This Month in Reality: Book lists and Syllabi

A lot of terrible things have happened…well, all of human history might accurately categorized as action and reaction when terrible things happen. One of those actions that people can take is educating oneself and trying to be a better person and/or not be as much a part of the problem. I have been heartened to see what might be a new trend in book lists: the syllabus. (Can a tool for teaching in the classroom be thought of as a “new” trend out of the classroom?) I am always happy to see thematic lists and I’m always looking for new things to read, so I have been collecting them. Some of the following are actual syllabuses for college courses and some of them are just curated lists on a topic. I’ve got them and I’ve been looking back through them now that I’m aware of how far behind I am on my reading challenge. While I was looking at them, I thought I might share them with you.

This first link is an in-depth list but together following the mass shooting in Charleston in June of 2015. This list is amazing in its detail. It provides historical context starting with a general overview before readings on slavery in both the North and the South before going onto the civil war, reconstruction, and Jim Crow. There are readings on race and religion. There are readings on white identity construction and white supremacy in the US and abroad.

The next syllabus I have to offer is the Black Lives Matter 2016 Fall Syllabus. This syllabus was put together by Professor Frank Leon Roberts at NYU for a class. This is a nice syllabus because it includes not only papers and texts to read but it also includes videos and films to watch. The syllabus also includes writing prompts for reflection papers, so while you are reading and watching, you can also do some digesting.

The Standing Rock Syllabus, put together by the NYC stands with Standing Rock collective includes readings on topics like settler colonialism, the histories of indigenous peoples in North America, environmental racism, and readings on Indian sovereignty and treaty law.

The Lemonade syllabus grew out of a desire that many people had to understand and better get all of the references in Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade. It was put together by Candice Benbow and is beautiful. It is stunningly laid out, once you’ve followed the link from the site. It is 36 pages and includes space to make notes and to write down the date when you finished reading. The syllabus is divided into topics that include (but are not limited to) fiction, non-fiction, black feminism, womanist theology, photography, music, critical theory and poetry. It is so cool. People had questions, they took to twitter and using a hashtag gave each other answers.  I cannot understate how in awe of this syllabus I am.

The Luke Cage Syllabus is a look at the literature in the netflix show Luke Cage but together by Tara Betts at Black Nerd Problems. These are books that are seen or referenced in the show. This syllabus is my convenient excuse for re-watching the show.

These last two I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to look over yet. One of them is a google doc and I’m not sure who it is edited by but it is a reading list for white people who want to educate themselves so that they can be more informed. It is divided up thematically and includes readings on systemic racism and racist ideology, the history of black lives matter and readings on steps you can take to combat racism. The last one is from Haymarket books and is called the Stop Trump Reading List. This list contains books that talk may help you understand how Trump was elected and it includes a link to a list of books especially for young people.

So, there you have it. Syllabi and reading lists to help you find your next book(s) and  to learn a little about issues in the world and also about references in pop culture you may be missing!

If you have any suggestions or have seen any reading lists/syllabi out there that I missed, please take to the comments and let me know!

 

This Month in Reality: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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When I posted my “What I’m Listening to” for this book I said that, just in the first chapters, I kept getting a lot of Tupac lyrics stuck in my head. In particular the line, “Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” This book made me in turns fucking furious, and heartbroken and uncomfortable, and increasingly aware that the U.S. is doing a big thing badly and that big thing is incarcerating citizens.

In this book, Michelle Alexander examines America’s prison systems and makes the argument that mass incarceration is a system of racial control that has taken the place of Jim Crow. And, her argument is pretty convincing. She looks at how, not all at once, but little by little changes have been made that have largely affected poor people and people of color. She looks at changes in the welfare system, changes in policing, the militarization of policing, and changes in drug policy.

Last year, I heard Piper Kerman speak at a local library function and this revisited some of the things that she touched on in her talk (and that at friend of mine touched on in a chat after the talk). We send a lot of people to prison. We send people to prison for murder. We send people to prison for rape (although, not often and not for very long but that’s a topic of discussion for another day). And, we send lots and lots of people to prison for non-violent drug offenses. How are we serving these people by putting them away for non-violent crime? How are we serving their communities by taking them out of the community? How are we serving them and their communities by disenfranchising them after they have served their time? How are we serving them and their communities by making access to welfare and public housing impossible after being convicted of a felony? I get it, if people do “bad” things, you don’t want to feel like you’re rewarding them. But, if you have nothing because you’ve just spent many years in prison and you want to do right and get back into the world, how can you do that with so many avenues closed off to you?

I don’t know.

This book raised way more questions than it answered for me but I am glad that I read it even if it means I now have to spend time thinking about these issues and how I can help set them right.

Quick Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Featured imageI’m going to be brief because I don’t want to be spoilery and also want to wait until Kate finishes it to talk in more detail. I will say it was a truly powerful novel.  A dystopian novel set on the African continent.  Onyesonwu is born from rape and because of it is an outcast but she has a destiny that will change the world. I admit that I haven’t ready many books that take place in Africa so this was a new voice for me. At times it confusing and it was also horrifying.  Nnedi Okorafor does not shy away from the ugliest and violent moments of the novel and it’s equal parts terrifying as it is uncomfortable.  It’s an unflinching portrait of racism and sexism and how both corrupt a society.  Onye is not only a woman but also Ewu, a child born of violence from an Okeke women and Nuru man.  She is shunned by most and seen as both worthless by many more.  When it becomes clear that she is more then normal, she repeatedly turned away from the local sorcerer not because she isn’t extraordinary but because she is a woman.  One has to wonder, how differently things would have turned out if she started training when she first asked to but I guess we will never know.  When she finally unleashes her power and saves the day it’s a sight to see.  My favorite part of the novel is the friendship from Onye and Luyu.  At first, they are just two girls who are in the same class, who are forced together thanks to a common experience shall we say but as they grow they become closer.  They give each other strength and support.  They each show bravery and different ways.  I truly don’t believe that Onye would have made it through without her.  Mwita may be the love her life and soulmate, more then a soulmate really but it’s Luyu who is the back bone.  She keeps everyone grounded in a way.  Her bravery is truly inspiring because unlike Onye and Mwita who have varying degree of powers, Luyu is nothing but human but she knows there are bad things happening and will do anything to help Onye stop them.  This isn’t an easy book to read but what the characters go through are not meant to be easy.  If you feel uncomfortable because it’s supposed to be uncomfortable.  You should be horrified at the lengths people will go for an idea and belief.  It truly was a great book.