Past Book Clubs
by Mia Birdsong.
Mia Birdsong is an activist, facilitator, and storyteller. A Senior Fellow of the Economic Security Project, she was also an inaugural Ascend Fellow of The Aspen Institute and New American California Fellow. She was founding Co-Director of Family Story and Vice President of the Family Independence Initiative. Mia speaks widely at conferences and gatherings across the country. She lives with her loved ones on the occupied land of the Chochenyo Ohlone people (AKA Oakland, CA).
About the book:
After almost every presentation activist and writer Mia Birdsong gives to executives, think tanks, and policy makers, one of those leaders quietly confesses how much they long for the profound community she describes. They have family, friends, and colleagues, yet they still feel like they’re standing alone. They’re “winning” at the American Dream, but they’re lonely, disconnected, and unsatisfied.
It seems counterintuitive that living the “good life”–the well-paying job, the nuclear family, the upward mobility–can make us feel isolated and unhappy. But in a divided America, where only a quarter of us know our neighbors and everyone is either a winner or a loser, we’ve forgotten the key element that helped us make progress in the first place: community. In this provocative, groundbreaking work, Mia Birdsong shows that what separates us isn’t only the ever-present injustices built around race, class, gender, values, and beliefs, but also our denial of our interdependence and need for belonging. In response to the fear and discomfort we feel, we’ve built walls, and instead of leaning on each other, we find ourselves leaning on concrete.
Through research, interviews, and stories of lived experience, How We Show Up returns us to our inherent connectedness where we find strength, safety, and support in vulnerability and generosity, in asking for help, and in being accountable. Showing up–literally and figuratively–points us toward the promise of our collective vitality and leads us to the liberated well-being we all want.
Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
About the book:
Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate.
Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people–including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others–she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.
About the book:
“Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy–and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?”
Children of the Dream by Rucker Johnson with Alexander Nazaryan
“An acclaimed economist reveals that school integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s were overwhelmingly successful — and argues that we must renew our commitment to integration for the sake of all Americans.
We are frequently told that school integration was a social experiment doomed from the start. But as Rucker C. Johnson demonstrates in Children of the Dream, it was, in fact, a spectacular achievement. Drawing on longitudinal studies going back to the 1960s, he shows that students who attended integrated and well-funded schools were more successful in life than those who did not — and this held true for children of all races.
Yet as a society we have given up on integration. Since the high point of integration in 1988, we have regressed and segregation again prevails. Contending that integrated, well-funded schools are the primary engine of social mobility, Children of the Dream offers a radical new take on social policy. It is essential reading in our divided times.”
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese
To read more background about why we chose this book, head over to our blog.
About the book (from the publisher’s website):
“Spanning more than 400 years, this classic bottom-up history examines the legacy of Indigenous peoples’ resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.
Going beyond the story of America as a country “discovered” by a few brave men in the “New World,” Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity.
The original academic text is fully adapted by renowned curriculum experts Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, for middle-grade and young adult readers to include discussion topics, archival images, original maps, recommendations for further reading, and other materials to encourage students, teachers, and general readers to think critically about their own place in history.”
Eve Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard
About the book (from Dr. Ewing’s website):
“In the spring of 2013, approximately 12,000 children in Chicago received notice that their last day of school would be not only the final day of the year, but also the final day of their school’s very existence. The nation’s third largest school district would eventually shutter 53 schools, citing budget limitations, building underutilization, and concerns about academic performance. Of the thousands of displaced students, 94% were low-income and 88% were African-American, leading critics to accuse district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of racism. “[The mayor] says that he wants to turn around the city of Chicago, make a new Chicago,” one activist told a reporter. “Does that new Chicago mean no black folks? Where are people going to go?”
Ghosts in the Schoolyard tells the story of these school closings, from their unfolding to their aftermath, in Bronzeville, a historically significant African-American community on the South Side of Chicago. The book details the resistance efforts of the residents of Bronzeville, inspired by the legacy of a storied past and driven to fight back against the malfeasance and disregard of city political leaders. But at its core, this is a book about what schools really mean to Americans and to African-Americans in particular, beyond the brick and mortar that compose them or the test scores and graduation rates that garner the most public attention. The book tells a story of love and loss, and the ongoing struggle of black people in America toward thriving livelihoods and self-determination.”
Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America
“For white people who are committed to equity and justice, living in a nation that remains racially unjust and deeply segregated creates unique conundrums.
These conundrums begin early in life and impact the racial development of white children in powerful ways. What can we do within our homes, communities and schools? Should we teach our children to be “colorblind”? Or, should we teach them to notice race? What roles do we want to equip them to play in addressing racism when they encounter it? What strategies will help our children learn to function well in a diverse nation?
Talking about race means naming the reality of white privilege and hierarchy. How do we talk about race honestly, then, without making our children feel bad about being white? Most importantly, how do we do any of this in age-appropriate ways?
While a great deal of public discussion exists in regard to the impact of race and racism on children of color, meaningful dialogue about and resources for understanding the impact of race on white children are woefully absent. Raising White Kids steps into that void.”
Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
In these provocative, powerful essays acclaimed writer/journalist Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Who We Be) takes an incisive and wide-ranging look at the recent tragedies and widespread protests that have shaken the country.
Additional Links & Resources:
- Check out this 13 minute interview from WBEZ.
- This series of four ~8 minute videos “explores a nation of historically unprecedented diversity that also seems to be becoming more separate and unequal” by asking the questions: “how did we become so divided, and what can we do now to be alright?”
- Watch Jeff speak about the book at the 2016 Wisconsin Book Festival (this video is a little over an hour long, including Q&A).
- Read an interview with Jeff from right after the 2016 presidential election.
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This book “reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America — but even more fundamentally, points us towards liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.” Having recently heard Dr. Kendi speak about this framework, I can’t wait to read the book and talk with Integrated Schools folks about how his action oriented approach can help inform our work. The book reviews all mention how accessible and easy to read this book is. “How To Be An Antiracist promises to become an essential book for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next steps of contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.”
Amanda Lewis and John Diamond’s Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools
A must-read for integrating parents!
Through five years’ worth of interviews and data-gathering at Riverview, John Diamond and Amanda Lewis have created a rich and disturbing portrait of the achievement gap that persists more than fifty years after the formal dismantling of segregation. As students progress from elementary school to middle school to high school, their level of academic achievement increasingly tracks along racial lines, with white and Asian students maintaining higher GPAs and standardized testing scores, taking more advanced classes, and attaining better college admission results than their black and Latino counterparts. Most research to date has focused on the role of poverty, family stability, and other external influences in explaining poor performance at school, especially in urban contexts. Diamond and Lewis instead situate their research in a suburban school, and look at what factors within the school itself could be causing the disparity. Most crucially, they challenge many common explanations of the ‘racial achievement gap,’ exploring what race actually means in this situation, and why it matters.
- read the book Despite the Best Intentions — and especially Chapter 5 on Opportunity Hoarding. Seriously.
- &/or listen to the Integrated Schools podcast interview with Dr. Lewis
Mothers of Massive Resistance (Elizabeth McRae)
Join us at the end of February to discuss Elizabeth McRae’s compelling history of how white women have ‘tended the gardens of segregation’. For this February Book Club, we are thrilled to have Peter Piazza, Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Equity facilitating the discussions (you also know him from the School Desegregation Notebook and the great news round-ups he shares with Integrated Schools!).
“Examining racial segregation from 1920s to the 1970s, Mothers of Massive Resistance explores the grassroots workers who maintained the system of racial segregation and Jim Crow. For decades in rural communities, in university towns, and in New South cities, white women performed myriad duties that upheld white over black: censoring textbooks, denying marriage certificates, deciding on the racial identity of their neighbors, celebrating school choice, canvassing communities for votes, and lobbying elected officials. They instilled beliefs in racial hierarchies in their children, built national networks, and experimented with a color-blind political discourse. Without these mundane, everyday acts, white supremacist politics could not have shaped local, regional, and national politics the way it did or lasted as long as it has.”