Bakari Sellers addresses a few themes in his memoir, My Vanishing Country. Primarily, he talks about being a young black man in rural South Carolina. But his family is also intricately tied to the Civil Rights movement, so this connection influences him daily. He also practiced law and ran for office while still in his twenties. Now he’s a political commentator for CNN. But lest you think this book is all about his career, it’s not. He shares personal viewpoints and experiences, including his family’s experience with labor, postpartum, and the serious illness of one of their twins.
For a fairly short book, My Vanishing Country is wide-ranging. And Sellers considers ambitious ideas, tying them all together in the moments of his own life. I learned about the 1968 Orangeburg, SC massacre of South Carolina State University students rising up about Civil Rights. While Sellers wasn’t there, his father was part of the protest and this experience informed their family life.
Sellers talks about being a student at the historically Black University, Morehouse College, as well as his law school experience. He name drops continually but in the context of events such as interning for South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn.
Learning about Sellers and his family’s background in our country’s Civil Rights Movement is interesting. He tells the story well, using a humble attitude and a desire to serve. His political accomplishments and involvement are a natural outgrowth of this upbringing.
While the political aspects of this memoir interest me, I also appreciated the private parts of his story. For example, Sellers opens up about his struggles with anxiety. He uses this as an opportunity to encourage other men of color to seek treatment themselves. And he talks about people in his life who didn’t do so or waited many decades. While his telling is mostly matter-of-fact, it’s also vulnerable.
And Sellers also shares the beginnings of his relationship with Ellen, his wife. Once they’ve married, she gets pregnant with twins. Of course, this is an exciting and sweet story. But she also lives through medical complications of labor. And their daughter had significant medical needs at a very young age. Sellers uses these experiences to talk about the harsh realities of racial bias in the US healthcare system. The couple used specific strategies to mitigate these biases, and Sellers explains how those decisions saved Ellen’s life.
Overall, this is an ambitious memoir. Sellers covers a variety of topics and balances the broader concepts with smaller details. His writing style is engaging, but his audiobook narration is only just okay. When a political author narrates their memoir it sometimes feels like speechifying rather than a conversation. The balance is a hard one to strike.
I recommend My Vanishing Country if you’re curious about Sellers or the worlds he inhabits.
Pair with another Morehouse and Civil Rights Movement adjacent memoir, Buses Are a Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person. Or try Van Jones’ Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together since both men are political commentators. For more about the racial bias Black women face in the US healthcare system, try Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom.