I read to escape. I read to learn. I read to be entertained. I read to armchair travel.
And I read to understand the lives of other people. That’s probably the most important reading I do. Understanding enables compassion and empathy – two of the most important human traits that can make the world a better place. We can read to understand what it’s like to be disabled, to lose a partner, to be Autistic, to be a teacher, to be an immigrant, to live in a third world country, to identify as LBGT, to be a writer, to live in poverty, to be rich, to have survived the Holocaust, to start a company, to raise a child with Down’s Syndrome, to run away, to be passionate about something, to be black in America.
In the United States we are still dealing with racial inequality, in a very serious way. The Confederate flag horribleness in the wake of a tremendous tragedy is the latest injustice that leaves me feeling at a loss for what to do. What can and should a white person do?
Well, we can listen. We can read. And we can speak up when we witness injustice. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
“If you are not listening, not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege.” – Julia Blount, Salon.com
What can we read? There’s a whole movement – We Need Diverse Books, devoted to helping promote diverse reading selections across a variety of subjects. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie were two of the best books I’ve read in the past year. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is next on my reading list. And I’ve just read the powerful and excellent Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.
It’s a short book, but it delivers a big whammy to the gut. It’s prose poetry – a style many people aren’t familiar with, but I think you’ll find it very accessible. It’s important. It’s beautifully written. It left me more mindful about my own behavior. It helped me move a bit closer to understanding the current experience of being black in America. It’s a book everyone should read.
“You and your partner go to see the film The House We Live In. You ask a friend to pick up your child from school. On your way home your phone rings. Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed.
You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says, no, it’s not him. He’s met your friend and this isn’t that nice young man. Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police.
Your partner calls your friend and asks him if there’s a guy walking back and forth in front of your home. Your friend says that if anyone were outside he would see him because he is standing outside. You hear the sirens through the speakerphone.
You friend is speaking to your neighbor when you arrive home. The four police cars are gone. Your neighbor has apologized to your friend and is not apologizing to you. Feeling somewhat responsible for the actions of your neighbor, you clumsily tell your friend that the next time he wants to talk on the phone he should just go in the backyard. He looks at you a long minute before saying he can speak on the phone wherever he wants. Yes, of course, you say. Yes, of course.” – Citizen, page 15
(Author photograph by John Lucas)
Other blogger reviews of Citizen: An American Lyric:
- Books Speak Volumes
- The Daily Dosage
- Estella’s Revenge
- Malcolm Avenue Review
- Shaina Reads
- So Many Books
Readers, what are your favorite books that help you understand the lives of other people?