"We" Includes Me - A Review of Men We Reaped


I love the site Public Books, and they published this review a couple of years ago. Here's a bit, and you can read the rest by following the link.


In my world, which is populated by people obsessed with race, statistics about black men and boys are ubiquitous. Study after study lays out how few graduate from high school, how many wind up in prison, how few are employed, how many are killed by the police. I can find a number for nearly any aspect of a black man’s life. That number will be far higher or far lower than that of other groups, and never in a good way. Occasionally, the statistics are pulled out after a dramatic death, as with the executions of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia and Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn. For a few weeks, the public conversation focuses on black men, but in ways as fraught with racist stereotyping of the subjects as it is with condemnation of the actions that ended their lives.

What we miss in either case—statistics or specific incident—is the sense of relentless frequency with which people in black communities experience the loss of their young men. In less than four years, Jesmyn Ward’s poor, African American coastal Mississippi community lost five of theirs. Her subsequent struggle to understand why she’s “been saddled with this rotten fucking story” led her to write the memoir Men We Reaped, the follow-up to her 2011 National Book Award–winning novel, Salvage the Bones. The title of her new book, her first memoir, comes from a Harriet Tubman quotation about gathering up dead black soldiers following a Civil War battle. The book is short, told in everyday language, but it is not a particularly quick read, given the absorption and time required to process such a deep emotional plunge into questions of race, gender, geography, and poverty.