Tag Archives: Racism

Rise Up! Poems of Protest, Poems of Praise, by Andrew Wilbert Fitz and Mari Fitz-Wynn

Call and response: a powerful form of protest. Andrew Wilbert Fitz was the child of a couple born into slavery, the middle of eleven children. He lived through two world wars, went to college, patented new inventions, and wrote poetry. His granddaughter, Mari Fitz-Wynn, has curated a collection of his poems and added her own, responding to his call across a century, sharing his sorrow at our human sins and reflecting his strong Christian faith with her own.

Mari has arranged this collection so that her grandfather speaks first with his poems, then Mari presents a poem of her own, sometimes on the same theme. Using various verse forms, the poems are often meditations on scriptural passages, and Mari, in particular, has structured several of her poems as liturgies that could be used in communal settings. Praise for the beauty of creation is woven throughout, from the exultation of “Creation and I” to the joyful skipping verse in “Nature’s Symphony.” There are poems of encouragement, motivating the reader to use their God-given gifts and to generate ideas that will further the Kingdom on earth. One of the most powerful selections is “Dead Soldier,” which Andrew addressed to the young men in their graves, saying, in part:

“… tell of the heartless heads of government,

the kings, the princes, and the presidents,

who sent you forth to die for an empty cause

despising God and all His sacred laws.”

Throughout this collection are poems of lament, an outpouring of sorrow rarely heard in white churches today, although the Hebrew scriptures are filled with lament, particularly in the Psalms. Throughout the millennia, believers have cried out to God in private grief, but also in communal prayer that God would acknowledge injustice and send healing and comfort. Andrew’s parents spent their early years in bondage, and later he went on to serve in World War I and live through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century. He saw that the government enforced these evil laws and that the white church rationalized the terror from the pulpit. He asks, “How long shall prejudice be mixed with prayer?” Mari, lamenting that our world still labors in sin, responds with her “Hands Up—A Litany,” asking for freedom from fear and concluding with praise.

I had the pleasure of working with Mari Fitz-Wynn at our library, as well as with her two grown children, Kiefer and Rooney, who wrote an afterword to this book. They are all kind and quiet souls, and her kids have gone on to pursue brilliant careers. After her husband passed away fifteen years ago, Mari began speaking at home education conferences and other venues and participating in creative entrepreneurial projects. In addition to this volume of poetry, which contains a foreword written by the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Mari has published two books and many articles.

This inspiring collection may be purchased on Amazon or from Faith Journey Publishing, a company dedicated to giving a voice to mature Christian women of color.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book, given to me by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. I do not receive remuneration from the purchase of this book.

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Reading While Black, by Esau McCaulley

How does a Black Christian find identity and comfort in the Bible? Some people have accused Black Christians of adopting a white man’s religion, but Esau McCaulley, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, responds that God chose his children in Africa centuries before the gospel ever reached Europe.

McCaulley is also a New Testament professor, and he brings his erudition to bear on scriptural passages concerning slavery and oppression, showing that it is not God’s plan to leave anyone in slavery, but that the trajectory of the entire Bible is always in the direction of liberation and freedom. Furthermore, he uses these ancient texts to examine the most contemporary of issues, such as policing and Black rage, parsing in detail the Bible’s verses about submission to government authority and the honest reality of the desire for vengeance.

For the White reader, McCaulley opens a window to the exegesis of the traditional Black church. All the way back in Genesis, Jacob’s son, Joseph, was sold to slave traders and ended up in Egypt, where he became the second most powerful person in the country. Pharaoh gave Joseph the daughter an Egyptian priest as a wife, and he had two sons with her whom Jacob later adopted as two of the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. It had never really occurred to me before that two of the twelve tribes of Israel were half African. Four hundred years later, the entire narrative of the Exodus and deliverance from slavery holds a message of hope for the Black church and the assurance that our God is a liberator of the oppressed.

This short book is divided into seven major topics related to the Black experience, and the author pulls from both Old and New Testaments— from Genesis to Revelation— showing his love for scripture and his faith. He does not hesitate to confront challenging passages, particularly in the Psalms or in Paul’s writings, just as he also glories in the hope of Isaiah and the gospels.

The last chapter, entitled “Bonus Track,” fills in gaps and answers some questions that the reader may have formed in the previous pages. First, McCaulley separates himself from James Cone and Black liberation theology. He says that, while he believes that liberation is found in the gospels, it is not the gospel.  He believes that his view of the Black ecclesial tradition will be familiar to Black audiences, since it is the message that has been heard from the pulpit, rather than read in scholarly books.

He also takes the opportunity in this chapter to address misogynistic scriptures and womanist theology. “Womanist” is an intersectional term coined by Alice Walker to deal with issues that concern both feminism and race. I appreciated this discussion, because I had been surprised on several occasions by a breezy insouciance toward the mistreatment of women in a passage, with a concentration only on the problems that pertained to men. Sometimes this blindness was found in quotes by other scholars that he had chosen.

McCaulley ends with a generous bibliography of authors for further study and an index of Bible references.

Important and enlightening.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Rashad left his ROTC meeting, stopping by the convenience store for some chips on his way to the party. Now, what flavor was least likely to ruin his breath, just in case he met that cute girl there? He made a selection, then went to text his friend that he was on his way, when he remembered that he had left his phone in his backpack, so he tucked the chips under his arm and knelt down on the floor to open his backpack. The lady who had been picking out beer in the refrigerator behind him took a step back and fell over him. She went flying, the chips went flying, and so did Rashad. Immediately, a young cop in the store accused him of assaulting the woman, and the store clerk accused him of stealing the chips. Before he knew what was happening, Rashad was in handcuffs on the sidewalk in front of the store being beaten almost to death. Rashad was black. The lady was white, the cop was white, and the clerk was white.

Quinn’s dad had died on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Grown-ups often spoke to Quinn in hushed tones, sure that he would live up to the hero image that his dad had left behind. Quinn was told that he was an all-American boy: clean-cut and handsome, a star on the basketball team, and an exemplary older brother. He never knew what to say to them. He and his friends were headed to a party after school, and Quinn wanted to stop by the store on the way there. They waited in the alley while he rounded the corner and stopped short. Some kid lay on the ground in handcuffs with blood all over him, while a cop was beating the snot out of him. The kid looked familiar, but Quinn recognized the cop immediately. It was Paul, his friend’s older brother, who had been like a surrogate dad to him since his father’s death.

Since All American Boys was written by two authors, the audiobook is narrated by Guy Lockard and Keith Nobbs, who do a stellar job alternating chapters between Rashad and Quinn, showing a realistic reaction to the chain of events from a black and a white high school kid’s perspective. Quinn’s English teacher has just come to the end of a unit on Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, and Quinn slowly realizes that, although Rashad is on his basketball team, he hadn’t even known his name. Paul automatically expects Quinn to be on his side, since their families are so close, but once the video of the beating hits the internet and then the news, Quinn is forced to rethink a lot of things.

All American Boys was written in 2015 and won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor and the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, so why is it being challenged today? The authors depicted a society that was already sick of these incidents, and this was five years before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Both of these boys are good kids; they are both All American Boys.

Reynolds and Kiely

Lest we think that all of racism has been dealt with, and that it’s about people “out there,” and not people near us, here’s a little, tiny incident that happened near me last week. I was in Walmart, scanning the shelves in the wine aisle, when I looked ahead and thought, “Wow, that’s a terrible label. It’s so covered with writing you can’t even tell the name of the wine.” I got up to the bottles and realized that they were turned around to the back. I picked one up and turned it to see BLACK GIRL MAGIC on the front. At first, I was disgusted to think that someone had gone to the trouble to turn the bottles around, so I started turning them back when I saw that all of the bottles, all the way to the wall, were turned around. Then, I was furious. It was either the stocker or someone who had taken a lot of time and energy to make sure that no one saw the name of the wine. How could there be so much casual racism still out there, right in my neighborhood? As I walked to the end of the aisle, I saw a young black woman across the way, choosing orange juice. I was immediately crushed in my spirit, thinking of how it would feel to be just shopping for your family and suddenly be confronted with the fact that someone found your race and gender so offensive that they felt compelled to hide the fact of your existence, as if to make you invisible.

All American Boys, like so many books these days, is being challenged because it might make someone uncomfortable. As if it’s important to make racists nice and comfortable. Book challenges are not just news stories to me; they’re personal. It’s my job to put kids’ books into libraries. I spend my days searching out great books like this one that will build children’s character, to help them to live someone else’s life for a while so that they will develop empathy and become good neighbors to one another, so that they would never, ever try to erase another human being.

This book is highly recommended, although the language is high-school-boy dreadful. Let’s get uncomfortable.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title—which I put there, by the way. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Authors’ image originally appeared in the NY Times.

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December Reading

December passed in a blur of decorating and frantic knitting, but there was also reading! Audiobooks are perfect for needlework and cooking times. Here are some fiction and nonfiction adult books, two of which were terrific on audio. Someday, I may blog about podcasts, which accompany hours of my handcrafts, too.

How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith

The history of our nation cannot be told without talking about slavery, but a great deal of that history is hidden by the “official” story we all learn in school. Clint Smith takes a unique approach to the history of slavery by traveling to various locations that are integral to the story, interviewing local people, and relating the memories passed down by the slaves’ descendants as much as possible. Some of the places are well known, such as Monticello and New Orleans, but it may be a surprise to find out that the second-largest slave market in America—second only to Charleston, SC—was in Manhattan, and that, at a certain point in time, the rate of slave ownership in New York was higher than in the South. Smith also visits such places as Blandford Cemetery, a resting place for Confederate soldiers, during a remembrance ceremony where he holds very difficult conversations with those who cling to memories of the Old South, and Angola, a maximum-security prison that used to be a plantation and now houses thousands of black prisoners. Their unpaid labor blurs the line between slavery and incarceration.

We visited Monticello for the first time in late November on the way home from my niece’s wedding, and this book—along with other excellent new works on the topic— was prominently displayed in the gift shop. We were impressed by the Jefferson Foundation’s ability to continue to showcase the great accomplishments of the former president while being completely open about his unapologetic enslavement of hundreds of human beings. Jefferson may have written about the horrors of slavery, but he did nothing to free the slaves that he owned, except for his own children. Great care has been taken to represent Sally Hemings’s life and the stories of all her children and their descendants. In the 1990s, the foundation started the Getting Word project to gather the life stories of the 607 enslaved people of Monticello and their descendants. We hoped that Clint Smith would talk about Monticello in his book, and indeed, it is the first chapter. Smith agreed that the Jefferson Foundation was making progress in opening up the history of slavery in our country’s founding, but apparently, this has not always been the case. Until the DNA results of the Hemings descendants were confirmed to be related to Jefferson in 1998, the Monticello guides would not discuss the possibility of the president’s relationship to an enslaved woman.

We listened to an audiobook edition of the book, which is read by the author. Some of the chapters show hopeful progress in our reckoning with our past, while others reveal the dark underbelly of our history, still churning with hatred and division to this day. Fascinating and important.

Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

Megs’s little brother, George, has a weak heart, and in 1950s England, there is no treatment. George has just read the new book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his greatest wish is to find out where Narnia comes from. Megs is a brilliant maths scholar at Oxford, and she sets out to find the answer to her brother’s burning question. Walking to The Kilns in the middle of winter, Megs meets the Oxford professor, C.S. (or Jack) Lewis, and his brother, Warnie. Over many chats by the fireside, Jack and Warnie tell the tale of their sometimes difficult childhoods, their early stories, and the fantasy world they created. The next Narnia tale is coming out soon, but George will probably not live to read it. Her parents worry that George gets too excited about this fantasy land, but the stories that Megs retells from her notebook are the very things that give George’s life meaning.

Solitary walks in the snowy wood, cozy teas at The Kilns, and an impetuous trip to a ruined Irish castle: this is a perfect winter’s tale with a sweet romance mixed in. Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis (reviewed here) is probably a stronger story, but Once Upon a Wardrobe is a sort of prequel that fills in the blanks in Lewis’s young life.

Adorning the Dark, by Andrew Peterson

Since I am a children’s book selector, I knew Andrew Peterson as the author of the wildly popular “Wingfeather Saga.” His book for adults, Adorning the Dark, is a meditation on the creative imagination and an encouragement for those who wish to be sub-creators, as Tolkien would say, after the great Creator of all things. It is also a memoir of someone who considers himself primarily a songwriter, recounting his struggle to put words and melodies together in a way that would support himself and his growing family. He and his wife found an idyllic piece of land outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and one of my favorite stories is of an English master gardener who came to stay with them during a conference, then mailed back a detailed schematic of their property with outdoor “rooms” designed to make even more beauty in the wilderness. This volume is an inspiring, thoughtful read.

N.D. (Nate) Wilson is one of the contributors to the latest addition to the saga, Wingfeather Tales. If you can find it on YouTube, Wilson’s conversation with Betsy Bird and Jeanne Birdsall on this topic of creativity is not to be missed. Ditto Wilson’s children’s books, beginning with 100 Cupboards.

If you have children in late elementary or middle school, the “Wingfeather Saga,” beginning with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, is a fantastical yet homely tale in the style of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” Peterson is also the founder of the Rabbit Room Press, publisher of the beloved book of everyday liturgies, Every Moment Holy.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of Adorning the Dark, and I listened to library audiobook copies of the other two books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Beautiful Banned Books

I have been following with interest and fury the efforts of parents and school boards to remove every book written by any author of color from school libraries, and sometimes even public libraries. Here are two award-winning children’s books that— I was flabbergasted to find out— were removed from school libraries in Texas. Both of these beautiful books tell the tale of the authors’ childhoods in which they were oppressed by white people and others. Keeping our children ignorant does not make the world a better place, even for them. Please read them yourself, and if they make you uncomfortable, read them twice.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Mia and her family have just moved to the United States from China, and they are disappointed at how much more difficult it is to survive than they had been told. They think they’ve found their lucky break when Mr. Yao offers them the management of one of his motels, but their fellow countryman turns out to be a cheat and a bully. Mia and Jason Yao are the only two Asian kids in their class, but they are not the only ones hiding secrets about their families.

Mia is a spunky girl with a precocious understanding of business and finance, and her optimism often keeps her parents’ spirits up when their mounting debt threatens to force them to despair. On the other hand, she is a child, so sometimes her I Love Lucy schemes fall to pieces and put them in danger. She makes friends easily with adults and children alike, leading to a hilariously varied cast of characters.

This semi-autobiographical novel details Kelly Yang’s early years in California, the bigotry she encountered, and the poverty and hard work her parents endured to secure a better life for their daughter. She has written a sequel called Three Keys. Although it is highly readable and enjoyable, the story of Mia’s journey was more heartbreaking than I had expected. It all works out, though, as Ms. Yang went to college at age 13 and later became the youngest woman to graduate from Harvard Law School. Front Desk won the Asian / Pacific American Award for Literature in 2019 and the Parents Choice Award in 2018, as well as appearing on many “Best Book of the Year” lists. Illuminating.

New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Jordan wants to go to art school, but his mom wants him to go to the very best prep school she can find, even though that means extra work for his parents. When Liam— the student assigned to show him around— and his dad pick him up in their limo the first day, Jordan is sure that he will not fit in to this new school: he is not white, he is not rich, and he really doesn’t like school. He just wants to draw.

As it turns out, there are several other black students at Riverdale Academy Day School, and white Liam is a really great kid. The racism that Jordan encounters is mostly the liberal elite, microaggression type. One of the coaches is so afraid of making a racist remark that he can barely get out a sentence without apologizing for it. Many characters hurt the minority students unintentionally out of ignorance, since they rarely interact with anyone outside of their rich, white bubble.

On the other hand, one of the white teachers calls all of the black kids by the same stereotypical names because she can’t be bothered to learn their real names, and while this is annoying and insulting, Jordan and a friend make a game of it and start calling each other by a different name every time they talk. Eventually, they confront her, and she is surprised to come face to face with her own racism. The students have frank and productive discussions of bigotry, and Jordan has friends of every ethnicity.

Jordan’s parents are joyfully loving and supportive, especially his delightfully gushy mom. After his initial disdain, Jordan discovers that the art teacher at Riverdale really does have things to teach him, and the book has occasional breaks to show young Jordan’s sketchbook pages, drawn in a different style from the rest of this appealing graphic novel.

Another autobiographical work by a person of color, New Kid was the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Award in 2020 and is followed by the sequel, Class Act. It also won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Kirkus Prize. Jerry Craft combined his own and his two sons’ experiences in this work, which shows that even in our day and even among very “nice” people, the playing field is not even and there is still work to be done. You’ll want to read the sequel.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of these two books. Opinions expressed are solely my own, I swear, and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Dear Martin, by Nic Stone

Justyce was trying to help when he got arrested. His girlfriend was drunk and struggling to get into the driver’s seat of her car, while he was trying to get hold of her keys and move her into the back seat. Right after she threw up all over him, the police arrived and put him in handcuffs. Melo’s father was black, but she got her looks from her Norwegian mother, so the policeman saw him as a black boy molesting a white girl. Justyce had always been a good kid with a positive attitude towards the police, but after going to jail, he had a hard time continuing his Martin Luther King project, reading MLK’s writings and composing letters back to him in his journal.

Justyce and his friend Manny were two of only eight black kids in their exclusive prep school, so of course their circle of friends was composed mainly of wealthy white teens, including the serious and brilliant S.J.—short for Sarah Jane—who seemed to be more concerned than they were about racism. Justyce knew that S.J. had a crush on him, but he kept his distance, since his mama had warned him against getting involved with a white girl. She wasn’t even happy about Melo.

When tragedy strikes, Justyce has to make tough decisions in the midst of his grief. Where can he find the strength to continue his previous college-bound path, and how can he fit in? Or should he just give it all up, since he knows that the local gang leader would be glad to have him? “Dear Martin….”

Dear Martin has recently been challenged in schools, although it had garnered starred journal reviews when it came out in 2017. The celebrated author, Nic Stone, has gone on to write a sequel, as well as many other critically-acclaimed books. Justyce is a lovable character; he makes good grades, loves his mother, and is kind to girls. His own negative emotions trouble him, and he struggles to make moral choices. The language in the novel is filled with words I wouldn’t say, but Dear Martin is not unusual in its vocabulary for young adult books.

One of the objections to the book is that white people and the police were portrayed negatively. The police were portrayed negatively, it is true, but Stone’s depiction is not without provocation. This was written three years before George Floyd, and the situation would be even more stark today. Some of the white boys who were Justyce’s friends were written as idiots and racists, yes, but they were pretty realistically shown as privileged teenage boys who were sometimes unaware of the hurt that they caused, perhaps because Manny and Justyce didn’t know what to say without losing their relationship. The final scene, though, redeems a great deal of the pain in Justyce’s heart. S.J., however, and her white family are wonderful people, and since she is an important character, we cannot say that the author never sees good in white people.

No one should ever have to suffer for their skin color or other Immutable characteristics, whether in a classroom or anywhere else. It is obvious that this book could be a catalyst for excellent discussions, and a good teacher should be able to facilitate these conversations in such a way that all of the students will learn and no one will suffer humiliation.

Highly recommended for those who can bear the language.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library e-audiobook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

For thousands of years, India has maintained a caste system, and even though it has been abolished legally, still it lives on, deeply ingrained in the psyche of the nation. The Brahmin caste, it is believed, had sprung directly from the gods, and so it was irrefutable that they were to be honored. The lower castes had surnames that described their occupations and their place in society, and the very lowest caste, the Dalit, were “untouchable.” Nothing they could ever do would change their fate or that of their children.

Isabel Wilkerson believes that all of humanity will organize itself into some sort of caste system in order to maintain structure in society. She has met Dalit Indian immigrants in the United States who cannot look other Indian Americans in the eye if they would have occupied a higher caste in India. She also traveled to Germany, where the mid-twentieth century produced a caste system based on religion and other factors that allowed those in power to blame everything on a scapegoat, a necessary feature of every caste system.

In the United States, caste is largely based on race. For a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence, the economy of at least the southern portion of the country was dependent on slavery. Wilkerson does not hold back on the descriptions of the cruelty of slaveholders and the ruthless ways that the white people in power kept hold of the reins of hierarchy. Furthermore, she shows— through scholarly research, news stories, and personal accounts— that it is easier to change laws than to change human hearts.

Wilkerson is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns. This new work, subtitled The Origins of Our Discontent, is certainly the most scholarly and well-researched of the many anti-racist titles I’ve read in the past year. The author goes beyond the current headlines to delve into the human condition and discover the causes of such evil. Her research and presentation are thorough, yet readable, and her conclusions are convincing. Even in the smallest human groups—your office, your church, and your homeowner’s association, for example—we see people sorting into hierarchies. Some are helpful, while others are toxic. Those at the top will ruthlessly use their power to keep themselves on top. Those in the middle have a vested interest in maintaining the lowest caste, congratulating themselves that at least they are better than those beneath them on the ladder, while those on the very bottom, like crabs in a bucket, keep pulling each other back down so that they won’t be alone in despair.

Other titles that I have reviewed may have been more practical about steps that readers can take to heal past hurts, but this book will help many people to understand the concept of “systemic” racism. Wilkerson does have a pointedly partisan take on current politics, and some readers may be offended. However, it is important that we explore the origins of our unrest in a serious and unflinching manner. It’s not about the laws we pass or even the century or country we live in. Caste is a compulsion we all have as one of the darker sides of our human nature.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Black History for Children

Here are two new, exceptional nonfiction works for kids that are great reads anytime, but particularly in February.

Jump at the Sun, by Alicia D. Williams

Zora loved to listen to the grownups telling stories down at the general store. Mama would send her on a ten-minute errand, and after an hour of waiting, she’d have to call the girl back home. After a while, Zora became well-known for her storytelling, or, as her Daddy called it, lying. But Mama approved of her stories, and she always told Zora to “jump at the sun!”

After her Mama died and her preacher father went on the road, he put her in boarding school where Zora spent her time reading everything she could. Soon, though, her father remarried and the money dried up, so Zora Neale Hurston spent a decade or more trying to get an education anywhere she could. She went through Howard University and, finally, Barnard College. She was friends with many of the greatest figures of the Harlem Renaissance, especially her best friend, Langston Hughes. For her last project in college, she travelled the South, collecting African American folklore. When she assembled and published those stories, she truly landed on the sun.

Jacqueline Alcántara illustrates this exuberant children’s biography with paintings that dance and jump across each page. She uses colors that convey the humid heat of the South, the excitement of New York, and the hopeful glow of the sun itself.

Zora Neale Hurston went on to become one of America’s greatest writers, probably best known for her classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The fact that she was able to produce such enduring works is all the more amazing for a black woman in the early twentieth century. Everything was stacked against her, but she remembered what her mother told her: “Jump at the sun!”

Unspeakable, by Carole Boston Weatherford

In 1921, Greenwood was a thriving community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The nearby oil wells had created prosperity for all, and Greenwood had hotels and hospitals, great schools and restaurants. The residents had two newspapers to read and libraries to read more. The citizens of Greenwood were well educated and thriving, but not everyone was happy about that, because Greenwood was a completely black community.

Not that the people had a choice. Segregation forced a line down the center of Tulsa, and all of the black residents had to live on one side of the line. Of course, they sometimes had jobs that took them into the white section of town, and on one unforgettable day, a white teenaged girl accused a seventeen-year-old black shoeshine boy of assault. That one spark ignited the tinder of resentment in the white community and exploded into one of the worst race riots the United States has ever seen.

When I first learned of this chapter of our country’s history in Latasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge (reviewed here), last summer, I was stunned that I had never known that an entire section of a city was burned to the ground. The violence lasted for sixteen hours and left 300 people dead and 8,000 homeless. Most people left for good. Weatherford leaves out a part that Morrison relates: This is the first and only time that the federal government dropped bombs on its own citizens.

Shortly after writing the review of Be the Bridge, I read that there would soon be a children’s book about this shameful incident in our history. Carole Weatherford Boston is an award-winning North Carolina author who spends the first half of the book describing the good and peaceful life that the residents of Greenwood enjoyed. The brilliant artist Floyd Cooper fills this picture book with his signature oil paintings, depicting first a prosperous neighborhood, and then a tragic massacre. Cooper grew up in Tulsa, and one night his Grandpa Williams told him and his family about a terrible thing that had happened in his past. Now it is time to share that story.

Although descriptions of race riots and massacres make for uncomfortable conversations with our children, it is essential for them to learn about all of our shared history. Ms. Weatherford limits the description to a child’s level in the easy text of the book, and only gives more detail in smaller font in the back matter.

Highly recommended for parents to read with their school-age children.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison

Latasha Morrison, a North Carolina native, moved to Austin, Texas, to serve on the staff of a huge church. She was the only person of color—not on the staff, in the whole church. No worries, she was up on White culture. She watched Gilmore Girls and Friends and sang Hillsong tunes. However, at one point, while talking to her father on the phone, she realized that she had not seen or talked to a Black person in over a week. After a few well-meaning but cringe-inducing conversations with people in her church, she realized that White people did not understand Black culture at all, and when she decided to gently educate them, she realized that she didn’t, either.

Neil Gaiman once said, “Like all oppressed people, [they] know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them.”* He was speaking of children, but it applies universally. For their own safety, the oppressed study their oppressors carefully, but since the powerless seem unimportant, the powerful do not care enough to learn about them. Latasha realized that her ancestors’ history had been erased from all of the textbooks that she had used in school. She was told that her forebears were sharecroppers, but there had to be more to it than that. She set out to learn her own rich and tragic history, and the reader of Be the Bridge will learn with her.

This book is designed to be used by the more than a thousand groups of “Bridge Builders” that Morrison’s ministry has created, so a list of discussion questions closes each chapter. In addition, there are prayers for the various topics, as well as a few liturgies that the groups can follow. The book does not have an instructional tone, though. Morrison is an enthralling storyteller, relating episodes from her own life and from history. She also brings in the perspective of various people from Bridge Builder groups that may mirror the experiences or feelings of her readers.

David and I read this book aloud and discussed our own encounters with racism and race relations from our childhoods in the segregated South to the present. Although we did not agree with all of Morrison’s conclusions and prescriptions, we learned an enormous amount about Black history. Just one example is the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, a horrifying event that marks the first time the federal government dropped bombs on its own citizens. Neither David nor I had ever heard of it. There were many other such revelations in these pages, as well as encouraging stories of people who are taking steps to overcome the damage of our past.

I picked up this book shortly after the George Floyd tragedy, at a brief moment in time when the nation seemed ready to openly examine our past and to listen to the voices of those who were peacefully protesting injustice. That hopeful moment has since been burned in the flames of rioters and stolen by the crimes of looters. However, the church must always be about the work of reconciliation and justice, eschewing partisan politics and rising above the headlines of the day. Morrison’s book was written in 2019, before Floyd’s death and before the Coronavirus lockdown changed our perspective on normal life. Churches everywhere are engaging in Bridge Builder groups. Morrison reports that 92.5% of America’s churches are completely segregated. It is way past time for us to admit that this is not normal and cannot possibly be God’s will for His people.

Whereas David Swanson’s Rediscipling the White Church (reviewed here) is meant more for pastors and church leaders, Be the Bridge is for all Christians who want to understand the suffering of Black people in America and to see the church in the forefront of reconciliation.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

*Neil Gaiman’s Zena Sutherland lecture, May 4, 2012.

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So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo has lived it. Daughter of a white American mother and a Nigerian father, she has a wide perspective on the racial issues our country is dealing with today. A writer and blogger, Oluo says that she would much rather be writing mystery novels than this, but she gets so many questions about race that she thought she would just put all of her answers into book form and be done with it.

If there were ever an antidote to White Fragility (reviewed here), this is it. While the former work is all about problems with no answers, Oluo presents this book with one question per chapter, and then sets out to answer it in both anecdotal and practical terms. She pulls no punches, is often profane, and is frank and honest. Reading this book is like listening to a particularly sassy girlfriend who has just gotten to her last nerve.

Oluo sets out with the basics, such as the definition of racism and whether or not police brutality actually exists, and then moves on to a very helpful chapter on intersectionality, followed by microaggressions, use of the “n” word, and why you cannot touch her hair, as well as many other relevant topics. She keeps the issues very discrete, and the chapter title tells you what you’re getting into, such as, “What Is Cultural Appropriation?” Her stories are fascinating and often horrifying, and her prescriptions are well laid out and achievable. Don’t misunderstand; she will not comfort you or pat your hand. She believes that racism is very real, and that white people who remain silent are complicit. So be sure to put on your Big Girl Panties before you start.

Of the anti-racist books that I have read so far for a general audience, this is the book I would recommend the most. It is conversational in tone, but with plenty of supporting data, and the layout is genius. If you want to be able to discuss race in the workplace, at the Thanksgiving table, or at the school board meeting, So You Want to Talk About Race will arm you with facts and also clue you in to the underlying cultural assumptions held by People of Color. If you’re reading the book, you obviously don’t want to offend on purpose, and the information here will help you not to offend accidentally. Since misunderstandings are inevitable, though, she also teaches you how to apologize.

Get it; read it.

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Next up in anti-racist reads: Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison, one for Christians and churches.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book, which is a good thing, since I spilled coffee all over it. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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