Stranger Days #45: Thinking About White Supremacy and Learning About Black Identity

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

Book Cover - James Baldwin - Blues for Mister Charles
We all know that I like to read and if you don't know that, then this is your first time visiting this blog or you REALLY haven't been paying attention.  Even in this Stranger Days series, I've dedicated at least 6 books to books that I have read.  Now earlier, I shared things that I was reading that connected to this experience such as some interesting science-fiction that I had recently completed or some other interesting science-fiction and fantasy that I had completed. I shared about The Mysteries of the Motel, The Complete Etchings of Goya, and the challenges of reading Little Nemo in Slumberland. I also ordered you to read Scalzi's Interdependency Trilogy (have you yet?  what are you waiting for!).  

But I want to continue a bit of the conversation that I started in Little Nemo in Slumberland because several other books that I've read in the last month also focus on issues of race, gender, and US (and even global) culture. I'm going to discuss them in order of reading them as I feel that's the best way to make sense of them. 

Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

There's a lot here in this book that I have to revisit--especially after reading the following books (Note: I did not set out to intentionally read these books per se but they were all in my orbit). This feels a bit like a retrospective on Baldwin, his work, and his disenfranchisement with America's chance to actually and intentionally resolve its white supremacist past.  Glaude connects that disaffection with how and why the Republics accepted and uphold a racist populist such as Trump.  The book serves as a powerful reminder that the past is always with us and without reflecting and acknowledging it, we often perpetuate past injustices.   

Meridian by Alice Walker

Book cover to Meridian by Alice Walker
Reading this book reminded me that I need to read more of Alice Walker. The titular character, Meridian navigates the Civil Rights movement, relationships, and her own body in this novel set in the late 1960s. The plot-at times, chronologically shifting--explores her escaping adolescence, finding meaning during college (but not necessarily at college), and navigating relationships through the lenses of race and sex. She, a black man named Truman, and a white woman, named Lynne seem to circle each other with a larger commentary from Walker about the problems and limitations of the Civil Rights Movement at this time.  In some ways, this book captures some of the disappointment that Baldwin experiences and considers in Glaude's book, so to pick it up right after reading Glaude, felt like a strange extension.  

Ain't I a Woman by bell hooks

My experience in reading bell hooks is like reading Walker--whenever I finish, I realize I need to read more of her.  Ain't I a Woman is hooks' clear and distinct argument about how black women have been historically marginalized and ignored. In many ways, hooks is making a profound argument about intersectionality before KimberlĂ© Crenshaw at the end of the 1980s. hooks illustrates how black women have historically been alienated both from women's movements and Civil Rights movements while also showing how they have existed in doubly precarious positions from slavery up through the second half of the 20th century.  What I find so powerful hooks' argument is the way she captures the lines of tension amongst the different groups, teasing out how white supremacy and patriarchy made it harder in different and magnified ways.  As I was finishing listening to this book, I was at about the 2/3's through reading Meridian and I was surprised how much it felt like Meridian's story was in part, a blueprint for hooks' argument.

Blues for Mister Charles by James Baldwin

This play explores the tension of a Southern town after the murder of a young black man by a white man and the trial that follows.  The story focuses on the murder man's father, a Meridian Henry, a minister, the murderer, a white man named Lyle Britten, and the newspaper editor, Parnell James who has friendships with both men. The story is a reflection on manhood in a racialized society, a repudiation of justice, and a meditation on the allyship of white people. In this way, the play resonates so strongly with Meridian by Alice Walker--nevermind the same name is used in both by a main character.  What's doubly damning about Baldwin's play is how it could easily be adapted today and not miss much in terms of the inequity of outcomes for African Americans seeking justice in this country.   

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

That question of what it means to be a good ally and how does one continue to be as anti-racist as possible is something I think a lot about and have written about on this blog.  When I came across Layla F. Saad and her book, I knew I was going to read it. Unlike these other books, which are much about what, why, and when, Saad's book is about how.  Namely, she provides a workbook that readers can engage with fro 28 days (and continually return to for more reflection and insights) around understanding the ways white supremacy permeates our culture and has colonized much of our thoughts. For me, it became a place for me to think about and process some of the questions being raised in these other books and also ways of thinking about how I might better address white supremacy in the world.  

So these are the books that have been on my mind in the past few weeks and thought pulling together my insights would not just help me but make for a good post for folks to consider.  

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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