A short reading list for white people who want to engage better with conversations about race.

I’ve had several conversations recently with well meaning white folks who want to engage and ask questions about black lives matter and other race discussions appearing in US news, but have also been told “it’s not my job to teach you,” by their black colleagues. This is true — it is not their job to teach you. But hear me out, before you get defensive: this request is an enormous emotional labor to add to a coworker’s plate. You can answer some of your questions through the rich materials out there on your own. This is an act of research and engaging responsibly: like many things, there is a long history here that one must engage with before truly understanding what is happening now.

I am making this short list of readings to help you get started learning on your own so that it is not on them to teach you the basics. I am not an expert, there are many others who will have better recommendations than I do. But I wanted to make this list for people who need a first step. I am making this list in hopes that from here you will be able to seek out all the authors and thinkers who have made important contributions to this discussion. (This is a perpetual work in progress)

The best way to engage with it is to take a step that many well meaning, pro-active people will be uncomfortable with: you need to sit with discomfort. Like engaging with a loved one who is giving you feedback on something you have done that hurt them, you must acknowledge the pain and suffering before you do anything else. Blocking out this discomfort and jumping immediately into, “how can I fix it? What can we do next?” is not the first step towards truly engaging. Read these things. Sit with and engage with your discomfort.

To frame your reading: Engage with an open mind. Try to listen and learn, without trying to critique and defend. Just listen.

Suggested Readings:
Begin here (mandatory read): Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Especially relevant right now, with the gun control debates in Florida:
Why it hurts when the world loves everyone but us by Janaya Khan

CodeSwitch is a great podcast.

Show About Race (Another helpful series available as a podcast)

Another angle on why representation matters: Safwat Saleem asks what it means to be considered “normal.”

On DACA, being undocumented in the US in the Trump Era, and the many types of labor that comes with all of these themes: this blog is very thoughtful and honest.

Activist Deanna Zandt has answered many questions about race for other white folks here. Some of your own questions might appear in her thoughtful responses.

Good luck! (And I am open to adding more/doing more specific reading lists over time. This is not an exhaustive list of all the great work out there, just a short one to help people get started.)

The Borders of Fulton Street

Many mornings, Fulton Street feels like the ultimate border crossing station. You move without a physical passport, but always with permission of those around you who also share and add character to the space. This permission is your visa. At once, you are part of the story and the transition.

Every morning, on my way to my favorite coffee spot, I pass by a mosque with a healthy community coming in and out of its doors. On evenings when the wind blows in the right direction, we can hear the call to prayer from our living room, faintly through the now bare trees. There is also always a group of people talking and sometimes shouting outside Bergen Bagels on Waverly and Fulton. There’s a mental healthcare facility on the same corner, where a number of disable veterans gather before and after their appointments. Some are haunting by the ghosts of their time at war, and their glances take in much more than their immediate environment. It’s hard not to feel something squeezing sharply around your heart.

Sometimes these different groups interact, sometimes they pass by each other with little more than a nod. But they are all there, witnessing the same scenes I do every day.

 

And there are definitely moments where it is easier, and others when it is harder. In the context of the recent student protests, I like so many others have been included in some very challenging conversations about race and access to basic rights. We hosted a salon yesterday that was open, allowing us to examine so many of the specific issues and questions our friends had about race, their own immigrant backgrounds, and what our role was in shaping society. We considered how we, in each of our bodies and the histories tagged on us by those bodies, could move through our neighborhoods and work places. We stumbled through our questions, those points where experience limited our understanding of perspective, and crept forward, learning and asking questions and offering feedback.

I was reminded of a scene that happens somewhat often on Fulton Street in the mornings. There is a disable veteran, confined to a wheelchair, who arrives and departs from Fulton on the bus. Near the corner where his bus leaves, there is a deli with a cashier who “looks Middle Eastern*.” Some days, this man moves his wheelchair as close as he can to the step outside the Deli and yells with the strangled breathe of someone who has lost so much. The sound is quiet, but the words are like knives when you can hear them properly. The stair prevents this man from reaching the cashier, but each time he knocks the stair with his wheelchair, you can hear the determination in his voice to one day reach this “enemy” he has identified for himself.  [*This is an oversimplification, but this seems to be how the veteran identified him, based on the things he yells through the door at the cashier.]

It is frightening. I feel for the cashier as much as I feel for the veteran. Both of their pain is visible on their faces and the strained voice of the veteran. And I asked our group, what is our role in this? How does one act? Or do we keep to ourselves, outside these spaces and stay in our own small corners of the city?

It reminded me of the structure my friend, now an Army Ranger, has described within his first year of basic training. So many of our troops come from families where there realistically weren’t many other options. And often, returning from war did not mean better opportunities or support.

We talked, briefly, about underserved veterans and mental health… and the experience of going abroad to war, to a defined “enemy,” and then returning home to see people who had fled violence and had come to resettle into a new country… who looked like the communities these troops were fighting in another context. And here was a perfect scene describing Brooklyn, this city at the borders of the world… and the challenges that come with that.

I didn’t leave with answers, but, as always, I intend to keep exploring.

What’s Going On At Yale? A Reading List.

What you should see: First and foremost, this is what the protest at Yale looked like. Language on their banners read: We are Loved. We are here to stay.

This is not the image of hostility and aggression portrayed by most of the media. One video clip of a student screaming at Professor Christakis went viral and, unfortunately, was used to set the tone for so many of the articles that came out covering the events on campus.

Updated on November 17: President Salovey addressed Yale and the alumni network with his response. He is increasing funding to all four cultural houses, improving training to talk about diversity for students and Yale’s staff (professors and administrators), improving financial aid for low income students, providing mental health providers through the cultural houses (to provide mental health professionals versed in more of the background their students are coming from), and investing further resources into programs like ethnicity, race and migration that offer academic opportunities outside the traditional “Canon.

The students marched to President Salovey’s house on November 12, 2015 and presented their list of demands at 11:50pm. This is the final list of their demands, as presented that evening.

BACKGROUND:

This was the email that students receive every year from the IAC regarding their approach to Halloween costumes.

This is the email about Halloween by Erika Christakis that sparked some of the initial conversations about communities on campus. I suggest reading the full copy, rather than the quotes pulled out of context for several publications online. As of November 18, 2015, the University has confirmed its support for Master Christakis in his appointment to Silliman College.

I kept asking students for a better sense of what was going on and was presented with this list of demands from the community at DOWN magazine (a Yale student publication) as it stands on November 11, 2015.

The order of events in the last week, as presented by a student.

This is the statement issued by the President of Yale Peter Salovey regarding their commitment to a “better Yale,” sent to students on November 6, 2015.

This was the statement sent by Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway on November 6, 2015.

This is another piece on the broader context of the protests by an alum. It is particularly powerful and going viral through the Yale alumni network that appears regularly in my facebook newsfeed (11/11/2015). The Yale Daily News also followed up with several members of the alumni to gather and present their reactions.

I keep hearing from students still on campus that they are afraid and that the organizers face regular threats. That campus no longer feels safe. Today (11/11/2015) the Yale Daily News published a story about racist signs that appeared on campus… apparently from non-students. It doesn’t describe the atmosphere in the same ways that students have described it to me, but we need to keep paying attention.

Maybe the hardest part is reading the headlines every morning. Some are reflective of what the students are saying and asking for… others are clickbait or trying to place the story in a quick context for what else is going on in the US around race relations. This means… the headlines are clunky at best.

For example, this Slate headline, “The Yale Student Protests Are Campus PC Wars At Their Best” is terrible and sounds like it’s going to be a frustrating read, but ends up giving some good perspective.

The Atlantic is being inconsistent (and sometimes needs to do better research before it writes about subjects outside of context). For example, we started with this from them: This article published Monday claims this is all a meltdown about a single email. They followed up with this article on Tuesday to add more context and adding that it was less about the specific email and more about the long overdue conversations about race, class and privilege that were missing on campus.

Those that read only the articles about the isolated email incident have taken to calling Yale students “children” and asking “where the adults are.” Several Yale alumni have published pieces about their own experiences at Yale and their concerns with speakers invited to campus, but their own “restraint” in interacting with these speakers… which again, doesn’t bring the larger context of race and class etc. on campus.

The authors from these particular articles need to read this older piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates and think about the experiences he describes so well here.

I will continue adding to this as I find decent sources.