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Whose Story Is This?: Old Conflicts, New Chapters , by Rebecca Solnit.

August 18, 2019

Whose Story Is This?Whose Story Is This?: Old Conflicts, New Chapters, by Rebecca Solnit.  Haymarket Books, 2019.


4 stars

A collection of essays by a sharp-witted and highly respected American journalist who brings insights on social justice movements such as feminism, politics, the sense of place, cultural history, social change and insurrection.

Rebecca Solnit was born in Connecticut  in 1961, and raised in California where she received an unusual education culminating in degrees from San Francisco State and UCLA/Berkley.  She has been personally involved in movements for social justice, before turning to writing.  She has published over twenty books on a wide variety of topics. Her writing regularly appears in The Guardian, and she has a regular bi-monthly essay in Harper’s Magazine.  Her awards include a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Lannan Literary Award.

In a world full of pundits, I find Solnit uniquely able to explore potent topics with fresh and vital perspectives.  She cares about words and conceptual frameworks that either hold us in the grip of old injustices or help us find new ways of thinking about “Old Conflicts [and] New Chapters.”

In her new book Solnit addresses the fundamental conflict of our time over who has power and how that power is been challenged today.  The publicity for the book states its question clearly:

Who gets to shape the narrative of our times? The current moment is a battle royale over that foundational power, one in which women, people of color, non-straight people are telling other versions, and white people and men and particularly white men are trying to hang onto the old versions and their own centrality.
This is the challenge that has been on the horizon that has been lurking on the horizon since the beginning of the twentieth-centuries “culture wars” and has come to a head with the Trump administration.

Solnit is clearly a feminist. One of her most popular books has been Men Explain Things to Me, a collection of essays written about instances of “mansplaining.”   For Solnit, feminism includes the issues of all people whose voices have traditionally been silenced and whose lives have been oppressed.  She forces us to look directly at the euphemisms and double-speak that hide those who would hold onto their authority to oppress.  For those of us who are “good liberals,” believing in the need for equality across gender, racial, and other structural obstacles, she points out that we must question our assumptions to unearth the ways in which we hamper real social change.   For example, as the Democratic Party assembles a radically diverse group of presidential candidates, why, for example, do so many claim we must nominate a white man because he would make voters more “comfortable.”  Perhaps that would be expedient, but in doing so are we engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaders simply are white men.   If we support meaningful social change, Solnit tells us we need to be willing to look at the implications of our unquestioned assumptions.  She urges us to think outside our usual boxes and gives us examples of how to do that.

Readers do not need to agree with Solnit in order to profit from reading and considering her words. I strongly urge readers to explore her ideas.

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