Open Wound: The Long View of Race in America is William McKee Evans’ provocative review of anti-Blackness in the United States and the lingering contentions society and movements have wrangled with for years. Most specifically, the author is unafraid to take on the ongoing denial of freedoms for those of African descent, and to challenge America’s desire to sweep its sordid colonial and slaving history under the rug. The image is not a pretty one, but as a means of inciting action, it is incredibly worthwhile.
From the evolution of Latin American slavery arose a sophisticated rhetorical and sociopolitical effort to make African bondage an acceptable and even favored practice in the service of settler expansionism. Such initiatives have continued virtually unabated, and the result has been Black disenfranchisement that exists to this moment. Evans argues, with the exception of three major crises in American history, whites’ behavior and ideas remained (and remains) largely unchanged over many years. Such ossification is the product of privilege. Whites maintain a veneer of legitimacy and power in maintaining control of popular sentiment such that, as Evans notes, whites may even side against their own interests. Writers like Tim Wise have made related points, but Evans formulates an engaging theoretical framework that speaks to a greater purpose most social justice efforts have never really had the courage to fully commit to, the fight for Black self-determination and true racial justice.
What makes Open Wound such a vibrant and gratifying read is the author’s commitment to telling the American racial story in the context of economics and class. Truth be told, many extraordinary writers of color, from Gloria Anzaldua to bell hooks to Angela Davis, have righteously made class and capitalism central to their ideas. However, just as prominent in academic and activist circles is a stupefying failure to see racism in class constructs and the necessity for class analysis in reading institutional racism. Evans accurately points out the unique nature of white supremacy in North America as one defined by skin color and markets. He even acknowledges the growing gulf between rich and poor as even eclipsing race in North America. Heretical in the lens of race? Potentially, but Evans does an invaluable job at helping today’s organizers to see why such interconnections are crucial to any coherent analysis.