, this book puts into perspective how even if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, while it would have been better than the current presidency, the reality is that the inequality that has existed in this country since its founding will continue without a complete overhaul of our systems. I appreciation Smith's discussion on how, as liberals, especially white liberals, we can't put blame on the groups of people who voted for Trump unless we look at our long history that has allowed white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia/homophobia, discrimination against immigrants, and economic privilege by only certain groups of people to perpetuate. Many of the ideals that Americans profess that make us a united country, like the ability to live the American Dream, are a myth to those who work low wage jobs, graduate from schools without receiving a solid education, or face other daily (and lifelong) injustices. Overall, this book will raise awareness about the true history and current state of America, as well as lead you to think about how you can contribute to making this a better country for everyone.
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Wow, this was fantastic!  A slim, but potent volume of essays covering a variety of difficult subjects, including race, policing, rape culture, etc.  Smith has a way of writing eloquent prose that is direct and thought-provoking, making it both incredibly effective and readable.  I found myself re-reading and highlighting so many lines so I could adequately absorb them.  His writing has me questioning my preconceived notions about a lot of things. Smith is an idealist proposes some pretty controversial ideas, like abolishing the police for instance.   There are so many things we accept as part of society that really should be questioned.  If a flawed system is in place, making slight changes to that system won’t fix it.  These essays will stay with me and I plan to pick up Smith’s previous book!  

Thank you to NetGalley and Bold Type Books for providing a copy of this ARC.
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Simultaneously heartrending and a balm to the soul, the core of Stakes Is High is the present state of our country and our politics are not aberrations but instead reflect the path we've been on for years. As the author puts so eloquently, Trump is "a full expression of America's basest desires" and the "inevitable result of holding tight to the American Dream." And that American Dream is a farce, not "because of its relative unlikelihood, but because it rests on the very idea that inequality is natural and good."

As short as it is, this is a challenging and painful book to read, but Smith's skill with prose and his laser-like precision for describing our collective id make it well worth it.
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