Monday, April 18, 2022

Blog 34 A Reading List for Those Who want to Understand


In the autumn of 1958, my junior year in high school, I entered the annual oratorical contest, my subject – racial discrimination in America. You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium of the almost entirely white student body. I did not win the contest. In retrospect, the memory reminds me that I was already sensitized to the issue of race in our country.

With an erratic pulse in the subsequent sixty plus years, our country has moved unevenly toward a reckoning with our history of slavery and its aftermath. Today, at a time when a plethora of historians / writers, many of them African-American, are providing us with a means to confront with knowledge one of our two national sins (the other, our treatment of the original Americans), sadly, but not unexpectedly to me, a significant number of white Americans are turning away from this opportunity. I choose to look closer.

The two-plus-year pandemic has awakened me to scholarly works addressing this willful lacuna in our national education. I decided to test and enhance my knowledge base by availing myself of a selection of the book salad before me. To date, I have striven to choose a variety of approaches to this massive undertaking in the belief that no single work could exhaust the challenge of continuing to educate myself while reducing, if not eradicating, my prior assumptions.

Among my efforts, may I recommend: 1) Say It Loud (Randall Kennedy) Within an overarching legal framework, this law professor’s essays plumb the issue of justice (or its absence) while offering a window into unrelenting black American historical pursuit of justice. 

2) On Juneteenth (Annette Gordon-Reed) In what I found a gentle but effective presentation, this history professor anchors her work with the date (June 19th, 1865), too long after the Appomattox surrender, that the last slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed they were free, and then expanding from there its historical significance for all Americans. 

3) Woke Racism (John McWhorter) Possibly an iconoclast to some, I feel this African-American linguistics professor, in exploring examples of a negative impact of woke racism, reaches to balance efforts within ‘the cause’ rather than permitting shrill adherents of political correctness lead to detrimental results despite good intentions, i.e. criticize when indicated, but refrain from using this freedom to destroy. In other words, let the punishment fit the crime. 

4) Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America (Ijeoma Oluo) Key to this writer’s focus is a historical examination of the negative impact of white male violence upon women, people of color, and, ultimately, whites themselves. Perhaps expecting a polemic based on the title, I found it more a call for a reckoning with our history, past and recent. 

5) The 1619 Project (Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator) Though it has been lauded by many and criticized by some, I plan to read it in keeping with my determination to maintain my own mind. The more certain politicians criticize or dismiss it (without having read it), the more I sense there is something there. 

My intention is to continue to reach to learn more about my (our) history. I want to know, always have, whether engaged in a discussion or knowledge for its own sake. And so I read on.                                          

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