My Books of the Year 2016

booksLike I said last week, I have been doing a lot of reading lately.  Below is a list of all the books I have read in the last year.  I made a list not only to share my reading habits but also to hold myself accountable to continue reading.  My new year’s resolution this year was to read more books, and I think I have achieved that!

Some of them are review copies I received from publishers for free, while others are older books that I reread because of their relevance.

Native Son by Richard Wright

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World By the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away With Murder by Gerry Spence

Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Dyson Smith

Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the Twenty-First Century by Katherine Newman and Hella Winston

Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta

The United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists by Peter Bergen

The Longest Trail: Writings on American Indian History, Culture, and Politics by Alvin Josephy Jr.

When Books Went To War: Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

Waiting Til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America by Peniel Joseph

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and Tony Swartz

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Between The World and Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Radio Girls by Sarah Jane Stratford

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Middle Passage: The Caribbean Revisited by V.S. Naipaul

Reading to Soothe the Political Pain

knowledge-1052010_640Since the terrible defeat of Hillary Clinton a few weeks and the pending disaster that will be Trump’s presidency, I have tried to zone out and concentrate my mind on other things.

I have been watching a lot less cable news and most TV in general since the elections. As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering cutting the cord altogether in the very near future.

But for right now, I have been reading books a little more than I usually do. I have read (and reread) five books since the elections. Four of them were about women’s lives. Since we won’t have a lady president for at least another four years, I thought I would read books with strong female protagonists.

Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
A fascinating study of women’s lives in Jamaica. When most people think about this Caribbean island, they think of the beaches, jerk chicken, and reggae music. However, Jamaica’s extreme poverty and colonial legacy don’t likely come up in discussions. The author creates rich characters of a mother and her two daughters to discuss current issues facing Jamaica women, such as sex tourism, class, skin tone divisions, especially about skin bleaching, homosexuality, and abuse.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
This historical novel is about real-life trailblazer Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to graduate from Vassar College. The catch here is that the school didn’t know Hemmings was black until a few days before her graduation. It was 1897 and most colleges at the time either didn’t allow or permitted a small number of black students. Hemmings was able to get into the school because she was fair-skinned enough to pass for white. This book is also another study of class and race intertwining at the turn of the last century.

Radio Girls by Sarah Jane Stratford
This book takes place in London during the nascent years of the BBC. Maisie Musgrave is a newly-minted Beeb secretary. Based on the real-life BBC radio pioneer Hilda Matheson, Radio Girls gives insights into the struggles of women working in broadcasting at the time.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave in Georgia who goes along with fellow slave Caesar to escape their misery by following the Underground Railroad. All kinds of drama ensue. This book just won the National Book Award – a must read.

I also reread The Middle Passage by V.S. Naipaul, which also to a lesser degree looks at women’s lives in the Caribbean.

I plan to write more in-depth reviews of these great books in the very near future. In the meantime, if you have any other books that you want to recommend to me, please let me know.

It’s going to be a LONG four years, and I want all the reading I can get my hands on to get through it!

Black (Girls’) Lives Matter Too

pushout_finalThe national debate about the criminal justice system has mostly focused on interactions between law enforcement and black males.  Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others have become the face of unethical black criminalization.  While it is important to advocate for black males, let’s not forget black females.

Recent news stories about black girls include Dajerria Becton, the 15-year-old girl pinned to the ground by a police officer during a pool party last year.  I remember the horrific visual of a unarmed, skinny girl in a bikini having a gun put to her head.  I also remember the shocking video of the black girl in the South Carolina classroom who was violently ripped out of her desk chair by a security guard.

I recently read Monique W. Morris’ riveting new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.  It makes the case that just like black males, black females have been unfairly judged by society based on long-standing stereotypes about them that go as far back to the days of slavery.  

Most of the book focuses on the treatment of black girls in schools.  Black girls only make up 16 percent of all girls in American schools, but 42 percent of them get expelled and get corporal punishment, 45 percent get at least one out-of-school suspension, 31 percent are referred to law enforcement, and 34 percent are arrested at school.  Black girls who go through this much bad treatment in school will have a harder time as adults.

I really appreciated the interviews with many black girls around the country who have been placed in detention centers because their voices are usually not heard.  When you hear their stories, you realize that black girls have very diverse and complex lives and the schools are not taking that into consideration.  There was the story of a girl who was raped when she was 12 by a man who forced her into prostitution.  She was in and out of foster care homes and wasn’t able to attend school on a regular basis.  Missing classes eventually led to her getting suspended many times, fighting with other students and failing school altogether and before going back to prostitution.

To be clear: I am not defending bad behavior on the part of black girls in the classroom, but there are some deeper, multifaceted issues going here that are not being properly addressed, such as their troubled homes, dysfunctional schools, mental health issues, bad role models (reality TV anyone) etc.  This is just not simply a black or white (no pun intended) situation.

What is most upsetting, however, was that most of these girls got in trouble for non-disruptive activities, including how they dress, wearing natural hairstyles, or perceived to be acting “unfeminine,” “aggressive,” “loud,” and even “ghetto.”  Even as adults, many black women like myself continue to fight the stereotype of being an “angry black woman.”  

I have been in many situations in both my academic and professional lives where I felt that I was unfairly treated by my white counterparts, but I always felt like I had to react in a calculated way so as to not get labeled “angry.”  I have also been in situations where I was perceived to be engaging in negative activity based on stereotypes.  Although I have never been physically assaulted by law enforcement, I have personally seen how these bad stereotypes can manifest in the workplace and other situations that can be detrimental for black women. Some people don’t realize the mental acrobats many black females go through in our daily lives to not just be seen as stereotypes, especially when the consequences can mean being criminalized.

What I really liked about the book was that it gave possible solutions to the black girl push-out phenomenon, by providing resources that students, parents and educators can use to end this crisis in our schools and possibly life in general.  If these issues are not addressed appropriately, black girls will continue to be set up to fail.    

Retro Book Club: Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour

waitingIf one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all. – Oscar Wilde

I want to start a new feature here where I not only discuss new books, but also not so new books.  The point of this is to revisit older, classic books and look at their context through today’s political, social and cultural perspective.  Sometimes when you reread a book you come away with different insight.

The first book in this series is Peniel Joseph’s 2007 book Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, which is a chronology of black radical movers and shakers, such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Amiri Baraka, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, amongst many others.  When I first read this book nine years ago, America was in a different place racially.  Barack Obama wasn’t president yet and the Black Lives Matter movement hadn’t begun.

I was inspired to reread this book because I recently attended a cocktail reception for young entrepreneurs of color, where I had a colorful conversation with an older black man named Morris about the role of black radicals in social movements of yesterday and today.  We started talking about the new Jackie Robinson documentary and his civil right work.  Like I said a few weeks ago, the baseball legend became a Republican activist, and even campaigned for Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller.  There is a part in the documentary where Robinson feuded with other black nationalists of that time who thought he was an “Uncle Tom.”

“Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King are the true black leaders we should be looking up to today, not the Panthers,” Morris said.  

Morris told me that he lived through the civil rights movement in Georgia and has always been a supporter of non-violent activism. He also said that the Black Lives Matter movement would be better off taking lessons from the southern civil rights movement than from the black power movement.

After rereading the book, I came to the realization that both movements continue to be valuable for supporting civil rights objectives today.  The book does a good job of not only highlighting the well-known players, but also lesser known, but equally important figures, like maverick journalist William Worthy, who openly defied the U.S. State Department by traveling to Cuba and China, and Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, an interracial couple that used their Detroit home to organize other local black radicals.  

I also enjoyed the discussion in the book about connecting American racism and other social justice and anti-colonial movements throughout the Third World.  Sometimes we forget that racism isn’t just an American problem, and many black power activists joined forces with other international activists.

While it wasn’t discussed a lot in the book, I really appreciated the discussion about the role of women in the black power movement, most notably Katharine Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Angela Davis, and much of the misogyny they may have experienced.       

Not surprisingly, many of the issues people of color faced in the 1960s, such as economic equality, education and the criminal justice system are still relevant today.

I also concluded that both movements bounced off each other, as both served a purpose and supported the larger scope of moving civil rights forward.  Even other activists during that time recognized both of their contributions equally.  For instance, while he was publically a supporter of Martin Luther King and many of the civil rights actions in the South, actor Harry Belafonte also financed a trip for Malcolm X to travel to Africa to discuss his Pan-Africanist views.

Black Lives Matter and other social movements today can learn a lot from both movements, especially the Black Panther Party, who also fought against police brutality.  Like BLM, the Panthers were a grassroots organization of young people who felt that they needed to take action in their communities.  Both groups understood the importance of mass communication to mobilize their followers; the Black Panthers had their new newspaper The Panther, while Black Lives Matter thrives on social media.

In conclusion, I would have to respectfully disagree with Morris.  I don’t think we should discount Black Power.  All of our past civil rights leaders, whether they were mainstream or more radical, have contributed greatly to moving our race forward.     

Other retro books:

Black Power:The Politics of Liberation in America by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X