Racism Doesn’t Go on Vacation: Three Antiracist Books to Start Your Summer Reading
When I was learning about civil rights in K-12 schools, my takeaway was that Malcolm X was the evil twin of MLK–I know I’m not alone. Malcolm was the guy who got civil rights wrong. The guy who did more harm than good. Well, I was wrong, and so were the influences that steered my thinking as an impressionable student.
Enter education, the sun shining through the clouds, what my friends and I would call “ingonyamas” (fun fact: ingonyama means lion in Zulu) because of the intro song to The Lion King in 1994, which is racist. Bummer, but true. How would you know that? Not from Disney, but from education.
One of the best ways to get educated is to read, and anyone capable of critical thinking can learn from reading. Enter Malcolm X, the evil twin of MLK:
I told the Englishmen that my alma mater was books, a good library. Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read. And that’s a lot of books. If I weren’t out there every day battling the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.
He was right, and he was not evil.
Like the drugs and poisons he replaced with books, learning is intoxicating, but it is also i-n-f-i-n-i-t-e. That’s correct young guns and old-timers. There is endless knowledge to access and we never stop learning–unless you think you know everything you need to know. Some people call that being God. I call it being ignorant, and we’ve all been guilty. Unfortunately, ignorance is a catch 22. No matter how hard we try to know everything, we’ll always be ignorant, but you still ought to fight the good fight (though some people don’t want you to), and books can help.
As we begin another wet hot American summer, minus many of the activities and trips we had planned and riding the heatwave of civil disobedience, it’s important that we don’t take a vacation from racial injustice. I repeat, to all my fellow educators, to all the students, to all the parents and people who would rather be on a boat or a beach or any place that isn’t talking about racism, we cannot take a vacation from racial injustice. Marginalized people of color don’t have that privilege.
Recently, I participated in a conversation where someone explained to me that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is important, but that we have to leave time to do everything else we need to do.
Think about what that means.
It means, everything else we have to do is more important than equity. That is wrong. No that’s too subjective. Objectively, it’s racist. Everything we do is intertwined with equity, and if equity is second, well then it sure isn’t first.
Enter books, paper books, digital books, audiobooks, read-aloud books. To join the conversations about race–yes, there are many ahead–we need to be informed. I graduated high school uninformed and racist, just like Thomas Jefferson, except he died that way too (school didn’t teach me that, book 2 did). I want to be an antiracist, but I need to #DoWork. Enough hashtags will do the trick, right?
Now that I’ve argued the point that teachers can’t wait until the end of August to think critically about their curriculums, that administrators can’t send out their public statements on diversity and let the COVID thing blow over, that leaders in general can’t be capitalizing and must be reorganizing, let’s talk more about books.
Here are three titles that serve as a terrific starting point for those who want to build foundational knowledge and a fire under their backside. I stress, this is a start. There’s a lot of work to do and so many incredible resources and perspectives, but we need to do the work. You know what Julius Pringle says (the very white male mascot of Pringles chips): “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.”
1. This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell and illustrated by Aurélia Durand (2020)
Read this first. Jewell’s accessible overview will help you understand your own identity and privilege, gain an awareness of how racism works and where it came from, and think about ways to take action as an anti-racist. I love that this book has illustrations and reflection activities throughout, and it is designed for everyone, including kids. Jewell is a teacher, so that helps.
I’m a big fan of breaking boxes, so I especially like that Jewell points out the imaginary box of the dominant culture:
The dominant culture [my culture: white, upper middle class, cisgender male, educated, athletic, neurotypical, and/or able-bodied] is what has been considered “normal” and this “normal” has been created and is maintained by those who are in the box. It is this version of normal that has shaped how we see ourselves and the world. (12)
This book will help you see yourself and the world differently, and it is a resource you can use again and again, whether it be with your friends, your colleagues, your kids, or your students. As long as you have an open mind, it won’t take long.
2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (2020)
I DEVOURED this book. With Jason Reynolds being an award-winning teen/young adult author, this text is student-friendly and written for the reluctant reader, as long as teachers make it classroom-friendly. This remix of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning is fast-paced, engaging, and informative. Repeatedly referred to as “not a history book,” you will find yourself flying through the history of racism, from the dawn of the slave trade to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Social media may seem to be the currency of the racism realm, but consider this:
Scrolling will never be enough. Reposting will never be enough. Hashtagging will never be enough. Because hatred has a way of convincing us that half love is whole. What I mean by that is we–all of us–have to fight against performance and lean into participation. We have to be participants. Active. We have to be more than audience members sitting comfortably in the stands of morality, shouting, “WRONG!” That’s too easy. Instead, we must be players on the field, on the court, in our classrooms and communities, trying to do right. Because it takes a whole hand–both hands–to grab hold of hatred. Not just a texting thumb and a scrolling index finger. (253)
Bang. Let’s get to work. Also, this book includes an expansive “further readings” section that will point you in all the right directions.
3. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)
This book is my favorite of the three. You may ask, then why is it third on your list? Because reading the other two first will help you appreciate this one even more, especially if you are trying to open your eyes and see the racism that has been always been there–just kickin’ it–and you believe you can do something about it. From the start, Kendi lays down the hammer:
The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” (9)
Think of this book as a body of cold water. You’ve got choices.
1. You know that it’s cold and uncomfortable, so you don’t touch the water
2. You ease in, and then…
a. You go all the way in
b. You get the hell out
3. You jump in the water and emerge invigorated
I suggest you learn how to swim–or at least find someone who will toss you a floatie–and jump on in. The water is rising.