A worldwide quarantine seems like the perfect time to share a book list with everyone! If you are interested in learning about any of the things I so passionately discuss, advocate for, and/or rant about, check out this book list!
When I left to indefinitely travel the world in April of 2018, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I hoped that traveling long term would teach me lessons and force me to change and grow in the vital ways I needed to… but I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like?
Oh let me tell you, it didn’t take long for me to find out!
Traveling completely shifted my paradigm.
Everything I thought I knew and believed about the way the world works, and my place in it, was turned upside down, then shredded to bits.
Traveling showed me the world through different lenses.
Traveling showed me myself through different lenses.
I encountered people from around the globe who learned a different version of American History, of World History, than I did. (And their version made more sense). Not only did people from different countries seem to know a different, more accurate, version of history, they were also more aware of the world around them than I was.
In America, we are taught that our country, culture and way of life is not only the standard, but the ideal. Spoiler: It’s not. Any doubts or questions I had about this growing up (and looking back I had many) were met with hollow nationalistic zeal at best and gaslighting at worst.
Traveling gave me permission to ask questions, and time to investigate my doubts, for the first time in my life.
Research & Introspection
I have read dozens of books and articles, listened to several podcasts, watched multiple shows and documentaries, and listened to leading activists, historians and thought leaders, in an effort to relearn history, get to know the world around me, and find my place within the narrative.
While I have a lot more clarity now, than I did a year ago, I know that unlearning and relearning will be a life-long journey.
These are the books that have helped me *begin* to unlearn, relearn, and fill in gaps.
This book list is not categorized and is in no particular order. Instead of giving a summary of each book (you can Google that), I included a brief explanation of how I acquired the book/ why I read it, and/or quotes from the book that impacted me the most.
“From girlhood on books had offered me visions of new worlds different from the one most familiar to me. Like exotic and strange new lands, books brought adventure, new ways to think and be, most importantly, they brought a different perspective, one that almost always forced me out of my comfort zones. I was awed that books could offer a different standpoint. That words on the page could transform and change me, change my mind.”
-bell hooks, ain’t i a woman
1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind -Yuval Noah Harari
This book was given to me by a bisexual, late twenty something, British man, I stayed with in Vietnam. I took a day trip with him and his girlfriend to Tam Thanh Mural Village outside of Hoi An. On the way back, his girlfriend wanted to practice driving a motorbike so I gave her mine and I rode on the back of his. The whole way back we discussed sexuality, politics, and religion. He referenced this book several times and later he gave me his copy, saying he thought I might like it based on our conversations.
“How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realize this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realize this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.”
“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it. Over the few decades, we have invented countless time saving machines that are supposed to make life more relaxed – washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, telephones, mobile phones, computers, email. We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.”
2. Homo Deus:Yuval Noah Harari
This is the sequel to Sapiens. I found this book in a hostel library in Rishikesh, India. While backpacking through Asia I had an only one book at a time rule which meant when I finished a book, I traded it in for a new one. I swapped the book I’d just finished for this one.
“This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.”
“In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. […] In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.”
3. The Bhagavad Gita -Eknath Easwaran
I read this ancient text to prepare for yoga teaching training in India.
“You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness, either. Perform every action with you heart fixed on the Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even-tempered in success and failure: for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga. Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahma. They who work selfishly for results are miserable.”
4. Living with the Himalayan Masters -Swami Rama
I found this book in a hostel in Bangkok. I was there trying to decide where to go and what to do next- party with my friends in Bali, or go to yoga teacher training in India? …I went to India.
“The strongest of bondages is created by attachment, which makes one weak, ignorant, and unaware of the absolute reality. Maya, or illusion, is deeply rooted in attachment. When we are attached to or have desire for something, it becomes a source of illusion for us. those who are free from attachments and have directed their desires towards spiritual growth are free from the bondage of maya– illusion. The less attachment, the more inner strength; the more inner strength, the nearer the goal… many people confuse attachment with love but in attachment you become selfish, interested in your own pleasure, and you misuse love. You become possessive and try to gain the objects of your desires. Attachment creates bondage while love bestows freedom. When yogis speak of non-attachment they are not teaching indifference, but are teaching how to genuinely and selflessly love others. Non-attachment, properly understood, means love.”
I read this book years ago, circa 2014, after watching Forks Over Knives, the documentary based on this study. That documentary and this book laid the ground work for becoming plant-based.
“How did we forget these lessons from the past? How did we go from knowing that the best athletes in the ancient Greek Olympics must consume a plant-based diet to fearing that vegetarians don’t get enough protein? How did we get to a place where the healers of our society, our doctors, know little, if anything, about nutrition; where our medical institutions denigrate the subject; where using prescription drugs and going to hospitals is the third leading cause of death? How did we get to a place where advocating a plant-based diet can jeopardize a professional career, where scientists spend more time mastering nature than respecting it? How did we get to a place where the companies that profit from our sickness are the ones telling us how to be healthy; where the companies that profit from our food choices are the ones telling us what to eat; where the public’s hard-earned money is being spent by the government to boost the drug industry’s profits; and where there is more distrust than trust of our government’s policies on foods, drugs and health? How did we get to a place where Americans are so confused about what is healthy that they no longer care?”
6. Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race -Debby Irving
When I got home after ten months in Asia, I was more aware than ever of white privilege. Unsettled by the experiences that brought whiteness to the light, I spent a lot of time Googling, trying to make sense of things. This book showed up somewhere in the internet’s anti-racism rabbit whole.
“I can tell you how exceptionally easy it is to be ignorant of the racial forces that have shaped my life and views, and how effortless it was not to make the connection that much of my comfort has been built on the backs of enslaved Africans, Chinese railroad workers, and other people of color, who, for much of history, were brought here or allowed here to work their tails off fueling America’s growth yet not be considered full Americans.”
7. The Art of Living -William Hart & S.N Goenka
I read this book to prepare for my ten day Vipassana Meditation course.
“The only way to experience truth directly is to look within, to observe oneself. All our lives we have been accustomed to look outward. We have always been interested in what is happening outside, what others are doing. We have rarely, if ever, tried to examine ourselves, our own mental and physical structure, our own actions, our own reality. Therefore we remain unknown to ourselves. We do not realise how harmful this ignorance is, how much we remain the slaves of forces within ourselves of which we are unaware.”
8. Roots: The Saga of an American Family -Alex Haley
I downloaded this book on audible years ago with a desire to “catch up” on the classic literature I skipped out on in high school. But the 29 hour time commitment was too daunting and I never listened to it. It wasn’t until after I started traveling, and learned how egocentric and Euro-centric my American history education had been, that I realized most American teenagers (especially white ones) had never read this book either. I finally listened to this book (twice) while taking care of my nephew in the spring of 2019.
“The first time he [Kunta] had taken the massa [his master] to one of these high-falutin’ to dos [fancy parties] Kunta had been all but overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: awe, indignation, envy, contempt, fascination, revulsion- but most of all a deep loneliness and melancholy from which it took him almost a week to recover. He couldn’t believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they didn’t live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it’s possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat and mother’s milk made possible the life of privilege they led.”
9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness -Michelle Alexander
“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination- employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service- are suddenly legal. As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
10. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism -Robin DiAngelo
“White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad, or you have people of color in your workplace or family, the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided. The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement. Entering the conversation with this understanding is freeing because it allows us to focus on how–rather than if–our racism is manifest. When we move beyond the good/bad binary, we can become eager to identify our racist patterns because interrupting those patterns becomes more important than managing how we think we look to others.”
“I repeat: stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing. An honest accounting of these patterns is no small task given the power of white fragility and white solidarity, but it is necessary.”
11. Me and White Supremacy Workbook -Layla F. Saad
I found this book on social media. It is a workbook, written by the anti-racist, feminist, author, speaker and teacher, Layla F. Saad. Through daily journal prompts, this workbook forced me to tease out the many ways in which society socialized me to be racist. It allowed me identify and acknowledge many of my own unconscious biases
“We are at a very important time in history. Many white liberal progressives like to believe that we are in a post-racial time in history. But the truth is, racism and antiblackness are still alive and well today. The legal abolition of slavery did not abolish the slavemaster’s mindset. People of colour are suffering daily from the effects of historic and modern colonialism. Right-wing, anti-Muslim nationalism is gaining popularity not just in the United States, but across the western world. And anti-blackness continues to be a form of racism that can be found all around the world. It may seem like we are at a time history when racism and white supremacy is resurfacing, but the truth is, it never went away. And so, while it is true that recent events such as the 2016 US presidential election have really brought these issues to the forefront, the reality is these issues have always been there. And BIPOC in white-dominated societies and spaces have always been at the receiving end of constant discrimination, inequities, injustices and aggressions.”
12. The Fire Next Time -James Baldwin
[A letter to the author’s nephew.] “There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.”
13. Between the World and Me –Ta-Nehisi Coates
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
“You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this.”
14. So You Want to Talk About Race -Ijeoma Oluo
“If you live in this system of white supremacy, you are either fighting the system of you are complicit. There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice, it is not something you can just opt out of.”
“You are racist because you were born and bred in a racist, white supremacist society. White Supremacy is, as I’ve said earlier, insidious by design. The racism required to uphold White Supremacy is woven into every area of our lives. There is no way you can inherit white privilege from birth, learn racist white supremacist history in schools, consume racist and white supremacist movies and films, work in a racist and white supremacist workforce, and vote for racist and white supremacist governments and not be racist.”
15. The Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong –
This book was actually assigned to me in college (Social Studies for Elementary School Teachers) and I CHOSE not to read it. I don’t know how I managed to get a good grade in the class, but I did.
This book showed back up on a list of books I might be interested in based on my recent searches and reading history. I was so surprised to realize someone had attempted to share this knowledge with me, years ago, and it was me that was not receptive.
“Textbooks in American history stand in sharp contrast to other teaching materials. Why are history textbooks so bad? Nationalism is one of the culprits. Textbooks are often muddled by the conflicting desires to promote inquiry and to indoctrinate blind patriotism.”
“So long as our textbooks hide from us the roles that people of color have played in exploration, from at least 6000 BC to the twentieth century, they encourage us to look to Europe and its extensions as the seat of all knowledge and intelligence. So long as they say “discover,” they imply that whites are the only people who really matter. So long as they simply celebrate Columbus, rather than teach both sides of his exploit, they encourage us to identify with white Western exploitation rather than study it.”
16. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race -Reni Eddo-Lodge
“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.”
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”
“The idea of white privilege forces white people who aren’t actively racist to confront their own complicity in its continuing existence. White privilege is dull, grinding complacency. It is par for the course in a world in which drastic race inequality is responded to with a shoulder shrug, considered just the norm.”
17. The Color of Law:
“Today’s residential segregation in the North, South, Midwest, and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.”
“The core argument of this book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored, the nation is obligated to remedy it.”
“Racial segregation in housing was not merely a project of southerners in the former slaveholding Confederacy. It was a nationwide project of the federal government in the twentieth century, designed and implemented by its most liberal leaders. Our system of official segregation was not the result of a single law that consigned African Americans to designated neighborhoods. rather, scores of racially explicit laws, regulations, and government practices combined to create a nationwide system of urban ghettos, surrounded by white suburbs. Private discrimination also played a role, but it would have been considerably less effective had it not been embraced and reinforced by government.”
18. Beauty is A Wound -Eka Kurniawan
Wanting to read a book by an Indigenous Indonesian person, I chose this book at a used book store in Ubud, Bali. Most books recommended to me about Indonesia were exclusively about Bali and were written by Western travelers.
This book is one of the only fiction books on my list. With a desire to educate myself, I am usually led to non-fiction books. However, this book was just as important. It taught me that books are art, and art is culture. And consuming Indigenous art, therefore soaking up Indigenous culture, can teach you just as much, if not more, about a people and their history than non-fiction.
I don’t have any specific quotes to share from this book because I consumed it like art, not information. This strangely beautiful story taught so much about the impact of Dutch colonization, the impact of Islam on Indonesia and so much more.
19. An African American and Latinx History of the United States -Paul Ortiz
“The United States drove itself to civil war because the society valued profits over Black humanity.”
“Emancipatory internationalism had been born in the first stormy years of the republic when African Americans and their allies recognized that slavery, racial capitalism, and imperialism were fatally intertwined. Now, even as they were embroiled in struggles for land, the right to vote, and protection from Ku Klux Klan terrorism, African Americans insisted that their emancipation was incomplete as long as oppression existed elsewhere.”
20. Born a Crime -Trevor Noah
My sister recommended this book. Not only did I learn SO MUCH from it, it is SO funny!
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”
“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”
“The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine. Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.”
21. A People’s History of the United States -Howard Zinn
“History is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.”
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
22. The Warmth of Other Suns -Isabel Wilkerson
“The Great Migration in particular was not a seasonal, contained, or singular event. It was a statistically measurable demographic phenomenon marked by unabated outflows of black émigrés that lasted roughly from 1915 to 1975. It peaked during the war years, swept a good portion of all the black people alive in the United States at the time into a river that carried them to all points north and west.”
“Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system. It grew out of the unmet promises made after the Civil War and, through the sheer weight of it, helped push the country toward the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s.”
“Many of the people who left the South never exactly sat their children down to tell them these things, tell them what happened and why they left and how they and all this blood kin came to be in this northern city or western suburb or why they speak like melted butter and their children speak like footsteps on pavement, prim and proper or clipped and fast, like the New World itself.”
23. “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
Teacher friends (but also everyone)- Puhhhleeeease read this book if you haven’t already!
“Sometimes the assumptions we make about others come not from what we have been told or what we have seen on television or in books, but rather from what we have not been told. The distortion of historical information about people of color leads young people (and older people too) to make assumptions that may go unchallenged for a long time.”
“While I think it is necessary to be honest about the racism of our past and present, it is also necessary to empower children (and adults) with the vision that change is possible. Concrete examples are critical.”
24. The South Side -Natalie Y. Moore
When I went back to Chicago to take care of my nephew in 2019, I spent a lot of time exploring the South Side. One day, after eating at my favorite vegan spot on 57th, I strolled into the Powell Books across the street. I wandered around the store for a bit before the big block letters on the cover of this book jumped out at me. It was exactly what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it!
“Black segregation is not comparable to segregation experienced by other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. levels of blacks residential segregation is not happenstance.. This extreme racial isolation did not just happen; it was manufactured by whites through a series of self conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements that continue today. Not only is the depth of black segregation unprecedented and utterly unique compared with that of other groups but it shows little sign of change with the passage of time or improvements in socioeconomic status…”
“Due to the city’s hypersegregation, white parents equate the South Side with danger and dysfunction. In 2013, a baseball game between two selective enrollment high schools was cancelled when some North Side parents refused to let their children travel to the South Side for the game. They were worried about safety. It’s infuriating to witness the prejudices of people who swear they aren’t prejudiced.”
“In urban centers like Chicago, a broken food access system is about more than too many potato chips: it’s a public health issue. In 2006, Chicago-based researcher Mari Gallagher published a report- which popularized the term “food desert”- titled “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago” that found that they exist almost exclusively in black areas. Simply put, in these areas, the nearest grocery store is roughly twice the distance as the nearest fast food restaurant, which overlaps with higher rates of obesity in those neighborhoods.”
25. How to Be an Anti-Racist -Ibram X. Kendi
“What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.”
“The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one. The construct of race neutrality actually feeds White nationalist victimhood by positing the notion that any policy protecting or advancing non-White Americans toward equity is ‘reverse discrimination.”
26. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness -Austin Channing Brown
I read this book in an attempt to understand the racism and white supremacy I felt, yet struggled to name, in the white American church. Austin filled in HUGE gaps for me.
“When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework—besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people—is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful. I am expected to come closer to the racists. Be nicer to them. Coddle them. “
“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation? It’s haunting. But it’s also holy.”
“White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced. When this work has not been done, those who live in whiteness become oppressive, whether intentional or not.”
“Anger is not inherently destructive. My anger can be a force for good. My anger can be creative and imaginative, seeing a better world that doesn’t yet exist. It can fuel a righteous movement toward justice and freedom.”
“Whiteness constantly polices the expressions of Blackness allowed within its walls, attempting to accrue no more than what’s necessary to affirm itself. It wants us to sing the celebratory “We Shall Overcome” during MLK Day but doesn’t want to hear the indicting lyrics of “Strange Fruit.” It wants to see a Black person seated at the table but doesn’t want to hear a dissenting viewpoint. It wants to pat itself on the back for helping poor Black folks through missions or urban projects but has no interest in learning from Black people’s wisdom, talent, and spiritual depth.”
27. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches -Audre Lorde
“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”
“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human difference between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.”
28. ain’t i a woman -bell hooks
“The American woman’s understanding of racism as a political tool of colonialism and imperialism is severely limited. To experience the pain of race hatred or to witness that pain is not to understand its origin, evolution or impact on world history. The inability of American woman to understand racism context of American politics is not due to any inherent deficiency in woman’s psyche, it merely reflects the extent of our victimization. No history books used in public schools informed us about racial imperialism. Instead we were given romantic notions of the “New World,” the “American Dream,” America as the great “Melting Pot,” where all races come together as one. We were taught that Columbus discovered America. That Indians were scalp hunters, killers of innocent woman and children, that black people were enslaved because of the biblical curse of Ham, that God himself had decreed that we would be hewers of wood, tillers of the field and bringers of water. No one talked of Africa as the cradle of civilization, of the African and Asian people who came to America before Columbus. No on mentioned mass murders of native Americans as genocide. Or the rape of native American and African woman as terrorism. No one discussed slavery as a foundation for the growth of capitalism. No one described the forced breeding of white wives to increase the white population as sexist oppression.”
“Resolution of the conflict between black and white women cannot begin until all women acknowledge that a feminist movement, which is both racist and classist, is a mere sham, a cover up for women’s continued bondage to materialistic, patriarchal, principles, and passive acceptance of the status quo. The sisterhood that is necessary for the making of feminist revolution can be achieved only when all women disengage themselves from the hostility, jealousy, and competition with one another that has kept us vulnerable, weak, and unable to envision new realities. That sisterhood cannot be forged by the mere saying of words. It is the outcome of continued growth and change. It is a goal to be reached, a process of becoming. The process begins with action. With the individual woman’s refusal to accept any set of myths, stereotypes, and false assumptions that deny the shared commonness of her human experience. That deny her capacity to experience the unity of all life. That deny her capacity to bridge gaps created by racism, sexism or classism. That deny her ability to change. The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist, and sexist in varying degrees. And that labeling ourselves feminists, does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”
“To me, feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure woman will have equal rights with men. It is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels- sex, race and class, to name a few. And a commitment to reorganizing US society, so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”
29. Braiding Sweetgrass -Robin Wall Kimmerer
“Something is broken when the food comes on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in slippery plastic, a carcass of a being whose only chance at life was a cramped cage. That is not a gift of life; it is a theft.”
“Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world’s wealthiest peoples.” The shortage is due not to how much material wealth there actually is, but to the way in which it is exchanged or circulated. The market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer. Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others. The very earth that sustains us is being destroyed to fuel injustice. An economy that grants personhood to corporations but denies it to the more-than-human beings: this is a Windigo economy.”
“I love my country too, and its hopes for freedom and justice. But the boundaries of what I honor are bigger than the republic. Let us pledge reciprocity with the living world.”
30. I, Rigoberta Menchu -Rigoberta Menchu
I found this book on the internet, searching for books written by Indigenous Guatemalans. I didn’t buy it though until I saw it at Powell Books in Hyde Park.
“Our forefathers were dishonoured by the white man- sinners and murderers… It is not the fault of our ancestors. They died from hunger because they weren’t paid. We want to destroy the wicked lessons we were taught by them. If they hadn’t come, we would all be united, equal, and our children would not suffer. We would not have boundaries on our land.”
“We began to understand that the root of all our problems was exploitation. That there were rich and poor and that the rich exploited the poor- our seat, our labour. That’s how the rich got richer.”
“Thank God our parents didn’t accept teachers or schools in our community to wipe out what is ours. Sometimes I’d hear how those teachers taught and what education was like in those villages. They said that the arrival of the Spaniards was a conquest, a victory, while I knew that in practice it was just the opposite.”
31. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent –
This book was recommended to me by the sixty-something-year-old, white, Canadian man, staying in the room next to me at my Airbnb in San Pedro, Guatemala. He was beside himself telling me about impoverished Indigenous communities, not far from where we were staying, currently being exploited by US companies. Picking up on my interest in better understanding the exploitation of Indigenous people, he suggested this book.
“Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European–or later–United States– capital, and as such has accumulated on distant centers of power. Everything: the soil, its fruits and its mineral-rich depths, the people and their capacity to work and to consume, natural resources and human resources.”
“Whatever Latin America sells — raw materials or manufactures — its chief export product is really cheap labor.”
32. If Beale Street Could Talk -James Baldwin
I was led to this book when I saw a movie by the same title in the video rental store by my mom’s house. (Yes, there are still video rental stores). Reading on the cover of the movie that it was based on a novel by James Baldwin (and having just read The Fire Next Time), I rented the move and downloaded the audio book.
“Those kids aren’t dumb. But the people who run these schools want to make sure they don’t get smart: they are really teaching the kids to be slaves.”
“I guess it can’t be too often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there.”
“We don’t know enough about ourselves. I think it’s better to know that you don’t know, that way you can grow with the mystery as the mystery grows in you. But, these days, of course, everybody knows everything, that’s why so many people are so lost.”
“I must say that I don’t think America is God’s gift to anybody- if it is, God’s days have got to be numbered. That God these people say they serve- and do serve, in ways that they don’t know- has got a very nasty sense of humor. Like you’d beat the shit out of Him, if He was a man.”
33. How Not to Die:
“This was my wake-up call. I opened my eyes to the depressing fact that there are other forces at work in medicine besides science. The U.S. health care system runs on a fee-for-service model in which doctors get paid for the pills and procedures they prescribe, rewarding quantity over quality. We don’t get reimbursed for time spent counseling our patients about the benefits of healthy eating. If doctors were instead paid for performance, there would be a financial incentive to treat the lifestyle causes of disease. Until the model of reimbursement changes, I don’t expect great changes in medical care or medical education.”
“The top reason doctors give for not counseling patients with high cholesterol to eat healthier is that they think patients may “fear privations related to dietary advice.” In other words, doctors perceive that patients would feel deprived of all the junk they’re eating. Can you imagine a doctor saying, “Yeah, I’d like to tell my patients to stop smoking, but I know how much they love it”?”
34. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram
I discovered this book at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 2018. It is the diary of a twenty-five year old Viet Cong field physician.
The War Remnants Museum is dedicated to The Vietnam War, or as it is called there, The American War of Aggression. Vietnam in general, but particularly this museum, is where I started waking up to my miseducation.
“I cannot demand that all people be good hearted. I have decided that to live is to face the storms and not to cower before them”
“Whether I live or die, the days of boundless joy will come when peace returns to our nation. This gracious land has endured more than twenty fiery years of war and misery. So much of our blood and tears have been shed. We do not regret anything exchanged for freedom and liberty.”
“Why can’t we use criticism and self-criticism, to fight these frustrating problems. Why do we let old thoughts grow like tumors in our minds? Why is it that although we are right, and in the majority, we cannot even win over a small minority? Why do we let the petty trouble makers cause difficulties for the community? Of course, there are good and bad people everywhere, and of course disagreement is natural in a society, but we must not surrender because of it. Our responsibility is to fight for what is right, to fight for righteousness. To win you must strive, ache and sacrifice our personal gains, perhaps even our own lives… I will dedicate my life long career to securing the rights of the common man…”
35. The Things They Carried -Tim O’Brien
This book was assigned to me in school. I think high school but it may have even been middle school? All throughout school I struggled with anxiety. (I think from having to grow up too fast). This made reading very difficult for me. I always liked the idea of reading- I romanticized sitting down with a blanket, a cup of tea and a book. But when it came time to actually sit down and read, I was always too worried about something else to concentrate.
When this book was assigned I was very curious about it but still, wasn’t able to read it. I ended up keeping it (stealing it really- sorry CUSD 200) so I could finish it some other time.
Some other time didn’t come until 2018, when I was 29 years old.
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
“That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
I found this book at the Downers Grove Public Library when my search first started leading me towards feminism. This book is so itty bitty, even the slowest reader could flip through it one sitting, yet it’s packed with so much insight.
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
“We teach girls shame. “Close your legs. Cover yourself.” We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.”
If any of these titles, quotes or covers jump out at you, read the book! Feel free to email me with specific questions.