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This is a guest post by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. She is a theoretical physicist, feminist theorist, and author of The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and the Postponed Dreams Now Coming Out of Bold Type Books. You can find her on Twitter @IBJIYONGI.
The past year has raised the political awareness of people in the United States – and the world – who, for various reasons, have not paid much attention to the material conditions that shape the lives of those on the margins of American society, especially blacks had. Thanks to the visibility of a new generation of freedom fighters under the motto “Black Lives Matter”, whose work is based on the organization of decades of work, the brutality of 2020 could not be ignored.
One of the responses within the literary community was to talk about what to read. This, of course, comes from a group of people whose lives are centered on the written word. Worse still, we’ve made it too easy for us to recommend the same introductory texts over and over again. Unfortunately, our tendency to focus on simple recommendations overlaps with the tendency of large sections of “well-meaning” people to believe that reading about racism and injustice is a sufficient response to racism and injustice. Too often people look for simple solutions to complex problems – and often “simplicity” means “minimally impractical for me”. Because so many of us enjoy reading, choosing to focus on reading can be a form of escape when an active confrontation with injustice is required.
Even so, reading is really fundamental and, along with being actively involved in organizing the work, can be of great importance. Although criticism of reading lists on race and racism has surfaced on social media and in publications, people who organize for social justice have long delved into what is often referred to as “civic education”. In fact, this type of continuous learning is a key activity for people committed to building a new world. This is different from picking up a book that gives clear directions on how to get better. It requires the examination of big ideas, the challenge and the constant review of our understanding of the world.
Fortunately, in recent years there has been no shortage of new publications that can help us transform the conditions in which we live. Below I share books that I either read recently or that I have in my own pile for my own political education. I invite you to read with me! Some of the books are academic works that might prove challenging to the reader. I too was a beginner with such academic work once, and I have found that the only way out is: some of the work challenges us to improve if necessary. This work is not easy. If it were so, we would be done.
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We do this until we free ourselves: abolitionist who organizes and transforms justice by Mariame Kaba
If you say, “Sure, but I still need a guide with instructions,” Mariame Kaba’s new collection of writings and interviews is an excellent place to start. Kaba is a leader in the prison abolition movement and a mentor to the intergenerational organization that uses a range of techniques, including tweeting, to get people involved in the movement.
Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance by Moya Bailey
People who spend a lot of time on Twitter have likely heard the word “misogyny”. Some may know its origins in the work of the black feminist Moya Bailey. In this new book, Bailey expands the concept and develops an analysis of who moved the organization of work to the digital world. This text provides an opportunity to reflect on tactics readers may want to learn about using and / or assisting.
White Magic: Essays by Elissa Washuta
This book was the hardest on the list because Elissa Washuta’s books always do so many things at the same time. In this new collection of essays, Washuta explores whiteness, anti-indigeness in New Age spiritualities, occultism, and living with PTSD. Her unique voice as a Cowlitz woman, refusing to be trapped in colonialism, sexism, and empowerment, will ignite a fire for any reader who pays attention.
Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future: Kanaka Maoli and Critical Settler Cartographies in Hawaii by Candace Fujikane
The struggle for indigenous sovereignty in Hawaii has been widely discussed in the media. This new book, written by an Asian American with a long history of solidarity with Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) culture holders, advocates the need for solidarity with Kanaka Maoli. It is also argued that Kanaka Maoli’s geographies teach us to look at the world from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.
Wake: The Hidden Story of the Female-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez
This combo of fiction and graphic novel-style memoir illuminates a story we don’t hear about often: Yes, women also revolted against slavery. This book seems like a unique and accessible way to recreate everything we have been told about the history of the Black Atlantic. With a more thorough knowledge of history, we are better equipped to interpret our present and change our future.
An American’s Ballad: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson by Sharon Rudahl, edited by Paul Buhl and Lawrence Ware
This book is another graphical approach to teaching black history. This time around, the focus is on actor and activist Paul Robeson, a character worth studying because his legacy is so complex. He fought vigorously against white supremacy and was a committed communist even when people who shared his views began to distance themselves from the party. Robeson’s story invites us to grapple with complexity.
Long Division: A novel by Kiese Laymon
You might think this book is cheating because it has been published before. But for the first time, this June, Kiese Laymon’s incredible story of time travel with black and white Jewish children in Mississippi will be available on author’s terms. This book revolutionized my understanding of the history of black and Jewish relationships and made me realize that I might like time travel stories after all.
From Slave Huts to the White House: Self-Made Citizenship in Afro-American Culture by Koritha Mitchell
Anyone who has read Koritha Mitchell’s paper on the “Know Your Local Strikes” idea has been transformed by it. For many of us it was the first time that we had a name for a phenomenon that we knew well: highly emotional, even violent, reactions to our trust, success, and existence. In this book, Mitchell makes a bold and compelling hypothesis that American white supremacy is some form of aggression in your place against black humanity and success.
Avant-garde: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won Votes, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha Jones
As with Hall’s Wake, Martha Jones’ Vanguard invites us to recreate the story we were taught and bring black women back to their rightful place in history. Jones will tell the story of black women’s struggle for equal place in a real democracy.
Love science and other stories from Katherine McKittrick
In this innovative, abundant piece of work, Katherine McKittrick works tirelessly to make us aware that black thinking is a form of knowledge production. McKittrick uses a fascinating essay structure – Stories and Letters to Science – to discuss jazz, computer science, poetry, black history, and more. It contains one of the most powerful analyzes of scientific racism I have read recently, arguing that our efforts to articulate race and racism as social phenomena sometimes actually reinforce the notion that they are somehow biological in nature.
Interior Chinatown: A Novel by Charles Yu
Charles Yu has never shied away from experimenting with shape. His first novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe, is a journey back in time like you’ve never seen before. In this latest edition, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, Yu continues his experiments over time to tackle a history of Asian and Asian-American life under American white supremacy. Decades ago this book would have been timely, but given the recent violence against people of Asian descent, its message calling for recognition of Asian and Asian-American humanity is particularly urgent.