When the Stars Begin To Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America

Atlantic Monthly. Jun. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780802157850. $26. SOC SCI
About halfway through this look at deeply ingrained racism in the United States, Johnson (senior fellow, Brennan Ctr. for Justice) dismisses the metaphor of the U.S. as a melting pot and re-labels it as a nation of “trickle-down citizenship.” Our differences may make the country great, he maintains, but people in power have always controlled access to different aspects of U.S. citizenship. Johnson’s argument about dismantling systemic racism relies on political philosophy, sociology, civil rights history, and his deep understanding of the government’s legislation to control Black Americans. Johnson, a doctor of law and policy and former U.S. Navy commander, weaves his personal history with that of the nation to show that the personal and political are intertwined for all of us. His book builds a solid foundation for his call for a national solidarity that mixes deliberate democracy, national service, and civic education.
VERDICT Johnson supports his argument with a mix of stories, both personal and historical, which brings a personal aspect to a work that can be academic at times. While the book covers the same territory as recent works by Isabel Wilkerson and Ibram X. Kendi, Johnson’s particular point-of-view makes his call to action feel like a patriotic duty.
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