Tag Archives: racism

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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I absolutely loved this book. I was hooked from the first page! The author tells a beautiful and emotional story while educating readers on difficult topics of racism, specifically within and between minority groups.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Highly Recommend
Challenge: Tournament of Books

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennettra

book coverThe Vanishing Half is a multi-generational story about two twin sisters who, after leaving their small town for greener pastures, diverge on widely different paths. One decides to use her lighter skin to pass for white, while the other marries and has a dark skinned child. The story is told out of order, and has many time jumps, however this happens in chunks (rather than every chapter), so the narrative is still easy to follow. Be warned, this book has racism, colorism and abuse, so if you are looking for a lighthearted read this is not for you.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Jo Hoppe
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Tournament of Books

 

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book cover“If you don’t laugh you’ll cry” I found myself thinking with each turn of the page of You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism. These first person accounts of racism – stories that took place over the course of a woman’s life – bring to light the everyday racism people of color encounter from the overtly hostile to the laughably ignorant. Some of the stories I read and thought “yes, I can believe that happened” while others blew me away and left me thinking “I can’t believe that happened”. I think that was the author’s intent – to alert even racism-aware readers of the extent to which POC encounter these incidents on a day to day basis, as well as validate those people who have experienced similar incidents.

The book is written in a humorous fashion but don’t think that dilutes its message. It does not pull any punches when it comes to the actual stories. It is a good read for those wishing to understand more fully the extent of racism in this country. For those who do not believe racism exists, this might be a good book to introduce the subject. It is factual but not accusatory, humorous without being silly. A good conversation starter for those who need to be brought into the conversation.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Stephanie Marsich
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2021

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book coverYou’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism was a fast but difficult read. I kinda go into a downward spiral every time I think about it. I mean the US has a huge problem, but this isn’t just a US problem. Racist parties and leaders are getting voted in left and right the world over. Hungary just revoked the human rights they’d given LGBT people. I’ve heard more stories about Alexei Navalny’s health during imprisonment than Aung San Suu Kyi’s. There’s vaccine nationalism left and right and us-first politics when we all know that if we don’t stop the pandemic everywhere then it ends nowhere.

Throughout the book Amber and Lacey reassure the reader that they’re okay, they have happy lives. I’m glad they do but none of what they relate is okay and much of it is downright traumatizing. I knew that this kind of stuff went on, hell I was there when my husband got “randomly” checked five (!) times at O’Hare airport during our layover, causing us to miss our flight to DC. He told me how he’d had to stand in line with the other people of color and listen to TSA make racist jokes while waiting for all the “random” checks to be completed. I was there when they finally “randomly” checked his luggage before we got on another flight but not mine, despite the fact we were traveling together. But man I am still so naive as to how ubiquitous this is.

Read this or a similar book and do better.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm, ’07
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2201

Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? by Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? is a collection of short essays written by Mumia Abu-Jamal from prison. Meant to be provocative, this book shows the raw emotion experienced in reaction to the injustice inflicted on African Americans in the United States. This book helped me better understand the outage and hurt black Americans go through every time another black person is killed at the hands of police. While this book is particularly topical now, it is definitely a must read at any point to gain a closer perspective to what is currently and has been happening. This book however does assume the reader knows the victims’ stories at times, so this is not a good choice if you would like to learn the series of events in some of these cases.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Must Read

Fighter in Velvet Gloves by Elizabeth Peratrovich by Annie Boochever and Roy Peratrovich Jr

book coverThe Fighter in Velvet Gloves is an account of the accomplishments of Elizabeth Peratrovich in securing the first civil rights legislation in the United States to protect Indigenous rights in Alaska and is directed at young adult readers. The book has many photographs and reflections from Elizabeth’s son, Roy Jr. It’s a great way to introduce young people to indigenous issues. There is also a glossary in the back that helps with clarifying concepts and terms that would be essential to understanding other readings about civil rights.

Availability:  COSMOS,
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: YA book about diverse populations

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

book coverThis review is on Black Like Me. I read the 2004 1st Wings Press edition with a foreword by Studs Terkel and an afterword by Robert Bonazzi. This edition is available at the SMCM Library as a PDF download. Bonus for the coincidence that there is a color in the title. That color word is not only in the title – it’s the central theme of the entire book.

Griffin, who was white, wanted to experience what life was like for a black man in the deep south. In 1959, he had his skin temporarily darkened by prescription medications, ultraviolet light exposure, and dye. He spent roughly six weeks traveling in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. He learned quickly that for a black people, finding a restroom or a place to get a drink of water might entail walking several blocks in a city to find a place that would accept black people. White men appeared fascinated by what they perceived were the “inexhaustible” sex lives of most blacks people, and Griffin questioned how white men who solicited sex with a fourteen-year-old black girl could then act so superior to blacks. Griffin wrote about the “hate stare” and how the n-word “always stings” and how one white man told him that whites were going to do their damnedest to drive every black out of the state of Alabama. Griffin came to think that black people were treated as tenth-class citizens, not even second-class ones.

Griffin did have positive interaction with a handful of whites who were advocates for social justice – at times, they provided him shelter and support. But Griffin saw that racist southerners heaped hate not only on blacks but also on whites who wanted to change the status quo.

Some of Griffin’s most moving stories were on the warmth and courtesy he experienced with blacks, such as the shoeshine man in New Orleans (who was in on the secret and took delight in Griffin’s experiment) and the family who lived in squalor in the Alabama countryside but shared what little they had with Griffin, including a tow sack bed. This was one of the most moving stories in the book. Griffin wrote of how painful it was for black parents to see their children’s “world smaller, their educational opportunities less, their futures mutilated.” A black parent knows that white racists had “masterfully defrauded” black people of their sense of personal value, which was the “least obvious but most heinous of all race crimes” because “it kills the spirit and the will to live.” Griffin felt that friendship among blacks was a buffer against the threat from whites, with blacks like shipwrecked people, “huddled together in warmth and courtesy that was pure and pathetic.”

This my second time reading Black Like Me. The first time was as a high school student in the early 1970’s. Although many schools have since assigned Black Like Me as required reading, I am pretty certain it was not required reading at my small Catholic high school in Georgia almost fifty years ago.

This edition also provides a biography of Griffin’s life. This was a man who packed many lifetimes into one. But understanding Griffin’s life story helps readers understand why any white man would have conducted this experiment in 1959 in the deep south. With only enough money for a one-way passage, Griffin sailed to Europe at 15 to attend a prestigious French school. During WWII he smuggled Jewish children out of France; when he landed on a Gestapo death list he himself had to be smuggled out of France. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and spent a year living in a remote village in the Solomons. A bomb explosion caused him to start going blind but he used his remaining vision to study Gregorian chants at a Benedictine Abbey in France. Once totally blind he became a rancher, raised award-winning hogs, and in seven weeks wrote a 600-page novel that wound up the subject of a US Supreme Court case on pornography.

Through all of these experiences Griffin came to recognize the concept of the “other” – the ones who were marginalized because they were not part of the majority, whether they were French Jews, indigenous peoples, the visually impaired, or blacks. Writing Black Like Me left Griffin both celebrated and vilified; he was hanged in effigy in his hometown and had to move his family to Mexico for safety. He returned to the US and spent the rest of his life advocating social justice through non-violent means – although he almost paid for that with his life when the KKK beat him with chains and left him for dead.

I know – what a long review. This book is that powerful. I teach the history of racial discrimination law in several of my courses and I saw too much of 2020 in this book from 1961. Rereading it has left me saddened by the realization that we haven’t come as far as a nation as I’m sure I hoped we would have when I read it for the first time.
Recommendation: MUST READ.

Availability:  USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book with a color in the title.