Last month I wrote about my desire to watch more movies that reflected the black experience. Now, in my monthly book review, I want to discuss a book I’ve read, and books I am reading, and plan to read that are about race.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. The resulting public outcry ranged from peaceful protests to looting and riots. What has happened for people like me who were born pretty privileged (both because of my race as someone who isn’t a minority and as a middle-class Midwestern American) is that we are realizing just how much we don’t see because we’re either not looking for it or we don’t know what to look for. As someone who always wants to be as sympathetic as possible to all people, I have turned to pop culture and books to help educate me on race. Last month I reviewed movies and some TV. This week I want to review books. First I would like to start by reviewing a book I read recently and then list more books on race and the black experience that I either am reading or plan to read in the coming months.
The book I would like to review is “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and I will discuss a book I am currently reading called “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas- Book Review
This is a young adult novel by first-time author Thomas that was first published in 2017 and made into a movie in 2018. The plot centers around 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses a police shooting in her inner-city neighborhood. The situations in the novel are quite uncanny in how they are so similar to George Floyd’s murder by police and the public outcry following it. Uncannily similar but not unique, unfortunately. Thomas wrote a fictional account of a story that has become familiar in America. A story so common that George Floyd’s murder caused a public uproar that was a long time coming. Yet, for the sheltered and privileged (both by race and birth) like me, it wasn’t necessarily obvious. It should have been. Just being a citizen of the world, I have seen or read about racial injustices for some time. Yet I hadn’t experienced it in a close way so stories I heard of racial injustice were left as stories and didn’t have the same impact on me as they would have if I had experienced them myself (if I’m being honest). After George Floyd’s murder, the voices of those who have felt injustice for hundreds of years became loud enough to awaken the majority from our slumber of privilege, ease, and comfort. Yet Thomas’ young adult novel published 3 years ago was proof that the injustices had existed in our culture for so long that writers were writing content that reflected modern social injustice and writing it for young adults. Young Adult novels that portray a world ravaged by pain and injustice are usually set in dystopian worlds (Think “The Hunger Games” trilogy). Unfortunately, a dystopian world isn’t needed as a setting for Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” because the racial tension in the real world is enough to create a dystopian environment.
For example, Thomas writes of the protagonist, Starr, going through in her mind the advice her parents have given her about how to behave when interacting with police when she and her friend are pulled over by a police officer. The advice was to keep your hands visible, be agreeable, and follow instructions. She writes of parents having this discussion with their children around the same time parents discuss the birds and the bees with their children. I have heard this fact uttered multiple times following George Floyd’s death. People of Color (especially black people in the United States) have been teaching their children to be wary yet respectful of police for a VERY LONG TIME. That’s enough of dystopia for you without having to fictionalize anything.
I found this novel definitely engrossing and engaging. I read passages to my parents (who I live with again after my TBI). I haven’t watched the movie adaptation yet but I plan to. My teenage niece read this book and saw the movie in school and was telling me she also really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it (so there’s your recommendation from the intended audience). After I finished the novel, I sought out author Angie Thomas (@angiecthomas) on Twitter and was happy to find out she will be publishing a prequel this book that centers on Starr’s father, Maverick Carter, when he was coming of age. I highly recommend reading “The Hate U Give” to get one perspective of the racial tension in America. Those adults who feel that young adult novels are beneath you or not necessarily fiction you need to read, please reconsider your position. We are asking teenagers to become an active part of society and they are having to become socially active at younger ages. It only makes sense that we (as adults) make an effort to know their world in a way.
“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi- Book Discussion
This is a nonfiction book talking through race and racism. Here is a biography of Kendi taken from his website: “Ibram X. Kendi is one of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist voices. He is a National Book Award-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi is a contributor writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News correspondent.” After reading a fiction book that dealt with issues of race in the modern age (“The Hate U Give”), I wanted to read a nonfiction book that did the same. Kendi was on the panel of speakers involved in Oprah Winfrey’s TV special entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” that aired over two nights on the Discovery channel of networks (and is available in two parts to view online here [part 1] and here [part 2]). I am still reading this book but I can say it’s well written and definitely gives me that additional perspective I wanted.
More books on racism and race
I have bookmarked several articles that list books on racism and have added a lot of them to my ever-expanding “To Read” list. This CNET article lists nonfiction, fiction books, TV, and movies on the black experience. Considering I have two master’s degrees (one in English Literature and one in Library Science) it’s quite upsetting that I’ve only read TWO of these books listed and am reading one more (and two of those measly 3 books I have read on my own). I took a class on Ralph Ellison, so “Invisible Man” is one of the 3 I’ve read. I also have read everything Maya Angelou wrote and saw her speak in person twice. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Angelou’s autobiography “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” It’s been a long time since I read it so I would love to reread it. This Business Insider article takes a more nonfiction (and perhaps educational) approach in its list. Needless to say that I have plenty to read to educate myself.
#CreativityForDays Weekly Project Summary
I have been creating up a storm this week. Being at our lake cabin away from TV is good for my creativity! So here are some watercolor paintings (remember that I’m a newbie) and photos.
Just like I don’t quite know why it took me so long to focus my blog on my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), I don’t know why I just came up with this line that describes me and my blog and memoir: “When my story almost stopped it had really just begun.” So I created a brain graphic with that phrase and added it to the header of my blog. Last week, I came up with my new tagline: “writing my brain injury story.” (Note: I think all those years working in advertising as a project manager paid off because I must have been paying attention to copywriting and branding!)
A Selby Sweetie Conclusion
As always, my little dog @selbysweetie gives me a lot of joy! While at our cabin she is enjoying being a squirrel and chipmunk hunter. And by hunter I mean she spots them and wags her tail and wiggles her butt like she does when she’s happily greeting someone. Needless to say that they don’t feel threatened by her. This was evident this morning when a chipmunk (or squirrel… there’s some debate about that) climbed ON THE bird feeder to steal food while Selby excitedly watched (and wagged her tail).