This week on System Check we are saying farewell to 2020 and hello to 2021 with our first System Check Book Club. Your hosts Melissa and Dorian first aired this Book Club as a Live Event on YouTube and Facebook just in time for holiday reading. While the original show was over two hours long, for our podcast this week we decided to share with you some of the highlights from the live event.
First up is Maria Hinojosa, journalist , storyteller, and founder of Futuro Media Group. She is the host and executive producer of the brilliant and informative weekly NPR show Latino USA, and anchor of the Emmy Award–winning talk show Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One. Her latest book, Once I Was You: a Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America, was published by Atria Books and received well-earned rave reviews this fall. We talk with her about the system of immigration, particularly the cruel and harmful practices of family separation of young immigrant children from their parents, the role of state agents who insist they are simply “doing their job” as well as those brave enough to resist, and the personal origins of her book title.
Next we speak with Rumaan Alam, author of the gripping, searing and suspenseful novel Leave The World Behind. With bylines in many places, including The Nation, Alam’s fictional characters in his third novel feel as though they are grappling with the dystopia of their new domestic lives, revealing deep-seated racism, and coping with the death-dealing consequences of environmental and political disaster. Sound familiar? Leave the World Behind was a finalist for this year’s National Book Award and has already been optioned by Netflix. Although written in 2018 and 2019, it seems like the year 2020 released the lived experience version of this novel.
Up next is a powerful, brutal, and insightful new book by New York Times best-selling author Scott Farris. Freedom on Trial: The First Post Civil-War Battle Over Civil Rights and Voter Suppression tells the story of the federal government prosecution of the South Carolina Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s. Farris talks with us about the system of citizenship—and the contested meanings of the 14th and 15th Amendments during the Reconstruction period, the role of the Radical Republicans in the fight for racial justice, and the specific role of Farris’s own great grandfather in this overlooked historical saga of the KKK.
Our colleague John Nichols, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, joins us next to discuss his latest book, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace’s Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics. In the book, John reveals the legacy of former vice president Henry Wallace, who warned of the persisting “Danger of American Fascism” and urged the Democratic Party to reject imperialism in favor of a genuinely progressive future. It is a message, Nichols says, the Democratic Party needs to heed now. Nichols brings the often forgotten visionary, politician, activist, and philanthropist Wallace to the fore of mid-century American politics, charting the untraveled paths he envisioned for the Democratic Party, including a postwar peace that was rooted in human dignity and justice abroad and domestically. And John answers the question: Does the Democratic Party today have a soul to fight for?
Our final selection for this week’s episode offers a very different way of thinking about systems. Although this book is about one man—athlete, artist, philosopher, and activist Paul Robeson—it isn’t so much a biography as an exploration of Robeson as a system, a technology, an element and vibration. Intrigued? Tune in to hear Shana Redmond, professor of musicology and African American studies at UCLA, and author of Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson, as she talks with our hosts about this extraordinary book, including how Robeson was to Henry Wallace in 1948 as Killa Mike was to Bernie Sanders in 2020.
A very special thanks to all of our authors that joined us for first System Check Book Club, as well as all of our partners for the live event including: The Anna Julia Cooper Center, Community Change Action, The New York Public Library, Tattered Cover Bookstore, and, of course, the home of System Check, The Nation.
System Check is a project of The Nation magazine, hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren and produced by Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Support for System Check comes from Omidyar Network, a social change venture that is reimagining how capitalism should work. Learn more about their efforts to recenter our economy around individuals, community, and societal well-being at Omidyar.com. Our executive producer is Frank Reynolds. Our theme music is by Brooklyn-based artist and producer Jachary.
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