Let’s Talk: Anti-Racism Literature

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?

Hmm.

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.

Homegoing: A Review

I just finished Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing, for the second time. And, it still has me shook.

For those who haven’t read it yet – please note the following will contain some spoilers.

Haunting. Emotive. Lyrical. Searing. Critical. Gyasi’s novel is a gripping generational timeless yarn of colonialism, identity, human trafficking and body politics. And, perhaps book ancestrally wise – Homegoing is a direct descendent of Chinua Achebe’s acclaimed novel,Things Fall Apart.

Homegoing follows the stories of two half-sisters, Essie and Effia – unknown to each other- and the six generations which follow, their lineage broken from colonialism and slavery. 

Each chapter, told from the perspective of a different character, evokes both the fantastical, depraved and the nightmarish while also evoking the nostalgic poetic motif, Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? (where are those whom have gone before?).

And, while the reader is kept to task recalling which character belongs to which family tree, characters emerge and re-emerge in dreams and retellings from their descendants. This combined with a genealogical map located at the beginning of the book and two sturdy symbols: fire and water, help to maintain ancestral clarity between the two lineages.

Centering the enduring narrative of generational trauma, Homegoing’s tale remains unflinchingly searing and critical. And, the attention to nuanced, even controversial, themes (many of which remain almost hidden in dog whistles), of colorism, body politics, identity politics, misogyny and misogynoir, wealth, housing and educational inequities, power and privilege are particularly crucial.

In Isabel Wilkerson’s review of Homegoing on the New York Times, she notes this:
The West African chapters are the heart of the book, a deep channeling of multilayered humanity. Gyasi evokes what was lost to those who were sold away — the sense of individual and collective identity, a wealth of rituals and customs they’d be whipped for trying to retain in America. In the mother country, life’s losses and turning points were a time of communal recognition: The death of an Asante king was mourned for 40 days, weeklong puberty rites celebrated a girl’s first menstrual cycle. Identity and intimacy were bound up in language; a servant girl in mid-20th-century Ghana is shown speaking labored English to her employer, until he tells her to speak their own language. “We hear enough English here,” he says, and she breaks into Twi with relief. Thus begins one of the book’s lovelier courtships. But on a slave plantation in Mississippi, Esi tries to teach her young daughter, Ness, their native tongue and is given five lashes for every Twi word the girl speaks. Later, little Ness is sold off without warning or ceremony or permission to grieve.

Homegoing invites its readers to take a closer look at systemic injustice through its careful generational juxtaposition of the effects of colonialism, both in West Africa and America. 

And, indeed the almost magical realism of the first few chapters encourage a deeper investigation into themes of identity and belonging.

There are far better writers than I whom have offered outstanding reviews of this book, so I wanted to wrap up my review with some of the quotes I will be carrying with me.

  1. “We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” 
  2. “The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing “white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.” 
  1. “You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, “now I will remove my knife slowly – so let things be easy and clean; let there be no mess.” There will always be blood.” 
  1. “No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”
  1. “They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.” 
  1. “…Tell a lie long enough and it will turn to truth.” 
If you have read the book what are you carrying with you? As always, I welcome discussion.

Shalom always.

2018 Recap

It’s snowing in Tucson. So, I feel better that I am a few days late on my 2018 top eight because… snow in the desert. And, as you know or probably don’t because it never happens, watching snow sit on cacti is probably one of the coolest sights.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions. However, I do like to start the New Year with intentionality. At my wedding, a dear friend encouraged my husband and I to choose a specific word each year on which to reflect and meditate on together. Each year, I have enjoyed and learned to enjoy the ways in which I am stretched by this exercise.
No spoilers for 2019, but our word for 2018 was ‘listen.’ Looking back, I cannot help but notice the way in which God has continued to use that word to move my heart to and for marginalized communities, as well as towards my own and our joint healing and wholeness. And yes, I know it’s already 2019, but I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on my top eight resources, in addition to the Scripture, that helped me to listen more closely in 2018.  
  1. Intentional Mentorship. At a recent church gathering, someone tossed out this think piece: what is the meaning of church? It was just quippy/ironic/taboo enough that it immediately caught my attention, and a couple of giggles. I was hooked. What would people say? One of the most concise and profound answers was something like: it is hard to follow Jesus by yourself. Okay, so what does this have to do with mentorship? When people ask me why I advocate for mentorship, I have found myself saying something similar: it is hard to do life by yourself. We desire and need human interaction. And mentorships help to fortify and restore us.  These past two years, I have been blessed to form a mentorship of sorts with a black woman who has encouraged me to radically reconsider my understanding of social justice, womanism and the deconstruction of racism. Mentorship invites accountability and vulnerability – both stretching and powerful! If you haven’t already, I would invite you to consider a mentorship.
  1. Friendship Circles. What is that old saying about friends? Friends are a rare commodity? Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to find, usually, the right friends at the right time. Some have been long-lasting while others have been there for a season. These last few years, I have been fortunate enough to find friends that have continually spent time invested in and connecting intentionally with me on more of the gritty aspects of life. And, for that, I am forever grateful. Where do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable? I have been blessed with a variety of friendships which can hold my questions and can be soft, safe places to land. Where are your safe places? Whom are your soft places to land?
  1. Literary Resources. The other day, I was listening to an NPR podcast between a Syrian refugee and her American friend. During the interview, after doing her best to communicate her empathy for her friend, the American friend said something particularly profound which has stuck with me. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially this: “You know, I have done my best to read and to educate myself on Syria, and I can’t imagine what living through that profound trauma must have been for you or how it continues to impact you. I can’t know…but, I want to tell you that your story impacts me, and I have held it and made it a part of me and what I carry.” While there are pieces of this sentiment that are, perhaps, problematic, I particularly appreciate the image of carrying the stories of others. That resonates with me as well as the idea that educational resources can only provide the smallest glimpse of historic, shared and lived trauma. That being said, don’t stop with your own due diligence. Read. Learn. Educate yourself. But also, don’t forget to invest in and get to know real people. And, because this section is titled “literary resources,” you already know you are going to get a few of my favorite book titles from this last year. Check out the graphic at the top of the post for some of my favorites. 
  1. Community Investment. Nowadays, there are so many ways to get invested in organizations and NPO’s. And, usually these investments cost you something: time, money or both. I spent time breaking down how I wanted to invest in my time and money in 2018 through 4 parts:
    1. Identify my own core values
    2. Educate myself on NPO’s and organizations within my local community which closely aligned with my core values.
    3. Invest in those communities and organizations either with my time, money or both
    4. Resource out the information I have gathered with my community
  1. Educational Opportunities. You know those people that are always like, “I LOVE SCHOOL,” or even “I LOVE HOMEWORK.” Okay, so #nerdalert, but those folks are seriously my kind of folk. I thoroughly enjoy learning and living close to the UofA makes me happy for all things seminars and workshop(py). Part of my listening journey included paying attention to opportunities for growth and then maximizing my growth potential. In education, we probably overutilize the idea of turning everything in a “learning opportunity,” but I believe access to education and continual resources and supports are crucial when considering a more equitable and just future. This past year, I attended seminars on everything from toxic masculinity and black lives matter to intersectionality and wealth disparity, and I wish I could’ve hauled each and one of you to them. From attending workshops led by Jason Reynolds to listening to Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson, I am grateful for free and accessible events.
  1. Truth Warriors. Truth can sometimes be a complicated thing. This past year, I have found myself really struggling with naming and committing to living my own truth. After a few heated scenarios with loved ones regarding my own experiences with racism, I found myself resisting my own truth. I couldn’t make sense of how to navigate living into my own truth if it meant breaking relationship. I couldn’t make sense of living into my own truth if it meant that loved ones couldn’t accept my black body. Problematic…I know.  But I also couldn’t seem to imagine pretending away my blackness for white comfort.? It didn’t seem fair to ask me to make the compromise. I wanted to channel unconditional love and yet the sentiments expressed thoroughly renounced me as a black woman and as a truth teller. What did it mean to live into truth? To be honest, I am still wrestling with this scenario. It hurts me. But I have also learned to fortify myself with some additional truths. I am named and known. I have value. I can speak the truth in love and ask for what I need. I can disengage. I can choose not to argue with those whom are unwilling to see or recognize my inherent value as a human being. I can still have power.
  1. Intentional Mindfulness/Mental Health Awareness. What are the ways you unwind? This past year has been a doozy for me, and as I’ve struggled to begin to manage my anxiety, I discovered the importance of meditation and routines. As resourced in a few previous blog posts, I have particularly found supports like therapyforblackgirls, ourselvesblack and even forharriet helpful and encouraging. On the IG or Twitter, check out #blackgirlmentalhealth, #blackmentalhealth or #blackwomenmentalhealth
  1. Media. One way I listen is by exposing myself to different cultures through television, radio and media. Check out the graphic at the top of my page for my recommendations.