Book Review Time: Stakes Is High

For a comparatively slim collection of essays, Stakes Is High delivers a mighty punch. Triggered by the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Mychal Denzel Smith was left a broken man. Yet from this fragile state he has developed a message that is firm and clear. He needed to write this book, to deliver a warning to a country in deep peril. A clarion call has been issued. But will America listen?

Civilized political discourse no longer exists. And for some, opinion outweighs hard facts. We’ve become entranced by the symbols of America. Our flag. Our anthem. Our statues. But we look no deeper. We don’t look because that is where pain and discomfort lie. That is where racial inequality lies in the form of police brutality, mass incarceration, poverty, and educational and environmental disparities. That is where gender inequity exists supported by long-standing patriarchal constructs which allow for the subjugation, harassment, and assault of women. That is where homophobia and transphobia fester, fed by cruel legislation, toxic masculinity, and violence with the intent to strip away an individual’s humanity. What lies underneath the facade of symbols is ghastly and difficult to look at. Even more difficult to accept as reality. Yet, here we are. And all of it is very real.

In the Stakes Is High, Smith demands that we, as Americans, take a hard and honest look at ourselves. We must recognize the part we play in this Grand Delusion, with our willful or indifferent acceptance of systems that are driving America further and further away from its promise. Smith’s writing is provocative and unrelenting. He will not let you up for air until he knows his words have been received. Along with social commentary, Smith leaves room for self-reflection. He discusses moments of personal frailty and weakness, which adds weight to the humanity of his overall message. It is remarkable how Smith is able to pair an elegance of language with the difficult subject matter. But he achieves this masterfully. There’s also an element of desperation in his decree, a desire to save this country from itself. But is it too late? Can we ever become a more perfect Union? Smith seems to doubt this is a possibility. But he’s not entirely without hope. He believes that when one system of oppression is dismantled, all the other oppressive institutions come tumbling down with it. According to Smith, for this to happen, collectivism and accountability are required. And although there are recent examples of such, these two necessities are extremely hard to come by.

Stakes Is High is without question mandatory reading.


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