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.”

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On Lent and Fasting – Goodbye Apathy and Keeping up Appearances

Today’s post is going to meander a bit. I hope you’ll bear with me as I work some things out in my Thinking Spot.

I’ve always loved history. Historical fiction is my favorite genre of book; history classes were always my favorite; movies based on actual events get me every time.  My usual wheelhouse is anything related to World War II. I’m inspired by the acts of heroism displayed by the people resisting Hitler’s march across Europe and mission to annihilate every human being who didn’t fall in line or match up with his requirements for belonging to The Reich.  I could read books about the resistance or the war effort or the people back home all day, every day.

But I’ve always hated learning about the American Civil War. The numbers of dead in the battles are staggering. The political machinations of the ones in charge were mind-boggling.  The issue of slavery too uncomfortable and disturbing to want to dwell on.  Lately I’ve been pondering my lack of interest in anything Civil War in contrast to my voracious appetite for anything WWII related.

Then, interrupt those ponderings with the season of Lent.  This year,our church has been reading (again) the wonderful book by Alicia Britt Chole, called 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. This book has a reading for every day, encouraging us to move beyond putting aside chocolate or red meat or caffeine during the season of Lent.  She hypothesizes that we don’t live fruitful, awake, alive lives of faith because we don’t allow ourselves to ponder the deep, uncomfortable questions that exist within our faith. Each day she suggests a “heart-fast” to try and weed out clutter from our faith walk. This week included apathy and keeping up appearances. Then she had to throw in revisionism… Ouch.

This week’s readings included a day about “appearances” and focused on one of the stranger stories in scripture of when Jesus curses a fig tree. Her conclusions about this incident are that Jesus “finds utter fruitlessness frustrating.” The fig tree in question was completely withered when it should have been at least showing signs of some fruit growing. He wasn’t concerned that the tree wasn’t dripping with ripe, luscious figs, but rather, that it wasn’t bearing fruit at all.

Her admonition to us from this story is to take to heart the warning that Jesus gives to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy – “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied against you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)  At the end of the chapter, she says: “Our reality does not frustrate Jesus. Our hypocrisy does.” (p. 88)

After I finished reading that day, I flipped over to Facebook and read some posts in a group I’m in that encourages bridge-building as the path to racial reconciliation in our country. It’s a group that challenges me to think outside my cultural context and to see how my context may be filtering what I understand about our country’s history and about the Gospel. I read these words from a person of color who is involved in ministry in her local church (part of a longer post):

When they plead their cause, I’m there.
I care.
I give.
I sacrifice.
I cry.
I listen.

But every time I share an incident of personal discrimination or racism, when I ask to have a conversation or have support – silence, pushback, rebuke.

I’ve been told the church can’t single out one group, but it feels like every other group has been championed. There is room for all these ministries and concerns, but not for me.

It’s worse than invisibility.

I feel less than.

When I read these words, the line about our hypocrisy frustrating Jesus more than our reality from my Lent reading slammed back into my heart. Why do I hate learning about the Civil War? Why do I turn away? It’s a shameful, difficult history that IS my country’s reality. And I think I’ve been more interested in keeping up the appearance that MY country is somehow better because we’ve been the hero in so many other situations. But the problem with all of that is that it’s hypocrisy – I live in a country that declared “all men to be created equal,” while concurrently only giving rights to a few, and holding millions of their fellow human beings in slavery. Reveling in the heroic deeds of some while ignoring the heinous acts of others is hypocrisy.

Like this person who shared her hurt above said, we in the church have been happy to sacrifice for so many things, but when faced with the scars of our racial sin, we clam up and point to our own righteousness instead of listening with broken hearts.

I’m done with that. (or if I’m being honest, I WANT to be done with that.) I’m giving up on appearances and apathy. How will I do this? I start with opening my eyes and leaning in to the harder parts of our nation’s history. I’m also opening up my heart to be examined and cleaned out of ways and thoughts that do not align with what I say I believe. I’ll ask questions and try to look past the posturing emotions that so often appear on social media. I’ll stop being defensive.

If ever I’ve made someone feel invisible for by my unwillingness to listen and validate your story, I apologize and beg forgiveness. Your story matters and I want to hear it. You are not invisible to me.