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Tag: Black History Month

A balanced reading diet

We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat.” The idea behind it is that what we put into our bodies affects the health of our bodies. We’ll be healthier if we eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. But I think that can be extended to our reading diet as well. What we put into our minds by reading affects how we think. Thus, “you are what you read,” far more than we may realize. If we’re wise, we’ll cultivate a balanced reading diet.

This photo still life shows a beautifully-staged breakfast of figs, yogurt with granola, and tea, next to a magazine open to an article by Zadie Smith titled “New Books.”
Three feasts in one: visual, gustatory, and literary! (photo still life by Juliette Tang, via Food52)

How we understand the world

Our teachers and families may have taught us that balanced nutrition keeps us healthy. Whether we actually eat a balanced diet or not, we’ve probably heard of the concept. But, a balanced reading diet? What would that even look like?

For this discussion, I won’t debate whether listening counts as “reading.” Audiobooks and podcasts? Ebooks and online materials? Print books and publications? Different delivery mechanisms, but they all deliver ideas. Same goes for fiction and nonfiction. They simply are different ways to transmit ideas.

Verbal communication evolved for survival reasons. Humans navigate our world better when we understand it (or think we do). Because of our experiences and influences, we accept some ideas, and reject others as unhelpful. The ideas we keep and use guide us when something new happens. They determine how we understand the world.

What’s in your reading diet?

For me, a balanced reading diet consists of some nonfiction and some fiction. Some of my reading/listening focuses on contemporary issues and news. Other reading/listening is more timeless. And a lot of it, because of the culture in which I live, reflects a white-dominant perspective. I have to make a special effort to find other perspectives.

Portraits of two Black 18th-century writers, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from editions of their books.
Portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from 18th-century editions of their books. (British Library)

That’s why I think it’s important to talk about this during Black History Month. Because for a white person like me, it’s all too easy to get caught in a dominant-group-exclusive perspective. It’s way too easy to ignore other’s experiences.

But white people who cocoon themselves in a “white-perspective-only” bubble render themselves clueless and unfit to influence community affairs. Ignorance leads to dangerous blind spots. Demographic shifts place white people in a majority group that’s dwindling. The privilege many of us take for granted today—and defend with savagery, in some cases—cannot last.

Why do we need a balanced reading diet?

My sister spotlighted some pitfalls of a whites-only perspective in her post last week. Her “tale of two histories” gave a vivid glimpse of why separate is not equal. Nor is it balanced. Nor respectful. And certainly not wise.

People from minority groups have no choice but to pay attention to others ideas, needs, and priorities. If white people don’t develop a wider understanding of the world, we’ll have a far harder transition when we become part of a “majority minority” nation.

Long before that happens, we need to wise up and start rebalancing our inputs. Granted, a minority of white people—and seemingly a majority of one major political party—have embraced a leader linked to white supremacy. They have committed themselves to the “white bubble.” That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Or should.

A young man sits on the floor between two bookshelves. He has a book open on his upraised knees and several other books open on the floor beside him.
(uncredited photo via BuddyMantra)

A balanced reading diet prepares us for the future

If we want to prepare ourselves to help create and participate in a more equitable world, we have work to do. We need to learn about white privilege, if that’s a new concept. For those who’ve lived in the “white bubble,” we have to practice before we can perceive the privilege that surrounds us. We also need a willingness to understand how our privilege actually hurts all of us—yes, even those who enjoy the privilege.

We need to ground ourselves in non-white experiences, to keep our thinking lives balanced. Learn about microaggressions, and why their relentless barrage is so destructive. One of my teaching classes included a book titled We Can’t Teach What we Don’t Know. We can’t teach, and we can’t live, in more adaptive ways without broader understanding.

Why seek a broader understanding? We owe it to ourselves, if we value the ideals of a resilient democracy. We’re at a crossroads. Unless we work with other Americans to build a national identity that embraces diversity, we’ll limp into the future diminished and wounded by internal strife.

Recipe for a balanced reading diet

If you want to build a balanced reading diet, I’d recommend several things, but first a guiding principle: just as a balanced diet incorporates a variety of foods, a variety of information sources build a balanced reading diet.

Logos for two great podcasts from NPR, “Code Switch,” and “Throughline.”
Two great podcasts from NPR, Code Switch focuses on culture and current events, while Throughline offers insights from lesser-known history. (Logos via NPR podcast listings)

News and commentary

Study up on antiracism, especially if you’re not sure about claims that white people enjoy a privileged status, or why that might be a problem. Authors who are persons of color can speak from a place of authority on this topic. Podcasts I’d particularly recommend: Code Switch and Throughline, both from NPR.

If you’re lucky enough to have a local newspaper—or at least a broadcast station that covers local news—listen to it or read and support it. Local media keep local governments and other centers of power more accountable.

Likewise, get your national and international news from a variety of well-regarded sources. Include at least one national newspaper, and a news source from a foreign country, such as Reuters or Al Jazeera. Don’t rely on just one source for everything! And make sure you can distinguish straight news from opinion.

This image provides a montage of book covers for works by Black authors, giving a glimpse of the recommendations list in the article.
TED speakers offered their recommendations for 62 great books by Black authors. (TED Ideas)

Don’t neglect fiction

Both nonfiction and fiction offer new windows on the world. Fiction is arguably one of our earliest forms of meaning-making, so don’t dismiss it as useless and frivolous. It is primal. (And, serious novels aside, sometimes we urgently need frivolity in our lives. Fiction has you covered there, too!)

Seek out authors from a variety of backgrounds. As influential novels of the past have shown, sometimes the best way to explore an idea is to wrap it in a riveting story.

That’s my recipe. What do you think? Do you have a balanced reading diet? Please comment below! What’s on your “must-read” list?

This quote-image features the silhouette of a young boy and the William Godwin quote, “He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”
A classic quote from Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin. (GladReaders)

IMAGE SOURCES:

Many thanks to CASSIEM and Food52, for the photo still life by Juliette Tang, as well as an enjoyable article and several more photos by Tang. I appreciate the British Library for an interesting article on some of its holdings by 18th-century Black authors, and the illustration of the portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. I’m grateful to BuddyMantra for the uncredited photo of the young man in the library, from Pallavi Dutta’s article about “30 Things Only Booklovers Can Relate To.” Thanks also to NPR podcasts, Code Switch, and Throughline, for their logos, and to TED’s “Ideas” for the illustration and the article on “62 Great Books by Black Authors Recommended by TED Speakers.” And finally, I also want to thank Glad Readers for the Quote-image featuring the quote from Mary Shelleys father, William Godwin.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”

What Black History Month means to me

At the coldest, bleakest time of each year in the United States, we observe first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in late January, and then Black History Month in February.

I know there are non-racist reasons for this scheduling. Dr. King’s birthday is January 15. February was chosen by a Black historian for Black History Month (originally Black History Week) because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both were born in February (Feb. 12 and 14, respectively).

But I sometimes feel as if this is a way white people accepted so they could seem “enlightened,” get them over with early, and then move on. Like maybe they won’t have to think about Black people the rest of the year.

This quote from Chris Rock says, “Black History Month is in the shortest month of the year, and the coldest—just in case we want to have a parade.”
(AZ Quotes)

Thinking about Black people all year

In recent years I’ve observed Black History Month annually on Artdog Adventures. But we cannot relegate any aspect of our history and national culture to a shadowed corner for ten and a half months of the year.

It’s impossible to live an honest life in today’s world without acknowledging Black people’s pervasive contributions to all aspects of our society, and the incredible depth of their talent pool. Simply put, Black people make our country a better place to live.

This quote from Yvette Clarke says, “We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”
(AZ Quotes)

Like other meaningful annual observations, Black History Month should be a time of renewing our understanding and deepening our knowledge. The only way to truly grow in our antiracist understanding is to go back to the well of clear-eyed understanding with open-hearted empathy.

Black History Month at a unique moment in US history

If 2020 taught us anything, it should have taught us that way too many of us white folks are clueless and insensitive at best, can often be racist jerks, and may even be violent white supremacists at worst. It should have taught us to respect the massive contributions to our lives by our communities of color.

These groups disproportionately provided the essential workers who’ve kept the rest of us alive—at great personal cost. They came out to vote in huge numbers, overcoming sometimes-daunting obstacles, and literally saved our democracy (if we can keep it). In many ways, white Americans cannot easily fathom how very much gratitude we owe them.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”
(Jan S. Gephardt)

Of course, a lot of us white people are really slow learners, so the inequities persist. A living wage continues to elude many who are still employed. Medical professionals who should know better continue to cherish magical thinking about Black pain tolerance or ignore what their Black patients say. Systemically racist police practices continue to oppress and overpolice and kill.

No turning back now

Some powerful (and a lot of ordinary) white people still act and talk as if we could go back to “the way it used to be” after the pandemic has passed. Now that we have a new administration, they say, we should let bygones be bygones, in the name of “unity.

News flash: time marches on, just as inexorably as the Black Lives Matter demonstrators did last summer. Change has occurred. We’ve seen too much, lost too many family members, and sacrificed too much to subside into numb complacency now.

Not if we retain the smallest scintilla of survival instinct.

This quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, S.C. reads, “Together we imagine a circle of compassion with no one standing outside of it.”
(Ignatian Solidarity Network)

If we didn’t realize it before, we no longer have any excuses. Everyone now knows how very many things can, and have, and do go wrong. When incompetent people collude with greedy people from a position of abused power, disasters ensue.

It’s going to take all of us, with all of our pooled talent, strength, and resiliency, to pull our country out of the fire. Let’s harness the understandings we gain during Black History Month, together with the spirit of genuine antiracism. Then let’s go forward to create a better future for all of us.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to AZ Quotes: first for the Chris Rock quote, and second for the quote from US Rep. Yvette Clarke. I assembled the quote from author Ijeoma Oluo with some help from 123rf. And I appreciate the Ignatian Solidarity Network for the quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, SC.

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