On June 26th, 2020, I posted an article here titled, Let’s Keep The Conversation Going…,
The daily news of the gruesome death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement’s reaction was starting to quell. Many of us had realized that it was well past the time when we needed to do more. Something. Anything. To Try. Not to only stem the tide of violence against Persons of Color (POC) but to address racism in America. As a white, suburban, woman, and a writer for youth, I felt it my obligation.
In that post, I admitted my ignorance and my concern for writing (and living) without prejudice. I pledged to do the only thing I knew was within my power; to educate myself by reading books written by and about Persons of Color. Unfortunately, the hate and killing continue, and so must the conversation. I want to share my thoughts on what I’ve studied and a little of what I’ve learned.
My thoughts on what I’ve studied…
While not quite sticking to the reading list I proposed last June, I’ve enjoyed four non-fiction books about racism in America. Two were historical summaries, and two were poignant memoirs. In addition, I delighted in six YA and three MG fictional releases written by and about POC. These works are briefly reviewed at the end of this post. I suggest to you that each is worth your time.
Over this past Pandemic-winter, besides reading, I took a course offered by The Episcopal Church called Sacred Ground. The program offered up the history of racism in America (a similar theme to Jason Reynold’s book STAMPED referenced below). The course provided films and readings that opened my eyes to a sorrowful and fear-filled past. One of the primary texts was WAKING UP WHITE by Debby Irving. Together my reading list and the course have provided me with an illuminated perspective. My journey thus far has informed my views on racism.
A Little bit about what I discovered…
I learned — the extensive history of racism, how different my life experience is from that of others, and how blind I’ve been— things I’ve never given much thought to before. As everyone reading this is unique and formed from a different set of circumstances, I won’t expound on my enlightenment except to say something about two significant terms – White Privilege and Systemic Racism.
Both terms I’ve heard over the years and, until this recent research effort, thought I understood. I am grateful I am on this journey because although I professed my ignorance last June, I didn’t know how truly uninformed I was. And maybe, how uninformed most people of my social status/color/life situation may also be.
White Privilege is real. It is exhaustive. It is a basic premise to understand if we are to heal this racial divide. I have a long way to go, but I am changed for the better by this awareness. And I look forward to ‘checking it’ in my future work.
I never really understood systemic racism, but I see it now as the hateful, judgmental, fear- and greed-inspired, ignorant reality that it is. I need to learn more so that I can be part of the change that must happen.
So what’s next…
I’ve used YA and MG literature (and a course targeted to adults) to open my mind to a more diverse understanding of the world we inhabit. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Things you’ve learned from books or interactions with the youth we write for.
I will continue to read and study. But the next step for me is to engage, listen, and support People of Color on the journey to true equality. I hope you’ll join me. I hope you’ll help me.
Anti-racism is in everyone’s best interest, and the place to start is within ourselves.
Brief reviews of some great reads…
HAVE BLACK LIVES EVER MATTERED by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Wow! Enlightening essays written by a convicted murderer. A Black man incarcerated for life still professing his innocence writes painful accounts of Black Persons vs. White Police. Graphically honest.
A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN by Roseanne A. Brown. A fun and poignant YA. Set in a fantastical world of magic and beasts about games of glory. Still felt the pain of marginalized people but also experienced their dreams and drive. This novel was the subject of a more extensive review on this Blog posted on August 28, 2020.
YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson. A tremendous upper MG story of the perseverance and success of a queer black teen. I wish high school could be this hopeful for all kids.
THE TEA GIRL of HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See The story of the tea processing families of China’s Akha village. Historical fiction at its best.
ROOT MAGIC by Eden Royce a MG novel set in the racist South in 1963. A historical look at racism and the Gullah culture. (Reviewed Here, January 19th, 2021 by Kirsti Call.)
DEAR MARTIN and DEAR JUSTYCE by Nic Stone. Two YA fictional accounts of the impact the American criminal justice system can have on marginalized Black teens.
STAMPED – RACISM, ANTIRACISM, AND YOU by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Jason Reynolds presents a history of racism from its roots in Europe to today in America in plain-speak that youth are more likely to appreciate.
I also recommend GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE (reviewed here by Laura Cooper, October 2019) and GIRLS OF STORM AND SHADOW (reviewed here by me, December 2019) both by Natasha Ngan, and WHEN THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin. All written by and about Persons of Asian descent, which I thoroughly enjoyed both from an entertainment perspective and a means of viewing cultural diversity.
I am currently enjoying a YA memoir called BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. He shares stories of his South African childhood that will have you shaking your head in wonder.
Still up on my list: THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander, RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson, and BLINDSPOT by Mahzarin P. Banajit and Anthony G. Greenwald. Readers of my earlier post recommend I add JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson, THE WATER DANCER by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and HARRIET, a 2019 movie, to my list. WHITE FRAGILITY by Robin DiAngelo and SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE by Ijeoma Oluo are suggested as good texts.
Start the journey. Join the conversation…
Thanks for the list of books!
For your purposes, I unabashedly identify as an old, white, male. I only mention that because you may want to stop reading now.
This article and the long list of references only prove that the victim industry has become rather lucrative in recent years. They provide no contradictory evidence. Racism no longer exists as a widespread, systemic problem.
Promoting victimhood insults the people you condescendingly refer to as LOCs. And viewing people as parts of collectives ignores the discrete nature of humans. People act and learn as individuals. Please stop encouraging others to consider themselves as elements of a collective (an impossibility for individuals) first and individuals second.
Love this, thank you Marti. I see some on here that I definitely want to/need to read. I remember hearing about the Sacred Ground course and it looked very good.
Marti, thank you for keeping the conversation going and for introducing us to such important books. I believe to my core that we are all one people, no matter how we look, where we’re from, or how we identify ourselves, and I applaud you for seeking to become part of the change toward acceptance of all. I’ve long been on a mission to broaden my understanding of other cultures and experiences and can strongly recommend GOLDEN BOY by Tara Sullivan and NORTHBOUND, A TRAIN RIDE OUT OF SEGREGATION by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, which I recently reviewed here. I’m also a huge fan of Lisa See’s and Grace Lin’s books!
Well done, Marti! Good for you for digging deeper into this important topic.