Thursday, January 19, 2017

Looking for some non-fiction?

I used to read about 99% fiction, and every once in awhile slip in a non-fiction book - like if Malcolm Gladwell came out with something new - but in past years, I'd say I've upped the non-fiction portion of my plate to about 40%, maybe even 50%.  Some of this is because I generally find news difficult to digest, but I know I need to be informed on certain topics - so a book is generally a good way for me to stay slightly educated.  I also really like memoirs, so those have increasingly become popular - both for me, and seemingly as a way for people to get published.  I also tend to read a lot of non-fiction that is relevant to the work I do professionally, so that means a lot about race and the criminal justice system.  Whatever the case, here are a few non-fiction books I've read recently:

Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor: Mr. Senghor grew up in Detroit and at a young age found himself abandoned by his family and selling drugs.  He ended up in prison, serving time for second degree murder.  Now, Mr. Senghor is a free man who speaks across the country about his transformation in prison, and works tirelessly to speak out against the evils of mass incarceration in this country.  This is a powerful and touching memoir that sheds light, not just on the incredible life on one individual, but on all of us and the criminalization of African-American youth that we've allowed to develop and persist in this country.  I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Senghor speak about his life and his book - and he is definitely a voice of change that I hope we will keep seeing more from.

Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?:  After a charged training session on implicit bias and race in the criminal justice system, a couple of us in my office decided to start a Diversity Book Club - a space for us to read books about race and to come together in a (hopefully) safe space to talk about them.  We stared with Dr. Tatum's book because it seemed to go back to the basics with respect to explaining race.  I really appreciate the basic message that we don't live in a color-blind society, and to pretend otherwise or to make comments such as, "I don't see race, I only see people" is to deny the very real reality of racism that is going on all around us.  Dr. Tatum is frank about the need to discuss issues of race early and often, and that by talking about race we aren't encouraging children to see differences, but acknowledging that they already see those differences, and helping to support an understanding around that.  This book is a great resource for starting discussions with friends and family, and includes many recommendations for further reading on the topics raised in the book.  I appreciate that Tatum also touched on multiculturalism in her discussions.

Waking up White: Debby Irving: This was another Diversity Book Club pick - a memoir by a well-intentioned white woman who has a racial "awakening" later in life and attempts through this book to stress the importance of having discussions about race, and the importance of white people reflecting on their own race and privilege.  I liked the basic premise of the book, and this author is nothing if not brave in exposing her complete ignorance about race relations.  Her willingness to put herself in awkward situations time after time and to make mistakes when it comes to talking about race is commendable - and probably the only way most people are going to make any head-way on this issue.  That being said, she also comes across as very irritating and tiresome.  She has questions at the end of each chapter for the reader to reflect on, and the general consensus at our book group was that these questions seemed to be for younger readers, and for the most part directed at white readers (perhaps her assumption being that mostly people from backgrounds similar to hers would read this book).  There is a lot to complain about with respect to this book, but at the same time, I can think of so many well-intentioned people who would really benefit from reading it.  Perfect for someone who believes in racial equality, but recognizes that they have their own biases with respect to races other than their own, and wants to figure out some way to bridge that gap and become a better ally and advocate in our ever-present fight against racism in this country.

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