it’s time to get educated…
I was writing a blog post on cool book-related websites when George Floyd was murdered by four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Suddenly, it was just so totally trivial.
Words are inadequate to describe the horror I felt while watching the video. I don’t usually watch these kinds of videos, but something deep inside of me knew I needed to shock of it to truly understand the crisis of racism in today’s world.
The lack of swift action by the law afterwards was equally horrifying.
I cannot even comprehend what it feels like to be black in this country.
I’ve walked a paved path of white privilege my entire life. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t all that long ago that I posed the question, “But, don’t ALL lives matter?”
Throughout my life, I’ve listened, I’ve watched, I’ve had serious empathy, but I have never put in real effort to get educated, or actively do anything, about racism.
This is partly because it’s scary territory…I didn’t have a clue what to do and I was afraid I wouldn’t do it right. This is what is exactly what is meant by “white fragility.”
And, then I watched George Floyd be murdered by four police officers and I saw that the small crowd of people with camera phones didn’t sway them one bit.
I finally get it…as much as a white person can. I’m finally going to do my part to end white silence…as much as I possibly can.
I’m not going to spend my time debating folks who want to turn this into a “feel sorry for good police officers” thing. I don’t know anyone who is saying all cops are bad. At the core of the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement is a plea to address much deeper systemic problems—and for the good officers to stand up and protect them, which they have failed to do.
My response to those who continue to say “But, ALL lives matter.” I’ll simply share one of the following points that helped the lightbulb go off for me:
When the firefighters go out to fight a fire, they are laser focused on the house that’s in flames. When there’s a crisis with someone else’s house, your house doesn’t matter much in that moment.
Or these brilliant analogies by Katie H. Willcox:
When the Boston Marathon was bombed and Facebook profile pics said, “Boston Strong!,” nobody said, “But, all cities are strong.”
When the Las Vegas concert shooting happened and the profile pics said, “Stand with Vegas,” nobody said, “Well, what about the people who got shot in my city?”.
Have you ever seen someone counter a breast cancer post with, “Well, what about colon cancer?”
When there is a crisis, we have always rallied around that particular group. It doesn’t discredit or diminish any other group, it just brings awareness and support to the group that needs our current attention.
If you just can’t bring yourself to rally for the black community right now, then you are very in need of the book list I’m sharing below.
And, if you’re more incensed about the riots than you are about innocent black people being murdered, I don’t know what to say. No one likes the riots…but, they are a symptom of a problem either being ignored or listened to, but not acted upon, for way too long.
How convenient for white people to forget that one of the most celebrated events in American history is a riot involving the destruction of property in the city of Boston in 1773.
Moving forward, my time and energy is going to be invested in actively learning so I can be a better human and better support other humans who need my help.
It’s probably going to be messy, but I’m no longer going to let fragility stop me from doing the right thing anymore. I’m going to open myself up to criticism in the name of justice.
Reading is how I learn. And, how I process.
So, my first step on the path of being an ally to the black community is to get educated by books written by black authors.
input from a black woman…
I was scrolling through one of my favorite Facebook groups—The Silent Book Club—and ran smack into this post by a black woman that was so on point and insightful that I wanted to memorialize it here:
As you are scrolling through posts trying to find a book to read to help with anti-racism, I would suggest that you consider this:
1) It is vital that you read on this topic from black authors. Why? Their experience makes them subject matter experts in a way a non-black author can never be. Here is an example. Let’s say there are two books titled “The Road to the Olympics”. Both have the same subject – the last six months an Olympian experiences leading up to the Olympics. Let’s say all things are equal as far as writing style, story telling and flow, etc – all the things that make books we love dope. There is only one difference. One author is an Olympian. One is a journalist. Who has a more authentic, insightful voice? The one that has actually had the emotional and physical experience.
Side Note: be leery of any voice that black people collective ignore. Analogy: you control the temperature in a room of 100 people. 99 are telling you it is too hot. Turning the AC on is expensive and much more difficult to do. Plus you’re cold too. But there is one person telling you it is cold. You listen to them because it is easy and makes you comfortable and ignore the majority. You turn the heat up and make the 99 hotter and more uncomfortable. That’s what happens when you use an outlier’s voice as validation that everyone else is wrong.
2) If you are new to being an ally. Welcome. We aren’t interested in what brought you here. Yet we are thankful you have decided to join. We need you. But remember why you are here and whose story is being told. Listen. Empathize. Feel. But don’t make it about you. Remember that while this may be new to you, the majority of black people you know have literally lived it their entire lives. We are the experts in this space. You are the voice in YOUR spaces. The spaces that exist without us. Use your voice there to educate the people there and collect more allies. Protect us. Be open to understanding what racism really is and recognize you may have done or said something not realizing it was racist. There are layers to this racism ish (i.e. implicit bias, complicit racism, stereotyping, full on linen and pointy hat racism). It’s a spectrum.
3) I suggest that new allies that are avid readers start with fictional stories of the black experience. While many may not agree, I have an actual theory about this. When we read fiction, we become connected to the main character. We tend to feel what they feel. We know their experience even when it is so far from our own. Once you start to identify with the experience from the viewpoint of a black character, you have opened yourself to empathize fully with a black person albeit a fictional one. Then you are able to apply what you feel emotionally into the education that a non-fiction book will give you. My suggestions are three very recent YA books that so many of us will tell you depict our actual lives: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. They are all pretty quick reads. [Edit: Telly Brien reminded me of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This is a little heavier but really shows implicit bias and systemic racism.]
4) Lastly, acknowledge that privilege is real. If you disagree, I ask that you marinate on this—Privilege is being able to learn about racism by reading about it in a book, scrolling through social media or watching television vs having to actually live it. Allow that to sink in.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for WANTING to understand what we have been talking about for years. Thank you for actively making a decision that it is time to change. We see you. We appreciate you. Again, welcome.
Before I get to the book list, let me tell you about the online bookstore where this list will live…
save the indie bookstores
Bookshop is on a mission is to financially support local, independent bookstores.
Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire.
If you don’t have a preference who you buy from, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that is evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use the Bookshop platform).
It’s a truly awesome business model! (Click to read about them in Forbes Magazine.)
In addition to enabling readers the convenience of buying new books online while supporting indie bookstores, Bookshop shares numerous curated reading lists and have a wonderful affiliate program to help “little guys” like me.
So, now you understand why I created my Books About Racism & Black History list on Bookshop.
a (long) list of books about racism & black history
I hope you’re outraged. I hope you’re ready to get educated. I hope you’re ready to be an ally and an active member of the #ENDWHITESILENCE movement.
The books on list list have been gathered from black activists, black readers, and white readers who are actively getting educated. I will personally be reading as many as possible and many will be in the future Vista Cañas library.
Every single one is by a black author. Why only black authors?
I’ll answer that question with another analogy that worked for me—if you’re going to read a book about the Olympics, would you choose the one written by an Olympiad or the one by the reporter who simply observed the event?
Be patient—these books are on backorder in most places.
I’d say “Happy Reading!,” but there’s not much happy on the pages of the books on this list…which is exactly why it’s so necessary to read them.