Home / Blogs / The Pages of Black History – Every Month
February 2, 2022
DEIJ, also commonly framed as DEI, JEDI, EDI, REI, or REDI, is an acronym based on the ideals of enhancing social justice, often standing for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and 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 for the Chesapeake Bay created its own DEIJ staff committee in 2018, providing opportunities for our organization to learn about social justice through informal discussions, webinars, and educational trainings. With three years of dedicated DEIJ efforts under our belt, we still have many hurdles and opportunities ahead of us. This is a continued effort – one that requires intense vulnerability, a willingness to be better than we were, and a dedication to learning…lots of learning. But by enhancing our understanding of social justice, specifically in the environmental field, our staff can create more meaningful connections with communities disproportionately affected by climate change and polluted waterways.
One way our team has chosen to advance our knowledge of DEIJ is through a book club. 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; it is 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 or empathic skills, and greater creativity.
I will start by saying diversifying your reading should occur all year round, not just on a topical month. However, with it being Black History Month and the start of a new year, this is an excellent time to update the Alliance’s DEIJ Book Club list for your 2022 reading consideration.
Our first book set the stage for all future conversations: 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 continue to hear and live each day made it hard to truly ever move on from this book. Malcolm’s experiences, teachings, and awakenings became our point of reference (and a common reference in other readings) for every book club conversation to come. If you want to dive headfirst into any conversation about race or Black history in the U.S., you must prioritize Malcolm X.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires followed on our list. Instead of the direct racial injustices we experienced in Malcolm X’s life, Spires’ stories broadly illustrate what it means to be Black in America today without an emphatic focus on race but with stereotypes and bias ever prevalent. The short stories compiled focus on people whose Black identity is just one of their many layers, along with mental illness or gender identity. 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 book teeming with authenticity by depicting race as one of the many complexities of life while, in the same breath, being the crux of prejudice that no character can escape.
Our next choice was the 2017- 2018 top seller and motion picture film: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The story dives deep into the mindset of a young adult having just experienced a racially charged traumatic event and the ripple effect that follows. The reader sifts through the layers of friendship, growth, and acceptance, along with racism, code switching, and police brutality. While it is still a fiction novel, The Hate U Give helps people better understand the embedded racism and injustices many Black Americans face in everyday life. 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 final book of 2020 was 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 put yourself in 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 in which you were raised. Was race ever part of that conversation? What about privilege, power dynamics, or gender roles? Coates strikes deep into the soul by weaving the hard truths of our society with his own experiences and introducing us to the Mecca that shaped his future: a library.
We jumped into 2021 with Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, a collection of short stories based on the author’s personal experiences without any agenda or apology. At a wider lens, this book is about recognizing your unique attributes and owning your complexity – essentially, owning your thickness. In a world filled with silencing, gaslighting, and two-dimensional connections, Cottom reminds us that our thickness can also be found in the hidden challenges or emotional weights we each carry. Thick took me by surprise by applying a microscope to topics, experiences, and opinions that may cause discomfort while reminding me to nonetheless live in my truth.
Next up was How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. A book recently touted as a pillar in racial justice work and personal growth, it definitely lived up to the hype. Kendi opens with a disarming introduction that allows the reader to set aside personal fears or barriers for a more mindful reading experience. The book carries on with Kendi walking in allyship with the reader along their personal, racial justice path as they face each chapter’s difficult topics or hard truths. Kendi offers an opportunity to better yourself by first recognizing his own biases and prejudice. He reminds us that we do not have fixed identities and provides us the grace to reflect and change.
The last book I will mention is You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. This was a unique book to include on our list as it uses humor to balance the gravity of racism. Ruffin, a comedy writer for SNL, tells the true stories of racist interactions that happened to her sister Lacey. The reader follows each situation and Lacey’s thought process when responding in the moment – because it does take a lot of thought. Should she (a) educate this person or (b) walk away. Well, first, she must assess all the variables like her surroundings, energy level, the 1-10 anger level of the person, etc. Ruffin states, “we’re not trying to educate white America” they are just trying to live their lives with respect and peace. The book closes with a poignant reminder for everyone: “remaining silent is no longer a requirement.”
I hope these book suggestions fill your month and inspire your year of reading. Listed below are additional books from our DEIJ Book Club’s library:
Black Faces, White Spaces – A hard look at the history of environmental racism through scientific papers, case studies, research, and interviews.
Braiding Sweetgrass – A personal story of environmental and personal exploration through the eyes of an indigenous woman, often depicted through stories of tribal history, culture, language, and education.
In the Dream House – A memoir shedding light on the biases and misconceptions surrounding abuse in LGBTQIA+ relationships.
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