Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

“Know that when you say you are an ally, you are saying that you are willing to risk your white privilege in the name of justice and equality for marginalized voices.”

After watching Emmanuel Acho’s popular online video series, I was inspired to read his accompanying book by the same name. Released late last year, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an exceptional book tackling some of the hardest questions people have about race. According to Acho, engaging in these conversations is a necessary and pivotal step we must all take on the road to addressing systemic racism and achieving true racial justice for all, despite how uncomfortable they may be.

Structuring each chapter in the same way, Acho presents real questions he has received from viewers of his video series before giving thoughtful and empathetic answers to help readers better understand the ways in which racism impacts the daily lives of people of color (POC), as well as how it has adapted over time to uphold white privilege in our society. A sampling of these questions include the following:

  • “How do you bring race up with minorities? I honestly have so much fear of saying something wrong and being labeled as a ‘racist.’ I’m sure things will come out wrong, or sound unaware because they are. But how will I learn if we can’t discuss?”
  • “Do you believe that, with time, white privilege can be eliminated? Also, when I think about white privilege, I feel guilty and ashamed.”
  • “What systems are racist that need to be changed now? I have heard arguments about things related to housing and schools not being as well funded, which both seem to be more economic issues than race issues. I can see how in the past the now-grandparent generation may have suffered from racism under relining and other practices that are now illegal. I also see how that can have lingering effects. However, I see those racist issues as having been dealt with.”

In response to each question, Acho gives a brief background of the topic at hand, addresses why it may be uncomfortable to bring into conversations, and provides numerous ways for readers to not only talk about it, but also take meaningful actions as a result of these dialogues.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Whether you are looking for yourself, or for a friend or family member, this is the perfect title to begin learning more about the roots of systemic racism, the influence it has within our society today, and the steps you can take to become actively anti-racist. Acho not only writes in a very accessible way, but also offers readers grace and patience as they make their way through the pages. Additionally, Acho has compiled an exceptional list of further resources readers can consult in order to learn more; he lists several books, essays, reports, movies, podcasts, and music, as well as websites and additional topics to research.

I also highly recommend watching Acho’s online video series! If you are interested, you can find all of the episodes here.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

Large Print

Playaway

This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon

“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.*

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

“Our bodies carry memory – not just our own, but the memory of the group as well. We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes.” 

This is just one of the many profound quotes in Long Time Coming, the latest publication by Michael Eric Dyson, a distinguished scholar of race and religion, as well as a prolific, New York Times bestselling author. In this short, powerful book, Dyson considers how race has shaped our nation from its very founding, tapping into both historical and contemporary insights to guide readers on how we can truly reckon with race in America.

The profundity of this text impacts readers from the very beginning, as each chapter is a letter addressed to a black martyr of racial injustice, including Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each letter, Dyson considers significant aspects and examples of injustice plaguing Black Americans, relating how the systemic racism inherently planted to enable slavery still permeates today’s society in a myriad of ways. This book  is also extremely timely, as the title itself denotes the momentum of a cultural and social movement, one that has been a long time coming, that spilled over after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Since then, powerful and reverberating calls for change and reform to achieve true justice for all have been a large part of the history being made today, not unlike the passionate calls for change that occurred in the 1960s.

When reflecting on this book as a whole, one particularly striking moment for me was Dyson’s metaphor of racism illustrated through a tree and its offshoots. When considering the idea of racism as either a seed that is planted or one that merely falls to the ground, thereby growing into both intentional and unintentional forms of racism, he depicts how the change that must occur is bigger than any individual’s thoughts or actions regarding race. Rather, Dyson contends this change must be structural in order to truly combat the cyclical nature of racism and the notions of Anti-Blackness in our country. After drawing this comparison, Dyson ponders whether a reckoning of this scale will occur in today’s world to bring true justice and equity to Black Americans.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. Not only is it accessible in length and language, but it also delivers an earnest, compelling, and passionate message of racial justice that could not be timelier for the history being made today.

*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.*

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

Reese Witherspoon JUNE Celebrity Book Club Picks

Every month Reese Witherspoon releases a new pick for the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine book club. June is an exception! She has announced TWO books for June and we are so excited to tell you about them.

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any celebrity book club picks, join our Best Sellers Club and have those automatically put on hold for you.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is her fiction pick for the month. This book is available in the following formats: OverDrive eAudiobook and OverDrive eBook.

Below is a description of this book provided by the publisher:

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed. But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast. And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Reese Witherspoon’s second book club pick for June is I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This book is also available as an OverDrive eBook.

The following is a description provided by the publisher:

The author’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when her parents told her they named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. She grew up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, and has spent her life navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, a speaker, and an expert helping organizations practice genuine inclusion. While so many institutions claim to value diversity in their mission statements, many fall short of matching actions to words. Brown highlights how white middle-class evangelicalism has participated in the rise of racial hostility, and encourages the reader to confront apathy and recognize God’s ongoing work in the world.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.

Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you.  Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.

Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.

First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.


This book is also available in the following format: