Personally, I start with art.
Well, I start with reading. Lately, I’ve been reading things that challenge me:
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Passing, Nella Larsen
- Waking Up White, Debby Irving
- Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit
- Paradise, Toni Morrison
These books aren’t all protest texts. Coates’s memoir tells his personal story about race in the United States. Larsen’s slim novel offers a poetic, chilling glimpse into middle class African American life in the early 20th century. Irving’s simply written memoir is like an all-the-basics how-to guide to facing your own privilege. Solnit’s book was written soon after George W. Bush took office and that alone makes it a perfect place to start. And Morrison’s sublime novel paints a portrait of what might have been and what can never be.
Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sonia Sanchez recently shared a stage to discuss art and social justice. Morrison said, in part:
“I want to remind us all that art is dangerous… The history of art, whether it’s in music or written or what have you, has always been bloody because dictators and people in office and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their plans… And it’s something that society has to protect. When you enter that field, no matter where you enter, whether it’s Sonia’s poetry or Toshi’s music or Ta-Nehisi’s rather starkly clear prose, it’s a dangerous pursuit. Somebody’s out to get you. You have to know it before you start, and do it under those circumstances, because it is one of the most important things that human beings do. That’s what we do.”
Okay, so maybe by the nature of art the books I’m reading really are all protest texts. They challenge a dominant paradigm. They encourage white Americans to approach the world differently. They remind me that I live at an intersection of race and gender, where I can use the privilege of my skin color to work for racial justice, even as I strive for women’s equality.
What are you reading? Where do you start?