Last week I posted some children’s books/resources on topics of diversity, race, Black history, civil rights.
Today I’m offering some suggestions for middle-graders through adults.
My voice is not the one to listen to on matters of race; I am attempting to point to those who can teach us.
I wanted to reflect a bit, first, on the process of changing one’s mindset, opening oneself to new understandings and perspectives.
I grew up in a nearly monocultural environment, a small town in northern Minnesota with not a single Black resident and nearly zero other persons of color other than the neighboring Ojibwa communities.
(I have written previously about my ignorance about these Native neighbors and my bumbling pathway towards better understanding.)
Keep in mind that I was a child of the 60s/70s. MLK was assassinated when I was 7 years old, yet I do not remember learning the first thing about him or the Civil Rights movement in my K-12 schooling.
The first time I became aware of my ignorance with regard to racial injustice was in college when anti-Semitic threats stopped my school in its tracks for a short time and my conversations with Asian and Black acquaintances, of whom very few were enrolled, revealed how wholly unaware I was of their ever-present struggles with racism on our campus and in general.
I was stunned by what they were telling me. It was as though I was living in a parallel universe.
And this is still the case for many of us who are White.
We are largely separated from the experience of those living as persons of color in the United States.
My growth in understanding issues surrounding race during my adulthood has been woefully sluggish and I have to say that my children have quite often led the way into discovery and engagement for me.
If your kids are asking hard questions, pushing for answers, exploring various viewpoints, feeling pulled into activism, you would do well to learn from them.
All that to say, I recognize that moving from naiveté, lack of awareness, even skepticism towards racial injustice and policing issues — which has been the position of default, I think, for a lot of White Americans — towards awakening, acknowledgement, new understanding, new resolve, requires some things of us.
We have to be willing to own our lack of knowledge and instead of pushing back out of a sense of embarrassment, inadequacy, shame, fear, to embrace the posture of a learner.
Many of us are at a kindergarten level when it comes to these issues.
Will we accept that as our starting place and go from there, or do we feel the need to buttress our egos?
Are we willing to prioritize and place ourselves under the instruction of Black and Brown voices?
Are we prepared to honestly examine our hearts for hidden or not-so-obscure pockets of racism?
Second, a willingness to experience discomfort.
We will lose some “home bases” that felt concrete to us, ie. a former lens, former certainties, voices we formerly trusted on these matters.
Are we willing to sit with dissonance, to feel unsettled, a bit untethered, by what we are learning and unlearning?
Are we willing to experience in some adjacent way the amount of sorrow and pain these communities bear? It is a lot.
Third, good will.
When we find ourselves disagreeing with one idea or another, one phrase or term, one particular political stance, in a book, film, podcast, speech, will we block out all the rest of what that person has to say, or persist in listening, leaning towards the overall goal of racial justice?
Are we willing to listen with an open heart and when we think we’ve heard something untenable to suspend knee-jerk reactions, take a deep breath and say, “Tell me more”?
This is hard work, and not something I’m very good at, but something I’d like to do better.
If we are not willing to bear with deeply uncomfortable feelings, it will not do us any good to order a stack of books about racism from the NYT bestsellers list.
We might as well not open the books, for inside of them we are going to read things that make us squirm, make us react in disbelief.
We are going to come upon some phrasing or language, some part of a stance or proposed solution that does not resonate with us.
We are going to feel shame and its constant sidekick, defensiveness.
We are going to feel sick to our stomachs and overwhelmed at the scope of the problem. If we’re unprepared for that, chances are we’ll close the books and shut down the process of understanding.
We also risk getting stuck in our own negative emotions rather than motivated to move forward from wherever we are.
Therefore, today I have tried to provide resources and books for people at a couple different entry points.
For those wading into these issues for the first time, or nearly the first time, I do not necessarily recommend beginning with the hardest-hitting voices, just as I wouldn’t recommend learning to swim by plunging into the Atlantic five miles offshore and pulling for home.
If you’re feeling tenuous or conflicted about what you’re hearing these days,
feeling pulled into the national dialogue yet nearly singed by the heat of it just now,
there are ways into the conversation for you without either drowning or heading for the hills.
For many of us, we’ve read a few things over the years, begun to understand somewhat, shifted our positions a bit,
and suddenly the curtain has been pulled back revealing in much more vivid, even violent detail the depth and breadth, complexity and degree of the racial injustices in our country,
particularly in regards to violations within our criminal justice system.
There is always room for further growth.
We need second-step resources to begin digging deeper.
Many of you are miles beyond me in your experience, your acute understanding of racial disparities and how they play out in key areas.
I am utterly out of my league in recommending resources for you!
On the contrary, if you have titles or sources to recommend, we welcome your input via the comments section.
I am deeply grateful for the many Black voices who have graciously spoken, explained, and welcomed us into their community and conversation in the past weeks.
Our best bet is to listen carefully to what they are saying.
As I said in my earlier resource list, racism is obviously not confined to the Black community, but I am limiting my lists to that aspect for today.
First Steps Resources for Middle Grade through Adult
38th and Chicago
The memorial site for George Floyd in Minneapolis is an excellent place to begin your journey for those of you who live in this area. Enter into this space, feel the gracious welcome of this hurting community, absorb the emotions and interpretations portrayed in ever-evolving artwork and memorials, step into a rich diversity of people, witness the peaceful community self-organizing at work. Many people are bringing young children there – it is a safe place. Find out more via this WCCO story and this StarTribune story.
There are scads of ways to participate in mutual aid within the communities here in Minneapolis and St. Paul that were particularly hard hit by arson and looting, communities who lost key food sources as well as jobs or their own businesses. Pitching in to these efforts opens our hearts in ways that reading a book never will. You might check out the options listed here or here in the Twin Cities, or google volunteer + protests + the name of your city to see if there is a way to help locally. These needs are constantly in flux so check for current info.
My friend’s blog post
My friend Bryonie is the White mother of twins who died shortly after birth and of two Black children via adoption. She has written a beautiful, insightful, deeply personal blog post about their family’s experience of this moment here in Minneapolis. Please avail yourself of her perspective.
Just Mercy film and book
I’ve previously recommended Just Mercy as an exceptional read for middle-graders through adults. A film version was released in theaters in 2019 and is now available to stream, free of charge, for the month of June. Find it here, here, or here. It is rated PG-13 for violence. I would recommend it for ages 14 and up. This film is a fantastic entry point for learning about criminal justice inequities, but please, after you’ve watched it, read the book for a more in-depth look at Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. Other films you might consider watching include Selma, the excellent documentary 13th, and a film I haven’t seen, based on an award-winning YA book, The Hate U Give . Please consult movie guides to make decisions for your children.
Middle grade lit and picture books
You have no idea how much I’ve learned about Black History and Civil Rights from picture books and middle grade literature. You can cover a lot of ground breadthwise by dipping into any of over 100 titles on my list here.
Among them, I’ll just highlight a few of the lengthier reads particularly well-suited to middle-graders through adults:
Attucks: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City
Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights that Changed America
Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights
Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters
March, volumes 1, 2, and 3
Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961
We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
Three excellent titles new to my blog:
Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.
currently published by Signet
A number of months ago I read this small book. Initially I hesitated thinking I should be allocating my reading time to something more current. After all, he wrote it in 1964. Surely the issues are different now. Wow, was I wrong. This is a fabulous read. King articulates his thoughts incisively and powerfully. And sadly – he could have written it yesterday. It is certainly all still relevant. I highly recommend this as a great entry point for readings on race for ages 15 and up.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
published in 2020 by Little, Brown and Company
Kendi’s book, Stamped From the Beginning, has been rewritten – not simply edited – by the fabulous Jason Reynolds. It’s geared for teens but makes a great book for adults as well. In it Reynolds traces the history of racism in America, all the while illustrating distinctions between racism, assimilationism, and anti-racism. Although I’d encountered most of the people and events in this text, his assessments and historical connections presented me with a strikingly new lens. Thought-provoking, electric, unflinching, with a lengthy list for Further Reading. 14 and up.
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
published in 2018 by Crown Publishing Group
Michelle Obama — intelligent, compassionate, hardworking, classy, Michelle — tells her life story from childhood through her last day in the White House. I’m including it as a great first step reading choice. It’s an easy read, interesting, almost entirely upbeat, and a great window into various issues within the Black community. Ages 16 and up.
The Innocence Project
Learn from this group, founded in 1992, which “exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.”
Equal Justice Initiative
Learn more about the group founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson. EJI “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”
Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man
I heard former NFL-player Emmanuel Acho talk about this great new endeavor the other night on Stephen Colbert’s A Late Show. Acho’s combination of forthrightness and good heart are magnetic. Join him in these dialogues as he cultivates a safe place for “curious white people” answering the “questions they’ve always had but have been too nervous to ask.”
Invisibilia: Flip the Script
Give a listen to this fascinating podcast in which someone flips the script, “does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, and in this way transforms a situation. Usually when someone is hostile to us, we are hostile right back. The psychological term is “complementarity.” But then in rare cases someone manages to be warm, and what happens as a result can be surprising. The episode starts with a story about a dinner party in DC, when an attempted robbery was foiled by… a glass of wine and some cheese. Then we travel across the pond, to Denmark, where police officers are attempting to combat the growing problem of Islamic radicalization with… love.” For conversations about policing and de-escalation, this is a great starting point.
On Being: Befriending Radical Disagreement
This is a fascinating podcast I listened to some time ago. From the On Being description: We’d heard Derek Black, the former white-power heir apparent, interviewed before about his past, but never about the college friendships that changed him. After Derek’s ideology was outed at the New College of Florida, Matthew Stevenson (one of the only Orthodox Jews on campus) invited him to Shabbat dinner. What happened next is a roadmap for navigating some of the hardest and most important territory of our time.
Invisibilia: The Culture Inside
I haven’t listened to this one but have had it recommended by a highly trusted source 🙂 In it they examine implicit bias, specifically the unseen racial bias within us that shapes our behavior.
Second Step Resources for Middle Grade through Adult
for those desiring material that challenges us more strenuously
in terms of subject matter and emotion.
There are so many excellent book lists circulating online just now. I’ll just mention a few here that I’ve either read or are at the top of my to-read list.
All American Boys, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
I’ve reviewed this book in depth earlier, so I’ll point you to that review. This is an outstanding novel written in two voices – that of a Black teen and a White teen – as they live through the upheaval in their community following a police shooting. Recommended for ages 14 to adult.
Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights, by Lawrence Goldstone
published in 2020 by Scholastic
I read this book earlier this year as I started preparing for a blog post in connection to our upcoming elections. The book exposes the shocking, blatant white supremacy at the heart of Southern politics and impacting Northern politics as well. The coarse, violent, outpouring of white rage amongst politicians in the 1800s has seen a resurgence today. Goldstone examines the constitutional amendments related to voting rights, the rise and fall of those rights in the South, the influence of the KKK, the role of the Supreme Court, lesser known Civil Rights legislation, and the brick wall of entrenched racism these bills and laws strive to surmount. It is a dense, highly-informative read. I’d suggest ages 14 to adult.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
published in 2010 by The New Press
I’m about a third of the way through this book, which has been on my list for a good while now. It offers a take-down of the notion that we have somehow entered an era devoid of racism in our country, and a vivid portrayal of how the War on Drugs has become a devastating program of mass incarceration for Black men in particular. This is a critical piece of the puzzle for understanding the kinds of reform required and being called for today. For serious teens ages 16 and up, and adults.
For those of you living in Hennepin County, the publisher has made unlimited copies of this e-book available through the end of June via the Hennepin County Library.
They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement, by Wesley Lowery
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
I read this a few years ago and highly recommend it. Lowery provides superb, revelatory insights into the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, and the impacts on their communities. If you want to begin to comprehend the experiences of people in heavily-policed communities, the visceral impact of excessive force at the hands of the police, and the birth of some of the most powerful, current racial justice groups in America including Black Lives Matter, read this book. Ages 16 and up.
Lowery has also written a superb article for The Atlantic about this moment. One of the best I’ve seen.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo
published in 2018 by Beacon Press
On my to-read list. DiAngelo explores the unhelpful reactions we have as White people when racism is on the table, and how we can move towards more constructive responses. Essentially, it sounds like a much wiser and more in depth conversation along the lines of what I mused about at the top of the post today. I would like to learn from her.
Unlimited e-books of this title are also currently available for residents at the Hennepin County Library.
So You Want To Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
published in 2019 by Seal Press
On my to-read list. Another book specifically addressing how difficult it is to have honest conversations about race, and offering the language and tools to do that. Words used to describe this book are: clear, blunt, hard-hitting, unflinching. So I’m putting it as a second step choice. For serious teens through adults.
How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
published in 2019 by One World
On my to-read list. A book that centers on seeing the multiple strands of racist thinking in our societies, the terrible consequences of that, and how we can work to counteract those viewpoints in ourselves and in the structures of society. This sounds in-depth, meaty, like something to walk through slowly. Ages 16 to adult.
Unlimited e-books are also available for this title for residents via the Hennepin County Library.
The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement, by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris
published in 2019 by Hachette Books
On my to-read list. Written by a Black cop who spent 28 years in law enforcement, this book “explains the culture of racism deeply embedded in America’s police departments. Horace’s first-person account is supplemented with reporting by journalist Ron Harris, but what’s most indelible in this book is Horace’s account of finding himself with a gun to his head and pinned to the ground by a white officer.” (quoted from a Vox review)
The End of Policing, by Alex S. Vitale
published in 2018 by Verso
On my to-read list. Defund, divest, dismantle, reform, abolish, prosecute…so many words and ideas are being voiced in protest movements today. What do they mean? What in the world are people recommending as solutions to the problems we face? If your gut reaction is fear or rejection, consider finding out more.
In an interview with NPR, Vitale summarizes his thesis: “One of the problems that we’re encountering here is this massive expansion in the scope of policing over the last 40 years or so. Policing is now happening in our schools. It’s happening in relation to the problems of homelessness, untreated mental illness, youth violence and some things that we historically associate police with. But the policing has become more intensive, more invasive, more aggressive. So what I’m calling for is a rethink on why we’ve turned all of these social problems over to the police to manage. And as we dial those things back, then we can think more concretely about what the rest of policing should look like and how that could be reformed.”
Readers may not agree with all of his conclusions, but this looks like a great way to become informed about the questions and ideas of those calling for the most strenuous degree of police reform.
This book’s publisher is currently making the e-book version free of charge.
A fave of ours, this podcast is produced from inside the San Quentin State Prison. Its purpose is to bring you the “daily realities of life inside prison shared by those living in it, and stories from the outside, post-incarceration.” Enlightening and humanizing.
A podcast series examining the history and repercussions of slavery in America.
Serial – Season Three
This award-winning podcast uses its third season to examine the criminal justice system in the courts. They did this by following and investigating a number of ordinary cases within the Cleveland, Ohio court system. I have listened to a few of these episodes. They are riveting, just as all the Serial episodes are.
Lynching in America
I just discovered this series of podcasts made by Equal Justice Initiative. “Equal Justice Initiative has documented the lynchings of over 4,000 African Americans between 1877 and 1950. In this series, hear how this era of racial terror lynchings continues to shape America to this day.” These promise to be tragic and profoundly important.
Films about racial injustice are intense. Please use your own judgement as to whether or not to watch these and/or share them with your children.
Fruitvale Station tells the story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s last day alive before he is shot by a BART police officer in Oakland in 2009. When They See Us is a Netflix mini-series portraying the five teen-age boys from Harlem who were falsely accused, convicted, and imprisoned in the Central Park jogger case. It is gutwrenching. Whose Streets is a documentary I have not yet seen about the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent upheaval in Ferguson.
Black Lives Matter
Founded in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, Black Lives Matter has become one of the leading voices for justice in America.
The Marshall Project
A website packed with fascinating, often heartbreaking articles probing the criminal justice system.
How to Make This Moment the Turning Point for Real Change
A short article by Barack Obama written last week, including a link to an extensive document, an advocacy toolkit for fair, safe, and effective community policing.
That’s it for now. Obviously this is only a small sampling of the resources available to us.
Right now there are a host of black voices speaking to us, eloquently, powerfully articulating their experience, insights, vast historical knowledge, policy recommendations, and more.
Listening to them, to the variety and scope of their viewpoints, is the most crucial step we can take.