White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

Upon ordering Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s newest publication back in May, entitled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, I was inspired to pick up her extremely popular and successful first book. While I plan to write a blog on her newest title in the near future, I firstly want to recognize how exceptional and vital White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is to our country’s ongoing dialogue about and understanding of race.

Published back in 2018 and a staple of antiracist literature, this book approaches racism from a sociological perspective, considering the ways in which racism is so engrained in our culture, practices, and institutions that we, as participants of this culture, cannot possibly avoid it. When faced with this notion of inevitably being influenced by a racist culture, DiAngelo contends many white people are quick to put up their defenses, responding with anger and shame, as well as feeling attacked or insulted. She explains this common knee-jerk reaction is primarily due to the very narrow definition of racism that our society perpetuates; while many perceive racism as overt and intentional racist acts committed by immoral and unkind individuals, she asks readers to consider a broader context in which everyone engages with and acts upon unconscious biases, which stem from the simple act of partaking in a shared culture that is founded upon white racial frameworks.

Upon presenting this much-needed context, DiAngelo then goes on to identify the common responses and reactions of white people in the face of racial discomfort as “white fragility.” Drawing from her 20+ years of experience as a consultant, educator, and facilitator on issues of racial and social justice, she details how these reactions manifest and how white people often find ways to distance themselves from racial issues, thereby exempting themselves from conversations about race. Furthermore, she argues this fragility essentially inhibits individuals from participating in productive and empathetic conversations in which they recognize and accept their roles and responsibility in perpetuating the systemic racism in the United States today, whether intentionally or not.

One especially powerful passage I’d like to share is DiAngelo’s explanation of a metaphor she cited that describes the “interlocking forces of oppression.” In this analogy, she compares a white person’s worldview of racism to viewing a bird in a birdcage. If a viewer stands close to the cage and views the bird through the bars, they aren’t actually able to see the bars of the cage holding the bird in; consequently, the bird looks as if it can fly away whenever it pleases. As the viewer moves back from the cage, they may start to see one or two bars of the cage and think that, while there are some barriers, the bird could just simply fly around them. Upon backing all the way up, however, the viewer can see all of the bars intersecting one another, ultimately barring the bird from escaping the cage. This metaphor, therefore, affirms that in order to truly understand the pervasive existence and profound impact of racism on our society, we must take multiple steps back to see the whole picture.

All in all, this book is incredibly eye-opening and illuminates how white people unconsciously continue to play a role in perpetuating racism, even when they don’t intend to. DiAngelo calls us all to action, stressing that we can no longer exempt ourselves from our white collective identity and say that this isn’t our problem. Rather, she maintains this is very uniquely our problem and that, whether we like it or not, we must carry our history with us and actively work to improve equitability and social justice in our society by engaging in lifelong acts of antiracism.

*Disclaimer: From the get-go, DiAngelo recognizes her privilege of being a white woman writing this book. While some readers may want to discount her work because of this status, I highly recommend giving her a chance. She has extensive experience and a unique perspective as a diversity educator, while also never pretending to have all the answers.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

 

 

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

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Underground Railroad’ on August 26th

On Wednesday, August 26th, at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Join in and talk about a popular book with one of our librarians. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with the librarian about the book! Information about how to join is listed below.

Curious what The Underground Railroad is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club
Wed, Aug 26, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/720337645

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

Access Code: 720-337-645

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/720337645

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

I had not heard anything about this book before I checked it out on OverDrive, but the plot appealed to me right from the beginning as it’s a twisty thriller with a noir feel. Mysteries abound in Lippman’s newest book as a housewife decides to upend her entire life in order to make a new name for herself.

Lady in the Lake  by Laura Lippman is a psychological thriller mixed with elements of classic crime noir set in 1960s Baltimore. Madeline ‘Maddie’ Schwartz is a housewife, happy with her pampered easy life. Well, she was satisfied with that life up until this year when she decided to leave her eighteen year marriage to start over and live a passionate life that was more meaningful.

Starting a new life, Maddie wants to make a difference. After learning of a young girl’s disappearance, she decides to help police look for the girl. Using those interactions as a step-up, Maddie works her way onto the staff of the city’s newspaper, the Star. Trying to make a name for herself, Maddie is on the lookout for a story that will help her rise to fame. She finds the story of a missing woman whose body was found in the fountain of the park lake and decides to investigate.

A young African-American woman who enjoyed a good time, Cleo Sherwood disappeared one night. No one seems concerned with how the woman ended up there, so Maddie begins to dig into her disappearance. Cleo’s ghost is not happy with Maddie poking around into her life and death. She just wants to be left alone.

This book changes perspectives between many different characters as readers learn about the characters on the periphery of Maddie’s life. As she looks into Cleo’s murder, Maddie investigates a wide number of people, but fails to truly see what lies right in front of her. Her inability to see this leads to dangerous consequences for herself, those closest to her, and the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book. Since this book jumps around to multiple points of view, the narrator is able to add different accents, dialogue, and authentic speech to each character. This definitely made the listen more than worthwhile and helped me keep the multitude of characters separate in my head.

Lippmann based the crimes that occur in this book on two real-life disappearances. If you’re interested in learning more, Lippman did an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered that covers her inspiration.


This book is available in the following formats:

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert tells the story of three women whose families are all affected by the consequences of a local school district that loses its accreditation. The twelve miles that separate South Fork and Crystal Ridge may not seem like a long distance, but the conditions present in each area are drastically different. All three women and their families find themselves clashing with the difference in circumstances those twelve miles have thrust open them. With affluent Crystal Ridge resisting South Fork’s advance on their children’s education and sports prospects, parents in South Fork are fighting for the right to transfer their children to a better and more equal school district that still has its accreditation.

Anaya Jones grew up surrounded by the South Fork community. Her father even taught at the local South Fork school. Fresh out of college and the first college graduate in her family, Anaya wishes to teach at South Fork just like her dad did. She wants to show the families who attend South Fork that there are people who care for them, no matter what the public says about their town. With South Fork’s lose of accreditation for their school district however, Anaya finds herself instead working as the newest teacher at a top elementary school in the nearby affluent community of Crystal Ridge. Anaya is thoroughly unprepared for the tense situation she is walking into, even though her family’s situation has her slightly on edge around Crystal Ridge anyway.

Jen Covington has worked as a nurse her entire life, a career that she hoped would help her when she became a mother. Despite her and her husband’s intense desire to become parents, Jen’s history and physical body have resulted in a long, painful journey with no baby in sight. After realizing they were unable to have a baby of their own, Jen and her husband turned to adoption, hoping that process would be quicker. Adoption, however, took a long time as well, with Jen and her husband learning as much as they can to prepare themselves for their daughter’s arrival. Once their adopted daughter is home, Jen finds herself struggling in her new day-to-day life despite how much she prepared. Add in a move to Crystal Ridge and Jen and her new family soon find themselves dropped right into the Crystal Ridge and South Fork dilemma.

Camille Gray is the quintessential suburban mom. The wife of an executive, mother of three, PTA chairwoman, and master fundraiser for Crystal Ridge’s annual run, everyone assumes that Camille’s life is perfect. She thinks everything is perfect too. Everything changes when she learns that South Fork has lost its accreditation and that there is a possibility that Crystal Ridge could be affected by this. Students may be given the opportunity to transfer to a school decided upon by the administration. Once it is decided that Crystal Ridge will be the transfer school, the already unruly chaos taking over the community is ratcheted up. While Camille struggles to navigate the challenges presented by this school upheaval, her personal life is also undergoing major changes. Her strength is tested as she works to find a new normal for herself and her family.

What I enjoyed about No One Ever Asked is that the author chose to tell this story from three different points of view which really allowed the reader to understand each person’s motivations for their actions. This book will force you to challenge your perception of discrimination and prejudice right alongside each woman as they struggle with what they believe to be true.

Southern Rites: What Changes and What Remains

southern ritesSouthern Rites is a documentary that takes place in Montgomery County, Georgia. Gillian Laub, a photographer, first visited Montgomery County to photograph the town’s racially divided proms, gaining an insight into community tension. After photographing this, Laub’s story is published in the New York Times Magazine, which inadvertently gives the town unwanted notoriety and ends up forcing them to integrate their proms. Heading back one year later, Laub is not allowed to film the integrated proms and instead stumbles upon another story.

Laub ends up following two main events unfolding in Mount Vernon, GA: 1) an election campaign that the town hopes will lead to its first African-American sheriff and 2) the trial of white resident who is charged with murdering a young black man. Tension is high throughout the community and this documentary really gets to the heart of the problems. As Laub continues to investigate, multiple stories unfold surrounding the murder and each person affected by this tragedy shares their own personal feelings. Southern Rites travels along well-established racial lines in the community and shows how complex emotions and complicated truths are so well entangled. This documentary simultaneously highlights for readers how far we as a society have come, but also how far we still have to go in terms of racial understanding.