Watch RNC or read a book? Not a hard choice

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With all the Trumped-up falsehoods and foolishness going down in Cleveland, and with 90-degree summer rolling into Minnesota, one good option for sanity is to tune out the madness and dive in to some non-traditional summer reading. According to MPR, some books are “flying off the shelves” as Minnesotans are “searching for ways to make sense of the violence and unrest.” In one of these flying books, A Good Time for the Truth, David Lawrence Grant writes:

“When we hear a white person say, ‘Oh, but I don’t even see color,’ the subtext we really hear tells us, loud and clear, that what they don’t see is us: that our identity, our perspective, our whole history is insignificant, not worthy of attention.”

I’ve read the books that are “flying off the shelves,” and I recommend all of them.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates leads the list. Framed as a letter to his 15-year-old son, the book is a deeply personal and searing account of living black in America. Toni Morrison compared this book, and Coates, to James Baldwin, and I think she’s right. (If you haven’t read Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, this would be a good time to do so — and to meditate on how much remains the same, 53 years later.)

Coates writes that “race is the child of racism, not the father,” and goes on to talk about people trying to become white:

“… they were something else before they were white – Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish- and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again.” (p. 6)

“The power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it, ‘white people’ would fail to exist.” (p. 41)

The book is short — only 176 pages — and worth reading and re-reading, as we grapple with the realities of race in the United States in 2016.

Like Between the World and Me, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is a national best-seller. Published a couple of years ago, this book is a well-researched and passionate look at how the criminal justice system reinforces the country’s racial caste system.

Coming closer to home, two anthologies offer voices of writers of color from Minnesota.

A Good Time for the Truth, another of the books “flying off the shelves” of local bookstores, features 17 Minnesota writers of color in “a multifaceted, dazzling view of life in the state beyond the stereotypes, under Minnesota Nice, and into the possibilities for our future.” I was sad when I came to the end of this book, with its grippingly good story-telling and intimately personal voices.

The anthology’s editor, Sun Young Shin, emphasizes the importance of race, as “in a split second, it can become and life and death matter.” At the same time, Shin writes:

“Our identities in society are intersectional — profoundly overlapping and complicated. This is not a new concept, and it is one that must always be addressed when we are parsing out threads of meaning and powerful constructs such as ‘race’ and the realities that racialized policies and relationships engender and maintain. None of us is just one thing and each axis is dynamic and interacts with the others. No one is ‘white’ and also not, for example, a woman, or a member of the LGBTQ or gender-nonconforming community, or poor, or rich, or disabled, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or atheist, or a member of any other in/voluntary category that may carry with it advantage sand disadvantages.”

A second anthology, Blues Vision, published last year as a joint project of the Minnesota Historical Society Press and the Minnesota Humanities Center, includes selections from an honor roll of Minnesota’s African American writers. essays, poetry, short stories, and excerpts from longer works. Editor Alexs Pates credits Davu Seru for research that “convinced me there was clearly a wealth of material to try to track down.”

We (especially, but not only, we white Minnesotans) need these books, these stories, these voices. Happily for us, these books offer not only important truths but also well-written, eminently readable stories by talented writers.

Next post: Fiction and poetry

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