Dismantling White Supremacy – One book at a time

Over the past couple of years, my heart has been tuning in more and more to the issue of race and our country’s particular struggle to reconcile with our past and with one another.

It’s not a topic that I’ve only recently been interested in; I was very affected by the Rodney King beating in the 90s and wrote a paper on racial hostility in middle school. But, for the most part, my attitude has been one of despair, frustration, helplessness, and ignorance.

Through multiple venues, I’ve been encouraged to not stay in that place, but to step out into getting myself educated and speaking out when appropriate. I’ve learned that the systems of White Supremacy are alive and well inside all of us – it’s just basically the air we breathe. At first, it seemed like I was doing literally nothing by just reading different authors and exposing myself to different voices, but I’m beginning to see a real change in my attitudes through this simple act of educating myself. I still have a long way to go, but I just wanted to go ahead and put this out there in case there are others who are feeling helpless and don’t know where to start. I’m going to list some of the things I’ve read or listened to that have broadened my understanding of the issues and that have encouraged me in the path ahead. I’d love to hear what’s helped you if you’re on this journey as well!

I’ve grouped these by kid/teen appropriate and adult appropriate. The further along the journey I go, I realize it’s important to expose our kids to these stories too since our public education system glosses over so much/doesn’t have the time to dive deep.

Children’s books:

  • Echo – by Pam Munoz Ryan; historical fiction (it takes place between 1930’s Germany and 1940’s USA with a bit of a flash forward at the end to a few decades later.) mixed with mystical elements. It’s character driven and is an expertly crafted story. I loved every bit of it and would read it again. I highly recommend the audio version; music plays a key role in the story and in the audio version all the pieces mentioned in the text are played. My daughters both read this and loved it.
  • The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Anything by this author is great. He writes attention grabbing fiction without being sensational or graphic. This book takes place during the Great Depression and chronicles the life of a young girl and her family in the Detroit area.
  • Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Similar era to The Mighty Miss Malone with a few crossover characters. Another enjoyable read!
  • The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson. This author has a few gorgeous picture books that you should definitely pick up. This one focuses on two girls who live close to each other but are prohibited by their parents to play with one another because of their differently colored skin. It’s beautifully written and illustrated with the perfect amount of tension for the youngest readers to grasp.

Older Kids and/or Teen Books:

  • Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson; A powerful, but painful, book. I haven’t had my olders read it yet, partly because it was so painful to me to read. This is my own fragility and they’ll be able to handle it – just saying you might want to pre-read for your tween or younger, especially if they’re sensitive.  Juxtaposing slavery with the freedom and liberty propaganda of the American Revolutionary era is a tough pill to swallow.  It’s written from a child’s perspective with easy to understand language and very little “dialect” that is inaccessible. I wanted the ending to have a more definitive positive outlook, but that is just my preference.  There is at least one more book in the series, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as this one.
  • One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia; A story about three girls and their (fairly incompetent to put it nicely) mother during the era of the Black Panthers. It’s not a story I’m familiar with at all so it all felt fresh and new to me. The hardest thing for me to read was the treatment of the girls by their mother (which is the main thing pushing it to the older kids/teen side of the list). But (without spoiling too much) the ending was better than expected and left me wanting more of these characters. I loved them all.
  • A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros; “Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.” (from the Goodreads description)

Adult Books:

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson; a challenging and sometimes heartbreaking read about our justice system and the ways it has been a tool for injustice way more often than it should. This one was really tough to read and I had to back off of doing any more reading in this genre for a while so I could process everything.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – a novel that (for me, anyway) illustrated in extremely effective fashion what the term institutional racism really is and how it affects life today for everyone. That term is never used in the book, but the characters experience it throughout. The structure of the book can throw you off a bit and keeping track of all the characters was sometimes difficult, but it was a book I had a hard time putting down.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, written as a letter to his son, this book is a highly personal account of one person’s path through the smog of racialized thinking that is America. It was tough to read much of this account – he does not shy away from sharing his anger at many events that have happened recently in our country. I usually throw up walls at that kind of language and had to try and just hear it as someone’s story and not someone being angry literally at me.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss; the book follows the father of Alexandre Dumas, who wrote the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo. His father was the son of a white French aristocrat and a black slave woman, born in Saint-Domingue (current day Haiti). It was a fascinating book. There was so much in it that I did not know about the French Revolution, the American Revolution and just how much whitewashing goes on in history and media. There were at least hundreds, if not thousands, of black soldiers fighting in the French Revolution, but that has never been represented anywhere that I can remember. I also had no idea that Napoleon’s rise to power was such a disaster for civil rights in France and its colonies.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; this one is just an excellent story that will keep you up at night. I loved that I got to understand Afghanistan outside the usual narrative of terrorism and war.

Good Faith, by Gabe Lyons and Dave Kinnaman; this is not a book specifically about race or racial reconciliation – it is about how the church can do a better job at interacting with the culture. They dedicated a chapter though to the church’s high rate of segregation and the divisions along racial lines in church and political thought as well. It was a helpful and informative read.

Other Resources/ Influencers I’m Following:

Be The Bridge Facebook Page; a non-profit dedicated to Inspire & Equip ambassadors of racial reconciliation; to Build a community of people who share a common goal of creating healthy dialogue about race.

LaTasha Morrison – Founder of Be The Bridge, an incredible leader who is leading great conversations about how to bring racial reconciliation to our churches and to our country.

Truths Table – a podcast by three black women that is just – wow.

Lecrae – a hip hop artist who is using his platform to challenge evangelicals in their thinking regarding race.

This is not an exhaustive list, just some that have helped me thus far.  I still have lots of books and movies on my list that I hope to get to soon.  I’d love to get more recommendations too; so share your favorites with me! I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and encourage you to choose compassion:

“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”

First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents (a book review)

First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the PresidentsFirst Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fave quote so far:
“Without the gift of time and elbow grease provided by the unpaid, hardworking “just a wife” woman, the Girl Scouts, the YWCA, the local Red Cross-every social and cultural organization in a small city- could not have functioned; fund-raising church bazaars and school festivals could not have been organized. Put down by the cynics as “do-gooders,” which is precisely what they were, in the best sense, these women were a special outwardly mobile American breed who did much to raise the level of their family’s aspirations and powered noblesse oblige into action in middle-class America” p. 254 (Dorothy Ford)

I really enjoyed this book. I wanted to save some more quotes but the book was due back at the library today. It was a fascinating look at the backstories of our modern presidents starting with FDR. It was interesting how many similar story lines wove throughout the lives of our presidents and their mothers. I found myself thinking often of my own parenting style and comparing it with those of the president’s mothers. One of the things that most impressed me, especially with the mothers of the earlier presidents, is how seriously they took the role of mother. Nowadays it feels like there is much lip service paid to the idea that mothering is noble and is a challenging “career” worth pursuing. However, the intensive mothering of the early 21st century looks very different from the early 20th century. I read very little about extravagantly themed parties, delicious and nutritious meals served three times a day, orchestrated playdates, and tightly scheduled activities. Instead, I read of mothers who valued education, pushed their sons to pursue music, and instilled in them the values they held dear. From the very wealthy Kennedy’s and Bush’s to the more middle class (and sometimes downright poor) Reagan’s and Johnson’s, there was a sense among all the mothers that the very best thing they could do for their children was to pass along their faith, their sense of family, and their moral values. One of the stories that I loved was about Jimmy Carter’s mom – that she not only allowed, but encouraged, Jimmy to be friends with the little black children in their neighborhood, inviting them to play inside their home, sharing meals with them in their kitchen, altogether treating them like the perfectly normal human beings that they were – but certainly not how they were treated anywhere else in that town.

I was also very impressed with Ida Eisenhower – she was a strict pacifist whose son was enamored with the military and ended up becoming one of our country’s most successful wartime generals. She was still able to be proud of her son and support him in his pursuits even with such a potentially divisive issue between them. I loved reading about their continued friendly supportive relationship.

In the last pages of the book, the author tries to string together some conclusions about the similarities and differences between all the mothers. I think this quote sums it up well: “If those president’s mothers had done nothing more than give their sons the underpinning of confidence, it was an accomplishment, for all around them were mothers whose sons did not shine, boys who did not reach beyond mediocrity, young men whose lives were not inspiring tales of success, much less the stuff of history.”

Also this – a quote from another book, which looks very interesting also (Mothers and Sons by Carole Klein) – “An intelligent mother with strong opinions stirs more than her son’s intellect. She stimulates both his curiosity and his energy so that he will one day be an opinion-shaper himself.”

The author found a strong correlation between a strong father-daughter relationship and the strong mother-son relationship. Since I don’t have any sons, and there haven’t been any female president’s yet- I wonder how this opposite-sex parent relationship will play out in future presidents. Will a female president have a strong relationship with her father? Will he have had a strong relationship with his mother? After having read this book, I am curious and will be paying attention to future presidents and their family life. I highly recommend this thought-provoking book!

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