In thinking about all the books I’ve consumed that have helped me understand more about racial equality, I find myself flashing back to high school memories. My junior year of high school I was in love with one of the only black boys in our small private school. In some ways our relationships was like most teen romance. A typical date night was driving to the movies, listening to music – at that time Usher’s Confessions and everything John Mayer was on repeat. After the movies we’d fill up on Taco Bell late at night as if calories would never catch us.
This typical high school love was marked with defining moments of understanding for me. While I had friends who were people of color before, to truly love a person of color was an invitation to see beyond the polite walls of society. To love another is to hold their hand and feel their feelings in tandem. Tough issues cannot be reduce to a political statement but instead must be fused with empathy. While I made plenty of white girl mistake at the time, my boyfriend and I graciously invited each other to cross boundaries and experience each others worlds. Me visiting his church and being comfortable with being the only white girl in the room. Him crossing counties to my country home where a black person could be shot if they turned into the wrong driveway.
I believe the start of our relationship honors how far our country has come. We were a black boy and a white girl who didn’t think for a minute we shouldn’t be together. We laughed together and made each other happy, simple as that. Looking back we both realize the profound difference this relationship made in our understanding of the world. Our experiences together invited us to realize our country has far more to learn.
The relationship ended, not because of race, but for the same reasons most teen romances do. Even after going our separate ways, this time in my life set a determination in me to learn all I could about why our worlds seemed so separate. Years later, teaching in a beautifully diverse community, my desire to learn grew even greater, and soon, my reading question was defined by this idea.
It is not enough to simply love those around me and to exist in this world as a nonracist. I must actively choose to stop racism.
If we are ever to truly be one, I must see color, learn to understand the needs and desires of color, and most important – make choices to protect and defend equality for color. You see, it’s very difficult to ignore this problem when the people you love are people of color. Yes we have come so far since slavery and segregation, but the love in my heart for my black friends and family starts to reveal the cracks in society that have kept us from truly being one community.
These books are a good first step. I invite you to read, reflect, and share. Start a book club in your community. Insert some of these heart piercing reads and have tough conversations. Read these books with your children and donate them to your schools. It is in these small choices we can begin a heart change for equality.
In listing these books I will label them adult, young adult, and childrens literature. If you are an adult I encourage you to read them all! The young adult books have been some of the most profound I have ever experienced.
Little Fires Everywhere – Adult
A Novel taking place in a wealthy community outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Said to be a progressive community, yet little fires seems to creep in and expose hidden flaws. Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon star in the TV version on Hulu. While the book is always better, the show is gripping. My favorite line is when Kerry Washington’s character looks at Reese Witherspoon’s character and says, “You didn’t make good choices, you had good choices.”
The Hate You Give – Young Adult
This novel moves with the worlds of the main Character, Starr Carter. She lives in a poor black neighborhood yet attends a mostly white prepschool. When her unarmed, childhood best friend is shot by a police officer, Starr is forced to deal with the injustices around her.
What truly makes this book special is the writer’s ability to connect to each viewpoint. There is a character for every type of person we see in this fight for equality. The black cop who is good, the white boyfriend who tries to understand, the drug dealers who hurt the good black business, the white friend who refuses to see, the mother who just wants to protect her child, and the girl who begins to find her voice- all of these characters work together tell you a story that will change you for good. This book was made into an incredible movie. I enjoyed the movie, but was disappointed in the ending. The book holds the most power.
The Other Side – Children
First of all I’m obsessed with everything Jaqueline Woodson writes. Read them all, you won’t be disappointed. The Other Side, while simply written is one of Woodson’s most powerful books. A white girl and a black girl live in a segregated town. There is a fence that separates their homes and a rule not to cross that boundary. The girls find a way to break past the boundaries laid by generations before them because friendship matters most of all.
White Fragility – Adult
This book requires heavy reflection but the results are powerful. Written in an academic form, the author is really just explaining a lot of statistics and research. The key to the book is trying to understand why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race, and even more why it’s hard for white people to understand racism is still a problem.
White fragility is a white person’s fear of being considered a racist. In the effort to separate ones self from racism, they mistakenly shut down important conversations and reflection on their role in racial equality. Readers will stop askinging themselves if they are racist or not. They will begin asking, “Are my actions stopping racism, or making space for it to live on?
Home of the Brave – Young Adult
While not explicitly about racism, this novel, written in prose, invites you to follow the journey of an adorable boy named Kek. A refugee separated from his mother, Kek is thrust into a new life in middle America. Readers will fall in love with him as he experiences snow for the first time, puts dishes in a washing machine, and gets a job caring for the only cow in the city. As Kek has flash backs to his old life, the reader cannot help but empathize with an experience that is vastly different than their privileged exsitence.
Amazing Grace – Children
Grace is amazing. She has talent meant for a stage, but when classmates believe she should not play the role of Peter Pan because of her gender and race, Grace is brave. With the help of loved ones, Grace shows her classmates that your talents, hard work, and your character are what really count.
Braving The Wilderness – Adult
Those who know me understand that it’s hard for me to make a book list without giving a shout out to Brene Brown. Braving the Wilderness is not about race, rather it’s a call to having brave and important conversations with people who disagree with us. Brene calls for an end of this ever growing chasm in this country. I cannot fully explain the importance of this book so I will leave you with two quotes.
“There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.”Brene Brown – Braving the Wilderness
“People often silence themselves, or “agree to disagree” without fully exploring the actual nature of the disagreement, for the sake of protecting a relationship and maintaining connection. But when we avoid certain conversations, and never fully learn how the other person feels about all of the issues, we sometimes end up making assumptions that not only perpetuate but deepen misunderstandings, and that can generate resentment.”Brene Brown – Braving the Wilderness
One Crazy Summer – Young Adult
Winning many awards including the Scott O’dell Award for Historical Fiction, the popularity of this book is really won through the eyes of three special sisters who leave the safe world with their grandma to stay with their mother in Oakland, California for the summer. Their mother having left them long ago, puts the girls in a Black Panther Day Camp. What first seems like a terrible start to the summer, soon sets the girls on a path towards self discovery and belonging.
All Are Welcome – Children
A simple story with powerful feelings. All Are Welcome is the kind of story I like to start in preschool, showing children from a very young age that our differences are beautiful. It’s a picture of a community where we all belong. It is a place where decisions are made that protect, respect, and honor everyone.
Mr. Lincoln’s Way
Mr. Lincoln is a super cool Black man who is principal of an elementary school. While the families love him, one child has been taught to keep hate in his heart. In his caring way, Mr. Lincoln finds a way to show this boy love, honor the good in him, and teach him a better way. I cry every time I read this book, hoping to be the kind of school leader that effects change the way Mr. Lincoln did.
If you are still reading, I honor your desire to reflect and learn. As always I will keep posting about my reads on social media. There is always more to learn here and I am determined to keep going. Want to join me on my reading journey? Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page.
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