Recent events, including the death of George Floyd during an attempted arrest for suspicion of forgery in Minneapolis, the encounter in Central Park between Christian Cooper, an African-American birdwatcher, and Amy Cooper, a white woman who did not want to leash her dog, and Breonna Taylor's death during a police raid at the wrong address in Louisville, have given rise to outrage, public protests, and social media hand wringing, much of which centers around the fact that systemic racism is a serious, ongoing problem in the United States and that it is up to white people to dismantle it.
Your public library is a great resource for information about how to understand systemic racism in the United States, in terms of how it manifests itself now, the history that has given rise to it, how we may be part of the problem, and what to do to make things better. We have compiled a list of resources that can serve as a "starter kit" for budding antiracists or perhaps a refresher course for those who have already started down the path and have been doing the work to face their own racism and to combat it in the world in which they find themselves. Here we will highlight a few of the books in the hope of starting or furthering the conversation.
How Did We Get Here?
One place to start in an exploration of the history that brought us to this point is The 1619 Project which was published in the New York Times Magazine in August 2019 and which posits, in the words of Nikole Hannah-Jones, that "Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true." Ms. Hannah Jones was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for the project which commemorates the arrival in the British "New World" of the first enslaved Americans. Last summer there was a display of books with "1619" in the title in the Social Sciences room at Central Library, which display lives on digitally via this booklist. Other recommendations that tell the story of enslaved people and the role of slavery in the United States economy (& not, FYI, just in the Southern states) and the aftermath (which wasn't necessarily that different from the institution of slavery) include: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, The Half Has Never Been Told, William Wells Brown, Birthright Citizens, and Jacob Lawrence.
What Can I Do? (for white folks)
Read, think, listen, talk, repeat. The listening (& this librarian considers reading to be a form of listening) is probably the most important piece, because it can inform our thinking, exploring our own racism, and our talking, where we try to bring our white friends and family along on our journey. While it might be tempting to ask your Black friend(s) and colleagues for guidance, most are exhausted by the emotional labor required to try to help the well-intentioned whites make their way through this confusing, complicated, conflict-ridden subject (not to mention dealing with less well-intentioned whites on a regular basis). The good news: there are books you can read (or listen to), and podcasts to subscribe to which can fill in for your Black friends' handholding, and even smart people on social media (it's not ALL bad, you know). The most aptly titled is probably Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be An Antiracist. Podcasts include NPR's Code Switch, Crooked Media's Pod Save the People, and 1619 and you might seek out Dr. Kira Banks (@DrKiraBanks) on FaceBook to find her Raising Equity videos and other wisdom.
I'm in a Book Club - Anything for Us?
You are in luck. St. Louis Public Library has "Book Clubs in a Bag" collections with books from all genres, including titles that can help your book group do a deep dive on topics related to race. These book club kits come with fifteen copies of the book and discussion questions in a nifty tote bag (or two, depending on the heft of the book) A few are referenced in our Antiracism Resources booklist; others to consider include The Blood of Emmett Till, The Bill of the Century, and The Color of Law (& that is just from scrolling down into the Cs - visit this link to scroll through the whole list).
What about the Kids?
The nonprofit organization We Stories "engages White families to change the conversation about and build momentum towards racial equity in St. Louis" - here is a link to a recent blog post about talking with kids about protesting. Some books pictured include Separate Is Never Equal and We March. I also recommend for middle school-aged kids the book Heart and Soul - I recently had the opportunity to join a Zoom discussion of the book and the issues it raised with a class of fifth graders and I know I learned a lot, and the illustrations are gorgeous.