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Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson is my choice for the Social Justice Book of the Year, 2020 – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

Caste• The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly.
• And only recently have circumstances forced us, in this current era of human rupture, to search for the unseen stirrings of the human heart, to discover the origins of our discontents.
• Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order.
• Looking at caste is like holding the country’s X-ray up to the light.  
• The elevation of others amounts to a demotion of oneself, thus equality feels like a demotion.
 • The stigmatized stratify their own, because no one wants to be in last place. (anthropologist J. Lorand Motary). 
• “The ‘function’ of upholding that caste system itself, of keeping the ‘Negro in his place.’”
• This caste system would trigger the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the country to this day.  
Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of our Discontent

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I have presented synopses of ten books dealing with issues of social justice this year for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.

The fact is that a number of books I presented, dealing with issues of race, were significant, substantive books.  I would call them must-reads… The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew and The Color of Law by David Rothstein (I actually presented these two books last year); How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi; The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation by Peggy Wallace Kennedy; among others.  I also presented a good and needed book on antisemitism: Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt. And a book on living in poverty – kind of a modern update of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  This book is Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.

But, as much as I learned from all of these books, and as important as they all are, there was in fact a crystal clear choice for my selection of The Social Justice Book of the Year, 2020, for me.  That book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (New York:  Random House. 2020).

A few years ago, I presented a synopsis of Isabel Wilkerson’s earlier book: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. It is such a profound book.  (Read my blog post: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – A Big Book).

Caste, her new book, is a breathtaking book.  It is sweeping; it is damning; it is far-reaching.

Ms. Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  Oprah chose Caste as an Oprah’s Book Club selection.  The book has been selected for numerous “best books of 2020” lists.

My comment is simple:  I learned so very much from this book.  And as I learned, I felt my heart touched, and my empathy rekindled. Even as I felt disappointment, and anger, at what our country has done.

To tell you that the book contains details of:  India’s caste system; slavery in America; the history of race in America post-Civil War; the abuse of human beings through segregation and the Jim Crow Laws; and so many more details, is still to leave too much out.

Her chapters on Nazi Germany’s reliance on the American racist systems, and her chapter on Confederate monuments, both stand out.  But really, the whole book is filled with such valuable insight.

Ms. Wilkerson wraps all of the discussion of racism into the over-arching concept of caste.  It is a convincing and compelling case.

And, in this post, I simply do not have space to tell of her utterly revealing and engaging stories; from the horrendous abuses of enslaved people by Robert E. Lee, to the use of American Laws by the Nazis, to personal mistreatment she experienced on airlines and at restaurants, and many others. (Watch the video of my synopsis, and you will hear some of these stories.  See below).

In my synopses, I always ask What is the point?  Here’s my answer for this book:
• The dominant caste looks down on the lower castes, and especially the lowest caste.  The lowest caste cannot rise any higher.  This is the essence of the evil of casteism. 

And I always ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is a comprehensive look at the reality of caste, which is the real undergirding of racism in America. 
#2 – This book is a layer-by-layer journey into the omnipresence of casteism in America (and, in India). 
#3 – This book is a call to action for white people to address, abandon, renounce, and defeat casteism.

I always include quite a few pages of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are the best of the best that I selected from Caste:

• Few problems have ever been solved by ignoring them. …In fact, you do the opposite. You educate yourself.
• A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.
• In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste.
• We may mention “race,” referring to people as black or white or Latino or Asian or indigenous, when what lies beneath each label is centuries of history and assigning of assumptions and values to physical features in a structure of human hierarchy.
• It is the historic flash card to the public of how they are to be treated, where they are expected to live, what kinds of positions they are expected to hold, whether they belong in this section of town or that seat in a boardroom, whether they should be expected to speak with authority on this or that subject, whether they will be administered pain relief in a hospital, whether their neighborhood is likely to adjoin a toxic waste site or to have contaminated water flowing from their taps, whether they are more or less likely to survive childbirth in the most advanced nation in the world, whether they may be shot by authorities with impunity.
• “The mill worker with nobody else to ‘look down on,’ regards himself as eminently superior to the Negro,” observed the Yale scholar Liston Pope in 1942.  … “Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest negro.”
• Americans are loath to talk about enslavement in part because what little we know about it goes against our perception of our country as a just and enlightened nation, a beacon of democracy for the world.
• “For the first time in history, one category of humanity was ruled out of the ‘human race’ and into a separate subgroup that was to remain enslaved for generations in perpetuity.”
They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, …tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil.
• Slavery made the enslavers among the richest people in the world.
• No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That will not come until the year 2111.
• The dominant caste devised a labyrinth of laws to hold the newly freed people on the bottom rung ever more tightly, while a popular new pseudoscience called eugenics worked to justify the renewed debasement.
• Any action or institution that mocks, harms, assumes, or attaches inferiority or stereotype on the basis of the social construct of race can be considered racism.
• Any action or structure that seeks to limit, hold back, or put someone in a defined ranking, seeks to keep someone in their place by elevating or denigrating that person on the basis of their perceived category, can be seen as casteism.
• Many leading Americans had joined the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, including the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the auto magnate Henry Ford, and Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University.  … the German Society for Racial Hygiene applauded “the dedication with which Americans sponsor research in the field of racial hygiene and with which they translate theoretical knowledge into practice.”
• The Nazis were impressed by the American custom of lynching its subordinate caste of African-Americans, having become aware of the ritual torture and mutilations that typically accompanied them. Hitler especially marveled at the American “knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.”
• In the zero-sum stakes of a caste system upheld by perceived scarcity, if a lower-caste person goes up a rung, an upper-caste person comes down.

Here are a few of the key points  I included from the book, in my synopsis:

  • Caste is about: Power; Resources; Respect, authority, assumptions of competence.
  • The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.
  • It’s Caste; it’s race; it’s caste/race…
  • Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place.
  • Caste is fixed and rigid. Race is fluid and superficial.
  • While the requirements to qualify as white have changed over the centuries, the fact of a dominant caste has remained constant from its inception—whoever fit the definition of white, at whatever point in history, was granted the legal rights and privileges of the dominant caste.
  • “When we speak of the race problem in America, what we really mean is the caste system and the problems which that caste system creates in America.”
  • THERE IS NO “RACE” – Two decades ago, analysis of the human genome established that all human beings are 99.9 percent the same. “Race is a social concept, not a scientific one.”
  • Caste, on the other hand, predates the notion of race and has survived the era of formal, state-sponsored racism that had long been openly practiced in the mainstream. …But caste does not allow us to ignore structure. Caste is structure. Caste is ranking.
  • Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.
  • Who is at the top? Who is at the bottom?
  • White
  • Asian
  • Latino
  • Black
  • While this book seeks to consider the effects on everyone caught in the hierarchy, it devotes significant attention to the poles of the American caste system, those at the top, European Americans, who have been its primary beneficiaries, and those at the bottom, African-Americans, against whom the caste system has directed its full powers of dehumanization.
  • Dominant caste, ruling majority, favored caste, or upper caste, instead of, or in addition to, white. Middle castes instead of, or in addition to, Asian or Latino. Subordinate caste, lowest caste, bottom caste, disfavored caste, historically stigmatized instead of African-American.
  • Caste — must be kept separate – otherwise the dominant caste might be polluted… (Remember  Jim Crow laws)
  • separated in eating
  • separated in learning/education
  • separated in working
  • separated in dating/marriage
  • separated in housing/separated neighborhoods
  • About white supremacy, and the Confederate States, and Confederate monuments
  • the Cornerstone Speech
  • “Its foundations are laid,” said Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, “its corner-stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth….With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”
  • what the Confederate monuments signal to Black people
  • Germany and the Nazis, contrasted to the US and the Confederate monuments…
  • Caste/(Race) is at the very center, the very foundation, of our history:
  • the country cannot become whole until it confronts what was not a chapter in its history, but the basis of its economic and social order.

And here are my Six Lessons and Takeaways:

#1 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. Acknowledge it.
#2 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. You will see it. Recognize it when you see it.
#3 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. Stand against it.
#4 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. Speak out against it. At the personal level.
#5 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. Speak out against it. At the societal/cultural level.
#6 – We live in a country with people separated by caste. Speak out against it. At the governmental level. 

This book is a wonderful, clear book to read.  But it is also deeply disturbing.  How could our country have been like this?  How could our country still be like this?

But the book ends with a moving story of her encounter with a plumber: a white man, who was not very approachable, or attentive, or helpful.  But with her human connection, she transformed a pretty bleak encounter into a human connection.

And her final chapter beckons us toward something better.  Here’s how Bilal Qureshi put it in his review of the book:  “A surprising and arresting wide-angle reframing . . . Her epilogue feels like a prayer for a country in pain, offering new directions through prophetic language.”

Caste is my selection for the Social Justice Book of the Year, 2020.  I strongly encourage you to read it.

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Click on image to download the synopsis handout for Caste

Click on image to download the synopsis handout for Caste

You can download my entire comprehensive, multi-page, synopsis handout by clicking here.

I posted my video of my synopsis presentation on YouTube.  It is embedded in this blog post:  Here is the video of my synopsis presentation of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, from the December, 2020 Urban Engagement Book Club.

The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap by Mehrsa Baradaran – My five lessons and takeaways

The Color of Money“America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” — Martin Luther King Jr, I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963

Yet despite a century of honest toil, the check has continued to be marked “insufficient funds.”

As Martin Luther King Jr. echoed a century later, “the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slave, a legal entity, but it failed to free the Negro, a person.”

President Kennedy urged Congress to pass a sweeping civil rights bill in 1963, “not merely for reasons of economic efficiency, world diplomacy and domestic tranquility—but above all because it is right.”

Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

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This year, at both the First Friday Book Synopsis, and the Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare), I have presented synopses of a number of books dealing with issues of race:  racial history; racial injustice;  systemic racism.

Last week, I presented my synopsis of The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap by Mehrsa Baradaran at the Urban Engagement Book Club.  One participant said it best:  “it’s almost as though white people just kept finding new ways to harm Black people.”

Just a few days after I presented my synopses, our local ABC Dallas affiliate, WFAA, ran a story about banking practices that treated predominantly Black South Dallas in quite an unequal manner compared to how they treat the more affluent, more predominantly white neighborhoods in Dallas.  Read it and watch it here: They underestimate what we can do’: WFAA finds banks exclude Blacks, Hispanics in Southern Dallas from access to loans.

So, in other words, this is a long-term, nationwide story.  But it is also a very local story, still ongoing.

This book is a story about how Black people were promised genuine help through Black banks. That help never actually materialized.

In my synopses, I ask: What is the point?  Here is the point for this book:  Black banks alone cannot provide the wealth needed for Black people. Though they are excellent tools, they cannot overcome all the other systemic tools that are used to keep Black people poor.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is another good overarching look at racism in America; throughout the centuries, and decades. It is a good history read. 
#2 – This book provides a needed history of the Black banking struggles throughout our history.
#3 – This book is an indictment of the ways that Black banking has almost been a misdirection tool of those who want to maintain a racial hierarchy.

In my synopsis handouts, I always include a few pages of my “best” highlighted passages.  Here are quite a few from this hook:

• Banks are the drivers of wealth creation for any society. What this history reveals is that black and white Americans have had a separate and unequal system of banking and credit.
• So politically successful was the promise of black capitalism that every administration since President Nixon has adopted it in one form or another. 
• The very circumstances that created the need for these banks—discrimination and segregation—permanently limited their effectiveness and would ultimately cause their demise.  
• In fact, the dilemma faced by black banks is highlighted when contrasted with the viable banks created by Italian, Jewish, German, Irish, and Asian immigrants. None of them was systematically, uniformly, and legally segregated to the extent and for the length of time the black community was. What was formerly the Bank of Italy is now the Bank of America.
They left the ghetto first. And they did so only after being accepted as “white.” 
• Slavery, “America’s original sin,” according to James Madison, created the foundation of modern American capitalism.
• The effects of the institution of slavery on American commerce were monumental—3.2 million slaves were worth $ 1.3 billion in market value, almost equal to the entire gross national product.  
• They (enslaved people) were liquid assets that could be exchanged on markets more easily than other forms of property. Slavery’s unparalleled bounty is what caused many Americans to tolerate such a barbarous institution. 
• Between 1820 and the Civil War, banks across the South issued notes with images of slaves printed on the money.
• The currency of the South was the slave. 
• The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865 formalized Sherman’s field order into a law “providing that each negro might have forty acres at a low price on long credit.” Some families even received leftover army mules. 
• As Du Bois said of Reconstruction, “the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” 
• The myth that free-market principles were guiding political choices was further exposed as hypocrisy because blacks could not even pay “market prices” for land. White southerners simply refused to sell land to blacks.  …Southern states even passed laws that forbade white sellers to sell land to blacks.
• An 1865 South Carolina law declared that “no person of color shall pursue or practice the art, trade, or business of an artisan mechanic or shopkeeper, or any other trade, employment or business … on his own account and for his own benefit until he shall have obtained a license which shall be good for one year only.” 
• By the end of the Reconstruction era, most freedmen were left landless, voteless, and with practically every profession blocked to them—their only choice was to grow cotton.
• Freedmen were prohibited in many states from hunting or fishing, which prevented them even from exploiting natural resources for survival.
• Southern entrepreneurs used the criminal justice system to re-enslave thousands of black men and work them, usually to death, in abhorrent labor camps.
• Blacks would be arrested under “vagrancy violations,” which could be used to arrest any free black man in the course of doing any activity at all except working for a white landlord.
• W. E. B. Du Bois, who conducted extensive interviews and data collection on sharecropping arrangements, called it “a system of peonage that kept [blacks] in debt virtually from cradle to grave.”
• “The segregated practices in the South are kind of public butchery,” noted Saul Alinsky. “It’s visible. There’s bleeding all over the place. Up here [in the North] we use a stiletto, it’s internal bleeding, it’s not visible, but it’s just as deadly.” 
• By the year 2000, almost 800,000 black men were in prison, compared to 600,000 who were in college.  Thus, there were more black men in prison than had been held under slavery in 1850.
• Today, black families have an average net wealth of $11,000 compared to a white family’s average of $141,900. The wealth gap exists at every income and education level. On average, white families with college degrees have over $300,000 more wealth than black families with college degrees.
• For example, JPMorgan Chase marketed its “no doc” and “liar loans” (where the lender did not verify any of the information provided on the application), claiming to investors, “It’s like money falling from the sky!”
• So profitable was the subprime market in the years preceding the crisis that banks chose not to give prime loans (those insured by the GSEs) and focused instead on subprime loans. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 50 percent of borrowers who were sold subprime loans could have qualified for prime loans.

Here are a few other principles and points I highlighted in my synopsis handout:

  • an observation from Randy:
  • though this book is about the racism behind the push for “Black capitalism,” it is also a book about the profit motive and outright greed…
  • Black people were excluded; time and time again; from benefit after benefit…
  • The bootstraps they were given were government-guaranteed mortgage loans, from which black people were excluded.
  • the hand that drives black poverty is not a natural and invisible one, but rather the coercive hand of the state that has consistently excluded blacks from full participation in American capitalism.
  • The Homestead Acts gave out millions of acres of government land to white settlers for years.
  • For example, most blacks in the South were farmworkers and domestic workers. In devising legislation that regulated work hours, enabled unions, set minimum wages, and established Social Security, the southern bloc excluded both groups, and thus the majority of black southerners, from the protective legislation.
  • Capitalism, specifically “black capitalism,” became yet another rhetorical weapon used to rationalize economic inequality.
  • Thus…unequal (“separate; but unequal”)
  • Black capitalism and its subsequent iterations became the modern era’s justification for wealth inequality.
  • It used the materials available—commerce, credit, money, and segregation—to regenerate inequality. 
  • “They” don’t stay within the Black community…
  • Mechanics and Farmers Bank was the oldest and strongest black-owned bank in the country.mAnd for almost a century, its insurance affiliate, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, was the largest black-controlled business institution in the world.
  • (Now) the more modern “M& F,” and announced that it would start going after a broader customer base. 
  • First…Black people are significantly unbanked and underbanked
  • As a group, blacks are more unbanked than any other race—60 percent of the black population is unbanked or underbanked, while only 20 percent of whites are in the same category. 
  • And, Black people are poor…
  • What is staggering is that more than 150 years later, that number has barely budged—blacks still own only about 1 percent of the wealth in the United States. 
  • A theory of “Racial Hierarchy” was (is) behind it all
  • A theory of racial hierarchy was used to explain away the dissonance. Blacks had to be seen as subhuman.
  • Not only were slavery and white supremacy condoned by God, but it was seen as God’s will that white men exploit the labor of the black race.
  • And since slavery was premised on white supremacy in a racial hierarchy, an ideology avowed across the country and not just in the slaveholding South, even freed blacks were restricted from full participation in commerce.
  • the 1857 Dred Scott case, which held that no black individual, free or enslaved, could claim American citizenship.
  • Unfortunately, most of the significant New Deal policies were administered in such a way as to maintain the South’s racial hierarchy, which meant an almost categorical exclusion of blacks from government subsidies.
  • Note this: Black banks are very expensive to run…
  • e.g., small deposits; needed counseling
  • About Nixon, and Reagan, and…
  • As the radical black movement gained momentum, it was met with a strong white backlash, which President Nixon rode into office.mFaced with a political quagmire, the politically savvy Nixon was able to neutralize black resistance without sacrificing the Republican coalition built on the “southern strategy.”mThe strategy included opposing all forms of legal race discrimination while rejecting any government effort at integration.mThe black militants would be met with “law and order,” and antipoverty efforts were curtailed on the grounds that they were costly and created dependence on the state. 
  • About the subprime lending crisis
  • Black people that were eligible for better loans were marketed to and sold subprime loans (especially by Countrywide, owned by Bank of America)

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – White people need to care; and they need to find a way to make other/all white people care about the real-world struggles of Black people; especially the economic struggles.
#2 – Stronger Black banking would be a really good thing to bring about.  But, it alone will not be enough.
#3 – Greed and the profit motive have led people to use and abuse poor people to build greater fortunes; especially poorer Black people.
#4 – The problem of wealth inequality, especially as it relates to Black people, is a complex problem.  Good intentions are not enough.  We need systemic solutions to a systemic problem.
#5 – And, maybe, we just need to be a little more vocal with the phrase:  “That is racist.”

Here’s my current thinking.  I have read, and presented, a number of books dealing with issues of racial injustice and inequality.  This is not an imaginary problem.  It is a very real problem, with very real consequences.

Each book I read teaches me another way of looking at this ongoing problem.  This book certainly did.  It is worth reading; I encourage you to do so.

And after reading, and pondering, we need to act in ways to change things for the better.


A couple of other excerpts from the book, for a reminder of the ghastly history:

Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, justifying the disenfranchisement of the black vote, explained, “I am just as much opposed to Booker Washington as a voter, with all his Anglo-Saxon re-enforcements, as I am to the coconut-headed, chocolate-colored, typical little coon, Andy Dotson, who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to exercise the supreme function of citizenship.”

Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina bragged in a public lecture that he did not know how many black men he had killed himself, and even advocated the extermination of the 30,000 blacks in his state.

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I video-recorded my Zoom presentation of this session.  Click here to watch the video.  You can also download my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

New Books banner, 2020

 

How to be an Antiracist copyWhat’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.
There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

———————-

Our country is so divided.  In so many ways.

Race is one of those ways.

And there are plenty of folks who say, in one way or another, that America suffers from systemic racism.  Others say there is no racism, and certainly no systemic racism.

I come down on the side that says that, alas, racism is still alive, and well, and even openly present and visible, in so many places; in so many ways.

Just recently (as I write), there have been multiple stories of raciest actions, and statements, and images, from the Ft. Worth Police Department, to a legendary advertising firm in Dallas, and many, many more across our land.

For the last four months, I have been presenting one book a month on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  (I normally present two business books a month.  For these months, it was one business book and one book on racial issues).

I am not new to this.  I have been presenting books on poverty, social justice, and racial issues for over 15 years for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.  In addition, I focused a great deal on the rhetoric of the Civil Rights movement in my graduate work, and my wife and I have taken some history-focused vacations, with emphasis on civil rights history, over the last few years.  We have visited Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Memphis.

All of this is to say that I have done more than just read a book or two.  And I feel like I chose four very good and needed books for this short series on race.

In this post, I will share my lessons and takeaways from the 4th book I presented in my short series at the First Friday Book SynopsisHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X.Kendi.

This book is…a true must read; an essential book for this era.

In my synopses, I always begin with:

What is the point? — In addition to the actual harm of (overt) racism, the ongoing danger comes from nonracists who, by their silence and lack of activism, help perpetuate a racist society.

And I ask, why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is another candid, heart-wrenching look at the overt racism in our past as a country; including the racism of our elected, influential officials and leaders. 
#2 – This book is a painful reminder that policies are enacted and protected that perpetuate the racism in our society. 
#3 – This book is a clear call to be an antiracist.  It provides strategies, and a touch of motivation, to keep fighting the antiracist battle.

I always include many (a few pages of) Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are a few that I included in my synopsis handout ( a few more than I usually include in my blog posts):

• Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations.
• And I’ve come to see that the movement from racist to antiracist is always ongoing—it requires understanding and snubbing racism based on biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, space, and class. 
• I cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be an antiracist. And the key act for both of us was defining our terms so that we could begin to describe the world and our place in it. 
• A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. 
• Racist policies have been described by other terms: “institutional racism,” “structural racism,” and “systemic racism,” for instance.  “Racist policy” is more tangible and exacting, and more likely to be immediately understood by people, including its victims, who may not have the benefit of extensive fluency in racial terms.  “Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.  …Focusing on “racial discrimination” takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policy and racist policymakers, or what I call racist power.
• So what is a racist idea? A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.  An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.
• We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. 
• If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. 
• The history of the United States offers a parade of intra-racial ethnic power relationships: Anglo-Saxons discriminating against Irish Catholics and Jews; Cuban immigrants being privileged over Mexican immigrants; the model-minority construction that includes East Asians and excludes Muslims from South Asia. It’s a history that began with early European colonizers referring to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole as the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Native Americans, as compared to other “wild” tribes. 
• Unarmed Black bodies—which apparently look armed to fearful officers—are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed White bodies. 
• Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. 
• A study that used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data from 1976 to 1989 found that young Black males engaged in more violent crime than young White males. But when the researchers compared only employed young males of both races, the differences in violent behavior vanished. …Another study found that the 2.5 percent decrease in unemployment between 1992 and 1997 resulted in a decrease of 4.3 percent for robbery, 2.5 percent for auto theft, 5 percent for burglary, and 3.7 percent for larceny.
• WHEN THE REACTION to the Nazi Holocaust marginalized biological racism, cultural racism stepped into its place. 
• In 2007, MSNBC’s Don Imus compared Rutgers’s Dark basketball players—“that’s some nappy-headed hos there”—to Tennessee’s Light players—“they all look cute”—after they played in the NCAA women’s championship.
• Blacks were ten times more likely than Whites to have their ballots rejected. …That left one explanation, one that at first I could not readily admit: racism. A total of 179,855 ballots were invalidated by Florida election officials in a race ultimately won by 537 votes.
• White officers are far and away more likely to be racist than Black officers these days.
• Nearly all (92 percent) of White officers surveyed agreed with the post-racial idea that “our country has made the changes needed to give Blacks equal rights with Whites.”
• Only 6 percent of White officers co-signed the antiracist idea that “our country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with Whites,” compared to 69 percent of Black officers.
• There were multiple ways of seeing the world, he argued. But too many Black people were “looking out” at the world from a European “center,” which was taken as the only point from which to see the world—through European cultures masquerading as world cultures, European religions masquerading as world religions, European history masquerading as world history. …“The rejection of European particularism as universal is the first stage of our coming intellectual struggle,” Professor Asante wrote.
• Banks remain twice as likely to offer loans to White entrepreneurs than to Black entrepreneurs.
• “For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders…that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro.”
• They were reacting to the same moderate and liberal and assimilationist forces that all these years later still reduce racism to the individual acts of White Klansmen and Jim Crow politicians and Tea Party Republicans and N-word users and White nationalist shooters… …‘Respectable’ individuals can absolve themselves from individual blame: they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family,” Toure and Hamilton wrote. “But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies. The term “institutionally racist policies” is more concrete than “institutional racism.” (Du Bois). …Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.”
• What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose.

Here are a few of the points and key thoughts from the book, that I included in my synopsis:

  • The options:
  • you can be racist
  • you can (claim to be) nonracist
  • you can be antiracist 
  • A key point — definitions matter:
  • Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
  • Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.
  • Racial Inequity: Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. …Here’s an example of racial inequity: 71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes in 2014, compared to 45 percent of Latinx families and 41 percent of Black families.
  • We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist.
  • About systemic racism
  • two kinds of racism in Birmingham — In the way investigators can figure out exactly who those church bombers were, investigators can figure out exactly what policies caused five hundred Black babies to die each year and who put those policies in place.
  • Racism has its tentacles everywhere — Do-nothing climate policy is racist policy…    
  • Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas
  • Assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas are the two types of racist ideas, the duel within racist thought.
  • The centrality of the notion of hierarchy; “my group is above your group…”
  • From the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy.
  • That is the central double standard in ethnic racism: loving one’s position on the ladder above other ethnic groups and hating one’s position below that of other ethnic groups.
  • Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.
  • About strategy
  • it all revolves around policy change — Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups.
  • Thus, the call is to be an activist:
  • Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. …If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.
  • We use the terms “demonstration” and “protest” interchangeably, at our own peril, like we interchangeably use the terms “mobilizing” and “organizing.” — A protest is organizing people for a prolonged campaign that forces racist power to change a policy. A demonstration is mobilizing people momentarily to publicize a problem.
  • So, what to do?
  • Admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people. Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations. Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity. Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity. Figure out who or what group has the power to institute antiracist policy. Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives. Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy. Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy. Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity. When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work. Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted. 

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Quit pretending that racism is not still a problem.  It is.
#2 – Maybe do some serious study.  What you don’t know is probably worth learning, and worth knowing.
#3 – Maybe do some serious self-examination.  How have you contributed to the racism in our society?
#4 – Learn to separate your preference from what is right and wrong.
#5 – Maybe it is time to _________________.  {You fill in the black, with the action(s) you feel like you need to take).

We are all “ignorant” (i.e, uninformed) about many things.  But maybe it is time to get much better informed about issues of race.  If you would read this book, and the earlier book by Mr. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, you would likely become a more informed person about this crucial subject – this crucial societal and human issue – so important in this critical time on our country.

White Fragility


Here are the four books I presented on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis:
July, 2020 — Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner) by Ibram X. Kendi. Bold Type Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017).
August, 2020 — White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. Beacon Press. 2018.
September, 2020 — The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright. 2017.
October, 2020 — How to Be an Antiracist – August 13, 2019 by Ibram X. Kendi. One World; First Edition (August 13, 2019).

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My synopses are available to purchase.  Each synopsis comes with my full comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here for our newest additions.  This synopsis will be uploaded and available soon.

Here is the video of my synopsis presentations of Doesn’t Hurt to Ask and How to Be an Antiracist from the October First Friday Book Synopsis

for Oct. 2 FFBSI have uploaded the video recordings of our October First Friday Book Synopsis.

(Scroll through this blog for videos from other months, with other book synopsis presentations).

Before you watch, click here to download the synopsis handouts.

 

First Friday Book Synopsis, Oct., 2020 – Doesn’t Hurt to Ask and How to Be an Antiracist — (presenter, Randy Mayeux)

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Note:  you can purchase the audio recording only, plus the handoout, at our “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page, of these and many, many other synopses.  Click here to see our newest additions.

 

Download the Synopses Handouts for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis – October 2, 2020 – Doesn’t Hurt to Ask and How to Be an Antiracist

Over 190 people joined in on our “Remote” First Friday Book Synopsis August gathering. We had

Click on image to download handouts.

Click on image to download handouts.

participants from all over the country. Please share this word far and wide — all are welcome!

ONE BOOK ON BUSINESS
ONE BOOK ON ISSUES OF RACE
Friday, October 2, 2020
7:30 AM Central Time


NOTE: ZOOM NOW REQUIRES A PASSCODE. 

IT IS BELOW, WITH THE LINK!

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Friday, October 2, 2020 – Zoom
Two Book Synopses: Doesn’t Hurt to Ask by Trey Gowdy 
and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Where: on ZOOM
When: This Friday, October 2, 7:30 am (Central Time)
The presentation will conclude shortly after 8:30 am
Speaker: Randy Mayeux
Click here to join in on Zoom

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82882862662?pwd=a2RjdjcwdjlMeWQ1OFNBMGV0TXlhZz09

Meeting ID: 828 8286 2662
Passcode: 991931

Click on image to download handouts.

Click on image to download handouts.

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We are all set for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis.

#1 — Download, and print both synopses handouts by clicking here.

If you have ever attended our event, you know that I am handout intensive. You really will be able to follow along better with physical copies of the handouts in front of you. So, if you have a printer, please print the handouts.

#2 — Come on in for conversation whenever you can. I have enabled the “enable join before host” button. So, you can come in, and talk to folks. I will plan to join the meeting around 7:00. And, I will not “end the meeting” for a while after, if you want to continue conversations with others after we officially conclude.

#3 — Here is the info, with the link to join the gathering:

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: October 2, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

Time: Oct 2, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82882862662?pwd=a2RjdjcwdjlMeWQ1OFNBMGV0TXlhZz09

Meeting ID: 828 8286 2662
Passcode: 991931

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Reminder: The cost of this remote meeting is “free.”

But, if you would like to contribute to participate, Randy would welcome you to send $12.00 directly to him through PayPal. Click here for a direct link to “donate” thorugh PayPal.

(Note: you can also send money through Zelle, at Randy’s e-mail address).
(Randy’s e-mail address for PayPal , and Zelle, is ).

Please help spread the word far and wide; help make this a success.

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You might want to read this post. It has a printable one-sheet reminder on how to make the most of your remote learning experience.

Remote Learning 101 – Read this before attending your learning session.

Here are my video presentations from our September events: The Color of Law & Humanocracy, and How to Be an Antiracist

My life has spun out of control. Call it what you will; productivity challenges is one thing to call it. But I have not handled the current pandemic and national unrest as well as I should have.  Thus, I have written few blog posts.  I get done what I must get done; but not enough of other stuff that I should get done.  My apology to all.

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Sept. 4, 2020 FFBSI have uploaded the video recordings of my latest two events/presentations.  One, the September First Friday Book Synopsis, and the other was the September Urban Engagement Book Club. Keep scrolling, and you will find the videos.

Here are the links to download the synopsis handouts:

 

Download the synopsis handouts from the September First Friday Book Synopsis presentations of The Color of Law and Humanocracy by clicking here.

And download the synopsis handout for How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, from the September Urban Engagement Book Club, by clicking here.

{Note:  the Kendi book is also one of my two selections for the October First Friday Book Synopsis.  It will be substantially the same handout (though it will look a little different), but the presentation will be a shorter presentation of this synopsis}.

First Friday Book Synopsis, Sept, 2020 – Humanocracy and The Color of Law — (presenter, Randy Mayeux)

Urban Engagement Book Club, September, 2020 – How to Be an Antiracist — (presenter, Randy Mayeux)