In the past few weeks, anti-racism books have topped the New York Times Bestsellers List. Specifically, these books are often books that promote and highlight Black narratives.
And, subsequently, Black Twitter, specifically, Black Femme & Black Female Educator Twitter, has become more vocal about the harms that some of these anti-racist books (ie: White Fragility and How to Be An Antiracist) perpetuate.
I want to take some time today to write from my own anti-racism journey about how I choose antiracism literature, and what advice I would give to new allies.
As someone who often makes mistakes in my own anti-racism journey, I want to say that one of the best practices I am learning to hone is how to continually fail forward. For me, that includes learning how to make mistakes publicly and then do my best to repair the harm, learn from my mistakes, educate myself, and grow.
Some of the questions that I have received recently are things like:
- How do I know what to read?
- What if critics say that the anti-racism book that I am reading is problematic?
- How do I make sure that I am reading the right thing?
My advice is perhaps a bit simple.
So what if you make mistakes? Failing forward is part of the commitment. You are strong enough to course correct and to take feedback regardless of the mode of transmission. This journey isn’t about you. It is about a commitment to the value of human life – and that belief should be so immoveable and unshakeable that the risks ahead will not railroad you.
I think that we are at this moment in time where we have a lot of white wanna-be allies that are eager to learn and equally eager to grab the mic to share their hot take. For me, this kind of allyship is problematic for a lot of reasons. But one reason in particular that I want to highlight is this idea that these new ally hot-takes aren’t necessarily education, and aren’t even necessarily wise and sound education.
This revolution that we are in has been a revolution for 400 years. Some of ya’ll have just been hitting snooze since 1619 and are now waking up with thoughts that no one had?
Learning how to ask critical questions implies knowledge. And building knowledge takes an inordinate amount of time, energy, listening, and investment.
For me, antiracism books that do the bare minimum are books that display some awareness of intersectionality. That, for me, is the absolute bare minimum.
We can be choosy about who can speak into our lives. And, we can outgrow old educators.
Personally, I believe it is irresponsible to follow educators who are unable to, unwilling to, or don’t know how to be fundamentally intersectional in their anti-racism work.
For me, a good anti-racism educator is someone who can speak with nuance and complexity about oppression, racism, and intersectionality, provide strategic and actionable steps forward, advocate for mechanisms of accountability, own their blindspots, locate and situate racism and oppression in historical frameworks, ask hard and often uncomfortable questions, divest from whiteness, amplify Black and brown voices specifically within the LGBTQIA+ community, and amplify the work and voices of other Black and Brown anti-oppression educators.
Often, in my opinion and experience, these educators aren’t popular, trending, or have contemporary literature. Personally, I have found myself most changed by the works of Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, Sonia Sanchez, Melissa Harris-Perry, Cherríe Moraga, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, bell hooks, James Cone, and Shirley Chisholm.
For new allies, I would specifically say this – if the anti-racism book(s) that you are reading makes you feel comfortable or only slightly uncomfortable, don’t read it. Put it down and try another one that makes you feel uncomfortable (think like you almost wanna cry or maybe you do cry and you want to throw the book uncomfortable).
Part of this journey that you are on is a journey of growth and failure.
It will be hard to acknowledge complicity and complacency. Sometimes it will hurt like hell.
Do it anyway.
Upward and onward together.