Category Archives: Becoming Anti-Racist

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely memoir written by Jacqueline Woodson. Written completely in verse, she chronicles her growing up years in South Carolina and New York.

From the publisher:

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

It may seem unusual to write her story in verse, but the beauty of poetry is that a story can be told so powerfully in few words. Reading this book was a delight, and it was well-deserving of the awards and honors it won. 

  • 2014: National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • 2015;  Coretta Scott King Award for Authors
  • 2015:  Newbery Honor Book
  • 2015:  NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction
  • 2015: Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

Here is an example of her beautiful and poignant way of sharing her memories with us:

“Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,
it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness
until you look up and the earth stops
in a ceiling of stars. My head against
my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words
on a night like this. Just the warmth
of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise
that the world as we know it
will always be here.”

I should have read this book years ago!  It is definitely one of my favorite books read so far in 2021.

Jacqueline Woodson

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. Part of this book was set in South Carolina.

I also read this book as part of My Anti-Racist Education project.

 

Kadir Nelson: Harlem on my Mind

Kadir Nelson is an artist/illustrator whose work I just love. I became aware of him first as an illustrator of some children’s books I’ve been reading. Then I discovered that his work is also featured frequently on the cover of the New Yorker magazine. His painting “Harlem on My Mind” is a wonderful expression of his tremendous talent. His statement on the painting is below.

“The New Yorker cover painting Harlem on My Mind celebrates the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the civil rights movement, and Harlem’s rich history in the visual, literary and performing arts. I created a stylistic montage of images as an homage to great Harlem renaissance painters Aaron Douglas, William H. Johnson, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Horace Pippin, Henry Tanner, Archibald Motley and Palmer Hayden; performers the Nicholas Brothers; writers James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston; and activist Malcolm Shabazz.”

Misty Copeland: A Life in Motion

Being snowed-in during a quarantine is an interesting happening. We’ve had unusual snow and ice in the last week here in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, so hubby and I just hunkered down (more than usual) and withdrew into books, tv shows, and indoor projects. I spent my time with Misty Copeland, learning about her life through three books checked out of the online section of our library.

The first book was the young reader’s edition of Misty Copeland’s autobiography, Life in Motion: an unlikely ballerina. I had heard of Misty Copeland as a gifted ballerina, but I didn’t really know her story. This book was a very interesting way to get to know more about her, through her own words, and I enjoyed the experience. Not only is she an amazing ballerina, but she is an inspiration to and a role model for so many people, young and old.

From the publisher:

With an insider’s passion, Misty opens a window into the life of an artist who lives life center stage, from behind the scenes at her first classes to her triumphant roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets. A sensational memoir as “sensitive” and “clear-eyed” (The Washington Post) as her dancing, Life in Motion is a story of passion, identity and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

There were not many people of color in ballet when Misty Copeland began her journey. Better said, there were very talented dancers of color, but not many ways to advance very far in the white world of ballet. She was a late-starter in ballet at age 13, but she was tremendously gifted, a prodigy, who excelled right from the beginning of her training. She was fortunate to have an early mentor/teacher who embraced her talent and nurtured her growth of confidence and pride of self.

“Most of the students at the San Pedro Dance Center were white, but I wasn’t the only child of color. A lot of people think that ballet dancers should all look the same: thin and delicate, with white skin. Cindy thought different shapes, colors, and sizes should be represented to reflect the variety of talent in the ballet world. I feel lucky to have been nurtured by someone so supportive of my differences so early in my career.”

Her drive and ambition to become the best she could be was integral to her career in dance. Her dream was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and she worked fiercely toward that goal.

“I went back to my journal to write about ABT: I need to go in there and show them how good I am. I wasn’t ready to stop fighting my way to the top at ABT. Maybe I’d have to work ten times harder than anyone else because of my skin color, because I didn’t have the body they thought was ideal for ballet. If that’s what it took to become a principal dancer, I’d keep pushing myself. I couldn’t stop now. I’d given up so much to get here. I’d make them see that I deserved it—and more.”

But that drive and ambition was for more than herself. She was deeply appreciative of all those people ( white and people of color) who mentored her and helped her achieve her dreams. She talked in this book about them and about who she also included in her dream:

“If this could open doors for black women in ballet, that would mean the world to me, I penned in my diary. It would all be worth it. That’s what I’m doing this for. Not for my own pleasure and gratification. I need to remember this every morning I wake up tired, just think[ing] of what I could do, not just for me but [for] others.”

Her athleticism and artistry are extraordinary. I was completely enthralled when I watched clips on YouTube from some of her performances, and then I discovered that there was a movie of her called A Ballerina’s Tale. I look forward to watching that soon.

The other two books written by Misty that I checked out at the same time were Bunheads, a book on ballet for 5 to 8 year olds. It had wonderful illustrations and would please any young person interested in ballet.  The other book was Firebird, also written for young children. Both books encourage hard work and dedication as ways to become a dancer and also to build confidence in one’s self.

The temperatures here are warming up and the melting has started today. The snow and ice will be gone soon with the coming rain, but  thanks to Misty Copeland, I really enjoyed my time being snowed-in during this quarantine. (But I will be glad to be able to get out to the grocery store once again!)

 

 

The Beautiful Struggle

Ta’Nehisi Coates wrote this powerful and moving story of growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, and called it The Beautiful Struggle: a father, two sons, and an unlikely road to manhood. It was his first work and it was beautifully written. It is also the first book I have read by him, but it will definitely not be my last. What an impressive talent and powerful voice!

This synopsis of the book from the Publisher is a little long, but I couldn’t describe better the focus of this book:

An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.

Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.

Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.

With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.

My experiences were almost the opposite of Mr. Coates’s experiences, but I identified with much of what he described of his growing up years. He idolized his older brother, Bill; his family focus was on the goal of getting that college education. The interactions he described between family members, and the stories of friends and neighborhood, touched me and brought back memories of my own brothers during our growing up years. That he could touch my own memories, and those of so many of his readers from such different backgrounds and life experiences, is a tribute to the depth of his writing.

Family life and interactions are the universals that he wrote about, but what was not part of my own privileged life was the daily racism and struggles just to survive growing up black in this country. Those stories were profoundly moving and educating for me. There is no “distance” for a reader of Mr. Coates. He makes you feel deeply and identify closely, and that is a transforming experience.

His description of  his family:

Here’s the cast of my last name: My father has seven kids by four women. Some of us were born to best friends. Some of us were born in the same year. My elders come first, in chronology: Kelly, Kris, William Jr.—all born of my father’s first marriage to Linda. John was born to Patsy, Malik born to Sola. Then me and Menelik, the children of my mother, Cheryl. This is all a mess on paper, but it was all love to me, and formed my earliest and still enduring definition of family.

An insightful description of his Father:

To be Conscious Man was more than just the digestion of obscure books that happen to favor your side. It was a feeling, an ingrained sense that something major in our lives had gone wrong. My father was haunted. He was bad at conjuring small talk, he watched very little TV, because once Conscious, every commercial, every program must be strip-mined for its deeper meaning, until it lays bare its role in this sinister American plot.

An interesting reference to his Mother in the context of his own growing awareness of the unfairness of the world:

I paid little heed to great injustice, despite my mother showing me blueprints of slave ships and children’s books tracking the revolution of Dessalines and Toussaint. Still, I could spot even small injustices when they shadowed me personally. I knew that to be afraid while on the way to school was deeply wrong.

A philosophical thought on Life:

“I did not know then that this is what life is—just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you’re swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.”

 

I was very moved by his experiences and found this book haunting my thoughts long after I finished it.

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is an award winning book for young people. It won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming book, and I just wanted to take Bud (not Buddy) home with me.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

— This is what Bud’s mother told him about his name, and is why he always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy.”

Bud is an orphan, having lost his mother four years ago, and not knowing who his father was, he was placed in an orphanage. The time was during the depression; the place was Flint, Michigan; and an orphanage during that time was a miserable place to be. After being in the orphanage, and then experiencing an abusive foster home, Bud ran away and decided to try to find out who his father was from the clues his mother left behind. He carried those clues with him everywhere in a tattered old suitcase tied up with twine.

His first stop after running away was the library. The librarian had always been very kind to him, and he knew she would understand and help him. However, he discovered that she had gotten married and moved away, but the new librarian took him underwing and helped him figure out a walking route to Grand Rapids, where he thought his father might be, based on his mother’s clues.

Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books.

The twists and turns of how he finally got to a destination in Grand Rapids were fun to read, and quite adventurous. It was not easy for anyone to travel during that period of time, and it was especially dangerous for a young black boy to be traveling alone. But he met some Helpers along the way, and what awaited him in Grand Rapids was a new life, but not without twists and turns first.

If you didn’t have a real good imagination you’d probably think those noises were the sounds of some kid blowing a horn for the first time, but I knew better than that. I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.

In the Afterword to the book, the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, talked about how he learned about this period of time and how he based some of the characters on his own grandfathers. He had a wonderful piece of advice for his readers:

Much of what I discovered about the depression I learned through research in books, which is a shame—I didn’t take advantage of the family history that surrounded me for many years. I’m afraid that when I was younger and my grandparents and parents would start to talk about their lives during the depression, my eyes would glaze over and I’d think, “Oh, no, not those boring tall tales again!” and I’d find the most convenient excuse I could to get away from them. Now I feel a real sorrow when I think of all the knowledge, wisdom and stories that have been forever lost with the deaths of my grandparents. Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.

This is such an enjoyable book to read, especially during Black History Month, which this year focuses on families. Read it with your family, read it to your middle grade students, or read it by yourself on a snowy afternoon. It will warm your heart.

Bass Player, by La Shun Beal

Our Time is Now

When I heard the announcement this week that Stacey Abrams has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work against voter suppression, I was thrilled.  I read her book, Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, a few weeks ago (actually, I first listened to her narrating the audiobook version of her book, and then read the print version), and I was deeply impressed.

Our Time Is Now, is very well written and also very engaging. As I read through it, I kept thinking that it should be required reading for every high school student, and for every voter! Do we still teach Civics in high school? This book would be an extremely important addition to that curriculum! Are we, as voters, educated about the right to vote or do we just take it for granted?

I (shamefully) didn’t know very much about the way voting really works, and doesn’t work, in this country. But I was gifted an extensive education about it by Stacey Abrams. It is shocking and sobering to learn what has happened to our right to vote, but she elucidates the issue very well and goes way beyond describing that sobering news. She creates a clear and hopeful guide for how it can be dealt with and changed, and how powerful and necessary those changes are to insure fair elections in the future. Her knowledge and understanding of that process is extensive and impressive, and her writing very clear and understandable.

Our Time Is Now is my longer, more complicated answer to how we can frame and revise voting rights and the architecture of American democracy for the current age. My hope is that they can read this book, written by a sojourner like myself who has seen glimpses of our possible future.

Stacey Abrams is one of my heroes, and this book solidified that feeling even more for me. I told my family that this book is a “must read…” And I repeat that here for all voters, and young people preparing to become voters!

Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Idia of the Benin Kingdom, by Ekiuwa Aire, is the first book in a new picturebook series for young children. The series is called “Our Ancestories,” and the stories will all be from African history and legends, with beautiful illustrations, and will be “free of the racial prejudice inherited from the slave trade and colonization.”

At Our Ancestories, we know that there is a deep divide between the truth of African history and the common understanding of it. We strive to bridge this gap through various means including stories, merchandise, and other informational content. Our desire is to make African history more mainstream filling a void that has been missing for years. We believe this will positively affect the modern generations in providing identity. Ultimately, we know that rediscovering African history will help create a better future.

In this first book, Idia is a young girl in the Benin Kingdom who loves to dance. She dreams one night of a queen leading and winning a battle, and after the battle, the queen helped the injured by using her healing powers using special herbs and potions. She was a great leader!

Idia never forgets that dream, and as she gets older, the dream guides her. She asks her father, a great warrior, to teach her the skills needed to become a warrior. He agrees if she promises never to stop having fun with her dancing. Later, she also asks her mother to teach her the healing skills of their people. Her mother thinks she is too young to learn those skills, but agrees to teach Idia about medicine and magic if she does her chores every day.

Idia grew up with all these wonderful skills, but it was her beautiful dancing that caught the eye of the King, and he asked her to marry him. Idia remembered again her childhood dream, and realized that she was the “queen” in that dream, and her son she would have would also to be a King. So she agreed to marry, and in doing so, she became “a queen, a warrior, the first woman to fight for the kingdom, and the first lyoba (Queen Mother) of Benin.

This was a fun book to read, and beautifully illustrated! I highly recommend that parents and teachers share it with the children and students! 

I chose this book to read for two of my personal challenges. It was a great choice for my “Wanderlust challenge” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Benin.

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It also was a great choice to read for my Antiracist Education challenge. 

 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Reni Eddo-Lodge

Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, is an important book to read. It came out a few years ago, but is perhaps even more relevant today. I decided to reread it as part of my anti-racist education. I’m glad I did because I got even more out of it the second time. Reni is very articulate and her ideas powerful. There is also a podcast called “About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge”  which is available on Emma Watson’s, Our Shared Podcast, on Spotify. I highly recommend you read the book and then listen to the podcast. Both aare filled with important ideas.

from the publisher:

Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with the way that discussions of race and racism are so often led by those blind to it, by those willfully ignorant of its legacy. Her response, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has transformed the conversation both in Britain and around the world. Examining everything from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, from whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. Including a new afterword by the author, this is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today, and an essential handbook for anyone looking to understand how structural racism works.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

*We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.

*We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in wilful ignorance.

*Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather, it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity.

*Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

Reading this book and listening to the podcast are part of my ongoing personal project: My Anti-Racist Education.

Across That Bridge

“Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Violence can never overcome violence, only peace can do that. Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that.”

The life of Representative John Lewis was inspirational. The more I learn about this great American leader, the more I admire him. I just finished reading his 2017 book called  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, in which he told his own story of his path that lead him to the bridge in Alabama that day, his commitment to the ideals of his country and to the concept of non-violent protest for change, and his deep love of humanity. But as the title suggests, it is more than his story. His vision for change and the future of our country is a gift and a legacy for all of us! This book should be required reading for all of us. Do we still have “civics” classes in high school? It would definitely be on that reading list. And it should be on every book list for understanding the Black experience and for “becoming anti-racist.”

“But we must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

There are eight chapters in this book, and Congressman Lewis called them his “lessons.” Each one is full of wisdom, insight, and compassion.

CHAPTER 1: Faith
CHAPTER 2: Patience
CHAPTER 3: Study
CHAPTER 4: Truth
CHAPTER 5: Act
CHAPTER 6: Peace
CHAPTER 7: Love
CHAPTER 8: Reconciliation

I have written these lessons on freedom and meditations on change for the generations who will take us into the future, for the dreamers young and ever young who should never get lost in a sea of despair, but are faithfully readying themselves for the next push for change. It is for the parents who want to inspire their sons and daughters to build a more just society. And, it’s for the sons and daughters who hear the call of a new age. This book is for the people.

It is for the grassroots leaders who will emerge not for the sake of fame or fortune, but with a burning desire to do good. It is for all those willing to join in the human spirit’s age-old struggle to break free from the bondage of concepts and structures that have lost their use. It is for the masses of people who with each new day have the chance to peel the scales from their eyes and remember it is they alone who are the most powerful agents of change. It is for anyone who wants to reform his or her existence or to fashion a better life for the children. It’s for those who want to improve their community or make their mark in history. This book is a collection of a few of the truths that I have learned as one who dreamed, worked, and struggled in America’s last revolution.

I know that there are quite a few books coming out now on the life of this great man, but this would be my recommended starting place to learn more about him and his important contributions to our nation.

Kindred

I actually read Kindred, by Octavia Butler, last year, but did not review it when I finished it because there was so much from the story to process and absorb. What I’ve discovered in the months that have passed since I finished it, is that it was a powerfully haunting experience to read it. I’ve thought a lot about it and don’t know when a book has stuck with me, haunted me, quite like this one. It was a powerful reading experience because Octavia Butler, being such a gifted writer/storyteller, makes you feel as if you are right there with her main character, Dana, throughout all her experiences, in the past and in the present. Those experiences were profoundly life-changing. Experiencing firsthand the life of her enslaved ancestors, being catapulted back and forth to the time of her ancestors and then back to her life in present times brought an incredible depth to Dana’s understanding of her own life experience. And it had a powerful impact on those of us who traveled with her. It is definitely a book I would highly recommend, although it is not an easy story. And for anyone wanting to gain more understanding of the black experience in this country, this is a creative and fascinating book to read.

from the publisher:

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Author Octavia E. Butler skillfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in Maryland.