Reading. Learning. Growing.
There was a tweet making the rounds back when the BLM protests first started up, mocking the history books North American and colonized students have been indoctrinated with since time immemorial. It went: “Slavery was bad but then Lincoln fixed it! Then, segregation was also bad but Malcolm X didn’t need to be so mean about it. But MLK went on a big walk and fixed racism! The last racist left killed him but then he went to jail the end.”
Which is to say I probably learned more about BIPOC history and race relations from these two books (both of which are aimed at younger audiences) than I ever did in any history or social studies class. Which is only slightly wild, to say the least.
Stamped is a book I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s original tome is on my wishlist, and I will get around to it someday, but I confess to being more than a little bit intimidated by it. Heavy books about heavy subjects! There’s certain mental preparation I have to do before I am able to tackle them. But I was familiar with Jason Reynolds’ work enough to be certain that his own adaption for younger readers— or remix, as they call it — would be perhaps a bit more approachable, full of language that is as playful as it is thoughtful; as lyrical as it is meaningful. Which is essentially Jason Reynolds’ trademark style. And that is what we get here: an immanently readable, fiercely empathetic, endlessly illuminating history lesson. A handful of passages even made my eyes well up. Don’t pass up on this book.
On July 2, 1826, Jefferson seemed to be fighting to stay alive. The eighty-three-year-old awoke before dawn on July 4 and called out for his house servants. The enslaved Black faces gathered around his bed. They were probably his final sight, and he gave them his final words. He had been a segregationist at times, an assimilationist at other times—usually both in the same act—but he never quite made it to being antiracist. He knew slavery was wrong, but not wrong enough to free his own slaves. He knew as a child that Black people were people, but never fully treated them as such. Saw them as “friends” but never saw them. He knew the freedom to live was fair, but not the freedom to live in America. The America built on their backs. He knew that all men are created equal. He wrote it. But couldn’t rewrite his own racist ideas. And the irony in that is that now his life had come full circle. In his earliest childhood memory and in his final lucid moment, Thomas Jefferson lay there dying—death being the ultimate equalizer—in the comfort of slavery. Surrounded by a comfort those slaves never felt.
Whereas Stamped is concerned with the past and how it shaped our present, Tiffany Jewell’s This Book is Anti-Racist is more interested with how our current reality can shape our immediate future. And while Anti-Racist briefly talks about past events that led us to now, it is a thoroughly modern book. The amount of timely, relevant topics Jewell manages to cover in such a short amount of space (this book is less than 200 pages long) is truly staggering: activism (both true and performative); the internet’s influence on social discourse; internalized and institutionalized racism; prejudice and bias; identity and class. Jewell does more with these topics than a dozen hot take articles put together, and does so with grace, patience, and righteous outrage. Do not pass up on this book, either.
We have been conditioned to the bias of whiteness. We can undo this. People play a big role in keeping racism going. If we do not work to recognize our prejudices, we remain a part of the problem. When we become aware of our biases and our role in racism, then we can begin to understand how we are a part of a system that is much bigger than us.
My own education growing up may have been lacking, but I’m just glad that kids these days have access to books of this caliber, that discuss issues so often suppressed or actively ignored. Books that tell them — us — how things were, and how they are, and how they could be. Books that remind them — us — to keep growing, and learning, and reading.