We Speak for Ourselves

A Word from Forgotten Black America

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About The Book

The critically lauded author of The Beast Side and The Cook Up returns with an existential look at life in low-income black communities, while also offering a new framework for how we can improve the conversations occuring about them.

While author D. Watkins is pleased about the number of books exploring issues of race that are being published, there’s one crucial aspect of contemporary black life that doesn’t get enough attention: the hood. The Baltimore native knows firsthand what it means to live in poverty, where violence and drugs are inescapable. As he sees it, the perspective of people who live in poor black communities is largely absent from the work of many of the top intellectuals who speak and write about race.

Now, D. Watkins is here to tell his truth. Built upon Watkins's own experiences, We Speak for Ourselves eases us into the bigger conversation about race and the various issues affecting poor black neighborhoods in America. Unapologetic and eye-opening, We Speak for Ourselves identifies and addresses a range of issues affecting these low-income communities—such as the trouble with misrepresentation and why we need more than one black voice—and sheds light on the harsh realities of daily life. Additionally, Watkins examines various crucial activist movements, including the Civil Rights Movement, and asks what it means to be a model activist in today’s world.

Through the personal retelling of his journey, Watkins aims to illuminate the lessons he’s learned navigating through two very distinct worlds—the hood and the elite sanctums of the prominent black thinkers and public figures—in hopes of providing actionable solutions.

About The Author

Photograph by Kyle Pompey

D. Watkins is editor-at-large for Salon. He’s also a college professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. His work has been published in The New York Times, Guardian, Rolling Stone, and other publications. Watkins is the author of The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir and The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America. He lives in East Baltimore.

Raves and Reviews

“Watkins anchors his new collection of essays in the voices, language, everyday realities, and dreams of black citizens… offer[ing] deep critiques of the elitism and respectability that directly and indirectly censor voices. A strong offering that brings nuance and multiplicity to readers attempting to decipher the black male urban experience while uplifting the stories, visions, and love that incubated a rising star.” - Kirkus Reviews

“Reading We Speak for Ourselves, I can’t help but admire D Watkins. He is not another elite voice for the voiceless. He is, this book is, an amplifier of low income Black voices who have their own voices and have no problem using them. He dares us to listen.” —Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America 

“Reading We Speak for Ourselves, I can’t help but admire D Watkins. He is not another elite voice for the voiceless. He is, this book is, an amplifier of low income Black voices who have their own voices and have no problem using them. He dares us to listen.” —Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America 

"In a time of blunt-bladed posturing and hyperbolized impact, We Speak For Ourselves, is a sharp gash into the psyche of America. Written as a relentless slice of his own life, Watkins avoids pretense as he puts language to his jagged experiences, not to encourage voyeurism, but to instead push people to grapple and wrestle with the real lives so many talking heads attempt to muzzle, then fictionalize. Watkins has come to remind us, everyone deserves the opportunity to speak for themselves. Everyone."  - Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author & National Book Award finalist, Long Way Down

We Speak for Ourselves is full of insight into the America that serves as grist for the American dream. Its pages are abundant with wisdom and wit; integrity and love, not to mention enough laughs for a stand-up comedy routine. Over and over again, I found myself saying ‘yes, yes, he’s right’ and ultimately finished feeling inspired to do better, to be more. D Watkins proves, once again, why he isn’t just a writer of the people but a people’s literary champ for the here, now, and tomorrow.” –Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family

We Speak For Ourselves is an ode to those Black people who understand that the first place so many of us honed our understandings of knotty U.S. racial politics was in an American city, or rural town, fashioned as a ‘hood’ in the public imagination. Watkins writes with a type of profound love for the Black forgotten that will compel all who read his timely words to never forget the Black people and places so many cultural critics and thought leaders disremember with ease.” - Darnell L Moore, author of No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America 

We Speak For Ourselves is an ode to those Black people who understand that the first place so many of us honed our understandings of knotty U.S. racial politics was in an American city, or rural town, fashioned as a ‘hood’ in the public imagination. Watkins writes with a type of profound love for the Black forgotten that will compel all who read his timely words to never forget the Black people and places so many cultural critics and thought leaders disremember with ease.” - Darnell L Moore, author of No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America 

“Watkins’ latest work shows the black community is not a monolith. Even as we may wear the iconic t-shirts of the struggle yet have different thoughts about the issues faced. We are a diverse and proud community, trying to come to grips with who we are; sometimes wearing a mask within our own brother and sisterhood.” – April Ryan, Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House

Praise for D. Watkins: 

“D. Watkins is uniquely equipped to communicate our political and social challenges of urban America, not only through the lens of academia but through empirical knowledge as well. He is the voice of the future seamlessly blending the wisdom of the streets and intellectual prowess in a way I have never experienced before.” Jada Pinkett Smith

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