These Blues Ain’t New: Why I’m Not Busy Posting Big Black Booklists or Anti-Racist Manifestos

Look. We’re all on the internet right now, so let’s not pretend I need to explain the current atmosphere to you. George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on May 25th and sparked a brushfire that soon roared into a full on inferno, sparking protests and demonstrations across not only the USA but the entire world. The resulting discourse has perhaps permanently changed the temperature of the internet as well, particularly social media.

For Black American people, George Floyd is just one in a long line of brothers and sisters who have lost their lives due to injustice. He’s not even the most recent! We’ve been witnessing this and speaking out about it for years(over 400, if you’re counting) and whole parts of our culture have come from the coping methods we use to handle the pain and risk and fear and inevitable anger that this causes.

So you can imagine the conflicting emotions now, when the whole world recognizes that Black Lives do indeed Matter, and is putting feet to the streets, voices in the wind and laws on the books. Part of me is overjoyed–this time feels different! When the whole world sees your cause, things might actually change, and I am entirely here for that!

Another part of me, though is–well, not skeptical, exactly. Perhaps cautious? There’s something about seeing a cause that you and your ancestors have been pleading for people to hear for a long time suddenly going viral that makes a body careful. While I would never take away from the movement happening now by insinuating that it’s ingenuine, (I don’t believe that), I do worry that the fervor we’re seeing now is rushing at us partly powered by a tidal wave of trendiness.

Case in point–the bookish internet is currently overrun with anti-Racist booklists. Everywhere you go on the bookish web–Instagram, blogs, podcasts, newspapers–has an anti-racist booklist of some sort. The most notable ones come courtesy of Ibram X. Kendi, the man who literally wrote the book on anti-racism. The Harvard Gazette and surprisingly, New Zealand magazine The Spinoff have interesting ones as well. However, some lists seem well-intended, but a bit hastily curated and out of place. (Really, Business Insider?)

In the midst of all this I hear voices. Ok, not voices–let’s say it’s the click of keyboard keys, rushing into my inboxes. “Mel!”, their letters spell, “Why haven’t you posted an anti-racist booklist on your blog? Why aren’t you sharing them on your Facebook page? Where is your book stack and 2000 character anti-racist manifesto on Instagram? Why aren’t you saying more? Where is your voice?”

These are all good questions, and I suppose I can answer them best by giving 5 simple reasons why I’m not posting anti-racist reading lists on the internet right now.

1.This isn’t new to me. I’ll be forty next year. I’ve been thinking intensely about race, racism, and their impacts on the world I live in since I was 4 or 5 and a little girl called me a nigger on the playground. (I didn’t know what it meant. I asked her to write it down, she did, and I took it home to show my mother, who was horrified and refused to let me go play outdoors anymore until we moved a little while later. This was on an overseas military base, and I later found out that one of the reasons she was so nervous is because little Playground Penelope was an officer’s daughter and I…was not. But, I digress…). Talking about race, about racism and about racists is familiar territory for me, and I’ve never held back in conversations where I felt I had a chance of being heard. I’ve also spent a lot of educating myself on these issues and on all of the little details of history and current events that contribute to the continuance of systemic racism and other injustices. It’s partly curiosity, but also partly about survival.

This is the case for most Black people, and dare I say most “minorities”(I hate that term.) Knowing this, please tell me why I would want to have a whole lot of Race 101 conversations with folks who are just getting hip to this now? I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the conversations and make the lists, I’m just saying I don’t need to be in the room. Talk among yourselves about what to read to learn about race and racism. I’ll be at the bar with a cocktail, hiding behind a romance novel.

One more thing here–I think it’s important to think about who these booklists are often centering. *drum roll* That’s right! White people! While I have nothing against white people or books written by white people and in fact have a lot of love for the aforementioned things (you may have heard I will cut somebody over my creepy literary uncle Stephen King), centering dialogues and reading for/by/about white people is exactly what I created Equal Opportunity Reader to NOT do. Nothing personal, that’s just not my ministry. White people and books written for or about the white gaze are part of a whole world of literature and are never my main focal point. 99% of these anti-racist booklists out here are focused on white people, and y’all don’t need me for that. That’s a conversation that I feel needs to be largely internal, held among white people in the amorphous, inaccurately hyper-reductive, pseudo-cultural blob we are referring to when we say white culture. Whatever that is, and whatever the conversation is–good for you. Enjoy it, but like I said, I’ll be in the bar. Come get me when you’re ready to go somewhere else.

There’s also a greater question to be asked about how much impact reading lists can actually have on racism, but I said this was a list of 5 simple reasons and I’m sticking to it. The Guardian has done a nice job covering that issue, though.

Despite how specialized this looks, it’s actually one of the better lists…

2. All these lists are the same. Speaking of amorphous cultural blobs, all of these lists–and at this point, I’ve looked at over 50–seem to run together. By that, I mean that they all seem to include the same 10 or 15 titles, with a little wiggle room on the edges.(One of the reasons I enjoyed The Spinoff’s list so much is that it’s almost entirely texts by Maori writers.) I mean, what are the standard entries in the average anti-racism list? Kendi’s book, White Fragility, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race, maybe The Autobiography of Malcolm X if you’re lucky and–gaaah. Am I actually making an anti-racist booklist in a discussion of why I’m not making anti-racist booklists? Gaaah. NEXT!

3. Not everything should be for profit. Art is not free, knowledge is not free, and social justice is not free. We know these things. On a far less lofty note, even this blog is not free, which is why I am an affiliate of Bookshop and if you click on a link in this blog or anywhere on this site and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. (Colgate smile, sell out dance.)

But that said, I feel some type of way seeing mainstream media outlets who have traditionally under-reported on issues of racist violence, who have perpetuated inequity by choosing to share very different facts and photos of Black victims than white ones, who have dismal track records when it comes to the hiring and treatment of BIPOC staff and talent–it’s a little strange to see these same media outlets suddenly share long lists of books about anti-racism chock full of ads and affiliate links. Anyone can change, atone and move forward, but nothing says anti-racism is a trend more than corporate sponsorship. I certainly want the writers and creators of these books to get paid, but I don’t know if I want to jump on the bandwagon of profiteering from this sort of content myself.(Although I sort of am anyway, by writing and posting this, and that’s a conversation I’m having with myself constantly these days.)

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

4. Google exists. Even though I said earlier that I’ve been thinking about race since I was a child, there is a lot of historical and social material to be learned about the way that America (and by extension, large parts of the world) work with the topic and how it has affected myself, my family and my culture historically. I have to learn and unlearn a lot just like everyone else, and I certainly hope I never posit myself as some sort of extreme expert because the subject is too deep and twisty for that to ever be the case for anyone.

Still, I first started reading intensely about race, class, social justice and what is now called anti-racism when I was in my teens. For those of you keeping score, that’s pre-Google. So, how did I begin to learn?

Well, I certainly didn’t run up to the nearest cranky nearly forty year old Black lady I knew and ask her to curate an exhaustive list of materials for me, that’s for sure. I took my curious self to libraries and bookstores, dove into catalogs and directories, went to seminars, speeches, readings, and exhibits. I also spent a lot of time listening to people who were more knowledgeable than me, taking notes, looking things up and asking well thought out, polite questions. Through all of this, I developed an organic relationship with the material and with my own history and culture and several of the ones that intersect with it. I made friends who augmented my own growing knowledge with their own and gifted me with books and long conversations and introductions to other knowledgeable friends. I had discussions and arguments that sharpened my thinking, and that in turn led me to discover deeper knowledge.

Think how much easier it is to do all of that now that Google exists. And there are already at least 50 anti-racist booklists in existence to help you get started if you’re really stuck!

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

5. I don’t want to. Fellow readers? Lean in real quick, I want you to really hear what I have to say for this one.

I.

AM.

TIRED.

Do I really have to tell how emotionally exhausting 2020 has been? Of course not, because you’re exhausted too. This is an ordeal that many of us have both personal and political stakes in, and let us not forget there is still a pandemic going on, and a garbage fire of a presidential election cycle in progress in the US, and hey look! North Korea is threatening South Korea again and guess where I live? What I’m trying to say is that as much as I love books and reading and gaining knowledge through the written word, I feel like now more than ever is a good time to stick to my sleepy little egalitarian praxis-based mission. I want to enjoy writing by, for and about the world–the whole world, not just the parts that ruled colonies and imposed educational systems. I want to read truly diverse books and share them with diverse readers. For me, that means not centering whiteness in literature and only partly giving the spotlight to books explicitly about anti-racism. It means continuing to read books by people from as many possible communities in the world being their own normal and defining themselves–and that includes Black people worldwide obviously, since I am one and that’s admittedly who I read about the most.

In other words, I’m doing my part, I think. I’m just doing it a bit differently.

As always,visit the shop, hit me in the comments or on socials, and go read something great. Peace, fellow readers.

2 thoughts on “These Blues Ain’t New: Why I’m Not Busy Posting Big Black Booklists or Anti-Racist Manifestos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: