I earned two degrees of higher education, and when I say earned, y’all I sweated for six years for those coupons that hang on the wall of my office. I would ball up into a study cocoon with ridiculously large headphones in the study room of D2C, the basement of SWEM Library, classrooms in Morton and in my grad school home at #2 Fraternity Row where I did a surprising amount of writing papers and reading stacks on stacks of articles and books.
I take for granted all of the material that I was strongly encouraged to read during those years. I chose to be a Sociology major so I spent a great deal of time, in community with others, looking at the world through the lens of various social identities. I then went to a grad program that greatly valued diversity & inclusion which means I spent time digging even deeper into the Big 8. I had amazing professors and though I didn’t always enjoy those pages and pages of syllabi, I am now grateful for the depth and the challenge of my classroom education.
As I scroll through social media, watch the news, and experience the viewpoints of others, I am constantly amazed at the level of ignorance people have when it comes to race and ethnicity in America. There’s so much well-intentioned, “I didn’t know.” “I wasn’t exposed to that.” “I’m colorblind.” “We didn’t talk about this in my home or school.” “I didn’t grow up with people who are different from me.” “My parents/family members instilled these beliefs in me.” I don’t want to harp on that because there’s a whole lot of things I don’t know about many identities. We’ve all got our bubble of truth. However, what I think we all need in this world is the gumption to go beyond our often over forgiven excuses of truth.
If you truly care and you want to know more and be an active part of creating a better environment for all people, then it would be helpful if you used your Google finger to lead you to material that will aid you in ways that will create internal growth and change. Texts that can serve as a medium that will help you stock your toolkit with answers to the questions that are marinating in your head. This foundation will also help you start a conversation with someone in your life who’s open to chatting about the hard stuff — you know, the stuff you were probably told not to talk about at the dinner table.
Oftentime, we cite fear as being the reason that we don’t move towards learning and engagement. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “I don’t want to be called a racist.” The question becomes, do you care enough to face your fear? Ignorance isn’t bad, it just means that you don’t know and we all need to support each other in the fight to alleviate ignorance. This should be a collective goal, which is probably why I am passionate about my role as an educator.
If you do your homework, then I, as a person of color, will feel as if you have an investment in our dialogue and therefore I’m more than willing to chat it up until we have somewhere else to be, but when people come to me at ground zero, after they just finished Googling how to catch a Pokemon, who JoJo sent home on the Bachelorette, the latest on the Kim K, T.Swift, Kanye drama, or how to change the oil in their Toyota, then I really can’t be bothered. Because, in this day and age, when you want to know something, you look it up with a quickness. Be mindful that you have the same ability when it comes to race and ethnicity. Your “I don’t know.” has become a choice. Now you must deal with the consequences.
I didn’t have everything figured out about my racial identity when I entered the College of William & Mary in 2001. I had a lot of hang ups about my Blackness, my skintone, my not so great relationships with many of my African-American peers in high school, the constant state of being called an “Oreo” or being told that I “act like a white girl”. I was done with trying to fit into some mold of blackness that didn’t feel natural to me. I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison repeatedly. My Sociology classes and all of those unicorn professors helped me figure it out and not only did we have the best class conversations, but they gave me SO MUCH STUFF TO READ. I don’t think we could Google back in those days.
Your teachers never just told you the answers, you had a role to play in obtaining your education. Why would this be any different?
If you are wondering what you can do in these precarious times, if you have questions, if you’re just curious, then feed your mind. I don’t mind a good conversation but, I am not every black person–I can only tell you my truth. Ahem! Newsflash! This stuff is tiring and emotional. It’s exhausting to be the Encyclopedia of Blackness. To help me, help you, you’re going to have to help yourself.
In order to assist you on your journey, I made a list of some of those key texts that I read in college and graduate school. I also included a group of links below to curated book lists. I’m not going to lie, this stuff is heavy, and I remember having my mind blown while reading some of these texts as an 18-22 year old.
History is taught differently depending on where you live. I grew up in Virginia, a southern former member of the Confederacy state, 45 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg, with Jamestown and Yorktown in close proximity, and a huge military presence, so there was a great deal of emphasis on the origin story of our country. I had to learn, not until college, that history books glossed over and lied about many things.
Q: Whose truth gets told?
A: The truth of those in power. “Until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.”
It’s difficult to live from a place of awareness and knowledge when the institutions you’ve trusted with your education aren’t providing you with various versions of the truth or lying by omission.
Gain some new perspective. Evaluate new truths. Refine your truth. Read for you and read for those you care about in this world. You owe it to your potential. Reflect on the versions of truth that have guided your life and be open to disruption. Be open to the dissonance that occurs when you dig deep into a new space. THEN, ask the questions festering in your mind. Those questions are simply waiting…waiting for you to gather the courage to ask.
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Beverly Tatum
- A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America Ronald Takaki
- A People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn
- You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train Howard Zinn
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Peggy McIntosh
- How Jews Became White Folks Karen Brodkins
- The Souls of Black Folk W.E. B. DuBois
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- Race Matters by Cornel West
- Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong James Loewen
- A Hope in the Unseen Ronald Suskin
- White Privilege: Essential Readings On The Other Side of Racism Paula S. Rothenberg
- Privilege, Power, and Difference Allan G. Johnson
- Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth and Social Policy in America Dalton Conley
- Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. Melvin Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro
Vanderbilt’s Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence created an entire diversity toolkit here: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/iicc/resources/diversity/
*Reading Rainbow was just EVERYTHING!