Sunday, March 21, 2021

Walking Toward Race


 Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my favorite writer’s retreat in Minnesota. I love to walk on the expansive trail and we were offered the chance to collect sap from the many maple trees on the Charlson Meadows property.  We were to be in the foyer by 11am if we were interested in going along.

I did a quick yoga vinyasa after reading for an hour and changed clothes to head out. I stood ready with my coat on at 11am, waiting and wondering if I was the only one taking up the caretaker, Renee’s invitation. I stood there until someone passed through saying she thought they'd already headed out. I bristled a little (what?!) because how had I missed them but headed out anyway to see if I could find them so intrigued was I by the idea of collecting tree sap for eventual syrup. Up and around the trail I traveled quickly only spotting a few heads once far ahead. I felt frustrated that I was missing this small event. I kept replaying how I'd missed them and knew they must have started out earlier than expected. No matter how fast I seemed to be hiking along the windy trail I could not catch up. 

Earlier in the day I’d been reading about caste and my thoughts in a very visceral way connected my trying to catch up, constantly feeling just out of reach, not good enough to get there and linked it to race in America. This is what we've done systematically  to my brothers and sisters of color throughout the history of our country. This small instance of feeling a little lost, a little left behind is in no way truly similar to how we've actually treated POC but the deep physical connection was made for me once again in that instance. I eventually did catch up to the group and was able to collect syrup but the heavy feeling stayed with me.

The American caste system was created with diligence as a means to dehumanize those enslaved by how they were treated like property and could not be educated in any way. After the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom we made no attempt to create a balance of equity through housing, education, or quality of life.  Jim Crow laws continued to dehumanize people of color and the rules seemed to change and shift like moving earth continually keeping folk unstable. 

And then this week the Atlanta shooting of 8 people, 6 of those dead are 6 Asian American women which brings to attention almost 4,000 records of hate, discrimination, and harassment incidents against Asian Americans this year brought on by our hate-filled former president who mocked the pandemic and blamed people of Asian descent. You reap what you sow. 

How can we help people of color to catch up? How can we stop hate crimes? Big questions. We have to humanize what was formally dehumanized by our government and by individuals who cannot see past a person’s skin color or race.  I’m always alarmed by how white criminals, like Robert Long and Dylan Roof, are treated with a dignity undeserving of someone who has robbed the lives of other human beings, especially when it is racially motivated. And how can you say it wasn’t racially motivated? It was also a crime against hard-working women. Know their names:

I think we need a department of justice that oversees all crimes that might be race or gender related with specific standards of punishment. It needs to go beyond the local and state because we cannot always trust law enforcement to make the best choices. Thankfully, most people "having a bad day" don’t purchase a gun and proceed to shoot others.  As a white person we have to look at how we are using our privilege. Here is a link to an interactive list of Black/Brown people killed in the U.S. There are far too many names on the list. It should shatter us every day that this takes place. When can people of color be able to feel truly free in this country?

How can we be part of the solution? Tomorrow is a new day. We haven't corrected the mistakes made in the Breonna Taylor case and America keeps piling on more hate crimes.

What I’m reading: 


Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Yes, this is taking me a long time but it’s not to be rushed

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller - she won this year’s Newbery Award for When You Trap a Tiger, which I read earlier over break. Both books are excellent!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Year of the woman

For February and March I’ve shared important women and POC like Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Mae Jamison, and Rosa Parks with all my library students. We’ve read books like  The Oldest Student; How Mary Walker learned to read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora and Counting on Katherine; how Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker. We’ve discussed men such as Thurgood Marshall, George Washington Carver, John Lewis, Sammy Lee, and Henry “Box” Brown. 

Invariably one of my older students will ask why isn’t there a men’s month? My answer sounds something like ... Well we live in a a patriarchal system and white males predominate in every field available except perhaps education and you’ve studied American history from a white lens. You learned about our white “founding fathers”, explorers, scientists, and inventors in school using a text book that generally gives an age old slice of approved information and it’s up to you to seek out a more well-rounded view on everything. And it’s my job to help you see things in new ways through research and exploration. 

It’s hard to know how far to take it; I don’t want to overwhelm my students yet I want to push them enough to look outside their predominantly white community at the larger world and see others with compassion, as humans. 

Other resources to explore: The Black History Channel and the's Women's History 

With our first female vice president it is more important than every to help all our students understand how important these achievements are and we need to keep pushing for more. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Winter Reading

 Oh, the weekend has been beautiful, the sun was bright and warm. It felt like Spring weather was here for a few days. I'm craving that so we can get outside more, take walks, hang out on patios, and see friends. During the cold spell of January and February I did fit in a ton of reading.  My top 5 books were: 

1. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2020) :  Della and her older sister Suki are taken in to foster care after escaping from their incarcerated mother's boyfriend. Della has always been able to count on her sister as protector but Suki is fighting her own demons and tries to commit suicide. The two sisters along with their caretaker learn to look out for each other through all the trauma they've experienced. This book is graphic about tough topics but Bradley does it with grace.  I read this is two days so riveted was I by the characters and their resilience. 

2. The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019) : A delightful tale reminiscent of Christopher Robin and his stuffed animal friends. Filled with whimsical drawings and lovely poetic conversations between the charming characters. I go back to this on days when I need a little happiness. 

3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020) : This book blew my mind like The Overstory. I read a recommendation about this book and put it on hold at our local library. Nora Seed faces her own mortality and finds herself in the Midnight Library with her favorite high school librarian as her guide. She is offered the opportunity to try out different paths her life might have taken and through each one she learns a little bit more about herself and the people around her. This made me think about my own experiences and other paths I might have taken. In the long run Nora and her readers learn the ultimate lesson about life. You'll have to read it to find out. 

4. When all is said by Anne Griffin (2019) : This is the story of cantankerous old Maurice Hannigan told in one night through stories about his life as he reflects back on his five favorite people. Over drinks at the pub inside the Rainford House Hotel he toasts and ruminates over mistakes and memories explaining to us in perfect detail all that life has offered him and taken from his as well. As a reader I connected with Maurice and found this to be an amazing debut novel. Her next book is scheduled to be out this Spring. 

I know March won't be all sunshine and warmth yet I know spring is still close at hand. Enjoy.