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Posts Tagged ‘anti-racism’

We’re halfway through October, and while I’ve been running (and writing about running), I’ve also been reading. Here’s the latest roundup:

Total Recall, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski’s 10th adventure finds her investigating a man who says he’s a Holocaust survivor. Worried by the man’s behavior and its distressing effect on her friends Max and Lotty, V.I. tries to figure out if he’s legit. This one dragged a bit, though the historical angle was interesting.

The Secrets of Bones, Kylie Logan
Cadaver dog trainer and admin assistant Jazz Ramsey is stunned when one of her demonstrations turns up a real body. She begins investigating the skeleton, which may belong to a former colleague. This was an engaging enough mystery plot, but not as good as Jazz’s previous adventure.

The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found, Karina Yan Glaser
It’s fall in Harlem and the Vanderbeeker kids are caught off guard when the mysterious person sleeping in the garden shed turns out to be a friend of theirs. I love this series; this installment is sweet and funny, and a thoughtful take on a complicated situation faced by a lot of children. (I scored some fun swag since I pre-ordered my copy from NYC’s Books of Wonder. Support indie bookstores!)

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton
I’ve loved Julie Andrews’ work since I was a little girl; The Sound of Music is one of my all-time faves. This memoir covers Andrews’ early years in Hollywood (including Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) and her next two decades in film, plus her marriage to brilliant, mercurial director Blake Edwards. Warm, charming and really fun for Andrews fans.

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, Tessa Arlen
Aspiring screenwriter Poppy Redfern is sent to an airfield to interview several “Attagirls” – female pilots. But when two of the squad’s most experienced members die in crashes, Poppy and her American beau, Griff, suspect foul play. I love a British mystery and this one was really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

West Wind, Mary Oliver
It’s no secret I’m an Oliver fan, and these poems/prose poems are lovely and luminous and tinged with melancholy. I especially love “Morning Walk” and the last one, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
This is definitely one of the books of 2020 – I’ve been working on it for two months. Kendi shares his own story of coming to grips with his internalized anti-Black racism, along with defining and exploring terms like assimilationist, segregationist, etc. It gets dense at times, but is strong and thought-provoking. It’s increasingly clear to me that racism goes far beyond overt harmful acts, and it’s up to all of us to reckon with that.

The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen
Newlywed Lady Georgiana O’Mara (nee Rannoch) is at a loose end when her husband is traveling. But her best friend Belinda turns up and they take off down to Cornwall together, to look at a property Belinda has inherited. Before long, they find themselves staying at the local great house and caught up in a murder mystery. A fun homage to Rebecca and an engaging entry in this series.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I love de los Santos’ warm, thought-provoking novels about family, and I loved revisiting this one. It is the story of Taisy and Willow, estranged sisters who finally discover each other (and themselves), but it’s about more than that: love and second chances and the stories we tell about our lives. So good.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: TridentFrugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

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This is the summer, as I said recently, of antiracist reading (along with sunflowers and bike rides and strawberries). On a recent Monday afternoon, a friend and I decided to explore with both our feet and our brains: we met up in Beacon Hill to walk the Boston Black Heritage Trail.

I’ve lived in Boston for a decade now, and I used to wander Beacon Hill frequently when I worked at Emerson College. But I didn’t know this trail existed until recently, and the more sites we found and the more snippets I read aloud from the National Park Service website, I wondered: why not?

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Like many American schoolchildren, I learned certain parts of Boston history: Paul Revere’s famous ride, the Boston Tea Party. I walked most of the Freedom Trail as a newcomer to Boston, ten years ago. I knew Boston was a center for the abolitionist movement (though it is also persistently racist). But I didn’t know about so many of the folks we learned about on the Black Heritage Trail: their names or their occupations or their contributions to the ongoing fight for Black freedom.

The trail comprises about a dozen sites, starting at the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, a volunteer infantry regiment made up of Black soldiers (made famous in the movie Glory). The memorial itself is closed for restoration right now, but there’s a great temporary exhibition wrapped around the fencing, so you can still learn about the soldiers of the 54th.

Most of the trail’s other sites are former homes of Black people who fought for the abolition of slavery, helped house people escaping enslavement, helped integrate schools and churches in Boston, and played other important roles in Black community life. There are two former schools along the trail: the Abiel Smith School, the first Black public school in Boston, and the Phillips School, which became one of Boston’s first integrated schools.

The trail ends at the Smith Court Residences and the African Meeting House (now the Museum of African American History), which seem to have been the epicenter of Black life in Boston in the late 19th century. But even as we walked, we saw plaques on other buildings noting people who had lived and worked for abolition and Black rights in the neighborhood.

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I might never have seen these plaques, or any of these houses, if I hadn’t been looking for them – and I kept wondering: why not? Why aren’t we taught these stories, alongside those of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams and John Hancock? Why had I never heard of Lewis and Harriet Hayden or George Middleton or Elizabeth Smith? I want to find out more about them now – but their stories should not be tucked down a side street. They should be highlighted, celebrated.

So much of the work of adulthood, for me, is paying attention: noticing the details of each day, really listening to my loved ones when we’re talking, not simply scrolling or sleepwalking through this life. The work of anti-racism also involves paying attention: seeking out the stories we don’t know, the ones that have been ignored or erased or shunted aside. This walk, this trail, is a small beginning. I’m glad we went, and I’m committed to finding out more.

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This is the summer of simple breakfasts: Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries in the blue-and-white bowls I bought from Carolyn. I eat sitting at my kitchen table, sipping ginger peach or English Breakfast from one of my favorite mugs.

This is the summer of morning pages: filling up slim notebooks with scribbled thoughts, jottings, worries, hopes, half-remembered dreams. I went to Bob Slate right when quarantine started and spent a small fortune on journals, which have lasted up until now.

This is the summer of morning runs, down the hill to the harborwalk and over to the greenway, pausing to snap photos of harbor views and herons, wild roses and day lilies.

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This is the summer of purple sneakers pounding on pavement, I’m With Her or the Highwomen in my ears, pulling up my neck gaiter when I pass another person, wishing I could stop to pet the friendly dogs.

This is the summer of masks: wearing, washing, pulling up and down, wondering if I should buy more, on repeat.

This is the summer of long bike rides, alone or with G on my new single-speed pink bike, gradually gaining confidence in hills and corners, thankful for a way to avoid public transit and be out in the sunshine.

This is the summer of missing normal: canceled plans, Zumix concerts in the park, dinner with friends, time with my family, hugs.

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This is the summer of Sara Paretsky: I’m deep into V.I. Warshawski’s adventures fighting crime in Chicago and I think it’s safe to say I am obsessed.

This is the summer of Tuesdays at the farmers’ market, buying salsa roja and berries and sometimes hummus or muhammara, from the handful of sellers who wait faithfully on the plaza. After we shop, we sit in the grass and snack, savoring tart currants and sweet strawberries before heading our separate ways, toward home.

This is the summer of so much time and feeling like I should be doing something with it.

This is the summer of yoga in the park, spreading my mat out a safe distance from everyone else and breathing through sun salutations and hip openers.

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This is the summer of light on the water, watching sailboats and dinghies and yachts on the harbor, marveling at how it changes from hour to hour.

This is the summer of antiracist reading: Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, Mildred D. Taylor and Nikki Giovanni, making a conscious effort to seek out stories by people who don’t look like me.

This is the summer of Downeast cider – no samples, but cans or growlers picked up to go, refreshing fruit flavors with a little bite.

This is the summer of serious loneliness, trying to build in phone chats and/or in-person connection every day. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s simply exhausting.

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This is the summer of smoothies at Eagle Hill Cafe, a new favorite in Eastie – I’m working my way through their smoothie list.

This is the summer of reading e-galleys for review; I still don’t like it but I am used to it by now. I am thankful to pick up physical books at the library, and drop in at my favorite bookstores occasionally.

This is the summer of waiting: for the pandemic to be over, for my unemployment to come through (finally), for news about my furlough status, for a time when we can gather without fear.

What does this summer look like for you?

 

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Like millions of Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a lot of reading, listening and processing. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the ensuing protests, and the waves of activism and helpful resources popping up everywhere have all been rightfully demanding my attention.

I’m a few chapters into White Fragility (“like all the other white people,” my friend Ally joked last week). I’m listening to podcast interviews with Black leaders, finding Black-owned businesses to support and following new-to-me accounts on Instagram run by Black folks. (One of my favorites: Black Librarians, which highlights – what else? – Black librarians doing excellent work in their field.)

It’s tempting to think that is enough: that exposing myself to new ideas, information and voices will root out my own biases. It will help, of course, but it is not nearly enough. I keep thinking, too, about a poem I found back in early 2016: Veronica Patterson’s “A Charm Against the Language of Politics.”

Patterson’s poem begins:

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose.

Patterson’s poem talks about pleasant things, beautiful things: spiderwebs, apples, okra, calendula. Racism and violence are not nearly as appealing, but they are real, and we have to stop ignoring them.

If we are to face racism and work to end it, we must name it, and that means naming a host of other things: specific laws and policies that discriminate against Black people; instances of violence and murder (historical and present-day); our own sometimes-hidden biases against (various) people who do not look like us. It also means, for me, naming my own whiteness, and working to understand how it has shaped me.

In conversations with friends and family, I am trying to stop vaguely referring to “everything that’s going on.” If I mean my ongoing anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, I say that. If I mean the sadness, outrage and drinking-from-a-firehose overwhelm of trying to process all this new information about race and racism, I say that. Sometimes I think about Albus Dumbledore, gravely reminding Harry, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I was taught to ignore or sidestep race, especially the racial identities of brown and black people, and thus to ignore racism (or insist that it had been solved). But we cannot hope to solve a problem we don’t name. So, for me, it starts (in part) with naming.

Where are you finding yourselves these days, in the work of acknowledging and working to end racism in the U.S.? I’m still overwhelmed (and ashamed at how long it’s taking me to catch up), but I’m here for the work. Let’s learn together.

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I posted this book stack the other day on Instagram – it was/is the result of a quick scan of my shelves, pulling off books by black authors that have been (for me) powerful and thought-provoking. Some are longtime favorites, some newer discoveries.

Like any book list, it is only a small beginning. I am reading and listening to black voices on social media: Osheta Moore, Austin Channing Brown, Well-Read Black Girl. I am ordering and placing library holds on books by black authors. I signed a NAACP petition calling for an independent investigation into the murder of George Floyd, and broader police reform. I donated to my local bail fund after more than 50 protesters were arrested this weekend in Boston.

None of this is “enough” or gets me off the hook for doing more. I share what I’ve been doing because so many of us white folks don’t know where to start. But we have to start, if we haven’t already. Until everyone is able to thrive in this country, the work will not be done. And we have to look hard at our own hearts – our biases and hesitation and fear – because the real work happens internally, too.

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