Yesterday I met a dear friend to watch the documentary,Toni Morrison: Pieces I Am at a small theater in Nashville. Before the film, we met for a drink and talked about all the things. This friend and I stumbled upon each other near or in our 40s, and we have been making up for lost time since. She is brilliant and fierce and compassionate and reflective. She is curious and challenging and knows who she is and isn’t. Time together feels abundant, full of possibilities and lament, hope and outrage. She makes me better.
So does Toni Morrison. I’m so sad her voice has reached its coda. Spending three hours together and with Morrison, we explored ALL the ways to be a human, to love and to hurt, to be torn apart and put back together again. Time well spent.
Of course I am biased. I love books and think words are magnificently powerful. I rarely regret any moment I spend with a book in my hands. In the film, a Morrison scholar, like a precious disciple, suggests that the written word is the only real medium that allows a person to immerse themselves in the skin of another. Books help us to dive deep, to witness and share the thoughts, histories, hopes, fears and emotions of a character. Good characters are precise in a universal kind of way, and he thought Morrison wrote people better than anyone.
In the spirit of losing (and understanding?) ourselves by immersing our thinking in someone else’s context, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve read in the past couple of years. Particularly for those of us hoping to understand and confront the racialized society we live in, these texts help. (And stun, and shatter, and inspire, and undo, and motivate, and educate, and satisfy.)
Recent-ish Books Worth Reading in the Quest for Racial Justice
Addressing our Historical Gaps
Stamped From the Beginning Ibram X. Kendi
Academic, thick, and accessible. A well documented and contextualized account of racialized understandings in America.
The Color of Compromise Jemar Tisby
History of the Church’s action and inaction regarding racial oppression. Truth-telling that demands the church reckon with our past.
Stony the Road Henry Louis Gates, Jr
Academic essays and photos discussing the history of black resistance. Gates is a rare scholar determined to teach us all, convinced that his work is relevant and meaningful for each of us. He is right.
Waking Up White Debbie Irving
Personal account of a wealthy white woman studying the origins of racial inequities interwoven with research explaining the history of those disparities (informative and personal).
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria Beverly Daniel Tatum
Academic, but from a social science lens mixed with observational research. The 2017 Introduction is one of the best pieces I’ve read on historically contextualizing our current moment.
The Color of Law Richard Rothstein
Deep dive into the history of segregation at the hands of our government. Academic but accessible.
Why I’m No Longer Talking (to White People) About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge
Clear about her own boundaries and determined to educate, she covers the reality of and paths of resistance against structural racism in Britain. Includes a fabulous chapter on the nature of the interaction between feminist and antiracist activists.
Personal Accounts of Experiencing/Overcoming Prejudice and Valuable Advice on How to Engage the Work
How to be an Antiracist Ibram X. Kendi
Just got it…can’t describe it yet but expect to devour it shortly. He is an incredible thinker and communicator.
White Awake Daniel Hill
Story of a well-meaning, woke-ish pastor who tried to start a multicultural church in Chicago, and learned a lot through his failures as he learned to be antiracist as a Christ follower.
I’m Still Here Austin Channing Brown
Personal account of the cost of being “the only one” in many white, church/non prof spaces. A love letter to black women saying, “I see you. I hear you. We’ve got this.”
Between the World and Me Ta-nehisi Coates
A letter from a black writer to his son about being in his skin in America. Morrison called it “required reading.” Wow.
Dream With Me John Perkins
Reflection on how to reconcile communities without hurting them from a legend in community development.
I’ll only say here that I recently reread Morrison’s Love and Home, and both are brilliant. The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved get all the love. They are indeed wonderful. But so are the others. Pick any book she wrote and wrestle/read your way through. You might just come away understanding your town, the people who share it, and yourself, a little better.