"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, October 9, 2020

Reviews: Books to help me become an anti-racist

After George Floyd was murdered by police while the world viewed the horrifying 8:46 minutes on live TV, I said to myself 'enough is enough.' I needed to find a way help however I could so that this never happens again. My first inclination was to get out and protest and march on the streets of Tacoma or Seattle. But my concerns about the coronavirus kept me indoors. Instead I opted to create a list of books I can recommend on the topic of black lives matter, or books I thought would at least advance the discussion. (See that list here.) 

In addition, I started reading furiously to educate myself. 

First our church book club had to scramble to find a book to read for the month since the library book kits weren't available. We opted to read Me and White Supremacy by  Layla Saad. (I hyperlinked the title. Please visit my review of that book by clicking it.) The book was an eye-opening experience for me. It was written by Saad as an Instagram 28-day challenge and then consolidated into a book with each chapter being one day of the challenge. I had to read it faster than was recommended because I didn't have enough time to digest it slowly before the next club meet. But the book certainly started me on my goal of educating myself to become a better anti-racist. I recommend you read this book, but give yourself longer than a month to read it and find a support group to discuss it as you move through the material.

A few weeks later my husband and I also joined a small book group at our church, one designed to start a conversation about how our congregation can move in a positive direction toward anti-racism and supporting equal justice in our community. Our group met once a week on Zoom with a facilitator and seven other participants to discuss the book, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation by LaTasha Morrison and the topics it proposed. In a lot of ways this book piggy-backed on my learnings and insights gained from the first book, Me and White Supremacy, but the material was written toward a Christian audience (or perhaps, a congregation of any faith.) It was organized into nine or ten chapters, each concluding with discussion questions which made us dig into the topic-of-the-week deeper and had us reflecting on ways we could apply what were were learning to our own congregation. When I read Me and White Supremacy I felt like I was being jabbed in the stomach with a sharp stick, this book caused a much milder visceral reaction but I still felt extremely challenged to pick up the mantle and to become a "better ancestor" through my readings and discussions. The biggest difference and value of this book over the first was the small group discussion and camaraderie that we formed with the other participants. To a person we all decided that the book provided a good jumping off spot but we needed more and hope that the church will continue to support and organize groups on this topic in the future. For me personally, I also enjoyed being in a small group discussing a book with my husband. He had a lot to offer to the discussion since he has helped organize group discussions on racial sensitivity at this place of employment and had insights from those experiences to share. It isn't often that I get to be a "student" with him and I enjoyed this shared experience.

One of the first nonfiction books I read on the topic was This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell. (I guess I am reviewing them in reverse order.) Prior to George Floyd's murder this book came to my attention as an excellent nonfiction title for young adults, so I ordered a copy for myself thinking I would donate it to a high school library after I read it. Oddly I wasn't quite finished reading it before I started the other two books, so the information is a bit jumbled in my head. What this book has going for it that the other two don't is cool graphics and colorful pages and illustrations to attract its target audience: teenagers. Each chapter is assigned to a section like WAKING UP: UNDERSTANDING AND GROWING INTO MY IDENTITIES, with four sections in all. At the end of each chapter the reader is given permission to journal their thoughts and feelings. It is less about answering questions and more about personal reflections. I started off completing the daily reflections but didn't find them to be very applicable since I am well beyond teenage years. Occasionally I would simply skip that step as I moved to the next chapter. I personally found this book to be the least challenging to me but if I were a young adult, I am sure I would have the opposite point of view. If you are a high school librarian and you don't have a copy of this book in your library, order one today! You need it in your collection. Or, if you have a teenager at your home, buy them a copy.

Several poetry collections caught my attention on topics related to Black Lives Matter. I especially found the National Book Award poetry winner Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine moving. This is what I said in my review of this astonishing volume---"Of all the books I've read so far, Citizen has brought me the furthest at the fastest pace. By page two I was seething, and cringing, and crying, and praying 'God help us find another way.'" I highly recommend it, even if you aren't a big poetry reader. Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith contains some very volatile poems where blacks speak from the grave about the issues that killed them. I had a harder time understanding this poems, though I certainly felt the anger and frustration that the poet was expressing.

Lastly, I want to direct you to a middle grade, graphic novel that won the Newbery Medal last year, New Kid by Jerry Craft. The author/illustrator said he creates books he wishes he had when he was a kid. Jordan, the book's protagonist, is not only in middle school, which is hard enough, but he is the new kid in the school and one of only a handful of black students. All the awkward moments of middle school and puberty are compounded by his race. One teacher keeps calling him by the name of another black boy at the school. When he corrects her, she is defensive or dismissive but never apologetic. It is not surprising that she calls him the wrong name over and over with similar non-apologies. Other teachers and students assume that Jordan is good at sports but have low expectations for the academics, another racial stereotype. Actually Jordan likes to draw and carries his drawing journal with him everywhere. In it he draws his interactions with others at his school. When he leaves the journal behind at his desk one day. The next day the teacher who retrieved it, gets angry with how he characterized her. (Yes, she looked inside his private journal!) The very point he was making with the characterization, that she can't get past her own racial blind spots to be able to see him as an individual, is what she is angry about. I was completely convicted by this book. As a teacher I would sometimes make assumptions about students or call them by the name of another student of the same race. How mortifying for my students. Ugh. I hate to think about what that must be like to go through a lifetime of that sort of behavior. I am so, so sorry. I resolve to do and be better.

I haven't read the book White Fragility by DiAngelo, but I have become familiar with the term and what it means. Since we live in a largely segregated society, whites are often insulated from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress. Like the teacher in the book getting angry with the kid for calling him the wrong name. "Mostly unconsciously white people feel that they are entitled to peace and deference, so they lack the 'racial stamina' to engage in difficult conversations. This leads them to respond to 'racial triggers'.” I resolve to be more conscious of myself and my feelings around racial topics and to stop myself when I start to feel fragile. One (all?) of the above books spoke about the determination for folks to become a better ancestor. I like that. I am not perfect but I am determined to do better and be better every day toward my goal of becoming anti-racist.



  1. Thank you for these interesting reviews. I have Me and White Supremacy to read but I'm trying to read more about people's direct lived experiences first which is helping me to think about my own complicitness in institutional racism (for example, Slay in Your Lane has helped me consider my university career). Then I will work my way through that one in time. It's been a challenge to find UK-based books as our racism and our demographics are a little different to in the US.

    1. Layla Saad is from the UK but lives in the Middle East now. She speaks for a universal form of racism.

    2. Yes, sorry, that one is universal but a lot of the others that are on lists are US-centric and I am trying to cover the UK first.

  2. Great list of books. I just read Jerry Craft's follow up, Class Act, which is excellent. I feel I've always got an equity/antiracism book going these days. There is just so much to learn and work on!

  3. New Kid was excellent. My son and I read that one together and Stamped by Kendi and Reynolds. I'm reading Stamped from the Beginning with my book club. I also just started listening to Hood Feminism which is excellent. I'm going to get a physical copy so I can highlight and reflect better. Great list! Thanks for sharing. So much work to do.


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