Nonfiction November #5

Black Futures, edited by Kimberly Drew + Jenna Wortham

Black Futures uses cultural references and mixed media to talk about the Black experience.

Black is not one dimensional nor monolithic. Black transcends time and space –

Therefore editors Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew decided against a linear approach to the book. Instead Black Futures is arranged to be consumed more organically. Within each section we are given a table of contents and also a guide to related entries so the topic may be explored in more depth.

Black Futures begs the question “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?”

Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. Photo by Naima Green

Although the book opens with Black Lives Matter and social activism it goes on to examine the Black collective. How are those on the fringes included and embraced in Black society and how can we uplift them?

In a Google Hangout with Shawne Michealain Holloway, Tiona McClodden talks about being identified as a member of the BDSM community and what this meant for her. She felt vulnerable in that moment, yet free, because she was finally being seen.

”I was really concerned about how people saw the mask. And that mask, in particular sense, was not a mask to hide. It was a mask to reveal.”

This idea of being seen is emphasized by the editors through pictures and artwork and even Twitter exchanges. The authors stress the need for personal archival and give explicit directions on how to document your life so that future generations will know your lived experience.

Cultural inheritance is not just about what we have learned from the past, but how that legacy is passed on to our children. In the section entitled ‘Black to the Land’ Leah Penniman talks about the history of hiding rice and other seeds within African traditional hair styles and how today cooperatives like Soul Fire Farm train Black families sustainable farming practices.

My favorite part of the book was the section on Black Joy which delves into self-care and love. Highlighted here was rejuvenation through worship, relaxation and play and healthy food practices.

Black Futures is a collection of Black excellence. It is a testament to our past struggles and a beacon of hope for the future.

Nonfiction November #4

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

When I read the synopsis of this book billing it as “desire as we’ve never seen it before” I had a totally different impression of what it would be. In my mind a book that talked about the sex lives and desires of three women would be a liberating piece that showcased women who were confident and sure of themselves. Just imagine Cardi B’s WAP but for a married Christian woman LOL. But seriously though, I expected a sober piece of journalism that allowed women to reveal what they wanted and how they got it.

While Three Women is indeed sobering, it is not refreshing. In fact I found it heartbreaking. I was so troubled by my response that I ended up reading parts of it aloud to my husband so that I could get his take.

Here’s what we agreed upon:
None of the women are getting what they truly desire.
— Maggie wants someone she can trust and talk to.
— Lina wants to feel safe and wanted.
— Sloane wants to like herself.

Three Women shows how these desires manifest themselves in these women’s sex lives. All of these women have been abused. Maggie is groomed by her teacher after confiding in him. He takes advantage of her dysfunctional family and fragile state to molest and rape her. Lina’s rape in high school leads her to choose a “safe prospect” in a husband. The only problem is there is no passion in their marriage. She gives up and looks elsewhere after a psychologist says that it is perfectly normal for her husband not to want to kiss her and that she shouldn’t expect that of him. Sloane childhood abuse has led her to have body dysmorphia. She is compulsive about her weight and looks and strives to do everything in her power to please her husband. even if this means that she has to sleep with other people of his choosing.

I would argue that none of these women are acting on their own desires, not even Lina. They are all submitting to a man’s desire.

The book is written from alternating viewpoints. Although I have seen this in fiction I do not see what purpose it served here. I found it quite disruptive to the flow of the book and in some cases Taddeo was repetitive. My husband and I both agree that there were points where Taddeo was dramatic, if not melodramatic in her descriptions. I guess she was going for the nonfiction that reads like fiction sort of thing. But unfortunately it has the impact of making the stories less plausible. There was a level of precision in setting the scene that I thought could not have been recalled by the subjects after such long periods of time. My husband felt that Taddeo was trying to insert herself into the studies. For me, some of the metaphors were quite cringe worthy. Just think gearshifts and ghost shaped emissions here.

I was surprised at the transparency and honesty that these women showed. It was awfully brave of them to share their experiences with such candor. Especially since society is so quick to judge them for immorality while the men involved are given a reprieve.

This review first appeared on my GoodReads page.

Nonfiction November #3

The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza

The Purpose of Power is not your typical memoir.  Yes, Alicia Garza pours her personal experience into these pages but her focus is on building community.

  • She talks about the definition of empowerment and explains how it is different from power
  • She walks us through the historical aspects of movements including the civil rights movement
  • We learn the difference between having a following and a having a base and what it takes to mobilize that base during a movement.

While Garza dispels the idea that black lives matter is a hashtag, she also criticizes those who have co-opted the movement for their own personal and political gain.  These individuals were never part of BLM nor were involved in its founding.  One case in point is the lawsuit brought about by a Baton Rouge police officer.  During the 2016 protest against police brutality the officer was struck upon the head and suffered brain injuries.  He sued the three founders of Black Lives Matter. The judge ruled against him citing that you cannot sue a social movement.  Furthermore, the protest was not organized or promoted BLM. DeRay McKesson was the organizer of that event. He is a community activist but is not, nor has he ever been, a member of Black Lives Matter.

There have been several instances where the media has credited him and other men as having leading roles in the organization. Oftentimes, these men fail to correct them. In McKesson’s case he has met with politicians and dignitaries on behalf of Black Lives Matter.  Hillary Clinton even sat down to meet with him during her presidential bid after Garza, Cullors and Tometi declined to align themselves with either campaign.

Garza stresses that the vision for the Black Lives Matter movement came to fruition through the hard work and dedication of three black and queer women.  So why don’t we hear more of them? Simple, she says women are invisible in this society especially those that are marginalized.

Despite recognizing the importance of this intersectionality, she stresses that we must find common ground.  What is the one purpose that you all have?  Work towards that aim.  Garza admits that there will always be things that people disagree about and that not everyone is going to value the same things. But if you stay focused on that one thing that ties you all together you can see measured success.

On a personal note, she called me out and I’m sure she called out a bunch of you guys too, when she was going over empathy.  If someone is telling you that they are suffering from something, they are not expecting you to tell them of your experience with the same thing.  They just want you to listen and to be heard.  You may tell them you feel for their pain.  It was funny because there was a guy who posted something about being distracted with reading and I went on to respond that I too had been distracted during the Covid pandemic instead of just saying that I understood. I could have just shared my support.  Perhaps give suggestions.  It may seem like a minor issue, but I think we are more aware of our reactions to big issues.  These small moments occur every day and we often don’t realize what we are doing.  If we are going to come together as a nation we need to start learning how to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and try to see things from other people’s perspectives.  We also have to be able to find that common ground so we can heal as a nation.

Throwback Thursday 11/12

I discovered Throwback Thursday on my friend Carla Loves To Read page.

Throwback Thursday meme is hosted by Renee@It’s Book Talk and is a way to share some of your old favorites as well as sharing books that you’re FINALLY getting around to reading that were published over a year ago. You know, the ones waiting patiently on your TBR list while you continue to pile more titles on top of them! These older books are usually much easier than new releases to get a hold of at libraries and elsewhere. If you have your own Throwback Thursday recommendation feel free to jump on board and connect back to Renee’s blog.

This week my choice is Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I figured if you guys were as wound up as I have been it would do you well to have some humor in your lives. Samantha Irby dishes up just that. And guess what? —– Humor counts as Nonfiction! So you can add another one to the books if you are participating in Nonfiction November 😉


This was rip roariously funny. I know I’m making up words here but Ms. Samantha had me in stitches. I can’t believe that I had this title sitting on my shelf since 2017 and it was only the monthly color challenge that had me cull this book from my massive TBR.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life could probably be swallowed whole in one sitting but it served me well in small doses of joy served up like cups of sweet coffee – a little bit here to kick start the day, a little bit there to get past the doldrums of work and the ho hum of everyday chores.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page April 7, 2019


Throwback Pic

“Beatles Pillow Fight, Paris” was taken in 1964 by Scottish born photographer Harry Benson. His work and iconic photography have been immortalized in the 2016 film Harry Benson: Shoot First.

Signing off. Hope we get to talk books soon!

Nonfiction November #2

Sisters in Hate by Seyward Darby

Special thanks to Jess at Little, Brown and Company for my copy of this book.

When I first read the synopsis I thought in my misguided way that these women would have been born within the movement. Taught to hate as children; their voices getting louder as they reached adulthood. Although this does happen, this was not the case here. All of the women featured in this book are in their forties and joined the white separatist movement as adults.

Hate is far more complex than what we see on the surface.

Like Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas, Darby looks at the frameworks and ideologies from which racist sentiments arise. What is unique about Sisters in Hate is that it examines hate from a different angle- as a White woman looking in.

One assumption that Darby highlights is the “women-are-wonderful effect“. Basically we as a society look at women and automatically classify them as sweet little girls or nurturing moms. Either way, women are considered harmless, fragile beings that need to be protected. The KKK capitalized on this ideology on its rise to prominence after the premiere of The Birth of a Nation. Instead of being perceived as terrorists they were knights in white-robed armour; gentlemen guarding the purity of the white woman, the mother of the Aryan race.

Historically, Darby cites the “postwar fable of the apolitical woman.” The egregious acts committed by women in the Third Reich have been documented. It has been shown that Nazi women were just as culpable as the men. They too had blood on their hands, but often escaped prosecution. Instead, being of the fairer sex, these women were labeled as victims of their circumstances. So instead of being rightfully vilified, they became victimized. You see this same pattern in other points in history including the antebellum South, the Civil Rights Movement and even in today’s news. Fragile White women, dubbed “Karens” by social media, feel it’s their inherent right to call the police on Black people doing everyday things. They feel threatened by Black people barbecuing, bird-watching, studying in their dorm . . . and are quick to manipulate this framework to the disadvantage of black and brown people.

The Alt-Right has realized that they can use this “women-are-wonderful effect” to their advantage. Kind of like a Trojan Horse, no one would expect a bomb to be dressed as a flower. A woman can be a weapon because she doesn’t look like a threat and because not much is expected of her. In fact, the exponential growth that we’ve seen is due in part to the recruitment measures of women. As mothers – soccer moms, PTA, mommy bloggers – they have access to a market that men don’t. They put a happy smiling face on the movement. With their traditional values, homespun ways and beautiful corn-fed babies, they help to normalize the movement and make it seem benign.

Out of this sacred motherhood, Darby shows these women get a sense of purpose and belonging. They feel important and embrace the movement out of this personal need for self-affirmation. This is by far a scarier notion of hate and signals that much work will be required to dismantle White Nationalism and move towards healing as a nation.

Teaser Tuesday 11/3/20

Welcome to Teaser Tuesday, the weekly Meme hosted by The Purple Booker. It’s super easy and anyone can join in the fun!

1: Grab your current read
2: Open to a random page
3: Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

This week’s featured book is Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism by Seyward Darby. I am reading this book during Nonfiction November to get insight into how “the other side” thinks. I have my reasons for why I think people become racists because we all know they weren’t born that way. But I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth so to speak and Seyward Darby has afforded me this option.

Synopsis

After the election of Donald J. Trump, journalist Seyward Darby went looking for the women of the so-called alt-right–really just white nationalism with a new label. The mainstream media depicted the alt-right as a bastion of angry white men, but was it? As women headlined resistance to the Trump administration’s bigotry and sexism, most notably at the women’s marches, Darby wanted to know why others were joining a movement espousing racism and anti-feminism. Who were these women, and what did their activism reveal about America’s past, present, and future?

Darby researched dozens of women across the country before settling on three: Corinna Olsen, Ayla Stewart, and Lana Lokteff. Each was born in 1979 and became a white nationalist in the post-9/11 era. Their respective stories of radicalization upend much of what we assume about women, politics, and political extremism.


The Teaser

Corinna never tried the shallow end of anything. She didn’t see the point, when the deep end was right there, waiting.

pg. 34

What do you think drives people to hate? Are there any remedies for racism?

Nonfiction November #1

The Dead Are Arising by Les & Tamara Payne

The Dead Are Arising is the collaborative effort of Les Payne and his daughter Tamara. For the heralded columnist this is his opus, a thirty year labor of love. For Tamara Payne it is a testament to her father as much as it is to Malcolm.

This past Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Tamara Payne interviewed on Politics and Prose. In discussing the direction of The Dead Are Arising she explained how our love for the man clouds our vision of him. That we tend to see him in a vacuum. He is this myth of a man and we forget that he is a man who had a family. These extensions of himself that are still grounded here. His legacy lives on in them and although we as a public want to claim him, he really isn’t ours to own. In expressing these sentiments she could have been talking about Malcolm or her father Les Payne. In completing this book, one of Payne’s chief aims was to be true to her father’s voice. As his daughter, this book was her gift to the rest of his family; her hope that they would hear his voice as they read its pages.

The Dead Are Arising is the culmination of hundreds of interviews with the people who knew Malcolm best. While reading the book I found it hard not to compare it to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was in part because I read it directly before delving into this work, but also because the authors refer to it throughout. As a scientist, I considered this a natural part of being a researcher where your role is to verify the validity of the data presented to you. In some cases The Autobiography is supported. In others it is refuted.

Within its pages we get a new perspective of his early life and family dynamics. The previous claim that Malcolm’s father was murdered by the Klan is challenged. More attention is paid to the structure and the founding of the Nation of Islam. Most revelatory for me was the passages that detailed Malcolm’s meeting with the Ku Klux Klan in 1961 and the coverage of his assassination.

Payne is very protective of her subject. In fact fans of Marable’s book have criticized The Dead Are Arising for being too generous towards Malcolm’s legacy. His criminal activities are not as extensive or terrible as they appear in his autobiography. Miss Payne accounts for this difference by claiming that the purpose of exaggerating Malcolm’s street life in The Autobiography sets the stage for his origin myth. The more despicable a picture you paint of your past, the greater the redemptive value of your religious conversion.

The Dead Are Arising was an engrossing read. A vivid portrait, it gives insight into Malcolm Little, the child and El Hajj Malik Shabazz, the man. I believe Tamara Payne has done what she set out to do – amplify the voices of both her father and Malcolm.