Saturday, July 4, 2020

CONVERSATIONS - Five Gentle Anti-Racism Book Recommendations


Hello, lovely Library Lions and beautiful Book Dragons. I know most of us have been supporting BLACK LIVES MATTER and as book bloggers have been amplifying Black voices and causes on social media and, like with myself as a White book blogger, been listening to Black voices; adding anti-racism titles to our TBRs and beginning to read them. I do understand how some of this can be profoundly uncomfortable, and even though being uncomfortable is part of the journey, it can stop some people from taking a first step. I've never been an all-or-nothing thinker because expecting ALL many times gets you next to nothing; whereas a lot of  "at least it's" somethings can lead to more people getting fully onboard. So, here are five books I feel will gently start people on their journey.

I'm starting out with three books by White authors because sometimes it's easier for White folks to take guidance from other White folks. What Debby's story highlighted for me was how important it is to have the presence of People of Color in your life, and your children's lives, in an everyday way. I grew up with a moderate presence of the Black community in my life from an early age; my mother's family's church was in a neighborhood which transitioned from German immigrant to African American residents. By the early '60s about one third of the congregation was Black. We spent a lot of time in church and at church functions. My paternal grandmother's physicians were a Black husband and wife who were still making housecalls into my early teens, so I saw People of Color as professionals, too. So many of the things Debby struggled with about race stemmed from having zero meaningful interaction with anyone from the Black community until she was in college.
Another enlightening element to this book, although I think it was unintentional, is Debby is also a bit of a classist and threw some shade on the working class in general a few times. One instance was at a White neighborhood playground when she was criticizing the way White state college graduate mothers, with blue-collar husbands, parented because instead of taking their kids home to nap, and following a "proper" schedule, they would run errands while their kids slept in strollers. She followed up with one of the type statements people denying their racism will use by saying it was great how "resilient" those kids were, though, and she was kind of envious of that. I mean if you are envious you can't be classist, right? Good grief. These scenarios give White readers a little insight on how it feels to be unjustly judged based on circumstances in everyday life.
This book lets us know it's okay to make mistakes if you learn from them instead of excusing them. Reading about her mistakes will help others not make those same mistakes. That being said, I didn't fully agree with a few of her "epiphanies" though. I will talk about those in my blog review of this book. One is she goes overboard with her idea of Black culture vs. White culture when it comes to The Arts, by saying exposing Black inner city children to ballets, symphonies, and theatre plays, etc... through field trips is shaming Black culture. The guitarist from Living Colour was recently discussing on Twitter how field trips of this sort inspired his love of classical music; and has Debby not seen Black ballerinas and opera singers? I will add she gets overly dramatic about some of her woke moments, and also does the "my Black friends" thing when the people are in reality only acquaintances. The book is not perfect, but will be miles more palatable to some White folk than other anti-racism books.
Even if you think you are a woke White person you should read this book. I learned about two racist government policies I previously had no knowledge of, and also was reminded how insensitive we can be to the extra everyday life struggles of minorities in general, especially if we are struggling in life ourselves.

I finished this as a re-read for my A Year of Classics reading challenge last week. I think I have read it five or six times since I was a young teen, and every time I read it I find something new to think about. I remember how much this book opened my eyes about race relations, prejudice, and social injustice. The first time I watched the movie it was on a Saturday afternoon matinee television show, at my grandmother's house, when I was thirteen. I watched it with one of my older cousins and when she told me it was also a book, I went straight to the library and borrowed it. It remains my favorite book of all time. I also highly recommend the movie.

This story is so softly anti-racism there were a couple people who questioned my shelving it as diverse on Goodreads. The two main characters are a biracial teen and a blind ninety-two year old Jewish woman. I think you could get just about anyone to read this; even people who generally shy away from diverse books. The story is definitely stereotype busting.

You are likely more familiar with Braithwaite's To Sir, With Love. I love and adore that book, also, but this story moves past it a bit for me. The story takes place ten years after TS,WL and follows Braithwaite as he performs his duties as a case manager in a British child services office, and relates how he struggles to find families for biracial children while child services discourages placing them in White foster homes and adoptive families; wanting to save the "good" White families for White children. The lies the White child services workers were instructed to tell prospective adoptive White families, about the "inherent" future destructive behaviors of biracial children, are beyond belief. It also shines a light on how educated and successful Black citizens were considered less in social standing than uneducated Whites.

This book was one of those Middle Grades which left me scratching my head as to why it wasn't a Newbery Award winner, or even nominated, because it is phenomenal. The style reminds me of the Little House books. I think everyone should read this story, no matter their age, because it's written in a way that encourages engagement on many levels. I also feel the messages about prejudice and racial injustice may be more easily digested when coming from the life experiences of a child.


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