How Writers (and Readers) Can Fight For Racial Justice
I live in Minneapolis, four blocks from the epicenter of the recent uprisings that broke out in the name of George Floyd. The events that rocked the world and burnt my city have been close to my thoughts and I, like many others, have struggled to find a path forward.
Time and again, I see posts on social media expressing anger, sadness, and plenty of opinions, but something else has been seeping through the cracks: helplessness. Many of us simply don’t know what to do. So, we flounder. We stand still. We let the world and our lives move forward without taking action.
I don’t write this article to point fingers, but to spur action. If you’ve been static and unsure of what to do, there’s no shame in that, but it’s time to thaw yourself out and get moving. Change happens when many people start to act. That’s how every successful revolution comes to pass. That’s how wars are won and reforms made.
Over the past few weeks, the people of Minneapolis have demanded change, and our government officials are listening. Real change is being made. The same is true in the national arena. When the public shouts loud enough, politicians are forced to listen.
HOW CAN YOU, WRITERS AND READERS, SHOUT?
Here are a few suggestions:
WRITE to your representatives
Do you know who your reps are? Your senators? Do you have their email addresses? If not, look HERE.
Your words make a difference. Even though your senator or representative may not personally read your letter, someone will (likely an aide), and your opinion will be noted.
WRITE to your newspaper
Yes, most newspapers still have an opinion column where people can write in and express themselves. Yes, many of the same people write in week after week. Your voice may offer a refreshing perspective or, at the very least, it will give reporters a sense of the public’s opinion on a certain topic, and they can respond accordingly.
WRITE on social media
I know. Sometimes posting on social media feels like shouting into a gaping void, but it can make a difference. Just last week, I engaged a couple of folks with differing opinions in a meaningful dialogue. I don’t think anyone’s mind was magically changed, but at least both sides made an effort to understand one another.
If you’re not keen on conversations, opt for posting useful, informative links that help promote social justice and racial equality (posts about black-owned bookstores or restaurants, links to nonprofit organizations that needs donations, etc.).
WRITE to heal, reflect
If you’re having trouble processing everything that’s happening lately, try some free writing or journaling. Let your mind (and pen) go wherever it wants to take you. For more about free writing, take a look at this post on using writing prompts.
WRITE fiction that accurately represents and includes people of color
When you’re writing fiction, it’s great to include a diverse cast of characters, BUT be careful not to misrepresent or stereotype. A lot has been written about this (including a no-holds-bar article about the predominant (often problematic) white gaze in literature and an excellent post about avoiding comparing POC with food), so I’m not going to try to summarize that information here. Start researching, and you’ll find a treasure trove of thoughtful articles on the subject.
Seek to educate yourself about writing about race and, after you’ve done your due diligence, write the best possible draft you can manage before distributing it to a diverse set of beta and/or sensitivity readers.
READ books on the history of racial inequality and social injustices
Educate yourself. Begin to learn the history of race inequities and struggles in your country and in the world. History is a turning wheel — it repeats itself again and again, but we CAN learn from it if we pay attention.
Where to begin your research?
- March, by John Lewis (written in the style of a graphic novel)
- Marching for Freedom, by Elizabeth Partridge (about Civil Rights in Selma, AL)
- Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, by Taylor Branch
- There Comes A Time: The Struggle for Civil Rights, by Milton Meltzer
- On the Road to Freedom, by Charles E. Cobb
READ books on how to be a better ally
If you’re feeling lost or confused about how to become a better ally, try picking up a book. There are plenty of excellent books out there that promote anti-racism, and several websites have compiled lists. Take a look at this one from NPR (also includes films and podcasts) or this one from Business Insider.
READ fiction by black authors
If you’re a fan of fiction, make an effort this year to read books by authors of color. The past couple of years, I’ve made a conscious decision to mostly read books by diverse authors (about 75% of my books). It’s not terribly difficult. Tons of excellent, diverse literature exists in the marketplace today — you just have to look for it.
Why read fiction by black authors?
It lends a diverse and often marginalized perspective to familiar stories. It blasts open our horizons and introduces us to other ways of storytelling. It often places diverse characters front and center, and helps us see black and brown people as heroes instead of “extras” or “sidekicks.”
I have SO many fiction recommendations, but I’ll limit the list to my favorite authors:
- Toni Morrison (Read EVERYTHING by her. Seriously.)
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Chinua Achebe
- Octavia Butler
New Favorites (my tastes lean toward sci-fi/fantasy/magical realism):
- Nnedi Okorafor (especially Lagoon and the Binti series)
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (especially The Thing Around Your Neck)
- Justina Ireland (Dread Nation)
- Victor LaVelle (Changling, Big Machine, etc.)
- Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer)
- C.L. Polk (Witchmark)
- Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone series)
- N.K. Jemisin (Broken Earth series)
- Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion (contemp fiction that focuses on mental health))
READ essays by black authors
If fiction isn’t your jam, you might want to check out essay collections by black authors. Some of my recent favorites include:
- They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (focused on music and POC)
- When They Call You a Terrorist (BLM Memoir) by Patrisse Cullors
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Ayiti (about Haiti) by Roxane Gay
BONUS: The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. Not an essay collection, just a damn good memoir about Hurricane Katrina and its effects on her family.
BONUS 2: Buy your books from independent book stores that promote black literature. Check out this list to find one in your area OR order online.
Writer and Readers, you have unique gifts. You have the ability to put your strengths to work to make positive changes. The world needs your voice and your activism.
Write (and read) on!
What book recommendations or writing recommendations do YOU have? Please feel free to comment below.