“The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America” by D. Watkins

I stopped by a Marxist/anarchist bookstore some time ago and picked up The Beast Side by chance. Why was I there? I like to indulge in fringe groups for fun. Plus, the place had, like, a vegan café, man! (I didn’t even eat there though. 😢)

Anyway, the book has a cover and title that drew me in. I read the first few chapters and found it quite engaging. The author, an East Baltimore ex-drug dealer gone English professor, wrote short but powerful essays about being black in the ghettos of Baltimore, from dealing drugs and getting shot, to the broken school system and detachment from pop culture. Hooked, I decided to buy it. I wish I had just stayed and read at the store, though, because, while the first half was stirring, the second half was full of typical far-left rants.

I try my best to be impartial and sympathetic to all causes. Seeing as D. Watkins is a Salon writer, I expected a heavy liberal slant. But, damn, it’s one thing to ramble about biased politics, but another to repeat the same things over and over.

I shit you not, the second half of his book is dedicated to essays after essays of Freddie Gray. I get it, he was from Baltimore and close to you, but these chapters say the exact same thing over and over. I was genuinely sympathetic to inner Baltimore community despite some of Watkin’s questionable statements, but he lost me when he went on the same rant for scores of pages. He wasn’t beating a dead horse; he was throwing one off a mountain, climbing down, carrying the battered and bleeding corpse back up, and throwing it down all over again. I really wanted my time and money back at the end. It was that annoying and redundant.

I won’t get into the logic behind these essays — I’m sure you, dear viewer, can do so yourself. I will just mention, though, that Watkins criticizes non-white cops throughout the book, blaming racism to all the deaths. In a later chapter, he briefly mentions that black cops kill black folk too because “it’s about class and power.” But the paragraph that immediately follows goes back to bashing whites. Ah, what perfect reasoning. Welp, you can’t argue with mental gymnastics.

Putting aside the anti-white, leftist rhetoric, though, the book is a great way to feel and understand a bit of East Baltimore. I have no idea what I would be like if I had grown up in a culture where the drug hustle is romanticized, where guns are pointed at you as a five-year old, where the food you eat is total crap, where there are some racial tensions, where your friends and relatives get popped regularly. I don’t blame the hatred the community may feel towards those in power. With so much violence, it’s almost impossible to grow up with a level-head and not misdirect your anger. What to do about it, though, is a different topic.

Give it a read if you’re curious. It’s pretty engaging. Feel free to skip the second half, though. And, remember, there’s a heavy left bias (if you couldn’t figure that out, you need to do some critical thinking and ask how you got stuck in a hive mindset).

I’d give this 3 out of 5 guns traded in for laptops.


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