A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, “Because of me…” It was written in response to the events of Charlottesville and addressed my role in the perpetuation of racism. I was pleased with how well it was received and appreciated everyone who commented and shared it on facebook or talked about it with friends. It was one of the more popular posts that I have written. If you missed it you can find it here. http://www.theintentionalproject.com/?p=272
Since then, specifically over the last weekend, the news has been filled with people arguing over Colin Kaepernick and Donald Trump and whether or not someone should stand, or be forced to stand during the National Anthem before football games.
I do not want to argue what is or is not respectful. It is obvious people are not going to find a middle ground, even though Kaepernick already changed the way he was originally protesting violence against people of color to be more respectful. You can read about that conversation here. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/heres-how-nate-boyer-got-colin-kaepernick-to-go-from-sitting-to-kneeling/
I want to try and move the conversation forward. Kaepernick and other black athletes have a reason for what they are doing.
They are trying to raise attention toward police brutality toward people of color in America today.
Whether or not someone disagrees with their method of protest does not mean the protest does not have a point.
This is what I want to better understand. This is what we actually need to be talking about as a country and with our fellow Americans. This is what is hard to acknowledge because as a white person, it is easier for me to believe that racism is a thing of the past.
As I said in my earlier post, if racism only exists when people burn crosses or put on white hoods, or carry Nazi and Confederate flags, it is easy to denounce and say who is racist and who is not. But if racism exists systemically, it means that I might be a part of it and help to perpetuate it, consciously and unconsciously. I believe this is the point of the protest and this is what we need to be talking about.
If something as heinous as innocent young men are being killed unjustly, I want no part of it. I want the problem to be fixed. We should all want the problem to be fixed.
I do not want to live in a country that continues to allow this kind of behavior to happen and even justifies it. The America that I was taught to believe in is one that stands up not just for all people equally, but specifically those who are poor, tired, weak, and oppressed.
I need to realize that if our country has participated and enforced such horrible crimes against humanity such as slavery and then legalized racism through Jim Crow laws in the early to mid-twentieth century, we cannot believe that we are above making the same mistakes, just in different ways, today.
If a virus can adapt in our bodies so the medicine used to fight it is rendered powerless, I have no doubt that a virus like racism can do the same thing and adapt to our world today.
It is with that in mind that I did a bit more reading this past month to learn about other people’s experience and lives.
Below are 5 books that I would highly recommend to anyone to pick up and read to understand how people of color have experienced life differently than me, a middle-class white male who grew up and lives in the Midwest. Some are more academic than others. Some are fictional and some are biographies. They all have been eye opening for me, they pushed me to see the world in a different way. A way that I think I knew existed but didn’t want to fully realize and wanted to pretend it was not as serious as it is.
While they are listed in alphabetical order, I would start with the following two, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stephenson and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.
After you read, I would love to hear if you have read any of these, what your thoughts were and what other books would you recommend. The problem of racism will only be solved if we are proactive and learn the experiences of other people.
Here goes…in alphabetical order by title.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah is the host of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show.” He took over from Jon Stewart 2 years ago. The reason that I chose this book to read is that Trevor is becoming more and more important in society as people watch his show to help understand and interpret the events of the world. An increasing amount of people, young people in particular (and I include myself in that) have more trust in Trevor Noah and people like him (think John Oliver and Stephen Colbert along with Jon Steward) in reporting the news then networks like Fox News or MSNBC. Because I enjoy Trevor and appreciate his opinion, I wanted to learn more about him.
The book has the title, “Born a Crime” because that was him, he was born a crime. He was born to a black mother and a white father during Apartheid in South Africa. Due to his being a mixed-race and having lighter skin, he didn’t have a place. He could not be seen with his father in public, and he struggled finding a group to belong to. This book is filled with stories from his childhood and how he navigated his way through it. In the end, you could say this book is about his mother as much as it is about him. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself laughing out loud several times throughout it.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard trained lawyer. After graduating, he goes to Atlanta, Georgia and works with inmates on death row that have not been served fairly by the criminal justice system. “Just Mercy” follows one of his early cases with a gentleman named Walter McMillian. Walter proclaims his innocence of a murder of a white woman with whom he was having an affair. While one chapter in the book tells the story of uncovering all that happened to Walter during his trial, alternating chapters tell the stories of a criminal justice system that does not work and how easy it is for people, particularly minorities and children, to receive unfair trials, harsh sentences and in some cases, not trial at all for years while they sit in jail. The power in this book is in how it personalizes injustice. The problems of racism are given a face and a name. The people incarcerated have a story and a life and families and people who love them. The book exposes the biases that occur in communities and in law enforcement. It is not a “hard read” in the way it is written or the vocabulary use, but it is a book that is “hard to read.” Meaning, when I read these stories I frequently found myself getting emotional in many number of ways, from hurt, to anger, to embarrassment to shame and even joy. I would not say that this is my favorite book that I have ever read, but it is one of the most important books that I have ever read.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
This book traces the history of racism, beginning with slavery and how it has adapted systemically in our society through Jim Crow laws and ultimately through the mass incarceration of African-American males. Michelle Alexander begins with the assertion that she would not have supported her ultimate conclusion when she began this book. She would have attributed the problem of mass incarceration of African-American males to poverty and lack of education. While that does play a role, she strongly makes that case that the real culprit has been the “war of drugs” that began in the 1980’s. She shows how there was not an inner-city drug problem when the “war” began and it was inaccurately portrayed in order to gain support from the public. She continues to show how African-Americans do not use drugs at a higher proportion that whites yet they are profiled and arrested at alarmingly higher rates are given much harsher sentences compared to whites. She then looks at how the system works against people once they are released from prison and how we have actually developed a caste system, a system in which there is not freedom to move from one class to another, instead people, specifically African-Americans are kept in a different class. This book is not what I would call an quick read, but it is clear and concise and I can’t help but continually having my mind blown and my perspective changed while reading it.
racism without racists: color blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
There are times in our lives when we are not ready to hear what we need to hear. Maybe a better way of putting it is that we do not want to hear what we need to hear. I first encountered Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book “racism without racists” when I was at Wartburg Seminary and had to buy it for a class titled, “Race and Racism.” Like most people, in college and seminary I did not do all of the reading that was assigned. This was for a couple of reasons. One, I just didn’t have time. Life got it the way. The other reason that I would choose not to read something is because I didn’t want to or didn’t think I needed to. This is the case with this book. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to be confronted with the racism that lies within me. I thought that I was already fairly progressive and understood all the issues at hand. I can now see the arrogance in that.
With all the reading that I have done, this one has been the last one, and I have not made my way very far in it. It is also the densest and reads more like a text book than the others (that is probably why it was used that way). I do not say this to discourage people from reading it. It might very well be the most important out of all the books mentioned, I just want to be honest in my assessment of it. If any of you have thoughts and opinions, please share.
small great things by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is a prolific author. She is a constant presence on the New York Times Bestseller lists. She is able to take a controversial topic and able help people see that it may not be as black and white as the reader might have hoped. In this book, she tackles race and racism. The story is about an African-American labor and delivery nurse. When she reports to work one day, she is assigned to care for a white-supremacist couple who just had a baby the day before. After their initial interaction together, the couple asks for the nurse to not be allowed to come near their baby. The hospital grants the request. Yet, being short staffed, she is asked to watch over the baby in the nursery for a few minutes. It is during those few minutes that all goes wrong. The rest of the book tells of the aftermath and how everyone reacts and is supportive, unsupportive and distances themselves from the nurse and the situation.
Jodi Picoult is a white women and writes about her struggles and apprehension of writing about this topic at the end in the “Author’s Note.” I appreciate her honesty in identifying her anxiousness and the way in which she has the courage to still write it. She provides a bibliography at the end of resources she used to help tell the story.
What books have your read? What else have you done to learn about racism and how has it affected you? I love to learn more. Please share.
Have a great day and don’t be a jerk.