Side Project: Diverse Study Group

divstgr

Ugh I wanted to post last night but migraine struck again. I didn’t want to post without an image though, so today is the day! Maybe it’s my migraine hangover brain, but while rereading the rows of text confused even me, thus have some random keywords emphasized for (hopefully) readability.

The What & The How

So during the holidays I mentioned on twitter that I wanted to read up on current mostly academic nonfiction and asked if anyone wanted to join in. Loved that so many of you were interested, and hope you still are at the end of this post! 😀

I graduated last year, but have continued reading articles and nonfiction regularly, however I miss the exchange and discussion part of uni that generates understanding and new ideas. So that’s why I want to make this a regular thing and also involve you folks. Knowledge production happens in fiction and on social media, especially twitter, as well, so reading scholarly works would just be another, perhaps complimentary,  approach. I realize that these works might not be accessible to all, but perhaps the format of an informal study group encourages people who wouldn’t pick up these works by themselves. Disclosure: I’ve done grad school twice, but I had to work for it, my brain is super slow. I hope to have discussions that have space for non-academic folks and a context that is not competitive. As for actually getting our hands on these books, I can ILL many UP books (which takes 2-3 weeks) here and probably share 1-2 chapters as pdfs. We might also decide to read articles and I still have access to some databases. Perhaps between all of us, we’ll manage with most works, I’m hopeful.

Which brings me to another thing: This project would basically be a study group not a book club in that we would be reading chapters from books (and /or articles), perhaps several different books to get at several ways of approaching a topic. We could always later decide if we want to continue with a specific book all the way through, but the wonderful Social Justice Book Club does this and I want to join their reading whenever a book interests me 🙂 Let me know what you think! I know we all have lots of other books to read.

Also, I was thinking of reading and discussing 1-3 chapters a month, using a hashtag (#DivStGr for example). Or we could use a shared google document perhaps. We’ll need to see how the time-zones work out, but perhaps weekends with not quite live-tweeting would work.

Also, you’ll notice that this is a book list that is broad in topics and  lot of books are left out. That is because I finally have to luxury to read widely rather than in-depth to become an expert in one particular topic. However, my focus is clearly on ethnic studies, feminism and social justice and at the moment I’m mostly focusing on the these experiences in a Western context. So there’s several fields I want to explore, and that’s how I grouped books. Of course several books would fit more than one category, but this is easier for overview, I hope.

And finally, tons of books are missing from this list. I forced myself to post only a handful of books I want to read to start with, my initial list was embarrassingly long! But I’m sure you have suggestions, too, and when we decide on a fist topic we should do additional research as well. While my goal is to read newish research, I found that it might benefit discussion and understanding to go back more so that foundational and key texts can be added too. So the older works could be read if some of you are new to a concept or topic, or for comparisons and to find changes in directions of where the field is headed.

Fields of interest/ books to read from:

Intersectional Feminism, Solidarity, Disability

are-all-the-womem-white

Are All The Women Still White?: Rethinking Race, Expanding Feminisms  (Janell Hobson)

intersectionality

Intersectionality (Patricia Hill Collins, Sirma Bilge)

feminist-quer-crip

Feminist, Queer, Crip (Alison Kafer)

#BlackLivesMatter

policing-the-planet

Policing the Planet (Jordan T. Camp, Christina Heatherton, eds.)

blacklib

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor)

The Prison Industrial Complex

global-lockdown

Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex (Julia Sudbury, ed.)

captive-genders

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (Eric A. Stanley, Nat Smith, eds.)

are-prisons-obsolete

Are Prisons Obsolete? (Angela Y. Davis)

Sound Studies

sonic-color-line

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (Jennifer Lynn Stoever)

dissonant-divas

Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda (Deborah R. Vargas)

Indigineity, Settler-Colonialism, Sovereignty

decolonizing

Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Linda Tuhiwai Smith)

asian-settler-colonialism

Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai’i (Candace Fujikane, Jonathan Y. Okamura, eds.)

Queer Studies

queer-activism

Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics (Naisargi Dave)

black-queer-studies

Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (E. Patrick Johnson, Mae G. Henderson, eds.)

Critical Ethnic Studies

critical-ethnic-studies

Critical Ethnic Studies: A Reader (Critical Ethnic Studies Editorial Collective)

Biopolitics

bioinsecurities

Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species (Neel Ahuja)

habeas

Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Alexander G. Weheliye)

Health, Medicine

medicating-race

Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Anne Pollock)

blood-sugar

Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America (Anthony Ryan Hatch)

So, what do you think? Are you in? Let me know your thoughts on the project, books on your radar and directions you want to explore!

P.S.: I’m totally taking ideas on the name!

Advertisements

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

Welcome to WOCreads!

After book blogging for many years, I have found myself in need of a change. In these rough times, I have decided that I want and need the blog to be at once a statement and an archive and resource. Hopefully people looking for diverse literature, specifically by women of color, will find their next read here (and the next, and the one after that).

WocReads at once refers to the books I want to discuss in this space, and to myself, a woman of color who reads. So yes, this is personal. Much love to the #DiverseBookBloggers family for making me feel brave!

This blog is a work in progress and changing urls does not mean I’m going to be a super blogger. It’s just me claiming my corner! 🙂

Best,

B.

Thoughts: One Crazy Summer

gaither sisters

One Crazy Summer is the first book in a middle-grade trilogy about three Black sisters growing up during the 1960s/70s. In the (crazy) summer of 1968, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent by their father to Oakland, California to visit their mother Cecile, who left them years ago. Instead of spending time with her estranged daughters, Cecile sends them to the Black Panther People’s Center for some real education (and perhaps some convenient babysitting) and holes herself up in her kitchen.

You can see how Williams-Garcia sets the stage here not only for some much-needed Black historical fiction, but also an exploration of the meaning of family, of love and abandonment and growth. The book shines with outstanding characters against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, but the tone is never preachy and the social commentary handled subtly.

Eleven going on twelve Delphine narrates this story, and she is a mature and strong young girl with too much responsibility as she tries to take on the role of mother to her younger sisters. Through Delphine we hear Big Ma’s opinion on those militants in berets she sees on tv who are just making trouble, Delphine being told to be a good girl because she presents the entire Black community; we see her learning about the community support system set up by the Black Panthers. There’s a lot of learning and growing done by the girls in Oakland.

Another aspect I loved was the mother-daughter relationship between Cecile and Delphine wo, unlike her sisters, still has memories of her mother.The author handles this relationship so well, this is not about making Cecile a villain or a corny happy end, but instead Delphine learns of her mother’s identity as a person outside of being a mother. Cecile who is now Sister Nzilla turns out to be a poetess of the revolution. It is clear that she does not want to be a mother and does not want to sacrifice her identity for this role. Her behavior and carelessness will shock many, but I appreciate that we learn a bit about her marriage and her reasons for leaving. While Nzilla tells her daughter to enjoy being a kid, it is clear that Delphine felt she had to sacrifice being a child. Perhaps this is a lesson in selfishness that Delphine can learn from. Williams-Garcia makes it possible for readers to feel compassion for Nzilla, for all that she is a terrible mother.

And the younger sisters come to life as well: Vonetta with her desire for being seen and heard, practicing for the stage and then getting stage freight. But also caught between wanting to make friends and being loyal to her sisters. And little Fern who is made fun of for carrying a white doll around with her everywhere and never getting her mother to use her real name. But oh, little Fern gets her moment toward the end of the book and it is utterly amazing!

For the weighty subjects covered, One Crazy Summer is a fun and quick read and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the Gaither sisters. Luckily there are two sequels that I immediately put on my tbr after finishing the book. I’m glad I found a new-to-me author who has also quite the backlist for me to explore. And it looks like I need to explore more middle-grade literature, not that I’m especially biased towards it, but it was just rarely on my radar!

Other thoughts:

Ana @ Things Mean A Lot

Lady Business

Reading in Color

Rhapsody in Books

The Englishist

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

(Why) Should we read middle-grade fiction? Tell me in the comments!

Thoughts: Coffee Will Make You Black

coffee will make you black

April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black is the coming-of-age story of young Jean “Stevie” Stevenson who grows up in the Chicago Southside of the 1960s, in the midst of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. As a bildungsroman, the novel follows Stevie from age eleven until seventeen and her journey of self-discovery  as well as her and her community’s place in the US. If, like me, you’re not from the US, the title may have you confused. Coffe will make you Black is explained by Stevie’s grandmother as:

“The old folks in the South used to tell that to children so they wouldn’t want to drink coffee. The last thing anybody wanted to be was black.”

Horrible isn’t it? As you can see, and important part of the novel revolves about racism and racial identity. Sinclair also critiques the colorism inside and outside of the Black community. For Stevie is very dark-skinned and among her group of friends they like to compare their skin color to see who is the lightest. Alongside these notions of colorism is the rise of the Black Power movement through which Stevie comes to reject anti-blackness. Instead, she decides to wear her hair in a ‘fro and refuses the skin-bleaching cremes her mother offers her. Sinclair further demonstrates the generational conflict at work as Stevie’s mother strives to emulate white people in that she straightens her hair, bleaches her skin and insists on ‘proper’ English. Stevie, however, fights her mother and embraces Black vernacular and insists on staying friends with a girl who is ‘nothing but trouble.’

But square Stevie also longs to be part of the cool group, which leads to boyfriends with misogynistic attitudes and nearly having sex before she is ready. Growing closer to white school nurse Horn, Stevie comes to re-evaluate her sexual identity and also her community’s attitudes towards interracial friendship and homosexuality that she had previously accepted without question.

In the end, the novel proudly declares that ‘Black is beautiful’ and Stevie’s grandmother offers an other saying, ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ as counterpoints to the titular racist idiom. Sinclair for the most part wonderfully connects and interrelates the coming of age story and the Civil Rights narrative, even if some moments could’ve done with a lighter touch. But this is a debut novel and it spoke to me on so many levels. I can only imagine what this book might mean to all the Stevies out there. And apart from its obvious importance in telling the story of growing up a Black girl in the 60s, a lot of the book is uproriously funny! I can only draw from other readings and movies about the time and community for comparison, but I think Sinclair’s use of vernacular is fantastic and lends the book much of its charm.

Luckily there is a sequel, Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, which follows Stevie’s exploration of her sexual identity in her college years in San Francisco. I can’t wait to read it!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

What’s your favorite coming of age story? Tell me in the comments!

Thoughts: The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris

sisters are alright

The Sisters Are Alright is first of all a love note Tamara Winfrey Harris has written to other black women. It’s a warm, welcoming book that celebrates their complexities and humanity. I hope Harris’ book will be a gift given to many young black girls. I read this book to understand the specific lived experience of black women in the United States, become a better ally and just rejoice in the celebration of women of color.

“Black women’s stories look a lot different from what you’ve heard. And when black women speak for themselves, the picture presented is nuanced, empowering, and hopeful”

Some of you might know the author from her blog What Tami Said or from her editor work on Racialicious. In her first book, Harris starts by introducing the history of propaganda against black women and the major harmful stereotypes that were introduced during slavery and have become the backbone of the current racist, sexist society of the US. This first part will be very educational for anyone not part of the target audience, but it is tough reading as Harris covers everything from Sapphire to the welfare queen and the Moynihan Report to hurtful current beauty and marriage double standards.

Harris shows how stereotypes of the ‘angry black women’ are still pulled out even on successful women like Shonda Rhimes or Michelle Obama. Or how the myth of the ‘strong black women’ hurts black women emotionally or physically, causing stress and serious health issues when they try to appear strong all their lives.

But Harris writes engagingly and encouragingly, dismantling these misogynoir traps and interspersing them with little boxes called ‘Moments in Alright,’ which shows that black women are indeed alright. Here Harris presents snippets about black women as successful business owners, achieving amazing educational goals and more.

There’s one caveat, but Harris is very upfront about it, the women she interviewed and focused on are largely well-off middle-class and for the most part straight. Make sure to read about these experiences, too. Recommendation: Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.

If you’re on a tight budget, like me, the book is even available on Scribd. And isn’t the cover the best thing ever? The Sisters Are Alright is also my first read for the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge this year.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti-Nnedi-Okorafor

In Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s short novella, the eponymous Binti is only 16 years old, when she leaves her family to be the first of the Himba people to go to Oomza University. Managing to get onto the ship to Oomza, Binti starts settling into her new reality, only to find herself in the middle of the ongoing war with the Meduse (I won’t go into the details here, don’t want to spoil anyone!). In this spin on the classic coming-of-age story, Okorafor takes on racism, colonialism and imperialism, and most importantly envisions a fantastic future that isn’t white-washed.

Okorafor takes the Himba people of the Namib desert and aspects of their culture with her into her future. Having to manage water carefully, they use otjize to clean their bodies to protect hair and skin from drying out. The mixture of ochre and butter fat is also a great part of aesthetics and beauty standards and shows their connection to the land. Google to see images of Himba covered in otjize and look at that gorgeous cover of the book.

The Himba people in the novella do not leave their land and prefer to look inwards, they are extremely innovative and knowledgeable about technology and mathematics. Binti’s father passed down this knowledge to his daughter, who became a masterful harmonizer at the young age of 12. It is this skill that has landed Binti a place at Oomza. Binti is determined to take her place Oomza University even though she knows she will have to give up her family and never be accepted home again. And so, when Binti leaves, she takes a big pot of otjize with her.

Otjize comes to play an important part in how Binti manages to navigate both her identity and her encounter with the Meduse. But before that, she is confronted with the gaze of the Khoush (this group remains vague, but it is clear that they are lighter-skinned and used to being the dominant group among humans), who find her otjize repellant, smelly and try to touch her hair. For some of you this might sounds familiar.

With such a short work, I think each plot point goes a long way, so I won’t talk more about what happens once the Meduse take over the ship. But I can only encourage you take join Binti on her journey! I absolutely loved Binti, so I’m glad there are a lot more books by Okorafor waiting for me. Happily, my copy of Lagoon arrived yesterday, so I don’t even have to wait!

Other thoughts:

booksreenchanted

Read Diverse Books

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

cutting-season

Belle Vie is a beautiful, sprawling estate in Louisiana, the ideal place for wedding parties. Oh, and it’s a former sugar cane plantation turned museum theater. As the general manager, Caren Gray works and lives on the property, where her ancestors were slaves. On the land outside the gates a huge corporation exploits cheap workers from Mexico. Tensions mount when one of the workers is found with her throat slit and Caren finds that the murder, the disappearance of a former slave in the past and her own family history are all intertwined.

This was my first of Attica Locke’s works and it is pretty much perfect. Mystery is one of my preferred genres and combine that with the social commentary, it makes my social justice warrior heart swell. And Locke is clearly very talented in that she manages to wrap complex characters, social justice, literary writing style and an exciting mystery all in one book.

The setting of the story, the eerily beautiful antebellum plantation Belle Vie really becomes a character in its own right and Caren’s late-night movements across the estate evoke a haunting atmosphere that was hard to shake after I finished the book. Not being from the US maybe I just don’t get the normalcy of it, but the re-enactments, that’s pretty messed up. I mean I understand the importance of bringing history to life, of refusing denial and forgetting to white people. But the trauma of standing where your ancestors were enslaved and taking on that role? As always, taking on the labor of teaching anti-racism in the hopes of working towards dismantling it. For more anti-racist work about slavery museum theater, let me recommend the webseries Ask A Slave.

ask

I also really appreciate the connection Locke draws between the antebellum slavery economy and current forms of exploitation of labor, such as cheap and often undocumented workers from Mexico. In an interview, Locke states: “I do think that for people of color – and also for women, frankly – that our economic ascent is always complicated by the fact that you’re aware of people who aren’t coming up with you” (NPR). That’s the spirit of solidarity I’m always hoping for in social justice work!

As a thriller by a woman of color writer, reading The Cutting Season counts for both R.I.P. X and Diversiverse. Aarti wrote that reading more diversely does not mean you have to change your book reading habits and I think this work is a great example of that. If you’re a mystery buff like myself, pick up this one!

Have your reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Other thoughts:

Olduvai Reads