David Jackson Ambrose’s State of the Nation examines racism in the American South from the years 1979-1981 through a focus on three young African American males. In his examination of race at this time Ambrose also provides a connection to the Atlanta Child Murders that were taking place during this time. State of the Nation provides readers with a way of confronting racism and seeing how this has impacted American society since its inception.
The primary characters within State of the Nation are Santos, Luqman, and Dion. They each have different home lives, but they are bound together through friendship and in how some of them attempt to find money to survive. Santos is from a home where his mother is frequently gone and leaves him in charge of his young brother, who is struggling with internal issues that no one seems to understand. While he tries to take care of his brother, Santos often indulges in buying drugs and alcohol. Dion is taking care of his elderly mother and because she cannot work he attempts to make money for her the same way that Santos does, by working the street. He is more comfortable with this life and is very focused on saving and keeping the power on and food in the kitchen. Luqman is trying to make money, but does not embrace the same work as his friends. While he spends the nights with them he is struggling with coming to an understanding of who he is and what he wants to do with his future. Through each of these young men we are shown how very different experiences can be for people.
Beyond dealing with racial tension each of them is coping with abuse connected to their sexual identity or at least their perceived sexual identity. I had not expected this element to appear in the book and found myself relating with these young men, even though we come from different backgrounds and I do not have many shared experiences with them. I do though have an understanding of being treated differently because of how people perceive you. While these are fictional characters I cannot even imagine how someone is able to cope with the amount of hate that is present in the lives of those who identify as gay or within the LGBTQ+ spectrum within the African American community. While I have been aware of how abused this community is, particularly trans women of color, reading State of the Nation further opened my eyes and made me feel even more pushed to support those within the LGTBQ+ community who face this discrimination.
State of the Nation provides a number of diverse stories and responses to racism and discrimination in American history. Ambrose crafts something that feels vitally important, especially at this time. I would like to emphasize that this is not a true crime novel and the discussion of the Atlanta Child Murders is used more as a way to emphasize racism and leads into a larger discussion of the media. There is also some strong language in the book and some slang that you may need to research if you are not familiar with it. You can find State of the Nation on sale now.
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