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‘We Refuse’ Chronicles Resistance with a Focus on Black Joy

“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 examination of the numerous ways Black people have resisted white supremacy, “We Refuse” is enlightening, informative, and ultimately hopeful.

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

This structured approach is elegant and effective. “We Refuse” is a gripping read, filled with historical examples — from the Fugitive Slave Act, Civil War, American Revolution, Haitian Revolution, civil rights movement, and Great Migration. It also sheds light on the individuals involved in these events, helping to elucidate the author’s main points.

Carter Jackson enriches these examples with powerful and poignant stories from her own family’s experiences with resistance 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 the most convincing and controversial arguments in “We Refuse” is that nonviolence has been erroneously upheld as the most effective strategy to combat white supremacist violence. Through various examples, we see how a versatile set of approaches has helped keep Black people alive and more free than they would be otherwise, in the face of white oppression.

Ultimately, Carter Jackson places 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 recounts the untimely deaths of her two siblings and how her family’s Black church community supported them when they couldn’t carry on alone.

More specific forms of joy, such as Black dance and humor, are recognized as seminal art forms of resistance. These cultural expressions create spaces outside the white gaze and nourish the community. The cultural phenomenon and international success of the movie “Black Panther” — and the power and recognition felt across the African diaspora from seeing a complex and imaginative representation of Black life on screen — is another potent example of Black joy.

Carter Jackson concludes the book with a powerful message that she hopes readers will remember: “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.

Source: StarTribune, Tribune Content Agency, LLC.