Tag Archives: solo protest

Review of Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla F. Saad

I borrowed an e-copy of Layla F. Saad‘s Me and White Supremacy through the library. I read while out doing my solo protest.

Description from Goodreads:

Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of colour, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #MeAndWhiteSupremacy, she never predicted it would spread as widely as it did. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it. Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and over 90,000 people downloaded the Me and White Supremacy Workbook.

The updated and expanded Me and White Supremacy takes the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and further resources.

Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. The numbers show that readers are ready to do this work – let’s give it to them.

Review:

While reading this book, I had to remind myself of being taught to study (many long years ago) and being told to be judicious with my highlighting. If you highlight too much, it deletes the purpose of marking particular passages to be found again. I thought of this because I’m quite certain I highlighted at least half of this text. There is a lot here to unpack and a lot of it doesn’t lend itself to a single, simple reading.

Having said that, I wasn’t able to engage in the book in quite the manner it suggests. It is intended to be read and engaged in one chapter a day, over 28 days. I only had access to it for about two weeks. (It’s a library book.) So, my reading was perhaps a little more rushed than I’d have liked. But I still got a lot out of the book. I think it will be particularly useful for people who want something that lays out all the definitions and how the ideas of white supremacy, white exceptionalism, tokenism, visual allyship, etc all build on and relate to one another. It would be especially good for someone just starting the anti-racism work to firmly establish that this stuff is real. It’s not soft science or butthurt fealing, it’s real and affects people all day every day.

In the beginning, I admit to being a little wary since the author isn’t American. I won’t pretend we’re the only country in the world with racism. But I felt like a non-American author couldn’t quite do the subject of the American experience justice for an American reader. I was wrong (and there is probably some bullshit national exceptionalism buried in the initial assumption). So much of what is addressed in this book isn’t tied to nationalism. It’s simply anti-black and global. This is actually one of the subtler lessons I took away from reading the book.

All in all, I found this well worth the time.

Review of Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul, by Anthony Graves

I won a copy of Infinite Hope, by Anthony Graves through Goodreads. I read it during my time out solo protesting, which is something I’ve been doing for a month or so now.

Description:

In the summer of 1992, a grandmother, a teenage girl, and four children under the age of ten were beaten and stabbed to death in Somerville, Texas. The perpetrator set the house on fire to cover his tracks, deepening the heinousness of the crime and rocking the tiny community to its core. Authorities were eager to make an arrest. Five days later, Anthony Graves was in custody.

Graves, then twenty-six years old and without an attorney, was certain that his innocence was obvious. He did not know the victims, he had no knowledge about the crime, and he had an airtight alibi with witnesses. There was also no physical evidence linking him to the scene. Yet Graves was indicted, convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death, and, over the course of twelve years on death row, given two execution dates. He was not freed for eighteen years, two months, four days.

Through years of suffering the whims of rogue prosecutors, vote-hungry district attorneys, and Texas State Rangers who played by their own rules, Graves was frequently exposed to the dire realities of being poor and black in the criminal justice system. He witnessed fellow inmates who became his friends and confidants be taken away, one by one, to their deaths. And he missed out on seeing his three young sons mature into men. Graves’s only solace was his infinite hope that the state would not execute him for a crime he did not commit.

To maintain his dignity and sanity, Graves made sure as many people as possible knew about his case. He wrote letters to whomever he thought would listen. Pen pals in countries all over the world became allies, and he attracted the attention of a savvy legal team that overcame setback after setback, chiseling away at the state’s faulty case against him. Everyone’s efforts eventually worked. After Graves’s exoneration, the original prosecutor on his case was disbarred.

Review:

This was a hard book to read because the events in it are so unrelentingly wrong. I found myself wanting to avoid it. Of course, we can’t can we? If we refuse to look at injustices, how can we seek to understand and correct them? And there appear to have been incalculable injustices in Graves’ case. It would seem the prosecutors knowingly tried and convicted an innocent man. One has to ask why. Graves doesn’t even try to answer this question, maybe he can’t. Was it pure racism? He doesn’t suggest so, though it certainly played a role.

I found Graves a competent but unemotional narrator of his own tale. And while I can understand how reporting the events in a detached manner might make it easier to face in the retelling, it makes it dry to read. Plus, the book centers on the miscarried justice of Graves’ various trials and says comparatively little on the almost 20 years he spent in prison. Those are the years that would have fleshed him out as a character and made him more approachable to the reader. (I don’t mean as a fictional character but as the central component of his own story.)

All in all, I think this was worth the read and I’m glad to see Graves seems to have found a way to form good from the experience.

Review of To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope: by Jeanne Marie Laskas

I won a copy of To Obama (by Jeanne Marie Laskas) through Goodreads. I read it during my solo protest sit-in.

Description:

Every evening for eight years, at his request, President Obama was given ten handpicked letters written by ordinary American citizens–the unfiltered voice of a nation–from his Office of Presidential Correspondence. He was the first president to interact daily with constituent mail and to archive it in its entirety. The letters affected not only the president and his policies but also the deeply committed people who were tasked with opening and reading the millions of pleas, rants, thank-yous, and apologies that landed in the White House mailroom.

In To Obama, Jeanne Marie Laskas interviews President Obama, the letter writers themselves, and the White House staff who sifted through the powerful, moving, and incredibly intimate narrative of America during the Obama years: There is Kelli, who saw her grandfathers finally marry–legally–after thirty-five years together; Bill, a lifelong Republican whose attitude toward immigration reform was transformed when he met a boy escaping MS-13 gang leaders in El Salvador; Heba, a Syrian refugee who wants to forget the day the tanks rolled into her village; Marjorie, who grappled with disturbing feelings of racial bias lurking within her during the George Zimmerman trial; and Vicki, whose family was torn apart by those who voted for Trump and those who did not.

They wrote to Obama out of gratitude and desperation, in their darkest times of need, in search of connection. They wrote with anger, fear, and respect. And together, this chorus of voices achieves a kind of beautiful harmony. To Obama is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the American people, and at a time when empathy intersected with politics in the White House.

Review:

I absolutely did not expect to like this as much as I did. I read an ARC (advanced reading copy). While I wouldn’t normally even mention the status of the book as an ARC, because it often doesn’t matter beyond maybe a temporary cover and final editing pass. Here I have to. It was the letters that made this so intriguing. Seeing all the ways Americans (often average Americans) wrote to the president is stunning. This copy that I read had several pages labeled TK (to come) where letters would be, but were not yet. So, this is one of the very few times I wish I’d had a final copy instead of an ARC. I want those letters, want them enough that I’m planning to check the book out next time I’m at the library to see the ones I missed. (Which I think should tell you how much they affected me.)

People tend to write to presidents in moments of strong emotion, often (though not always) at low points. Honestly, I teared up so many times I checked the calendar just to be sure I wasn’t just hormonal before menses or something.

Laskas chapters about her experience in/with the mail room and her interviews with letter writers were very ethnographic. I can imagine the style won’t sit well with everyone. I happened to enjoy it. However, I felt like the book wasn’t as centered as it could have been about its actual point beyond Obama’s letter reading was cool and took a lot of work. I also struggled in a few places with the direction she took her narrative. I understand that people and families are messy. But the chapter about the mother who wrote Obama about her family in which the father voted Trump despite having a gay son and Mexican daughter-in-law, for example, ended with the entire family placating the father despite voicing how hurt they all were by the vote. The message felt very much like his obstinance was more important than their lived experiences and they should all just have to suck it up.

All in all, it was a winner for me.