These last few weeks have been hard. Really hard. And I know they have been hard for a lot of you. I’ve run through the spectrum of emotions from anger to despair, hopelessness to a strong desire for action.
In a piece written for the New Yorker, Junot Diaz wrote:
So what now? Well, first and foremost, we need to feel. We need to connect courageously with the rejection, the fear, the vulnerability that Trump’s victory has inflicted on us, without turning away or numbing ourselves or lapsing into cynicism. We need to bear witness to what we have lost: our safety, our sense of belonging, our vision of our country. We need to mourn all these injuries fully, so that they do not drag us into despair, so repair will be possible.
And while we’re doing the hard, necessary work of mourning, we should avail ourselves of the old formations that have seen us through darkness. We organize. We form solidarities. And, yes: we fight. To be heard. To be safe. To be free.
To many of us, books are a means of both feeling and healing; of engaging and increasing our capacity for empathy. Now, more than ever, it is so important to read the stories and experiences of cultures or ways of life outside of our own. Below is the first set of books, in what I hope will be a multi-part series, on books that are critical to read in the post-election climate.
1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates gives an introspective look into his own life and experiences as a black male growing up in Baltimore, going to school at Howard, and becoming a father. He offers a personal and telling look at the systemic injustice inflicted on black bodies. In this book, written as a letter to his young son in the style of James Baldwin’s essay My Dungeon Shook, he focuses on the difficulties for black, male youths growing up in a deeply divided America. Coates is vulnerable and candid with his descriptions in providing the reader insight into the systemic injustice of “criminal reform,” education, and opportunity in the United States.
“Racism - the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them - inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.”
2. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book should be passed out on street corners. Adichie’s short yet impactful essay explores the issues of gender representation and the many imbalances that exist but are blindly accepted as "culture." In a time where the men in power are able to qualify women by their looks and dismiss sexual assault type comments as “locker room talk,” it is increasingly important that a paradigm shift occurs in the way we approach gender.
“Some people ask ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general - but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
3. We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang
We Gon’ Be Alright is a smart and powerful collection of essays on race and resegregation in post-Ferguson America. Subjects covered include the 2016 election, the black lives matter movement, campus protests, affirmative action, and white flight. Each topic covered is extremely topical and relevant. While some of these essays can occasionally read like an academic journal, they are certainly worth wading through.
“Thus, it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”
4. Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
Boy Erased is Conley’s heartbreaking account of his time in (and leading up to) Love in Action - a church-supported conversion therapy group. When outed to his father, a pastor in the Baptist church, and mother, he was forced to make the life-changing decision of attending conversion therapy or to risk losing his family, friends, and the Christian community he grew up in. Told in alternation between his time at LIA, and the events that brought him there, Conley shares his story in a way that feels like a close friend disclosing his innermost memories and emotions with you.
This memoir is a harrowing glimpse into practices that our VP-E supports and has advocated for, and a chilling reminder that this isn’t just “something that happens in books.” There is an entire community whom some wish to subject physical and mental abuse upon in order to conform them into a warped ideal of normalcy.
“We had all met with ultimatums that didn’t exist for many other people, conditions often absent from the love between parents and children. At some point, a ‘change this or else’ had come to each of us: otherwise we would be homeless, penniless, excommunicated, exiled.”