Reading African-American Authors

Norma Impressions by Kara Walker (source)

A few months ago, I loaded up my twitter account with a lot of book critics, educators, and activists who are involved with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I wanted to know what kinds of conversations they were having, and why. At first I didn’t understand a lot of academic-y terms they threw around, so I had to google and read a ton. I still have to google, but I’ve gained a lot of understanding into the conversation. Every day there is something new, but it really can be boiled down to: White people, why aren’t you listening?

I know I have a case of white guilt that has more than once tempted me to unfollow and stop listening because I feel ashamed and out of place. I don’t dare chime in to the conversation because these women are fierce, strong, educated, and I would be both out of line and out of my league to think that I had something to add. This has been humbling in a painful way.

Sometimes I want to feel like I belong with them because I’m a woman living in a severely misogynistic society (After I moved to Brazil, I understood why women become anorexic out of an attempt at control over their own bodies… I struggle with eating in certain situations here). But I can’t say I face the same thing that a woman of color is up against; I consciously use my race and gender to get in and out of situations that other people would not be able to, and I have done so my whole life. For example, one time I boarded a plane without any form of legal ID because I had forgotten and packed mine in my checked luggage. I can think of scores of personal examples like this.

I know a British guy who is so quick to point out horrendous racial crimes that ‘my people’ have done. I think it’s because he is deeply insecure and tries to criticize others whenever possible. But I was so gleefully happy when I read Longbourn and the global capitalist inheritance system clicked into place in my brain: white Americans got rich from the bodies of slaves, but so did white Englishmen, and even if this guy I know did grow up poor and does have ancestors who slaved in the fields as he so frequently claims, he too is reaping the profits of slavery by the mere fact that he was able to afford a university education and make a living using his native language in Brazil. There is a reason that English teachers are in such worldwide demand, and it is directly linked to money that was made by, cities that were built by, and advantages that were gained by African bodies.

The thing I've learned (that this dudebro doesn’t understand yet) is that white privilege does not mean an absence of hardship of any kind. L.L. McKinney tweeted recently: ...yes. All white people are privileged. No this does not mean they don’t struggle or are not marginalized in some form fashion. (source)

Nowadays, I’m careful to check out an author before I bother checking out a book. I’m pretty tired of reading books by white men. Not because white men are evil, but because I’ve been reading books by them my entire life and I’m ready to stop now. There’s lots of other people who deserve to be heard, and a lot more that I need to learn that I’m not going to learn by listening to the same thing all the time.

My Recent Reads

Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson)
Stevenson is a lawyer working primarily in Alabama, fighting against injustice (racism and otherwise) in the criminal justice system.

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)
A letter from a father to his teenage son about what it means to have a black body in a country that constantly seeks to control it.

The Book of American Negro Poetry
(various, ed. James Weldon Johnson)
An anthology that sets out to prove that African American poets are equal and often superior to white poets.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems (Alice Walker)
Tangible and accessible poetry that contemplates race, exploitation, and colonialism.

Parable of the Sower duology (Octavia E. Butler)
Set in a dystopian America, a strong, young black woman makes her way from Southern California to better lands in the north, all the while developing a new religion based on acceptance and equality.

Good Links

Lemonade Syllabus (and on Goodreads so you can add 'em to your TBR already.)
The Sublte Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy (an essay by @YawoBrown)
White Fragility (an essay by Robin DiAngelo)

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