Bookclubs: A call to Action against Racism

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Until recently most Americans had difficulty finding us on a map in the middle of the country. Because of George Floyd and police brutality we will be forever linked to the events that occurred on May 25th, starting a chain of protests across our nation and beyond. My emotions since then have turned from profound sadness to anger and now to needing to create some long lasting justice out of this event.

Over the past week I have reached out to acquaintances that have been active in racism education, inquiring whether they could speak to my bookclub and help us to understand our history as well as a new way forward. The answer I received was short and to the point. “Nope. Thanks for asking but we (African Americans) have been writing about this for years and now white people need to use all that material to educate themselves.”

I am hopeful that this will be a “different time and a different season”, the words spoken by Al Sharpton at George Floyd’s eulogy, and this can finally be the time to change the conversation around racial inequality. But for that to happen, we need to move beyond protesting and determine how we got to this point before change happens. Americans in rural parts of this country, who may never see a person of color other than on tv, are just as much in need of education as those of us who interact with a multi-racial population every day. Rural or urban, books and tv are available to all of us.

I would like to see book clubs, ubiquitous in every state and country, as a good starting point to ignite discussions around racism as well as a path forward for change. Each community in this country is unique and therefore transformation should also be unique. The discussion of a book is an opportunity to better understand what the author intends while also attempting to recognize how each reader uses their worldview and life experiences to form an opinion.

If every book club in this country would commit to reading one book on racism each year for the next five years, we could continue this conversation and affect change both in our community and in our children. Arm yourself with knowledge and allow the written words and experiences to open up a different world. Don’t walk away when the discussions become uncomfortable. It is in that space that understanding can happen. Ask your local independent bookstore to not only order your chosen book but to also stock additional books about racism so that other patrons may benefit. And finally, when your book club has finished the book, please donate them to the public library so that there is a supply for those who are unable to afford purchasing books.

Children and teens are no different. They need to see children that look like them in a story as well as children that appear different and have experiences that they see as foreign. When children/teens don’t hear diverse stories of others, they learn to fear what is unknown….just like adults. Book clubs can use their financial capabilities to purchase and donate books to school libraries and classrooms while also stocking those same books on home bookshelves for their children to read.

The lists of anti-racist books are endless and include both fiction and non-fiction. Out of this list of 61 books by Ibram X. Kendi, I think most book clubs could find a few that interest them. Children’s books don’t necessarily need to highlight racism, but can help to initiate conversations about differences and how we react to those differences in people, whether it is skin tone, religion, country of origin or socio-economic level.

We as white Americans are responsible for making this a different time and season. We need to commit to move the anti-racist caravan forward, however slowly, to create a better world for our children.