I realise that I may lose the respect of most of you if I admit that I’m learning my life lessons from Grey’s Anatomy, but then with Shonda Rhimes being one of the most powerful women in TV right now, perhaps this isn’t as trite as you might think…
In a recent episode to air in the UK, ‘Personal Jesus‘, the show takes on the harrowing issue of police brutality in the US. 12-year-old Eric is brought into the ER having been shot in the neck by a police officer as he tried to break into his own house, having forgotten his keys.
I won’t spoil the outcome for those who haven’t seen it, but what this case does result in is Dr Bailey and Dr Warren going home to have ‘the talk’ with Bailey’s son Tucker.
I’d read about ‘the talk’ in books, fiction and non-fiction, and had thought that I got it, as much as I could get it given that I would never have to have that talk with my children. I’d seen police brutality played out in films and TV shows and thought I ‘got it’. But it wasn’t until this scene that I realised how much I do not ‘get it’.
Seeing this young boy holding his hands behind his head, practising for a future encounter with the police as these two characters calmly told him to keep his emotions in check and to never, ever run, no matter how scared he may be, reduced me to tears. The most upsetting part was how these two characters I’d come to know and love seemed so resigned to this moment as part of raising their child, an African-American child. That one of my best friends might have to one day have that conversation with her son while I would never have to have it with mine.
The very fact that I won’t have to have ‘the talk’ with my children is why the point of this post is not my sadness or how upsetting I found an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not me trying to win points or centre myself by saying I suddenly understand something that I could never fully understand. The point is that for all the ‘diverse reading’ that I’ve undertaken, there’s still so much more to do and learn. Reading ‘diversely’ is becoming more and more common in online book groups and places like Bookstagram. It is important to keep it up, but I fear we are in danger of ‘diversity’ becoming a meaningless buzzword, a hygiene factor – “hey I’ve read X number of diverse authors this month, job done!” – without actually learning from what we’re reading, or doing anything about it.
To mark Black History Month in the US, Didi (aka Brown Girl Reading) runs a month-long photo challenge to encourage people to read more literature by African-American writers. While I knew I couldn’t guarantee to read exclusively Black authors in February as I’d committed to reading preview copies of upcoming books, I still participated in the photo challenge aspect on Instagram.
Coming to the end of the month, I was aware of how many prompts I’d had to skip. I have quite a few non-white authors on my shelf, but the majority of them are writing about race – that is not diversity any more than women being given more opportunities to write, but only being allowed to write about “women’s issues” was ever equality. Equality is not achieved by non-white authors only being allowed to write about race – why could I not meet the “Mystery” prompt? The “Favourite Couple”? The “Favourite Secondary Character”? I have a woefully small number of books where non-white authors are just writing whatever the hell they want.
“It is not a racial problem. It is a problem of whether or not you are willing to look at your life and be responsible for it, and then begin to change it.”
– James Baldwin
After watching Grey’s, I went to my bookshelf, picked up I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin and read it cover to cover. It was a powerful read and reminded me about how important words are in inspiring change.
For now, I’m going to finish this post by taking what seems to be the one unanimous piece of advice for white allies: step aside and let non-white people speak. Talk less, listen more. To that end, I’ve put together a list of books and other resources by Black creators. Some of these are things I’ve found myself, but others are things that have been recommended to me. This is just a very small start, so please give me any recommendations you have – book, music, film, podcast, whatever you can think of, I want to know about it!
As books are my primary way of learning about this topic, I’ve put together a Goodreads shelf of all the books I’ve read by Black authors, ones I have on my TBR, and the titles that have been recommended to me – thank you to all the friends on Bookstagram who’ve recommended titles and authors that are now on this shelf.
I’m a big fan of a podcast called Kicking the Kyriarchy, which aims to platform marginalised voices. While the show is run by two white women, they always take a backseat as interviewers. As it happens, the most recent episode, released today, looks at the topic of Slavery. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but it features Kehinde Andrews, an Associate Professor in Sociology at Birmingham City University; Afua Hirsch, journalist and author of Brit(ish); and Marivic from The Voice of Domestic Workers, a self-help group of migrant domestic workers in the UK.
Other episodes featuring Black voices:
The ShoutOut Network, the network behind Melanin Millennials (see above) have also compiled a list of The Top 5 Black-British Podcasts. The network also have a new podcast, Wannabe, a weekly goals and development podcast to take the listener to where they want to be in 30 minutes.
Bloggers & Bookstagrammers
Brown Girl Reading – Blogger, bookstagrammer and creator of the #ReadSoulLit challenge
Aissata Abigail – Books & lifestyle blogger, bookstagrammer, and my upcoming buddy reader for Eleanor Oliphant is Fine!
@ColourLit_UK – Bookstagrammer and lawyer who very kindly explained to me this week what Vero’s Ts&Cs actually mean :P!
@BooksAndRhymes – Bookstagrammer and soon-to-be podcaster, we had an interesting discussion about Afua Hirsch’s book Brit(ish), and she gave me some great recommendations for books about Black British History (all of which are on the shelf). She was also kind enough to pre-read this post and give me some feedback – so an all-round top gal!
@DisabilityFashionStylist – Stylist, Fashion Consultant and Social Entrepreneur, Stephanie shares a lot of interesting content about disability in fashion and is currently writing a book!
Michelle Daley – Michelle is a black disabled woman who has worked in the disability field for over 15 years. I first saw Michelle speak on a panel about disability and feminism at the 2017 Women of the World Festival. She also features on Episode 18 of Kicking the Kyriarchy talking about being disabled in Britain today.
Keeper of Pages – Janel is a book blogger and bookstagrammer who I’ve been following for a while. She recently hosted a readalong of Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things – a story about a black nurse who is accused of murdering the baby of a white supremacist couple. As you can imagine, there was a LOT of discussion to be had about that book!