In light of the recent events involving the murder of Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, there are no words to describe the anguish and devastation family members and friends must feel. It is horrific, frightening and yet cases continue to occur throughout the United States every single day. According to the NAACP, African American (mainly males) are incarcerated at nearly six times the rates of whites and if current trends continue 1 in 3 black males born today will spend time in prison sometime during their life.
Race, often a taboo subject in the US, draws a constant division within the social, economic and political landscape of the country. It is historical. It is cultural and it is something people of color live through every single day. It surely, then is no longer acceptable to simply teach our children to acknowledge all people of color, or to post our solidarity on social media sites. There is something all of us can do every single day. In the beginning that something is simply to become more educated about those who are different from us. To discover their histories, their daily lives and the adversities they face. By learning and understanding sympathy, empathy can be gained and bridges built.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehesi Coates
“I’m the descendant of enslaved black people in this country. You could’ve been born in 1820 if you were black and looked back to your ancestors and saw nothing but slaves all the way back to 1619. Look forward another 50 or 60 years and saw nothing but slaves”. – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Author, journalist and educator Ta-Nehisi Coates is a prominent figure offering powerful insight into the complex discussion over race in America. Raised in West Baltimore with a Black Panther-publisher-librarian father and teacher mother, Coates learned from a very early age that his body had a price and that on the streets where he grew up, it could be spent at any given moment if he was not careful. It could be taken by classmates, by teenagers in his neighborhood, or by the police for any reason. He learned that he could be beaten by his father if he did not stand up for himself and also beaten for being disrespectful. In this book, essentially an extended letter to his 15 year old son, Coates argues that the reason his body has a price is systemic, social and political racism. It is because black people have been subjugated and discriminated against since slavery and that slavery still exists but in other forms: in unfair housing that has led to inner-city projects, in the highly disproportionate incarceration rates of the black man and in white people’s indifference that any of that is going on. It is written with honesty. It is unapologetic and at times that is achingly real. Toni Morrison said the book is “necessary reading”. I heartily agree! Check it out!
Ghettoside: a true story of Murder in America, by Jill Leovy
“When you see the suffering and pain that it brings, you’d have to be blind, mad or a coward to resign yourself to the plague”. Albert Camus, the Plague
LA Times journalist Jill Leovy began a blog in 2006 to document homicides in Los Angeles County to show people the reality of the statistics. In Ghettoside, Leovy elaborates on this blog by giving powerful arguments as to why murder among black males in LA is so high and yet mostly invisible. She traces the Great Migration of blacks from the South to LA and correlates the injustice of the legal system in the South and historically how that translates to inner city black areas with their own justice system. After Bryant Tennelle, the black son of LA Homicide detective Walter Tennelle is shot, John Skaggs takes the case. The book shines a light on the single case illuminating the reality of life on the streets in Southside LA. Leovy writes like she cares. Like the investigators she is documenting, she goes through details and evidence with a fine tooth comb and what she produces is incredibly gripping work. It is well researched and allows the reader to examine issues on a grand scale and her ability to report on one single case from beginning to end is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. I can’t say I enjoyed reading the book. It was overwhelming; the murder on the streets almost every day by mainly black males against mainly black males in an environment where the only justice is street justice is a hard pill to swallow. It hones in on detectives who care; who are not merely doing busy work, but who open up cold cases and have the victims families and associates respect and warm to them. While there is no closure on this subject, the fact that this book has been written is a sign that perhaps once we know about these things, we can change them.
Unselfie, by Michele Borba
“Me…We”! A poem by Muhammad Ali after a Harvard graduation address on changing the world.
Michele Borba discusses the current trends of children being raised in academic, self-centered environments; giving them a competitive edge, while neglecting a kind, empathetic edge. In her book, Unselfie she presents nine strategies to help enforce empathy. While dance or piano lessons are great and academics are important, Borba argues that what kids really need to be happy and successful is empathy. Children attuned to the feelings of others are happier. The digital age provides problems. Elementary school aged kids spend more and more time in front of screen which has long lasting effects on learning and social interaction. Kids don’t play outside like they used to and well, they’re changing. They are increasingly more detached, self-centered, anxious, stressed and depressed. Borba offers strategies and techniques to help build strong, happy empathetic children.
All three books are available for check-out!