I make lists when I go to the grocery store. I use them to keep my tasks in front of me so I can remember what I need to do and I cross things off when done. Each list exists for a specific reason. Lists, I think are good things for me.
Here’s a list. It begins with Michael Taylor, adds dozens of names over the years and for now, ends with Jacob Blake. Blake is alive after being shot by the police, paralyzed in a hospital and there are now two videos of his shooting. There were no cameras when Taylor was killed in Indianapolis. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was fatally shot while in the back of a police car. The police say he shot himself. That’s the first police shooting I remember, along with the protests and the fact that there was no final conclusion reached in the case.
George Floyd set some things in motion. So did Colin Kaepernick. One gave his life, the other his career. How about a list of Black martyrs? Could we include those of us who have been made invisible and are dying a slow, measured death? No one even notices these walking dead unless we kick at the dust. I feel like I kick dust a lot. Sometimes, I toss a pebble in a lake and there are a few ripples, not many because that lake is huge. I wonder if Floyd or Kaepernick ever made lists and if so, what would be on them.
I’m having a conversation with a friend on Facebook, we haven’t acknowledged the influence of this recent shooting on our talk, but there we are, trying to figure out what freedom and joy means to us and to our communities. What do we owe, and to who? We’re dying here and we need a list of petitions, gratitudes and affirmations to make ourselves seem visible. Relevant is visible. It matters.
Lists aren’t always so philosophical, but they can still be a tool for survival when they provide order and reducing our anxieties.
I suppose booklists are like that sometimes. There really are a lot of books out there and if I want books on a niche topic, a list can help. I’m going to suggest that lists sometimes are anti-racist, too often not. First, anit-racist is a verb. If you’re not calling out the inequities, if you not increasing your own knowledge, if you not providing a way for someone who is disadvantaged, then you’re not being anti-racist. A book list has potential, lots of it.
The creation of the list could be a transformative act if the creator(s) took the time to curate titles they’ve read and evaluated. Reading is resistance. Why else were enslave people prohibited from reading? Knowledge is power. If the list is composed of titles from friends and friends of friends, of titles that came up on a google search or that a publisher paid to be on the list then, no! That list is part of the problem we’re trying to overcome. It’s a performative, capitalistic act that only benefits the 1%.
A booklist can be anti-racist if reading through the books on it transforms the way I think. You don’t have agree with everything you read in How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram Kendi. The work is in thinking it through, questioning and discussing the information in the book. That’s anti-racist work. Ingesting information isn’t transformative.
I have lists of picture books with anthropomorphic monkeys. The list continues to grow as do the requests for “is this monkey OK?”. Here’s the thing. I know many of you think they’re just monkeys because you’re unable to connect the continued equation between blacks and monkeys to picture books. You don’t see how this
can lead to this.
The animals in books can’t just be monkeys as long as Blacks are called ‘monkey’ whether in jest or contempt. Let’s consider how we can stop that and then, only then, the monkeys can just be monkeys. Because the real issue here is that people of African descent are equated with simians and picture books perpetuate that message.
I didn’t have an outline, a well-organized list, when I began this but I think running through all these thoughts is the fact August 2020 has been like no other month in my life. It, like all that has come before has prepared me for whatever lies ahead.