Compiled and written by Livia Caligor
As Toni Morrison shared with The Guardian in 1992, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” In a riveting dialogue on the implications of the African-American identity, she begs her readers to question what it means to be hyphenated, how it feels to be considered American by law but a second-class category of citizens by practice. What does this exactly mean for people of color in this country, especially Black and indigenous people of color?
To be an African-American, an Asian-American, a Latinx-American person in this country denotes something very different from being just an American. All of us “Americans” were born or naturalized in the United States, yet non-white individuals are still considered to be half an American, their rights compromised and exploited for the benefit of white communities. Racial empathy has its limits, and to this day it is nearly impossible to comprehend the stifled rights and mistreatment of Black communities in particular.
Two decades later, Morrison’s words still ring loud and clear, more relevant than ever in the wake of George Floyd’s brutal death. His death is a reminder of the vile institutionalized racism and violence against Black communities in our country, galvanizing protests, social media campaigns and fundraisers across the globe. But though social media has become a conduit for sharing resources and starting conversations, a viral hashtag barely scratches at the surface of the systemic racism upon which our country was founded. To be able to partake in conversations of the Black Lives Matter movement — on the periphery, without personal experiences — is an inherent privilege.
Before donating, signing petitions or even protesting, it is necessary to listen, learn and raise the voices of members of the Black community. Allies must create safe spaces for Black voices to share their insight and experiences — after all, perpetuating a social media trend or donating to a grassroots organization without understanding the impact on and perspective of the Black community is futile. We must educate ourselves on Black discrimination throughout history and the way in which it manifests itself to this day. We must understand our role as allies in dismantling racial hierarchies; racial empathy is crucial to political progress.
Luckily, there are a myriad of resources from books and podcasts to TV shows and movies that can help us get there. Especially during quarantine, we should use this time to diversify our bookshelf and explore the complexities of racism. Here’s a list of the top five books, podcasts, TV shows and movies to kick things off. And, remember that supporting Black-owned businesses is essential to allyship — if possible, try to purchase your books from a local or online Black-owned bookstore.
- Beloved (1987)
Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is inspired by the story of an African American slave who runs away to a free state at the cost of her child’s life. In this spellbinding novel, the protagonist Sethe grapples with her life of freedom as she remains enslaved by memory, trauma and the ghost of her baby Beloved. It offers a glimpse into the violence, sexual underpinning and stark objectification of enslaved women during the Civil War and its lasting impact thereafter. A vividly haunting book of the century, Beloved makes you completely rethink the intersection of race and sexuality, the power of memory and what it means to love.
- How to Be an AntiRacist (2019)
Written by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an AntiRacist recounts the history of racial injustice in America, while challenging its readers to play an active role in dismantling racial hierarchies and discriminatory institutions. Kendi examines the ubiquitous and subconscious nature of racial prejudice — especially in relation to gender, sexual orientation and class — implicitly challenging his readers to realize and reconsider their subconscious biases.
- They Can’t Kill Us All (2016)
In this account, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery explores the historical underpinnings and stark reality of police brutality. After conducting hundreds of interviews in Ferguson, Cleveland, Charleston and Baltimore, Lowery offers an intimate portrait of the impact of police brutality along with the growing Black Lives Matter movement that formed in response. They Can’t Kill Us All examines the lasting implications of Michael Brown’s death and the Black community’s battle with violence, racial injustice and discrimination.
- Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
Citizen is a book-length poem by Claudia Rankine that fuses historical analysis, personal anecdote and various forms of text and media as it explores the intricacies of racial hierarchies in the United States. She delves into the complexity of Black discrimination, which is often manifested in microaggressions, and the impact of historical racism on our “post-race” society. This powerful book really challenges its readers to address their accountability as allies and rethink the ubiquity of racial oppression.
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism (2018)
In this book, Robin DiAngelo coins the eponymous term “white fragility,” the way in which white people react and defend themselves during conversations of racism, recounting her personal experiences with it throughout her career as a diversity and inclusion training facilitator. The book serves as a comprehensive guidebook for its readers to challenge their own racial prejudices.
1619 is an audio series created by The New York Times Magazine in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America. The 1619 Project aims to reframe American history, centering the year when slavery was brought to the country as the beginning of America, as opposed to 1776, the country’s official birthdate. The podcast, which delves into pivotal moments in American history in relation to the country’s developing anti-Blackness, explores the genesis of American slavery and the maniestation of its consequences to this day.
Developed by None on Recording, Afroqueer shares the stories of queer African Americans across the diaspora. While it shares honest and often horrific truths about the African American queer experience, it is predominantly a celebration of queer love and the way in which it is shaped and influenced by migration, race, censorship and class. Afroqueer reminds us all to view Black Lives Matter from an intersectional perspective, bringing light to the stories of one of the most marginalized groups in our country.
Created by Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Eddo-Lodge examines the impact of recent history on racial politics today. She investigates the way white communities approach the topic of racism and the structural racism that formed “colorblind” thinking. In this series, she interviews key proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and other forms of racial justice activism in recent history.
QueerWOC was created as a space for those with femme-identifying women of color and those with marginalized gender, sexual and racial identities to come together. The podcast is co-hosted by Nikeeta, a Black feminist activist, and Money, a mental health professional who focuses on the needs of queer and trans women of color. Each of their episodes features a new queer woman of color, and together they dissect the intersection of race and sexuality in regards to mental health. QueerWOC hosts candid and eye-opening conversations that are especially relevant this month as Pride Month and Black Lives Matter intersect.
BBC World’s Witness Black History interviews prominent figures in black and civil rights history. From Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and journalist Moneta Sleet to fashion designer Ann Lowe and model Beverly Johnson, the podcast features influential figures who have often been written out of history. Each segment is about 10 minutes in length, so it’s the perfect podcast to listen to on the go.
TV SHOWS, MOVIES, & DOCUMENTARIES
13th is a powerful documentary on the criminalization of African Americans and the role of race in the US prison boom. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the documentary contends that American slavery and reconstructionist legislation are still manifested today through mass incarceration. She interviews several renown activists and political figures throughout the piece, from Angela Davis to Cory Booker. This thought-provoking piece, which is now available on Netflix, functions as a call to action, inspiring viewers to take a stand against racial inequality.
Dear White People is a 3-season television series about the lives of several black students at an Ivy League university. Each episode features a different character throughout their day to day battle with microaggressions and slights at a predominantly white institution. Narrated through a humorous lens, this thought-provoking comedy is the perfect show to add to your quarantine watch list.
Directed by 13th’s Ava DuVernay, When They See Us is based on the tragic indictment of five young African American men who were falsely accused of and charged with the rape and assault of a Central Park jogger. Narrated through a four-part television show, DuVernay walks us through the prosecution and sentences of the five suspects: Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk is a 2018 romantic drama based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Set in New York City in the 1970s, the protagonist Tish reminisces upon her love and relationship with Fonny, her childhood best friend and fiance. Friends since childhood, they create a life together despite the obstacles they face until Fonny is falsely accused of a crime. This beautiful adaptation honors the strength of Tish and Fonny’s unbreakable love in a cruel and discriminatory world.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma is a 2014 historical drama based off of the marches from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights in 1965. Facilitated by James Bevel, leader of the Civil Rights Movement, and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams and John Lewis, the participants in the three marches protested in support of African Americans’ right to vote. The movie chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure voting rights for African Americans; this powerful and gripping performance tells the story of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. permanently changed American history.
Featured image by LaylaBird via Getty
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