We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes On Race & Resegregation

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation strikes a beautiful balance between scholarly and popular writing styles while still retaining the heartening qualities that embody the spirit of activism. Author Jeff Chang interrogates the assumptions surrounding concepts like “political correctness”, “color blindness”, “diversity”, “affirmative action”, and “privilege”, concepts that are oversimplified in spite of their nuance, rich history and deep complexity.

In We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes On Race and Resegregation  , Chang explores the historical and cultural backdrop for the events leading up to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in addition to the structures of racism and the impact on communities and people of color. “Racism is not merely about chauvinism, prejudice, or bigotry,” he says. In quoting Ruth Gilmore, he continues that racism is “about the ways different groups are ‘vulnerable to premature death,’ whether at the hands of the state or the structures that kill” (3). When we begin to examine how city zoning, for example, or access to affordable health care, schools, and housing hinder or help any given group of people, we begin to see things a little differently. It is deeply disturbing that “the death rate of Blacks is over 50 percent higher than that of whites, and higher that that of all other major ethnic groups, except for some American Indian coherts” (4).

Vehement protests in response to police shootings of innocent black people in the United States have dominated the press for good reason.  And everyone has an opinion, it seems. When debate rages on, either on the national political stage or social media threads, some complain about the implied burden of having to be “politically correct”, as though precision and care to detail are somehow a bad practice to uphold. Audre Lorde says it better: ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’  Chang unpacks the backlash against the phrase “politically correct” and explains concisely:

Before the 1980s, it was mostly Marxists who used the term “politically correct” to mock other Marxists. Since then, charging someone else with political correctness has become the first line of defense for racists, one of the best ways to shut down any discussion about inequity. That silencing isolates the most marginalized communities, and demobilizes white communities. Resegregation grows not from white ignorance, but from white refusal and denial. And so a half century after the peak of the civil rights movement, the nation has again moved into crisis (7).

In some social circles, online or in-person, it’s uncool and bothersome to discuss politics, a sad state of rampant anti-intellectualism and apathy. In my recent personal experience on social media, often outside of my immediate and insular “friends” list,  people don’t like to be inconvenienced with questions of inequity and injustice. “Can we just get back to posting pictures of our dinners?” has been a resounding mantra with regard to recent discussions of the NFL & Colin Kaepernick’s protesting of police brutality and racial inequity. But Kaepernick is tapping into mass anxiety about an issue that is all but isolated and his immediate and lasting consequences on real living, breathing human beings. If we are not to keep repeating mistakes and atrocities of the past, it is high time to Listen. Activists and scholars like Jeff Chang are leveraging their voices in order to shed light on some of the most insidious corners of humanity. And it is time not to become defensive and deny marginalized people their experiences with bigotry but instead to say: “Tell me your story and I will listen, even if my own experience is different.” We should seek to understand the experiences of our fellow citizens–not to try and shut them up or shame them when they take a knee or speak out on an social evils of epidemic proportions.   You might be surprised to discover that the continuity of a long storied history of racial inequity is explained in part by city zoning, urban sprawl, the bull-dozing of housing projects, and the history of policing just to list a few factors (82). Chang is trying to foster understanding with his book and create another testament to the realities faced by marginalized people. Considering how dense Chang’s book is, it’s a fairly quick read, too. It is of critical importance to note how 2017 is a standout year because Americans are more concerned about issues of race now than they have been since the early 1990s!:

“Polls show that more Americans are concerned about race relations now than at any time since 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots. The previous peak had come in 1965–the year of the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the apex of the civil rights movement, the year of the last national consensus for racial justice.”

We have entered into another vicious cycle that Chang describes compassionately and poignantly:

Race makes itself known in crisis, in the singular event that captures a larger pattern of abuse and pain. We react to crisis with a flurry of words and, sometimes, actions. In turn, the reaction sparks its own backlash of outrage, justification, and denial. The cycle turns next toward exhaustion, complacency, and paralysis. And before long, we find ourselves back in crisis. . .One need not be a pessimist to see the bad loop of history we are caught within–crisis, reaction, backlash, complacency, crisis. There are fires. There are calls for action. There is then a bullying politics of fear. If most Americans recoil from the kind of excessive, gleeful, cynical bigotry someone like the billionaire Donald Trump proffers, they are yet demobilized to the point of denial (‘there is no problem’) or justification (‘there is a problem but I can’t solve it’). And then we find ourselves in another crisis.”

The takeaway?:

1.) This is an important book.

2.) Please read it and share it with someone else.

3.) Jeff Chang is my hero.

 

 

Now Departing for – China

Welcome to the next month in our Online Reading Challenge! This month we are headed for China, a country that, for many of us, remains mysterious and unknown with a long, complex history and multiple cultures. A great book can crack open that door of mystery in the best possible way.

China as a subject offers a large number of intriguing and interesting books. Achee Min’s The Last Empress follows the last days of the Ch’ing Dynasty as overseen by Tzu Hsi. Maligned in the Western press as a ruthless, power-mad assassin, Min offers a different view of a powerful woman that did everything for her country and her family.

Under Heaven by Gabriel Kay is set in a imaginary kingdom in ancient China during the T’ang Dynasty. To honor the death of his father, Shen Tai spends two years burying the dead at a battle site on the kingdom’s border. When he receives a gift of 250 coveted horses, he realizes he is in terrible danger and seeks an audience with the Emperor. Detailed, nuanced, completely engrossing, this is a massive novel that you can easily (and happily) get lost in.

Lisa See has written many novels of China and of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Set in 19th century China when women had little value except to produce male children, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of a “laotong” (an arranged friendship of two young girls that is meant to last a lifetime) between Lily and her laotong, the beautiful Snow Flower. A misunderstanding between them has far reaching consequences. This is a fascinating peek into a secretive and hidden world but a warning – the part when the girls undergo foot binding is not for the squeamish (I still shudder when I think about it)

For an examination of the push and pull of between new and old that Chinese immigrants to America feel, you can’t do better than Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The younger generation is eager to embrace the modern world but the past and the old country, as remembered by their parents, continues to shape and influence them. Four Chinese women who immigrated to America in 1949 are drawn together to share stories and play mah-jong. Through the years we follow their triumphs and losses and those of their American-born daughters.

There are lots more choices out there. Watch for our displays at each building for more suggestions. And then let us know what you’ll be reading this month!

Now Arriving From – London

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did September go for you? Did you find something fabulous to read that was set in London? There certainly isn’t a lack of great reading material set in the English capital. With so much history and culture and so much influence on the world (an Empire that at one time spanned the globe), the possibilities for excellent reading material are nearly endless.

I chose to read a fairly new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Set in London during World War II, it focuses on the home front during the London Blitz and the hardships suffered and bravery shown by those left behind. Typical dry British wit and stiff upper lip attitude contrast with the very real terror and danger of London under siege making for a tense and absorbing read.

When war is declared in 1939, Mary immediately leaves her school in Switzerland and races back to London, convinced that she will miss out on the “action” and volunteers at the War Office. Instead of becoming a spy as she has imagined, she is assigned a position teaching children who have not been evacuated. She is disappointed and frustrated, but then the Blitz begins and she is suddenly in the midst of the “action” and it’s brutality. A growing friendship with her boyfriend’s roommate, who is stationed in Malta, brings the horrors of the front lines to the story and shows that there are many ways to be brave both at home and in the field. A fascinating, bittersweet look at wartime London.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September? Let us know in the comments!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

HBO premiered their film adaptation of the bestselling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The film stars Renee Elise Goldberry as Henrietta Lacks, Oprah Winfrey as her daughter, Deborah Lacks and Rose Byrne as the author, Rebecca Skloot. The bestselling nonfiction book was published in February 2010. The hardcover edition was on the New York Times best seller list for 40 weeks when the paperback edition was released. The paperback edition was on the best seller list for 75 weeks. Libraries could not keep it on the shelf! So it comes to no surprise that HBO made a film about it.

If you have not read this book yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.  You don’t like nonfiction books? Well then you are in luck. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does not read like the typical nonfiction. This book is part biography, part medical science and a whole lot of drama!

Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman living in Baltimore, Maryland in 1950. She had cervical cancer and was a patient at John Hopkins University. Her cells were taken and cultured without her knowledge and consent.  Her cells grew rapidly but Henrietta died in 1951. To this day, scientists use the cells taken from Henrietta Lacks for medical research. The cells are known around the world as HeLa cells. Rebecca Skloot, the author of the book, was curious about the woman behind the famous cells. She contacted the family about telling her story. Understandably, the family was hesitant to talk about her. The book and the HBO film cover Rebecca Skloot’s and Deborah’s interactions as they try to discover the story of Henrietta and what John Hopkins University Hospital did to her.

 

 

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who are the product of an abducted woman and her captor? After the news dies down, it’s expected that the abducted person and their children get on with life. But can they really? What happens to them? I’ve always been fascinated by the aftereffects. The latest book I read deals with this issue.

The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story of Helena Pelletier. Helena finally has the life she always wanted: a loving husband, two adorable daughters, and a business that she manages herself. Everything is going perfect until Helena’s past comes crashing back into her life. Seems like she should be able to handle whatever comes, right? Well, Helena has a massive secret that not even her husband knows about. Her mother was kidnapped at the age of 14 by Jacob Holbrook. Jacob whisked her off to a cabin where she gave birth two years later in said cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Kept captive with no possible way to escape, her mother fought to stay alive. Growing up, Helena never knew the real truth about her father or her mother. She grew up knowing her father was violent, but Helena loved him. He taught her how to survive in the wilderness: how to hunt, track, and live. His gruffness seemed to be a given. His violence? Not so much, but Helena learned to live with it. For the most part…

At the age of 12, Helena and her mother escaped, propelled into action by a series of events that thrust her father’s behavior into a new light. Their rescue made headlines, but Helena has taken great pains to make sure her past stays firmly in the past. She thought she was safe considering her father is in prison until she heard an emergency news bulletin saying that he had escaped. Jacob had found his way back into the Michigan wilderness. Deep down, Helena knows that the authorities have no hope of catching her father. She is the only one who can find him. After all, she knows his tricks. He taught her how to track and to hunt. Helena takes off into the wilderness knowing that she is the only person capable of successfully tracking her father.

I enjoyed this book, especially the parts where the reader learns about Helena’s past. Readers get to see Helena’s life unfold from birth to present. This book is also filled with sections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same title. The setting in this book is very well-developed and the pace moves quickly, so be sure to pay attention if you’re listening. I had to back up a few times when my mind wandered. This book was eloquently crafted and I finished it wanting more. Give it a read!

This book is also available as a CD audiobook.

Big Little Lies TV Series

Big Little Lies is an HBO miniseries based off of the book of the same name by the author Liane Moriatry.  You can read my colleague Ann’s book review here.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Madeline Martha Mackenzie. Madeline is middle-aged mother of three. Her oldest daughter’s father, Nathan, left the family when Abigail was a small child. Madeline is very angry at her ex-husband, Nathan, since he has recently moved back to town with his new wife and daughter, Bonnie and Skye. Nathan has been very involved in his daughter Skye’s life which hurts Madeline since he left her alone to raise their daughter Abigail. Madeline has remarried and has two children with her husband Ed (Adam Scott).

Madeline is taking her daughter Chloe to Kindergarten roundup and has some trouble. Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) stops to help. The two women find out they are going to the same place since Jane is taking her son Ziggy to school. Jane is a single mom and new to town. Madeline decides to take Jane under her wing. She remembers what it is like to be a single mother and to be judged by the other moms. When they arrive at school, we are introduced to Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her twin sons. Celeste appears to have an ideal life. Her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) is handsome and wealthy and she has two adorable boys. But we see glimpses of their home life and see that Perry abuses Celeste.

At the end of the Kindergarten roundup, one of the girls is hurt. She has bruises on her neck. The teacher asks her to identify the person that hurt her. She points her finger at Ziggy. Jane stands up for her son to the rest of the parents and Madeline stands by her side. A battle line has been drawn between the parents before school has even started.

Throughout the episode and the series, we see different members of town being interrogated at the police station. Most of them mention Madeline and Celeste and the women at school. The viewer is unsure of what has happened. From the brief instances of conversation, the viewer can guess that someone has died and it might be a murder. Who died is not revealed. So throughout the series, the viewer is left wondering which character died and who the murderer might be. The series has seven episodes. A delicious drama and tantalizing mystery leaves the viewer guessing and wanting more.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

When it comes to finding a new book to read, I’ve finally figured out what my favorite genre is. I love thrillers. Give me a story with a well-developed plot line, fully fleshed out characters, and make sure the story is gripping. Psychological thrillers with a hint of crazy and a lot of suspense are my go-to novels. I recently stumbled across another B.A. Paris novel called Behind Closed Doors and since I liked another of her novels a lot, I decided to try this one.

Behind Closed Doors messed with my head, but in a good way. This book is a perfect illustration of the fact that what we present to the world is not our true selves. Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He has the wealth and the good looks to back it up, while she exudes charm and elegance at all the dinner parties they throw. You just can’t help but like them and maybe even wish your own relationship was like theirs. Their life is so well put together and perfect.

There’s only one small hiccup: Grace and Jack are never apart. He does go to work, but Grace is never seen anywhere without Jack. While some may say it’s because they are still in their newlywed period and are madly in love, others may find it odd. Grace doesn’t work, in fact she gave up her job shortly after they were married, but she never meets up with anyone for lunch or coffee. She has a plethora of excuses. The parties they throw are so extravagant and decadent, but Grace’s figure never changes. In fact, she is incredibly tiny. Grace doesn’t own a cell phone and all emails are sent to Jack’s email. She leaves the house with an empty purse, their house is gated and immensely private, and there are bars on one of the windows. What is really happening between Jack and Grace?

All those factors are overlooked because he is so kind and doting, while she is such a fabulous cook and fantastic gardener. Jack has even agreed to let Millie, Grace’s special-needs sister, move into their house when she turns 18. He’s designing her perfect and most-wished-for bedroom and wants the house to be just right when she moves in. He keeps mistakenly saying her bedroom is red though, when her favorite color is yellow. Why? What is going on? There are just so many slightly off comments and strange facts that point to some area of conflict within their marriage, but their perfect façade trumps all.

Without saying too much and giving away a major portion of the plot, I found this book to be terrifyingly psychological. Paris succeeded in getting in my head and had me wondering what was happening in Jack and Grace’s marriage and why each respective character behaves the way that they do. I was unsettled throughout this book because the story that Paris weaves is so believable. I found myself questioning the relationships of the people around me. I was immediately gripped by this novel and finished it in two days. Definitely recommended.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave

Sunshine Mackenzie is living her best life – a hugely popular YouTube cooking star, she has published several cookbooks and is about to get her own television show. She has a beautiful home, a loving husband and millions of fans on the verge of mega-stardom.

And then she gets hacked.

In a single day she loses her reputation, her home, her fortune and her husband when someone hacks into her Twitter account and starts revealing secrets that start showing the cracks in Sunshine’s perfect facade. She and her team scramble to contain the damage but it’s too late, the truth is out there and the media is eager to expose every lie and blemish. Finally, with nowhere else to go, she must return to her hometown and her estranged sister and confront what she has become and where she came from.

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave examines living authentic in an inauthentic age. Even us ordinary people present a carefully crafted image of ourselves and our lives through the many social media platforms that are so prevalent now. I know for myself, I only post beautiful photos of my garden or my cat doing something cute, not the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Does that make our lives any less authentic? Is what we post “real life”, or just a facade? It’s an interesting debate to consider and Hello, Sunshine raises lots of interesting questions. Well worth a read.

This Beautiful Fantastic

A librarian with a garden – how could I possibly resist? And there’s no need to resist – This Beautiful Fantastic is a charming, modern fairy tale about friendship and trust and finding beauty in the ordinary.

Bella Brown is a shy, reclusive librarian (disappointingly, a bit of a stereotype, although Bella is young and does not wear her hair in a bun!) whose dream is to become a children’s book author. Lacking the confidence to show her work to anyone, let alone a publisher, she stays hidden in the shadows, avoiding her neighbors and other people, following a careful routine of work and home.

One day her landlord appears and tells her that she will be evicted in 30 days if she does not revive the badly neglected garden at her house (in British-speak, “garden” is what American’s would call a “yard” and in a city is usually quite small with lots of plants and a small grass lawn). Understandably, Bella is upset since she knows nothing about gardening and her first attempts are disastrous. Her grumpy neighbor watches in horror, makes unhelpful, scathing remarks and then, after Bella confronts him, agrees to help her (turns out he’s an expert horticulturist and had turned her in in the first place)

What follows is the blossoming of an epic friendship (yes! I went there! Bad pun!!), the meeting of two opposites that understand loneliness and isolation and tentatively learn to accept the other, blemishes and all and in the process, learn to let other people in as well.

This is a typical British comedy with eccentric characters, dry humor and quirky settings. The library that Bella works at is endlessly fascinating – and weird. I don’t know a lot about public libraries in England, but this library is obsessed with quiet (another stereotype!), is stocked only with very old books and has crazy hours. Also, Bella has apparently memorized the exact location of every single volume!

Bella is played by Jessica Brown Findlay who you might remember as Sybil in Downtown Abbey and the grumpy neighbor is expertly played by Tom Wilkinson; they are joined a cast of familiar British character actors. A delight for all.

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Looking for a new thriller to read, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. This twisty mystery thriller is a suspenseful haunting read that will leave you wondering whodunit until the very end.

Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine. Her boss is out on maternity leave which means that an assignment of a lifetime is up for grabs. Lo is given the assignment: spend a week on a luxury cruise ship that only has a ten cabins. Sounds perfect, right? After all, the pictures of this exclusive cruise ship are spectacular and Lo could use a bit of a break. She hopes that she will be able to turn this assignment into a better paying position at the magazine and also that if she impresses her boss, she will be given more travel assignments in the future. Right before Lo is to leave, an event happens that shakes and puts her on edge. Instead of passing on this trip though, Lo decides to soldier on.

Once this luxury cruise begins, Lo thinks she may be in over her head. She’s not as polished as the others and the ship practically screams that it costs millions of dollars. The cabins are lush, the guests are important and elegant, and the sea couldn’t be better. It’s a beautiful cruise, but as they begin their voyage, the winds start whipping and it quickly gets cold. Lying in bed one night, Lo wakes up to someone screaming. She then hears a door open and a loud splashing. Rushing to the door, Lo sees what she believes to be a woman thrown overboard. Could this be true? Raising the alarm, she voices her concern to security only to be told that all passengers and crew are accounted for. The cruise continues on as normal. Lo can’t shake the feeling that something is incredibly wrong and she just can’t ignore the worry in her gut. What happened to the woman in cabin 10? Deciding to investigate with the help of a fellow journalist, Lo searches for the woman.

Each passenger has secrets to hide and the ship soon reveals that it is full of secrets as well. Others have to know what happened to the woman. This book was haunting and slightly terrifying as Lo manages twists and turns through this suffocatingly tiny, yet immensely beautiful, cruise ship. Readers will trudge right alongside Lo as she works to find out what happened to the woman in cabin 10. I was hooked all the way to the end.


This book is also available in the following formats:

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