Focusing on Collective Memory | Social Sciences Reviews

Ijeoma Oluo's words will resonate with all ready to look inward and enact change. Connor Towne O'Neill writes a powerful meditation on collective memory. Ty Seidule shows how history informs our present.

Mediocre Oluo, Ijeoma. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Seal Pr. Dec. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781580059510. $28. SOC
In this follow-up to So You Want To Talk About Race, Oluo offers a wide-ranging study of white, male identity. From cowboy mythology acted out by Buffalo Bill to the idea of one man going alone against the world as exemplified by Cliven Bundy, the author asks: Whose America is it? She makes the case that whiteness and masculinity are powerful yet also dependent on the identities that they oppress. Oluo further maintains that white men who are experiencing desperation, disappointment, and despair will find an enemy either in themselves or others: "When you are denied the power, the success...that you think are your right, you either believe that you are broken or you believe that you have been stolen from." Outstanding chapters also scrutinize the anger and fervor of Bernie Bros, resentment toward women in politics, right-wing attacks on higher education, and even the origins of football as a sport designed to foster a white, male ideal. The work remains strong throughout, as Oluo grounds her research in interviews and primary sources, while also describing the harassment her family has faced because of her writing. VERDICT Oluo calls on us to do better because we deserve better, and her words will resonate with all ready to look inward and enact change.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

Down Along With That Devils Bones O'Neill, Connor Towne. Down Along with That Devil's Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy. Algonquin. Sept. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781616209100. $26.95. SOC
After moving to Alabama, writer O'Neill (English, Auburn Univ.) sought to make sense of his new home by looking at its past. In order to better understand himself and his country, he traces the footsteps of Confederate general and Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest by visiting namesake monuments and buildings. This journey brings O’Neill in contact with activists hoping to remove statues, and Forrest admirers and apologists. Following Forrest, also a wealthy slave trader and slaveholder, takes O’Neill to Selma, experiencing white flight after the election of the city’s first Black mayor; Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, with tension between students aiming to change a building name and locals opposing; and Nashville, the home of the ugliest statue dedicated to Forrest. The narrative excels in blending personal and historical throughout, but especially in Memphis, as the author visits a church on the site of Forrest's former slave mart and delves into the general's involvement in the 1864 Fort Pillow Massacre. In exploring how whiteness operates, O’Neill maintains that white Americans are skilled at selective memory: "Ideology will assemble the convenient facts and blot out the rest." VERDICT O'Neill is a talented writer, and this powerful meditation on collective memory is necessary reading for knowing ourselves and our history.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

Robert E. Lee and MeSeidule, Ty. Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause. St. Martin's. Jan. 2020. 304p. 9781250239266. $27.99. SOC
In 2015, Seidule produced a short video making the case that the Southern states seceded from the United States in order to create a slave-based republic. The video went viral and Seidule, a U.S. army colonel and historian at West Point, became a target of Confederate apologists, even receiving death threats. This book grew out of that video, and in it the author examines the power that the "Lost Cause" myth had over him when he was young and how he came to realize its fiction. Seidule grew up attending schools in Virginia and Georgia where the Lost Cause and veneration of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were part of the culture. As he began to study the American Civil War and post–Reconstruction eras, he learned that the version of history he was taught was inaccurate. He makes a solid case that leaders of the Confederate states should not be honored because they betrayed their oaths to uphold the Constitution and in fact fought to destroy the very nation they were sworn to protect. VERDICT Seidule openly confronts his own indifference to racism, and this absorbing book will be of value to anyone interested in how history informs our present.—Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL

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