Review for “My Vanishing Country” by Bakari Sellers (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Part memoir, part cultural critique, and part political analysis, “My Vanishing Country” is the story of Bakari Sellers, who became the youngest member of the South Carolina Legislature when he was elected to that role in 2006. Sellers, a lawyer and CNN analyst, grew up in the small rural town of Denmark, South Carolina. He writes with vivid imagery of fishing in local ponds, riding his bike on dirt roads, and, well…just being a country boy. This part of the book connected with me the most as a Southern girl myself and recalling my own memories of summers spent on my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee.
Despite growing up in a racially segregated rural setting, Sellers’ family history is rich with civil rights history. Both of his parents were activists; with prominent members of the movement such as Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael counted among their friends. After graduating from Morehouse, Sellers went into politics and won a seat in the SC Legislature. After an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, he returned to practicing law and became a political commentator and analyst on CNN. His public role on CNN became more prominent after the shooting deaths of 9 Black churchgoers by a white supremacist in his home state of South Carolina in 2015.
There are a lot of reviews comparing this book to J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” but honestly I don’t think that Vance’s book holds a candle to this one. Sellers gives a more balanced critique of Black life, highlighting the joy and the pain of growing up in a Black rural setting. There are also chapters that give analysis the 2016 presidential race, Black mental health, and other nuanced topics that Vance misses in his discussion of the white rural working class.
Overall I really liked this book. Solid 4 stars.