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.*

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

“This book, this not history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.”

Described as a book containing history and rooted in the here and now, rather than as a traditional history book students read in school, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds is an adaptation or remix of a longer work by Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America). Written to be more accessible to younger audiences, this work presents a history of racism in America, drawing parallels to how racist notions and theories that have been perpetuated in centuries past still strongly pervade America today with deep, toxic roots in the very infrastructure, policies, and foundations of the country.

Divided into five sections highlighting different periods of history, spanning from 1415 to the present day, this title explores a multitude of historically significant people, events, movements, and ideas that have actively disseminated or combated racist theories and practices in America. Within this exploration, there are three types of people who are specifically defined and deemed crucial to understanding when considering racism: (1) segregationists, which Reynolds colloquially terms “the haters;” (2) assimilationists, or those who are accepting of Black people when they are more like White people; and (3) antiracists, or those who love Black people for who they are.

Overall, this title is eye-opening, enlightening, and extremely educational, in addition to being very accessible to read. It is also a very timely and important read in light of the growing racial and social justice movements occurring in our own time, as well as in response to the many conversations that are starting to explicate and explore the racial dynamics in existence today within the United States. I definitely plan to read Kendi’s longer work, which was a National Book Award Winner in 2016, but would highly recommend this adaptation for everyone and anyone, especially teenagers and young adults, as Reynolds is an absolute delight to read. This book is available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Academic Overdrive eBook

Playaway