Prompted by a desire to understand how, as Christians, we should respond to the deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Rayshard Brooks, a group last year read and discussed How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. The book was thought provoking and helpful. In an effort to continue our learning and discussion of race and reconciliation, we will again select a book on race or racial reconciliation and discuss it as a group on a day in late July or early August. The book selection and discussion date will be based on responses to a survey in which participants indicate which book(s) they would like to read and when they are available to meet. We will select the book and date preferred by the greatest number of responders.
To participate in selecting a book and a date to discuss the book, fill out the form at this link by June 21.
The books under consideration are described below.
- Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (496 pg.; NY Times Bestseller) Wilkerson explores how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, she explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, and stigma. Using stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and others—she shows the ways caste is experienced every day.
- So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo (256 pg.; NY Times Bestseller) Olua discusses a wide range of topics related to racism, including microaggressions, intersectionality, privilege, cultural appropriation, and affirmative action, and provides some concrete steps to help dismantle the systemic racial divide.
- The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. (370 pg.; NY Times Bestseller, an NPR Best Book of the Year) Rothstein shows that America’s cities became racially divided through de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions of local, state, and federal governments—which promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue today. He shows how de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, and how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post–World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans.
- Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring by Judge Richard Gergel (324 pg.) On February 12, 1946, Sgt. Isaac Woodard, a returning African American veteran in uniform, was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg, South Carolina, after he challenged the bus driver’s disrespectful treatment of him. Woodard was arrested by the local police chief, beaten and blinded while in custody. President Truman was outraged by the incident. In response, he established the first presidential commission on civil rights and ordered an end to segregation in the U.S. armed forces. An all-white South Carolina jury acquitted the police chief, but the presiding judge, Waties Waring, was conscience-stricken by the failure of the court system to do justice by the soldier. Waring then began issuing major civil rights decisions, including a 1951 dissent declaring public school segregation per se unconstitutional. Three years later, the Supreme Court adopted Waring’s language and reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education. This book is also the subject of a PBS video.
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (192 pg.; NY Times bestseller) DiAngelo illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’. Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (320 pg.; one of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a PEN/Hemingway award winner) In Ghana, in the 18th century, two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in that same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. The book illustrates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed–and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (210 pg.; winner of 2020 Pulitzer for Fiction) When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. His only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naïve, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. The novel is based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children.
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (350 pg.; NY Times best seller; named a Best Book of 2020 by the NY Times and The Washington Post) The Vignes twin sisters grew up together in a small, southern black community and ran away at age sixteen, but as adults, everything about their lives is different: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Bennett produces a story that is an emotional family story and an exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (332 pg.; one of NYT 10 best books of 2018) George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black tells a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption of a world destroyed and made whole again, and asks the question, What is true freedom?