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Review: ‘We Refuse’ is a searing history of resistance that focuses on Black joy

Shannon Gibney | (TNS) Star Tribune

“While whiteness cannot be separated from violence, Blackness can be separated from oppression,” Kellie Carter Jackson writes in the introduction to her searing book, “We Refuse: A Forceful History of Black Resistance.”

An analysis of the myriad ways Black people have resisted white supremacy, “We Refuse” is illuminating, informative and, ultimately, hopeful.

Carter Jackson, an associate professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, divides the book into five parts, each of which explores successful tactics Black individuals and communities have used to resist white domination: revolution, protection, force, flight and joy.

I found this to be an elegant methodology. Indeed, “We Refuse” is a page-turner, filled with historical examples — from the Fugitive Slave Act, Civil War, American Revolution, Haitian Revolution, civil rights movement and Great Migration, as well as the individuals caught up in them — that elucidate the author’s main points.

Carter Jackson peppers these examples with powerful and poignant stories of her own family’s refusal and endurance in the face of deep loss and grief. The result is a book whose persuasion is both emotional and intellectual.

“This book is not about advocating violence,” writes Carter Jackson. “But I am encouraging readers to grapple with the causes and consequences of it, and to think outside the binary of violence and nonviolence.”

One of “We Refuse”‘s most convincing and controversial arguments is that nonviolence has been erroneously held up as the best, most effective strategy to combat white supremacist violence. In example after example, we are shown how a nimble bag of approaches has helped keep Black people alive and more free than they would be otherwise, in the face of white oppression.

In the end, Carter Jackson puts her faith in Black joy. She writes, “The bulk of Black life is made from joy. Joy is not the denial of Black pain, trauma or death, but the hope that comes with activism, resistance and refusal.” She discusses the untimely deaths of her two siblings and how her family’s Black church community held them up when they couldn’t hold themselves up.

More specific forms of joy, such as Black dance and humor, are identified as seminal art forms of resistance — feeding folks as they create space outside the white gaze. The cultural event and international blockbuster that was the movie “Black Panther” — and the power and recognition that those throughout the African diaspora felt from seeing such a layered and imaginative representation of Black life on screen — also is identified as a potent site of Black joy.

Carter Jackson ends the book with these words, which she clearly wants us never to forget: “Black joy is the remedy. Justice is the healing. We can have both.”


We Refuse: A Forceful History of Black Resistance

By: Kellie Carter Jackson.

Publisher: Seal Press, 304 pages $30.

©2024 StarTribune. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Source: Berkshire mont

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