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January 28, 2021
The acronym DEI (also commonly framed as DEIJ, JEDI, EDI, REI, or REDI) is based in the ideals for enhancing social justice. When framing this at an organizational level we can break it down as such:
“Diversity is bringing those with a unique perspective or life experience to the decision-making table, focusing particularly on racial and ethnic groups, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and women. Equity is promoting justice, impartiality, and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as the distribution of resources. Inclusion is ensuring diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes of an organization.”1
The Alliance’s DEIJ staff committee has provided opportunities for our organization to learn, participate, implement, and encourage social justice through our work, processes, and everyday rhetoric. With just two years under our belt, we still have many hurdles and opportunities ahead of us. But this is a continued effort – one that requires intense vulnerability, a willingness to be better than we were, and learning… lots of learning. As an avid reader I cherish the knowledge gained from books. They are the (paper) brick and mortar of my brain. I believe the topics we choose to read define our exposure to the world around us, it is how we spend our time and what we amplify. Not to sound too Spiderman-y but “With the privilege to read and to think comes great responsibility.”2 Learning about different experiences, cultures, and races helps us develop a richer understanding of the world, stronger interpersonal skills, and greater creativity. Diversifying our reading should occur all year round, not just on a topical month. However, with this being Black History Month and the start of a new year, I thought it would be an apt time to highlight the Alliance’s DEIJ 2020 Book Club choices for your 2021 reading list consideration.
The Alliance’s DEIJ Book Club was created with an intentional focus on race and ethnicity. Our first book, setting the stage for all future conversations, was The Autobiography of Malcolm X By Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The juxtaposition of reading Malcolm’s reflections on the history of race and white supremacy against the backdrop of the social injustices we continued to hear and live each day made it hard to truly ever put this book down. Malcolm’s experiences, teachings, and awakenings became our point of reference (and a common reference in other works) for every book club conversation to come. If you want to dive head first into any conversation about race or Black history in the U.S., Malcolm X needs to be part of your mind’s library.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, followed on our list. Instead of the overt racial conversation we experienced in Malcolm X’s autobiography, Spires’ stories broadly illustrate what it means to be Black in America today. Yet, while it is evident that the short stories compiled focus around Black lives, that is just one of the many layers of life on the page along with mental illness and cosplay to sexual identity and dietary needs. The stories take us through hilarious scrapes and personal awakenings, but all the while remind us that they are seeped reality with stereotypes and bias ever prevalent. Through humor and honesty, the narrator addresses you – the reader – with regular prompts to pay attention to what’s happening on and off the page. Spires provides a phenomenal book, teeming with authenticity, through the depiction of race as one of the many complexities of life while in the same breath being the lens in which each characters’ every action cannot escape.
Our next choice was the first and only fiction novel on our list, as well as a recent top seller and motion picture film: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It was hard not to consume this book in one sitting. From the point of view of a young Black girl, the reader sifts through the layers of friendship, growth, and acceptance along with racism, code switching, and police brutality. The story is one we’ve all seen on the news and social media feeds but not necessarily at the personal level. It dives deep into the mindset of a young adult facing the trauma of losing her friend at the hands of a police officer and the impact of every little decision or conversation that followed. As a white woman I can’t truly know the fear or complexities involved in driving while Black, but it is my job as member of this society to learn about these realities and the societal structures that make them so. While it is a fiction novel, I think The Hate U Give has helped many people inch a bit closer towards that understanding. As Thomas said, “I think books play a huge role in… opening people’s eyes and they’re a form of activism in their own right, in the fact that they do empower people and show others the lives of people who may not be like themselves.”3
The last book I will mention is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written in the form of a letter to his son, Coates lays out the world as he has experienced it: with stark intimacy and hyper-relevant reflections. It was almost overwhelming to try and put yourself into the shoes of the 15 year old boy it’s meant for. You start to wonder is this enough information? Too much? And then compare it to the talks and stories you were raised on. Was race ever part of that conversation? What about privilege, power dynamics, gender norms and expectations? Coates strikes deep into the soul by weaving the hard truths of our society with his own story and introducing us to the Mecca that helped spur his own understanding: the library.
I hope these book suggestions fill your month and inspire your year of reading. In case you’re wondering, the next book on our list is Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom, and it’s already challenging me in both content and concept. Have other suggestions for our DEIJ Book Club? Send us an email! email@example.com
1 D5 Coalition: http://www.d5coalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/D5-Take5-Booklet.pdf
2 Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick, Pg. 47
3 The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/27/angie-thomas-the-hate-u-give-interview-famous-fans-readers
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