Reflections on Blackness and Our Political Future
by Brandi Collins-Dexter
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Pub Date 20 Sep 2022 | Archive Date Not set
**A New York Times Editors' Choice Pick**
**One of Kirkus Reviews' Best Nonfiction Books of 2022**
"Political activist Collins-Dexter’s essay collection is timely as well as pointed. In it, she argues that Democrats have taken Black voters for granted, and that the consequences of this mistake have already begun — and will accelerate."
—The New York Times,"15 Works of Nonfiction to Read This Fall"
For fans of Bad Feminist and The Sum of Us, Black Skinhead sparks a radical conversation about Black America and political identity.
In Black Skinhead, Brandi Collins-Dexter, former Senior Campaign Director for Color Of Change, explores the fragile alliance between Black voters and the Democratic party. Through sharp, timely essays that span the political, cultural, and personal, Collins-Dexter reveals decades of simmering disaffection in Black America, told as much through voter statistics as it is through music, film, sports, and the baffling mind of Kanye West.
While Black Skinhead is an outward look at Black votership and electoral politics, it is also a funny, deeply personal, and introspective look at Black culture and identity, ultimately revealing a Black America that has become deeply disillusioned with the failed promises of its country.
We had been told that everything was fine, that America was working for everyone and that the American Dream was attainable for all. But for those who had been paying attention, there had been warning signs that the Obamas’ version of the American Dream wasn’t working for everyone. That it hadn’t been working for many white Americans was immediately and loudly discussed, but the truth—and what I set out to write this book about—was that it hadn’t been working for many Black Americans either. For many, Obama’s vision had been more illusion than reality all along.
When someone tells you everything is fine, but around you, you see evidence that it’s not, where will the quest to find answers lead you? As I went on the journey of writing this book, I found a very different tale about Black politics and Black America, one that countered white America’s long-held assumption that Black voters will always vote Democrat—and even that the Democratic party is the best bet for Black Americans.
My ultimate question was this: how are Black people being led away—not towards—each other, and what do we lose when we lose each other? What do we lose when, to quote Kanye West, we feel lost in the world.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 8 members
Black Skinhead, by Brandi Collins-Dexter, is a refreshing and honest attempt to both understand and project into the future the variety of Black political thought.
There is a tendency among white political pundits to conflate the monolithic voting habits of the Black community with Black political thought and ideas. The Democratic party has largely taken this for granted and, without living up to most of their promises, assumed the votes would still be there. This complacency, to put it nicely, has made many voters choose to simply not vote while others feel more aligned with the GOP. In large part, seeing a number of Black Trump supporters led Collins-Dexter to delve into exactly why. What she discovered actually made sense even if it was still bothersome.
The ideas and concerns of the majority of voters she spoke with were very similar, it was what they were going to do about it that illustrates the fractured (fracturing?) state of Black community. Using popular culture, from music to professional wrestling (no, really! and it works!), we see how where there used to be debate and conflict but ultimately a coming together for the common good there is now the same siloing of people into their own worlds. Without the same type of community, across class and income levels, the common good that a community could agree on becomes many often-oppositional ideas of good. Most individuals are still thinking of the good of the Black community but without actual places (physical or virtual) where different viewpoints can be contested, a consensus can't be reached. Thus the shattering vision of a group of excited MAGA hat wearing young Black people.
My attempt at summarizing is likely lacking in nuance, but the book does a much better job. Don't hold my poor wording against the book.
I was especially intrigued by her analyses of popular culture. I personally think her assessment of what Kanye West "meant" by a couple of his comments is giving a little more credit to him than he deserves. I think he may have had a vague notion of what she fleshes out, but how she interprets it is where the real power comes from. I also found her explanation and contextualizing of drill music to be eye-opening. I was barely aware of it and had no context previously, so this was all new to me.
Her personal stories, especially those involving her father, really helped to make this a phenomenal work. Weaving the personal and the political, the local and the national, even the rural and the urban (and suburban). I want to come back to this book again in a couple months of letting the ideas ferment and see what my new takeaways will be.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
In Black Skinhead, Brandi Collins-Dexter brilliantly weaves through a multitude of touch points–social, cultural, and political–to investigate the Black Skinhead, defined as “a disillusioned political outlier who is underrepresented in mainstream media discourse.” Not only is this an exploration of the mindsets of Black voters who firmly vote from the Right, or independently, or not at all, but Collins-Dexter offers powerful commentary and interviews on topics such as media bias and misinformation on violence against Black lives, the impact of government policy on sex work, and populism from the lens of being a WWE fan enraptured by a moving promo by 1980’s star wrestler The American Dream.
This is exquisitely written–probably the best writing I’ve read this year. Collins-Dexter enters this subject matter with a mix of tenderness, open curiosity, and most importantly, a well-rounded approach to conveying the messages of those she may not entirely agree with. I learned so much that I had no clue about, like the community-focussed methodology of Black voters that is not necessarily devoted to the Democratic Party, the existence of drill music, and the extra cost and labour Black sex workers take on to ensure success, amongst much else. My favourite moments included a delve into the historically political lean of Playboy Magazine, a brief yet chilling dip into the subject of epigenetics (an essay I related deeply to), a reflection on what it means to be gothic, and an excellent essay connecting her analysis of the ending of Marvel’s Black Panther with the hardships of Black business owners in the Bay Area and the growing extreme wealth gap in the Black community. Through all this, she incorporates the personal, letting us in on family memories and hardships that had me tearing up from beginning to end.
I cannot say anymore that won’t just be a list of praise–it is simply stunning. At no point did it lull or lose my attention. Even if you think nonfiction isn’t for you, I implore you to give this a try–it is the apex of nonfiction.
Tracing potentially tectonic shifts in American political behavior, Dexter-Collins shows an impressive range and insight as an author. The title references Black people who strongly reject a status quo that doesn’t serve them and the expected alignment with Democratic party politics. Though often found on the margins, they reveal a broader disillusionment that bodes ill for the establishment. To illuminate the underlying roots of this alienation, the book blends ideological and cultural analysis with intimate personal narrative. The journey starts with the author’s moving tribute to the father she lost in 2020 to treatable disease and systematic failures in the healthcare system. That’s followed by case studies including how Kanye West, a former Obama admirer, became a libertarian social conservative. It’s a fascinating synthesis.
🌟BLACK SKINHEAD: Reflections on Blackness and Our Political Future🌟 by Brandi Collins-Dexter ~published September 20, 2022
Thanks so much to @celadonbooks and @netgalley for the gifted advance review copy. All thoughts are my own.
I loved this series of essays on American politics, being black in America, the black voting block, and the ever-intriguing Kanye West.
As I have said before, I am a white woman reviewing a book about the black experience. I relate my feelings to you through a lens of whiteness, cognizant of the fact that I will never be able to experience this book, or the things in this book, in the same way that a member of the black community will experience them. Nevertheless, I hope that by adding my voice to the discussion, it will encourage others to continue to read diverse books about experiences different from their own.
There is an old expression that to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” And that’s kind of what Collins-Dexter is saying here (albeit in a much more eloquent fashion). If the political establishment continues to assume that all black Americans will vote Democrat, it may end up feeling like an ass (given the donkey logo, it was bound to happen). She makes a great point and I (generally) think she’s right.
Speaking of asses, Collins-Dexter admirably tries to defend/reframe/add nuance to some of past presidential candidate Kanye West’s more ridiculous comments, and she sometimes succeeds! Note: I worship West’s musical ability, but when he speaks, he tends to insert his foot into his mouth at an alarming rate, saying things like slavery was a choice or interrupting Taylor Swift at the Grammys. Collins-Dexter seems to be particularly inspired by music, and the title of the book even comes from a Kanye West song.
Collin’s-Dexter shares a lot of personal feelings in this book, and those were my favorite parts. The essays on her emotions before a big speech, her feelings about how we can get away from the constant narrative of black trauma and suffering, thoughts on her own interracial marriage, and coming to terms with the death of her father were all powerful and poignant. I was surprised and disheartened when Collin’s-Dexter discussed feeling unsafe on Northwestern University’s campus at night due to her race. Northwestern is a private school located on the “north shore” of Chicago and not a place I associate with being racist, so it’s definitely food for thought for me.
Engaging and of the moment!
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