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Reviews of We Refuse by Kellie Jackson

We Refuse by Kellie Carter Jackson

We Refuse

A Forceful History of Black Resistance

by Kellie Carter Jackson
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  • Jun 4, 2024
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About This Book

Book Summary

A radical reframing of the past and present of Black resistance—both nonviolent and violent—to white supremacy.

Black resistance to white supremacy is often reduced to a simple binary, between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolence and Malcolm X's "by any means necessary." In We Refuse, historian Kellie Carter Jackson urges us to move past this false choice, offering an unflinching examination of the breadth of Black responses to white oppression, particularly those pioneered by Black women.  

The dismissal of "Black violence" as an illegitimate form of resistance is itself a manifestation of white supremacy, a distraction from the insidious, unrelenting violence of structural racism. Force—from work stoppages and property destruction to armed revolt—has played a pivotal part in securing freedom and justice for Black people since the days of the American and Haitian Revolutions. But violence is only one tool among many. Carter Jackson examines other, no less vital tactics that have shaped the Black struggle, from the restorative power of finding joy in the face of suffering to the quiet strength of simply walking away. 

Clear-eyed, impassioned, and ultimately hopeful, We Refuse offers a fundamental corrective to the historical record, a love letter to Black resilience, and a path toward liberation.

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The chapters in We Refuse focus on five distinct (though often enmeshed) forms of Black resistance to white supremacist oppression: revolution, protection, force, flight, and joy. In the opening chapter, Jackson focuses on the Haitian Revolution in particular as an example of a radical and systemic transformation of a society through the use of violence, detailing the overthrow of the French colonizers by an armed, organized, and motivated populace (and led by the indefatigable Toussaint Louverture). She contrasts this event with the American Revolution, which she declares a misnomer given that its instigators and soldiers fought for the freedom of only a segment of society: "Washington was not fighting for revolution; he was fighting for independence from Britain." The anecdotes throughout the book focused on individual courage are often the most dynamic. The chapter on force narrates the stories of Carrie Johnson, a teenage girl who defended her home with a gun from a white mob during a riot in Washington, D.C.; and Daisy Bates, who established her house as an armed and fortified compound to protect the first students integrating Little Rock, Arkansas's Central High School...continued

Full Review Members Only (777 words)

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This taut and fiery discussion focuses on historical research (with occasional repetition) and transformative figures (often little known) along with hard-won insight from Jackson's personal experiences. An uncompromising yet accessible rejoinder to conventional wisdom about race and violence in the U.S.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]nthralling...By astutely delineating how Black resistance strategies have always existed on a spectrum between the binary of nonviolence vs. violence, Carter Jackson demolishes an unnecessarily rigid distinction. The result is an invigorating paradigm shift.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire
From one of our generation's most exciting historians, We Refuse changes the way we understand the contours and legacy of the Black freedom struggle. Blending fierce analysis with touching personal vignettes, Kellie Carter Jackson's essential new book enhances the most pressing debates of our time and will stay with readers long after they finish.

Author Blurb Kerri K. Greenidge, author of The Grimkes
What does it mean to use violence as a means of resistance? How has violent resistance shaped Black radical freedom movements, despite the popular notion that peaceful pleas for humanity or moderate negotiations with white supremacist oppression are the only path to racial justice? In We Refuse, Kellie Carter Jackson provides a cogent, provocative, and ultimately inspiring re-evaluation of how violence—in all its forms—has been used by Black people to resist slavery and its afterlives. Both radical history and racial reckoning, this book is sure to become a canonical text. Through extensive research and brilliant analysis of Black communities and our politics, We Refuse is a timely re-writing of the African American past, one that forces us to reframe our discussion of our beloved civil rights icons, our assumptions about our politics, and our collective understanding of what it means to resist.

Author Blurb Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams
Kellie Carter Jackson is fearless. She is not afraid to tell you want she thinks, share what she knows, or challenge prevailing wisdom. We Refuse is proof. She taps the wellsprings of memory, archives, oral histories, literature, imagination, and personal experience to tell a very Black story of armed resistance, strategic retreat, unbreakable resolve, and joyous rapture. Reading this book will cause discomfort in some folks, provoke cheers in others. But I doubt anyone will be able to put it down.

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Beyond the Book



Desegregation Activist Daisy Bates

Color photo of the Daisy Bates House in Little Rock, a one-story, brick ranch-style home In We Refuse, Kellie Carter Jackson recalls the courageous and tireless efforts of civil rights activist Daisy Bates and her husband, L.C., to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Bates home became a place of refuge for the students known as the "Little Rock Nine" — the first group of Black children to attend the previously all-white Central High School — and their families, putting the couple at constant risk of violent retribution.

Born Daisy Gatson in Huttig, Arkansas in 1914, Bates's life was marked by white supremacist violence almost immediately — her mother was sexually assaulted and murdered by a group of white men when Daisy was a baby, and she was subsequently raised by family friends. She ...

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