Today, we will be taking a look at one of my virtual shelves – the Goodreads Reading Challenge shelf (ignore how far behind I am).
I was originally going to talk today about my five favorite books I’ve read this year, but then the video of the assault at Spring Valley High School changed my mind.
And before we launch into you-don’t-know-the-whole-story rhetoric, let me be clear on my position. No other possible side to this story justifies his behavior, so don’t even try it. No matter what she did, he was wrong.
Earlier this week, I shared this post – The Assault at Spring Valley Would Not Have Happened if the Girl was White -with a friend who was telling me that this assault wasn’t about race. His only response after he read (I presume he read it) the article? “Well, of course they think so. They’re black.”
Okay, then. Let me be clearer. I am saying that this assault would not have happened to me in high school. Even if I had been doing whatever it was she had done before the video. Even if I refused to get up. Even if I refused to go with the man who was threatening me.
It wouldn’t have happened. Not because of anything I did or did not do, but simply because I’m white and because of who my parents are.
“But you didn’t act the way she probably acted to get the cops called on her.”
What way? Sitting in my chair, minding my own business? Or even mouthing off and giving zero damns about people who disrespected me? No matter how you spin it – actually, I almost always acted that way. Still do. And it has never ended in my being thrown on the floor by someone who was supposed to protect me.
I was pulled over for failure to use my turn signal one night. I was guilty – I did not use my turn signal. The person following me was following closely, and I pulled into another lane to let them pass. I was annoyed with the person behind me, and it probably showed in my sudden acceleration and sudden lane change. It turned out the person was a cop. When he pulled me over, he asked why I didn’t use a signal, I replied, “I was trying to get out of the way of the jerk tailgating me.” I was snippy, and I delivered it with a look to match my tone. Did he pull me out of my car and force me facedown on the ground with my hands behind my back? Did he ask me to step out of the car at all? Did he give me a stern lecture on cooperating with law enforcement?
No. He did not. He laughed and said, “Fair enough,” and told me to have a good night. He did not even give me a ticket, despite the fact that technically he could have. He gave my behavior – which frankly was quite rude – the best possible interpretation he could come up with and let me go with his good wishes. Now I understand that this could have been an unusually jovial fellow. It’s possible that particular cop would have responded the exact same way if I had been a woman of color. I think that’s naive, though. I’ve heard too many similar stories with different outcomes just from my friends, not to mention the stories that have made the news.
So I don’t just want to talk about great books today. I want to talk about great books that made a difference in me.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is an attorney and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. His book is heartbreaking. We read it for my church book club in August. As aware of the world as we like to believe that we are, it shocked quite a few of us. We were dismayed that there’s still so much reform needed in our prison system. This book made me want to go to law school (that urge passed) and be more involved in the work of justice (that urge wakes me up at night).
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This is one of my favorite books – and not just of this year. In her collection of essays, Roxane Gay lays out her point of view and points out exactly how it doesn’t always fit in with mainstream (or, as she admits, any) feminism. I need her voice; my feminism is incomplete without it.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves tales between the past and the present, between tradition and modern life. This book made me realize how many of the stories I read about other cultures are not written by people from that culture. The difference in the stories told is remarkable. I want to read more stories written by people who embody the narrative rather than people who are merely reporting it.
Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry leaves me undone. There’s not a word wasted or unintentional. Her words paint pictures of her experiences living in her body in this world.
Speaking of undone…
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
If I could only recommend one book of all the books I’ve read this year, this would be it. Everyone should read this book. Just read it. Claudia Rankine chronicles the treatment of people of color in the world and in the media. If you are interested at all in race relations, you need to read this book. Listen.
I made a goal at the first of the year to read at least 40 books – one third of my overall goal – written by people of color. I’ve only managed to read 17 so far, and it’s not quite a third of all the books I’ve read. I’ve learned that even when I’m being intentional about my choices, I gravitate toward the familiar and comfortable. This knowledge is humbling and helpful. I can do better.
I’m writing 31 Days of Shelfies.
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