“We can be simultaneously fearless about our future and truthful about our past. We can be equally conscious of our country’s failings and proud of our country’s progress. The very essence of progress is to build a bridge that takes us from here to there, but what good is progress without healing?”
This exceptional quote was one of many that resonated with me upon finishing Don Lemon’s recent publication, This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism. As the only Black prime-time anchor in America, Lemon wields his unique position and extensive journalistic experience to provide insightful, moving, and passionate calls for racial justice in this impressive and timely title. Lemon also incorporates his personal experiences and narrative into the text, lending this book a rich and personal dimension to impress the significance and urgency of its content.
Beginning with a letter he wrote for one of his black nephews, Lemon relates the tragic injustice of George Floyd’s murder, the overall injustice of racial inequities in the very roots of America’s foundation, and the fact that silence is no longer an option. He also identifies the cyclical process of America reacting to such instances of racial injustice: Weeping. Rage. Blame. Promises. Complacency. Finally, he expresses to his nephew his deep fear of what will come next if the world grows numb to racial injustice, leaving those oppressed with only a “wax-museum visage of complacency.”
After this striking letter, Lemon delves into his reporting and personal experience to identify several major areas of racial injustice through seven primary chapters. These subjects range from highly-discussed issues, such as police brutality and the removal of monuments, to perhaps lesser-known topics and histories, such as the intentional subjugation of Black Americans throughout this country’s history, the connections between racial injustice and the economy, and how change is actually supposed to happen. One uniquely interesting facet of this book is how Lemon draws parallels between these subjects and the history of racial injustice in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from where he grew up. One such instance of this was his explanation of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in American history; I had never heard of this major historical happening before reading this book.
In retrospect, one of the most moving moments in this title is learning alongside Lemon himself that he is the descendant of a white plantation owner and a black-owned slave. Upon further research, evidence suggests his great grandfather tried to sincerely do right by his wife and child. Rather than feel resentment or shame about his heritage, Lemon feels that he embodies “both the struggle for survival and the hope of reconciliation” and that this is what ultimately makes all of us American. After reading several books with a focus on social injustices experienced in this country, I am absolutely inspired and in awe of the hope, optimism, and compassion held by marginalized and oppressed groups of people in the United States, such as Lemon.
In addition to reading this title, I also had the opportunity to watch a recording of the keynote speech Lemon presented at this past year’s Library Journal Winter Summit, in which he discusses how this book was a response to friends, family, acquaintances, and even viewers asking him how they can start and engage in conversations about race. An ode to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Lemon additionally felt compelled to write this book because of his unique and far-reaching platform, hoping this work could help facilitate these conversations and provide both adults and children with the language needed for these dialogues.
Overall, this book is another key title I would recommend if you are looking to dip your toes in anti-racist literature. In addition to being an accessible length of fewer than 300 pages, Lemon also cites a myriad of additional resources to help readers continue their education and research into topics of racial injustice.
*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*