Home is Where the Hatred is
We often think of bigotry in terms of individual failings. We shame individuals who perpetuate racism and homophobia as people separate from a well-meaning whole. Instead, we should think of them as members of society that allows such attitudes to continue. These books explore how societies are very much complicit in the veils we claim to reject.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
“It occurred to me that no matter where I lived, geography could not save me.”
While no longer enslaved, you would be hard-pressed to convince African Americans living in the south that they were actually free. Between Jim Crow, lynchings, the racket of sharecropping and a myriad of other depravations of the liberties granted to white Americans, southern blacks were trapped in veritable caste system. Ensnared in American deliberateness with little recourse, what could they do? They left. Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of America’s Great Migration, where from 1915 to 1970, millions of African Americans moved out of the southern states to nearly all other sectors of the country. And let’s say they weren’t necessarily welcomed with opened arms.
Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America by Beryl Satter
“Black Chicagoans who were victimized by both real estate speculators and unscrupulous credit merchants were left to face devil’s choices.”
Housing is one of the most significant factors in determining quality of life, especially for our children. Where you live affects the quality of schooling, whether the local grocery store is within two block or two miles, and how far the nearest hospital is. Live in a good neighborhood? Then you’re probably close to Whole Foods and your child’s school likely has a great budget. Live in a bad neighborhood? Well, you’re probably in a food desert and your kid’s school is likely underfunded and understaffed. Also, if you’re black, you’re likely living in the latter. Worst of all, it’s no accident. This is why Beryl Satter’s Family Properties is so important. One part family memoir, one part history of housing discrimination in Chicago, Satter chronicles how America’s black ghettos are not accidents, but creations of public policy. From racial covenants to contract lending to every underhanded method in between, Chicago created the standard that the rest of the nation would follow, effects of which African Americans are still feeling today.
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla
“You cannot tell them about your life. It would reveal your caste. Because your life is your caste, your caste is your life. Whether they know the truth or not, your untouchable life is never something you can talk about.”
India’s ancient, infamous caste system was formally outlawed by independent India under their new constitution in 1950. Theoretically, no one should be discriminated against for what would have been their “untouchable” status. Looking at India today and talking to the Dalits, however, you’d wonder if the government was peddling snake oil. In her book, Gilda provides portrait of modern India through the personal history of her family. From the abject poverty of her childhood village to the struggles of her parents and uncle to overcome myriad forms of discrimination, Gilda delivers the uncomfortable truth that despite the many changes sweeping India, for many, nothing has changed.
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? By Mumia Abu-Jamal
“The sad truth is, being Black in America is akin to being born low-caste in India, where separate and unequal rules remain, despite promises in their constitution.”
With one of the most provocative titles to a book you will ever see (and it’s answer even more so), Abu-Jamal reflects on the perpetual invisibility of black humanity in America. He starts in 1998 with the murder of James Byrd Jr. by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, and the beheading of Garnett P. Johnson in Virginia. He goes on to write his musings of numerous acts of violence, oppression and injustices committed against black Americans. It is a passionate critique of a country that continually fails a significant segment of its citizenry.
The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman
“Someone got up there and said, ‘C'mon, guys, let's show the world that Laramie is not this kind of a town.’ But it is that kind of a town. If it wasn't this kind of a town, why did this happen here?”
On Oct. 6, 1998, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson offered gay college student Matthew Shepard a ride home from a bar. Instead, they would rob him, pistol whip him and leave him tied him to a fence, injuries from which he would later die. The Laramie Project isn’t just about the killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. It is about the situations that could lead to such a heinous act. It is about the collective homophobia of a town, a state, a country. It forces us to look at systemic biases and hatred, showing us that blaming and punishing individuals is not nearly enough to create change.