TBR Additions (vol. 3): Listening to the Voices of Others

All week I’ve been watching the news and social media and thinking about what to say and do. It’s horrifying to hear of the violence enacted against an unarmed man in the way that George Floyd suffered and died. It’s even more horrifying that this is far from an isolated incident, in the United States but also here in Canada. How do I react in a meaningful way? What can I say? Should I say anything or should I just shut up and let others speak. Yes, I should but I also don’t want to stay silent in the face of racism and hate. I’ve been thinking and reading about how to react, particularly as a Christian.

There was a time, when I thought I understood the experience of being a minority. Because I wasn’t born in Canada, because I grew up in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood in Vancouver and attended a high school where being white made me stand out, made me a target of certain comments or assumptions, I thought I knew what it was to experience racism. Systemic racism however is an entirely different experience and one I have never known and never will. I can freely tell my children that, when they are in trouble, they can go to the police. We live in a town where most people look like us.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe that when someone tells you that you’re hurting them, Believe Them. Don’t offer a defence, don’t tell them all the ways you couldn’t possibly be. Believe them. Ask how you can protect them, how you can stop hurting others.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

When our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, tell us they are in pain, let’s not search for examples of those who are fine. Let’s listen. Let’s help the pain end.

In that spirit, I’ve added a lot of books to my TBR this week. Black people, Indigenous people, minorities across the US and Canada (and Canada is definitely not exempt for racism) are telling us they are in pain. Will we listen? How will we stand with them and enact real change to end their pain?

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  • Halfbreed – Maria Campbell
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  • Black Writers Matter – ed. Whitney French
  • The Gospel of Breaking – Jillian Christmas
  • Thunder Through My Veins – Gregory Scofield
  • From the Ashes – Jesse Thistle
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Books I’ve Read:

  • They Said This Would be Fun – Eternity Martis
  • A Mind Spread Out on the Ground – Alicia Elliott
  • Conversations with Canadians – Lee Maracle
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You – David Chariandy
  • The Jade Peony – Wayson Choo
  • Dear Current Occupant – Chelene Knight
  • Mamaskatch – Darrel J. McLeod
  • The Lesser Blessed – Richard van Camp
  • The Hate You Give – Angie Thomas
  • Americana – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

These are only a handful of the books out there that speak of the pain of racism in one way or another. There are many other voices that have been silenced. If you have a recommendation that would fit in and you don’t see it, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to expand my list and read a greater diversity of writers.

12 thoughts on “TBR Additions (vol. 3): Listening to the Voices of Others”

  1. I am trying to figure out how I (as a Chinese-Canadian) have been complicit in anti-Black racism – I think especially about my role as a teacher and how I can better support my Black students and how to unlearn implicit biases that may be harmful to them. I’m hoping to read more and I recently bought two books by Black Canadian authors about race, The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole and They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis and I’m really looking forward to learning from them.

    I was also reminded by one of my pastors that we should approach these issues with a Biblical mindset, so I’ve been reading about God’s justice and righteousness in the Psalms and I’ve found it really encouraging.

    I hope you’re doing well, Karissa!

    1. Thanks! I need to add the Desmond Cole to my list.

      I think it’s a good thing to always be re-assessing. It can be easy to feel complacent because I don’t see these things right in front of me and I’m not participating in this violence. But I know I benefit from the privilege of my skin colour and I don’t want to do so by trodding on others.

      I was just finishing reading a book of essays edited by Timothy Keller called “Uncommon Ground” and the final essay is by Claude Richard Alexander Jr, an African-American man who talks about peacemaking. It was a great perspective on the Christian response.
      I’ve been trying to read a Psalm every night this year and it’s been so encouraging in all situations!

  2. ALWAYS the Autobiography of Malcolm X and also Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. I think fiction can be great to foster empathy, and essays can help us understand, but hearing real stories can better get to the heart of the matter.

    I really like your point about feeling “othered” and wondering if what you experienced was akin to racism, but the deciding that it’s different. That’s a great message, Karissa.

    1. Good additions, thank you! I agree with you about real stories vs fiction. For me, fiction was a good place to start and I’ve found that I’ve read more non-fiction in recent years. The real stories can be a lot tougher to read but I think that speaks to their importance as well.

    2. Although real stories can be tougher, I also find that they tend to be more interesting. “Stranger than fiction” and all that. Anne Moody’s work with the sit-in’s and SNCC was amazing.

  3. Have you read Passing by Nella Larsen? As the title suggests, it’s about the experience of black people passing as white, set mainly in Harlem in the 1920s.

    1. No, I haven’t. That’s another interesting conversation re: who passes and what that means. There’s a chapter in Homegoing about a couple that moves to New York and he can pass for white but she and their son can’t and what that does for their relationship.

  4. This is a great list, Karissa. Some I’ve read and loved, some I’m meaning to read soon as well. The fact that so many people are reading to educate themselves right now is very encouraging. Looking forward to your reviews for the TBR books you’ve listed! Homegoing in particular is one of my all-time favorite books. (I feel like I’ve mentioned this before but I don’t think it can be overstated, ha)

    1. Thanks! So many of these titles are back ordered at my local library and bookstore right now. Which is good because it means lots of people are trying to learn more but it also means I might have to wait awhile!

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