Social Change Reading List

My friend and I put together a reading list in response to the horrifying election results. You can find it on Goodreads as “Social Change Book Recommendations” or check it out below (the Goodreads list is constantly being updated though). You can also add books to this list.

  • “We Should All be Feminists” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • “Between the World and Me” – Ta-Nahisi Coates
  • “Bad Feminist” – Roxane Gay
  • “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” – Lindy West
  • “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided” – Diane Guerrero
  • “Citizen: An American Lyric” – Claudia Rankine
  • “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” – Marjane Satrapi
  • “March” (Books 1-3) – John Lewis et al.
  • “Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America” – Firoozeh Dumas
  • “Muslims and the Making of America” – Amir Hussain
  • “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” – Jeff Chang
  • “Negroland: A Memoir” – Margo Jefferson
  • “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” – Ibram X. Kendi
  • “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms
  • “When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World” – Greg Jobin-Leeds
  • “The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community” – Mary Pipher
  • “Sex Object” – Jessica Valenti
  • “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America” – Helen Thorpe
  • “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College town” – Jon Krakauer
  • “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim” – Maria M. Ebrahimji
  • “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” – J.D. Vance
  • “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” – bell hooks
  • “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” – Matthew Desmond
  • “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” – Naomi Klein
  • “Known and Strange Things” – Teju Cole
  • “We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler” – Russell Freedman
  • “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color” – Cherrie L. Moraga
  • “Harvest of Empire” A History of Latinos in America” – Juan Gonzalez
  • “Hope in the Dark” – Rebecca Solnit
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” – Michelle Alexander
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement” – Angela Y. Davis
  • “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” – Nancy Isenberg
  • “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People” – Thomas Frank
  • “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” – Jane Mayer
  • “Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it” – Robert B. Reich
  • “The Fire Next Time” – James Baldwin
  • “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race” – Jesmyn Ward
  • “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education” – Mychal Denzel Smith
  • “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” – Wes Moore
  • “Men We Reaped” – Jesmyn Ward
  • “Readin Lolita in Tehran” – Azar Nafisi
  • “The Complete Maus #1-2)” – Art Spiegelman

My Safety Pin Dunce Cap

“Lean into your discomfort.”

I read the phrase this morning in an article urging white people to do more than wear a safety pin. The phrase was used as part of an argument for us to get outside our comfort zone by talking to people of color and delving into the media, opinions and art of marginalized people.

But how do I lean into my discomfort when it feels like the back of my neck has been seized by a populace accepting of a racist, sexist, xenophobe and my head forced  into a toilet?

Like so many white people, I always thought of myself as a helpful ally of people of color. Over the last eighteen months it has become increasingly clear that I have been unaware, cowardly and lazy. I realized that while my ideals may be more aligned with people of color, I will never fully understand their suffering because my background is so different and, yes, privileged. I will never label myself as “woke” because every time I think I get it – what it’s like to be marginalized – I am once again made aware of how truly clueless I am.

Case in point: Safety Pins. I know, you’re probably sick of hearing about this but it’s a prime representation of the willingness of white liberals to give the least amount of effort to improve the world (because god forbid we actually change how we live or have a confrontation). When I first heard people were wearing safety pins to identify themselves as “safe” to those who feeling harassed and scared I was totally, 100% on board. I found a pin, stuck it on my backpack and waited for someone to see it and nod their head at me conspiratorially. It was like a game: I was a part of a secret society of revolutionaries who were going to change this country and the terrifying direction we’re headed in. I wanted a damn safety pin tattoo!

While I had no intention of stopping with safety pins and sitting on my laurels, congratulating myself on my bravery, it at least felt like I was doing something, albeit the smallest, most useless thing I could possibly do.

Now I’ve read several articles and listened to the opinions of a variety of people, I’m embarrassed about leaping on the safety pin bandwagon without looking at it from a different viewpoint. Is wearing a safety pin harmful? No. But it is typical of the sort of thing white liberals do when we think we’re being helpful. Remember #oscarssowhite? The industry’s response was to pair black presenters with white presenters. Ugh. No apologies, no discussion, no pledges to do better from now on.

While talking to a Latina colleague this morning she noted that many of her white friends were more visibly upset than her friends of color. I thought about it for a minute and then said: “Maybe it’s because this is just another day in this fucked up country for people of color but for white folks on the left we suddenly feel very unsafe… It’s just occurring to us that we could lose many of the rights we thought could never be taken away from us.” Basically, our comfy lifestyle that we’ve gotten used to could come crashing down around us.

Personally, this election has made me fear for my job, my health and the welfare of the planet. I have a daughter and I feel like I’ve failed her. I’m so fearful of the future she will be growing up in.

In my more zen moments I think of this as the ebb and flow of the world. No nation lasts forever. Sometimes we can’t move forward until we have moved back. Very, very far back.

But I fancy myself a person of action. I have spent the morning folding leaflets reminding others they are not alone. I have donated to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. I’m signing petitions. I’m writing, writing, writing so my voice can be heard.

I will never stop fighting.

Yes, It’s probably because of the happy life I’ve been privileged to lead so far, but I will always have hope that with enough effort we can change this world for the better. After a(nother) good cry of course.

And I will continue to wear that safety pin. Not so much as a message to others but as a reminder to myself that I will never be able to do enough or empathize enough.

Patriotic Political Correctness

I’m considering forcing my employees to wear American flag pins and say the pledge of allegiance every morning. Apparently employers are allowed to do that now. Oh wait, nope, it’s only in sports where you’re not only expected to bend to societal pressure to enthusiastically worship a flag but you will be publicly excoriated if you do not do so.

Fuck that shit.

Image result for colin kaepernick protest

I’ve never been particularly patriotic. Even at a young age I was aware of the many problems in our country. As I become better read, I have developed more respect for the philosophy that created this country but I know that this democracy has a lot of work to do before we fulfill the promise of this nation. I  will always remain leery of mandatory, unquestioning patriotism. That’s the stuff of totalitarian states like North Korea and I will take a pass.

All throughout my school years I felt resistant to saying the pledge of allegiance. It seemed like a form of idol worship to me. I would stand with everyone else but not repeat the words. In response to the curious I would just say: “I can’t. I’m Jewish.” And they would nod knowingly and go back to what they were doing. I have no idea what they thought being Jewish had to do with the pledge but it was easier to tell them that than to have a half-formed ideological argument.

I was completely repulsed by the Star Spangled Banner after learning that it was written by a slave owner. There are actually four verses to this little ditty, one of which includes these lovely lines:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

It’s open to interpretation what he’s trying to say here but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t advocating the freeing of any slaves. And why does a “hireling” need refuge from terror anyway? Jeez.

Recently, my daughter learned to sing the Star Spangled Banner at her preschool and I feel uneasy about it. It’s cute to see her shouting it at the top of her lungs and give a very forceful salute but I can’t help but feel like she’s being indoctrinated. I’m planning a lot of talks about this, among many other things, as she grows. It’s fine if she’s more patriotic than me, there is certainly a great deal to love about this country. I just don’t want her to go about it blindly.

Throughout history, athletes who have openly protested the United States, like Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos (the men of the 1968 Olympics black power salute) were lambasted and accused of everything from being disrespectful to being communists. But they have proven themselves to be on the right side of history and I believe Colin Kaepernick will be as well. Frankly, it’s the first time I’ve had much respect for him.

People of color have been laying down their lives for this country from the beginning but have not been treated with the same respect as their white counterparts. They are still not. That is what Kaepernick’s protest is about and we lose sight of this when we make the issue about patriotism instead of the deaths and mistreatment due to racism.

I don’t want to move to Canada.

I’m terrified. I feel like I’m going to have an ulcer by the time this election is over.

At this moment, the majority of people likely to vote in this country would prefer a narcissistic salesman with no concept of how the government works to a woman who has actual political experience.

That seems to be the main concern voters have with Hillary – she is part of the establishment. Nothing epitomizes people’s disgust with the establishment more than the the political diarrhea Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s emails spewed on Bernie Sanders. The emails confirmed his supporters belief that the election system is rigged and it’s hard to argue with them.

These weren’t Hillary Clinton’s emails but it will be assumed she was complicit in the attacks. After all: emails = Clinton. amiright? No, of course I’m not. But why should truth matter?

Under normal circumstances (i.e. a rational, qualified Republican candidate), I would understand the many Sanders supporters who refuse to vote for Clinton. But this is not a normal election year. This election is completely and totally bonkers. And the future of this country and this world is at stake.

In 2000 I voted for Ralph Nader because I believed there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Boy was I wrong. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t regret my vote.

I understand the anti-establishment sentiment but let’s not throw experience completely out the window. The baby and the bathwater so to speak. Remember when California voted Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor? He promised to fix everything too. He did not. Things sucked until Jerry Brown, a career politician, became governor. He knew how to use his political experience to make real, positive changes in the state.

Will Hillary Clinton be able to do that? I don’t know. I hope so.

People call her a liar and she certainly has been somewhat less than honest about a few things. But I’ll tell you this: I’d rather have a competent liar in office than an incompetent, bottom-feeding blowhard. 

And here’s what I like best about Hillary Clinton: She won’t make the planet explode. I can’t say that about the Republican nominee.

My husband’s family is from Canada and we’ve jokingly talked about moving there if things go badly here in November. But I don’t actually want to move. First of all, I hate the cold. Secondly, I like it right where we are. Perhaps I might consider a move to New Zealand though… I’m sure the politics are not divided there at all.

Deal With It for President

I have returned! No, I don’t have an excuse for being gone so long. I just was. So there.

Anyway, this election is CRAZY! I’m actually waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks because I’m so afraid our next president is going to be… Wait, no, this isn’t the post where I talk about who I want to be president and who I really, really, really, really x infinity do NOT want to be president.

No, this post is about something else. It’s related but it’s not candidate-specific and I believe it absolutely needs to be said. Okay, here goes:

You don’t get to decide who the next president is going to be.

I mean, yeah, you get to vote and all that – but that’s it. And just because you and all of your friends support someone – it doesn’t mean the majority of the country agrees with you. They might vote for someone else. And you have to deal with it.

In fact, you could very well be in the minority every single time there is an election. And you know what happens then? Nada. You have no say in the matter at that point. Democracy has spoken and even though you are disappointed by it, it doesn’t mean it’s broken.

The political pendulum swings back and forth and will continue to do so. Probably for eternity. We’ve all had plenty of disappointments in politics. It sucks. In fact, it hurts in a very personal way. You think that the rest of the country is a huge, ignorant disappointment. And sometimes they truly are. But humanity keeps trudging along.

So, no matter who is elected in November, please save me your Not My President memes and threats to move to Canada. If you are that upset, work on education and activism (or even write a blog) and maybe the next election will go your way. But be prepared, progress happens slowly. As Martin Luther King said:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I have to believe this.