Books

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

Why Creating Your Own Book Club is Great!

knowledge-1052010_640Between running my various business ventures and taking care of my household, I am constantly juggling a very busy schedule. However, I always look for ways to have some down time, like jogging or doing yoga. As you may have guessed if you have been reading this blog long enough, I like to read a lot as well. I try to read three or four books a month.

About six years ago I started a book club with some of my bibliophile friends who also have busy lives and wanted to find an outlet to participate in a fun, shared activity. The club is still going strong for many reasons:

Bringing diverse people together: All the club members come from a wide variety of life experiences and have different perspectives and opinions on topics, which make the book conversations more interesting. There are currently seven people in the club, which is a good number to have for discussions.

Meeting time and place: About half of my club live locally, while the other half live in other parts of the country. A couple of new members live in Europe and West Africa. Because of this, we do a lot of video conferencing for our monthly meetings via Google Hangout. For those of us locally, we usually rotate meeting at someone’s home and the host provides a computer for video conferencing and food.

Book choices: At the end of each meeting, we all present books we would like to read to each other and then vote on the book to read for next month. We like to read a wide variety of books. The only criteria is that they have to be thought-provoking, informative and takes us out of our comfort zone. We are all history buffs and political junkies, so most of our book choices tend to be nonfiction works dealing with history, current events and international affairs. Recent books have included Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Reading habits: We agreed at the beginning that we should finish reading the books before the meetings so the discussions will be more enriching. But sometimes life happens and we can’t always finish the chosen book. We are okay with non-finishers, as long as they have read enough of the book to participate in part of the discussion.
Participation: We ask that all members tell the group at meetings what their reading experience was like and discuss specific themes and passages from the book. They should take about at least one thing they learned or took away from the book. We also want members to ask each other questions that don’t just generate yes or no answers. We really want to dive into the book with serious consideration.

Respect: Differences in opinions can lead to some heated discussions. So we have a rule to respect everyone’s opinion, no matter how much we disagree.

Keep notes: Every meeting someone is designated to take notes on what was said during the meeting – plot summaries, discussion highlights, and members’ opinions. I like reviewing notes because sometimes people say things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

I have learned so much from the book club over the year, chief among them, how to be a better critical reader. Being in the book club has also helped me reduce stress, by allowing me to take myself out of my head for a couple hours a month.

This is a great social activity for those of you that like intellectual stimulation. If you don’t want to start your own book club, there are many clubs already in existence both online and in your community that you can join today!

Why Black Female Characters (and Authors) Matter – Part 2

We Need Diverse BooksLast month I wrote a post about the need to have more diverse literature in schools, especially books with black female characters and/or books by black female authors.  In that post I created an awesome, but incomplete list of books that would be great additions to many school curricula and libraries.  I put out a request to you all to tell me about books that I should add to my list, and boy, did I get a ton of responses!  

I decided to created this second list of books based on recommendations I received in my inbox.  Of course, there is never going to be a “complete” list, but the whole point of this is to show that there are books out there that represent many diverse perspectives that all children, regardless of race, should be reading.  Over on Good Read, another list of over 700 books was created just for the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign!

Thanks again for your recommendations. This time around, I have books grouped for children, teens and adults. Hooray for diverse literature!

Children

Dancing in the Wings By Debbie Allen

Firebird By Misty Copeland

Big Hair, Don’t Care By Crystal Swain-Bates

The Princess and the Pea By Rachel Isadora

Rapunzel By Rachel Isadora

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County By Janice Harrington

I Love My Hair By Natasha Tarpley

Teens/Young Adults

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

The Skin I’m In By Sharon Flake

Camo Girl By Kekla Magoon

November Blues By Sharon Draper

Charm & Strange By Stephanie Kuehn

Akata Witch By Nnedi Okorafor

Money Hunger By Sharon Flake

The Road to Paris By Nikki Grimes

Crystal By Walter Dean Myers

Heaven By Angela Johnson

Feathers By Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl, Brownstones By Paule Marshall

Adults

The Living is Easy by Dorothy West

Narrative of Sojourner Truth By Sojourner Truth

Sula By Toni Morrison

Beloved By Toni Morrison

Passing By Nella Larson

Quicksand By Nella Larson

Women’s Slave Narratives By Annie Burton

Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter by William Wells Brown

Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People By Sarah Bradford

The Women of Brewster Place By Gloria Naylor

Waiting To Exhale By Terry McMillan

How Stella Got Her Groove Back By Terry McMillan

The Street By Ann Petry

What You Owe Me By Bebe Moore Campbell

Lucy By Jamaica Kincaid

Annie Allen By Gwendolyn Brooks