Racism is a super charged topic, and it can be very hard to move past our current understanding of how the world works to see how it works for someone else…especially when we see that we can often be complicit in making the world not more but less equitable and just for another. The best thing you can do is to invest yourself in learning more, and being willing to hear some stuff that’s gonna make you angry, either at yourself or at others. Racism isn’t just actions; its been deeply woven into American politics, culture, education, medicine, law, and even religion since the moment European settlers landed on these shores. Racism effects everyone, not to the same extent, but if we all live in an unjust system, then we are all subject to the consequences of that same system, even if our privilege keeps us from the worst of those consequences. The books, podcasts, movies, tv shows, and websites I list here are just a small summation of what’s out there to help you indentify ways racism has infiltrated the world you live in, how to understand and see it for what it is, how to call it out, and how to be a better neighbor to the people who don’t look like you.
I’m going to list some resources here that I highly recommend…but I am also going to recommend that you don’t read or digest these resources alone. These resources are going to open your eyes to alot of things; a lot of history you didn’t learn in school, a lot of thoughts you were told were dangerous because people in power want to stay in power, to your own failings and cooperation with unjust systems, etc. More than that, these resources are going to introduce you to the pain, suffering, and struggle of other human beings who are made in God’s image, and that will break your heart. So, don’t go alone. If you can’t find friends who are interested in investing in these resources, email me, and we can chat! For my Berea family reading this post, Berea is hosting a book club to read one of the resources I listed below, The Color of Compromise, by Jemar Tisby. This is an excellent way to work through a really fantastic book that’s going to challenge your view on a lot of things.
I should also note that the greater majority of the books I list here come from a Christian theological bent, because I am a seminary student at Fuller Seminary. Fuller is very committed to undoing racism, and their curriculum reflects that commitment, which is how I’ve come across many of these books. That said, I am also working my way, currently, through some secular resources, and they are just as good and often have very similar suggestions on what people can do next.
Also….I try to only recommend things that I have personally read/watched/or listened too. That being said, I am not a parent, and I am not currently responsible for the education of any children, which means I don’t have many resources I can personally recommend for families with kids under the high school range. So, I am going to suggest some resources people I trust have recommended, but you will need to do your own work to determine what your kids are ready for.
I will say that in my very limited experience in teaching (but with a wealth of memory of what it feels like to be a kid) your kids are able to understand a lot more than you might think. I was 6 or 7 years old when I first learned about slavery, Civil Rights Movement, and Dr. King’s assassination in school and through shows like Reading Rainbow that invested in stories about diversity and inclusion. I remember having a lot of questions, not understanding how people could be so mean, and making a commitment then, even as a little person, to not be like the white people who yelled at little kids trying to go to school, or at people trying to sit anywhere they liked on the bus. Even at that young of an age I understood that life was less fair for certain kinds of people because of things they couldn’t control, like skin color, and that it was up to me to be kind and loving toward anyone I met, regardless of what they looked like. Every child is different, some will be more emotional, some more logical in their approach, and its up to you to determine how much they can handle and how best to introduce these kinds of tough subjects. Parents cannot shirk the duty of talking about things like race, hate, slavery, history, justice, peace, etc, because you are the first line of knowledge and, if you are doing the job right, the one they will trust the most to tell them the truth, which is why you need to be educated in these matters, and you need to be able to have these kinds of conversations with your children.
NOTE: I am going to try to tag links to purchase materials on most of these, and for ease of searching, I am going to tag them from Amazon…HOWEVER…if at all possible, I HIGHLY encourage you to purchase books through a local book seller, especially if they are a Black owned/operated business. After Covid-19, small businesses are in desperate need of support, and Jeff Bezos isn’t. You may have to pay a little bit more to purchase through a local seller, but at least you will be investing money back into your local economy.
Without further ado:
This book is phenomenal and tragic and hopeful all at once. Jemar Tisby is a historian and former theology student who walks through the many moments in America’s history when Christians could have stepped in to prevent injustice, the how and why they didn’t, and how we today can learn not to make the same mistakes. It also has a study guide you can purchase to help engage the material. Its not a hard book to read either, and could easily be engaged with by junior high and high school students. I know that the St Louis County Library has several copies, but since the library isn’t open, here is link to Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Color-Compromise-American-Churchs-Complicity/dp/B07JVVCGQ6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=jemar+tisby&qid=1588894297&sr=8-1
This book is also a pretty easy read, and its terrific for those just starting out reading about racism and its effect in society. Daniel Hill is a pastor from Chicago, who chronicles his journey of understanding race, reconcilliation, and culture. This one you can get online through St Louis County Library’s hoopla app (you can find it on their website under emedia), and here it the link to Amazon to buy a paper copy: https://www.amazon.com/White-Awake-Honest-Look-Means-ebook/dp/B075MHP31F/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=White+Awake&qid=1588894561&sr=8-1
If you are up for a slightly more academic read, you should check out James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree…I must admit, I have not finished this book yet, but I’m nearly half way through, and it is fantastic. Cone is a theologian, and he examines not only how theology has allowed for evil to be practiced, but also how to embrace a theology that does not oppress. This book you can get at the library when it reopens, or you can purchase a copy here…https://www.amazon.com/Cross-Lynching-Tree-James-Cone-ebook/dp/B005M1ZIGI/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1WW4QWH7IZBAE&dchild=1&keywords=james+cone&qid=1588894846&sprefix=James+Cone%2Caps%2C268&sr=8-1
I will tell you right now, this book has changed my world in so so many ways, perhaps more than any other book than the Bible…that being said, it is not an easy read. Volf is a philosopher and theologian who lived through the Bosnian war and came to America, moving into L.A. just in time for the L.A. riots to happen right down the street from him. Those and other experiences lead him to research how we as humans tend to polarize ourselves, creating “those people” out of anyone we consider to be “enemy” or “other”. While his book is not specifically about race, it does look at race, as well as other areas of difference. Its worth the challenge of engaging it, and if you do choose to read it, email or call me, cause I’d love to chat about it! https://www.amazon.com/Exclusion-Embrace-Revised-Updated-Reconciliation-ebook/dp/B07NBXYYB4/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=exclusion+and+embrace&qid=1588895009&sr=8-1
This book might seem like an odd pick, because it is not specifically about racism. However, if we want to understand racism and how it has so deeply infected our society, we have to understand the history behind the founding of our country, and that there is alot more to the story than “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” or Plymouth Rock and Thanksgiving. The history of race goes back to 1400s Europe, and doctrines and philosophies that sprang up then and in the intervening years that created the current system we have today. Mark Charles is Native American, a Pastor and Theologian, and incidentally, running on an independent ticket for President of the United States 2020. Along with theologican Soong-Chan Rah, he very careful wades through history, theology, politics, and myths to help uncover how systematically racism and white supremacy were woven into the fabric of America, and how we today can begin to pick that out and start afresh.
As I said before, I don’t have kids, but I do remember some of the books that had a really big impact on me and learning about Black history and racism. Before I list them off though, I want to highlight a local St. Louis organization called We Stories. They help families to engage in talking about racism, esp white families, and they have a really cool cohort program that parents and children can do together. They also have a blog with a lot of great resources. Here is a blog they created at the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdowns that has diverse resources that can be found on the St. Louis County Libraries’ emedia applications. http://www.westories.org/blogposts/2020/4/21/library-to-the-rescue-free-access-to-high-impact-diverse-books-and-stories
Next to Goodnight Moon and the Bible, this book might be the most important book from my early childhood. I remember with suprising clarity seeing this book read on an episode of Reading Rainbow (which, you can still find episodes of the show on youtube….here is the link for the episode this one is read on!) I can’t have been more than 5 or 6 when I first saw it, and I remeber the story vividly. We read it in school too when I was still in private school and made drinking gourds out of actual gourds that we cut and dried. Picture books like this are a great way to introduce the complex and often tragic history of America to your kids at an early age, to help to think critically later in life about the history (or lack there of) being presented to them. It also helps little people to understand that even people who are different colors or speak different languages, or have different customs than them are still people, and that we all share in the human experience. By reading stories where minority groups are centered and as well rounded as white characters, children learn to see all types of people as equal, valuable, and worthy of respect.
Another fantastic resource for kids are the books that Kadir Nelson illustrates. He has helped to illustrate several books that address race, Black experience, and history for kids, and his illustrations are beautiful! You can check out his books here: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/kadir-nelson/
For the middle school crowd: this one is kind of tough….more than any other group, I find middle schoolers to be wildly different and unique in their ability to handle certain things. Middle school is technically defined as anyone between 5th and 8th grade, but if you think about those ages, there is a wide dynamic range at play. You could have a very mature 5th grader who is able to handle a lot of tragic details, or you could have a very sensitive 8th grader who still isn’t ready to handle every aspect of current events. I was that really mature and curious 5th grader who didn’t want anything diluted down for me…but my younger sister who is in her 20s still doesn’t like movies that deal with heavy and real topics…it’s up to you as the parent to have discussions with your pre-teen aged kids and gauge their preparedness for certain media. Some of your middle schoolers could easily read and benefit from the books, movies, and podcasts I’d recommend for upper high school and adult learners. Some of your middle schoolers might be more comfortable with resources geared towards them or even elementary kids. And that’s ok. These are tough issues, and they deserve to be handled with respect and with care. We don’t want anyone to be so traumatize they can’t discuss and continue growing and learning.
That said, my favorite book resource for middle school is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. The story follows a middle school aged Black kid, set in modern day, as he goes throughout his school year and works on a project where he journals letters to Martin Luther King Jr, and in the process learns about himself, his community, and his history. It’s fantastically written, and the book itself is very affordable. It is also available on in an emedia format from the Library. https://www.amazon.com/Dear-Martin-Nic-Stone/dp/1101939524/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3C1LEZU6A6CTN&dchild=1&keywords=dear+martin&qid=1591739405&sprefix=dear+martin%2Caps%2C189&sr=8-1
Movies are a great way to live in someone else’s shoes, and start to understand what life is really like for them. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a list of some of my favorites. Quite a few of these can be enjoyed as a family, but some may not be as suitable for younger audiences. I will try to highlight those, but I obviously don’t have kids, so you may want to check out PluggedIn online or Imdb for content warnings.
In the end, all the resources in the world won’t help if you aren’t willing to do the hard work they ask of you. Knowledge is great, but knowledge that remains only head knowledge and is never applied is basically worthless except to make small talk at dinner parties. James 2 reminds us that faith without works is dead faith, and in a similar way, learning without application is a wasted exercise. So, I encourage you to do some research; use the resources here as a jumping off place, and find things that fit your family needs. Then, do the work for yourself…like someone on an airplane when it depressurizes, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help someone else. As you learn and are challenged, share what you discover with your children, other family, friends, etc. Especially if you are a parent, try to find resources that you can do with your children as you do your own work. And then, brainstorm ways to take it to the next level.
I will tell you, there are three keys things that have proven true in my journey, and may help you…these are tools I use again and again, cause its not the sort of journey that ever really ends, so buckle up!
- Challenge…Most of us don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Given the choice between binge watching Parks and Rec for the 4th time, or sitting down to read some serious non-fiction about justice and racism issues…well, now that’s less of a tough call depending on the day, but a few years ago, I would have probably chosen Parks and Rec. I am very blessed that I’ve had to do alot of this reading and study for school, and so that helps to educate me on issues, and piqued my curiousity enough to keep me digging on my own….but its a hard subject to read about, and even harder to acknowledge that in my ignorance, I have often contributed to unjust systems instead of helping to tear down strongholds. So, the first step is being willing to embrace things that are tough to hear, painful to sort through, and will require me to have patience with myself and compassion for others
- Confession…most of us think we didn’t do anything, because we have never been overtly racsit toward anyone. But, we still have lived in and survived on a system that was not built to actually be equal for all. When we live in a system that oppresses others and we can still do well, that by extension can make us oppressors and we may not even realize it. So, we have to confess the times we laughed at rude jokes, or bought into stereotypes, or voted against policies that would have helped people not like us… some of us will have family history that is not good, and so we may have to confess that our history comes with a lot of baggage and that we don’t want to carry that forward to the next generation. And, we may have to confess the times we get frustrated, angry, fearful, or apathetic even as we try to be more equitable and fair toward others.
- Change…confession is worthless without repentance…repentance in the Bible is almost always a derivative of the word metanoia which means change of heart. As we study and challenge ourselves, as we confess the ways in which we have fallen short of loving our neighbor, we have the opportunity to let the Holy Spirit change our hearts and help us walk in a new way. As much as racism is a societal and institutional problem, it is also a spiritual one, and if we, as Christians, expect to make any kind of step toward being more just and a better ally, we are going to have to call on the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help to challenge us