The Anti-Racist Reading List – Then and Now: Framing the Conversation

By Tina Callender, Evening Reference Librarian

Weary and exhausted from the pandemic and being socially distanced, isolated from family and friends, at the end of May I —like so many of us was still just getting my bearings in our changed world. Then, the murder of George Floyd changed the world once again as it became a rallying cry. Demonstrations for Black Lives and Defunding the Police spread from coast to coast and internationally, pushing to the forefront of all conversations. With them came a proliferation of lists highlighting black-owned restaurants, banks, stores, and, of course, books by black authors. Frankly, I felt exhaustion regarding these lists too, simply because we’ve been here before. We’ve been frequenting the places, reading the booksI came up in the seventies in a household where Malcolm X and Dr. King were a routine part of the daily conversation. We’ve been here before.  

Photo by Lorie Shuall, June 4, 2020

So, for our virtual joint reflection on this moment, we decided to use quotes from our anti-racist readings –present and past– to anchor us along the way. 

An Open Conversation 

By Natalia Sucre, Digital & Instruction Services Librarian 

Well over a dozen MCNY community members, including deans, faculty, staff, and students, gathered on a zoom screen Wednesday, June 24th to discuss the issues of the day as the Black Lives protests continue to gain momentum around the nation and the globe. Tina Callender led with Cornell West: None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so” (Race Matters, p. 109), focusing the discussion concretely on each participants realm of action and experience. Others echoed the opening theme of exhaustion with the forces of racism lived as a daily reality. Gregg Lewis offered a bracing quote from Marian Wright Edelman that opened the door to honest discussion of many participants’ lived experience: “It is utterly exhausting being Black in America – physically, mentally, and emotionally. While many minority groups and women feel similar stress, there is no respite or escape from your badge of color.” Dr. Lessie Branch forcefully summed it up with a single statement “No more!” a reference to her recent essay in Blavity entitled “Why White Fragility Is, And Has Always Been, the Roadblock Towards Real Change.” 

How—if at all—is this moment different from other movements of widespread protest against racial injustice in our pastKate Adler posed this key question to several participants, and the conversation turned to the possibilities of effecting positive social change. The focus then came naturally to action: What can the MCNY community do to support students at this time and to foster a sustaining, open conversation on racism, antiracism as they directly affect student experience? Todd Bristow, an MCNY MBA student, provided some answers. Drawing on his leadership experience in the United Methodist Church, he advocated for continuing the conversation as a student forum and pointed us to the Crossroads Antiracist Organizing and Training as a highly effective tool.  The conversation moved easily back and forth from the nuts and bolts of supporting students to personal experience to the larger questions of the day. In this way, it created an open, safe space for all to express their thoughts and seek their peace/piece in these moments of turmoil – as Tina Callender put it, evoking words posted by The Black Girl Project in her closing remarks. Our hope at the library is to continue providing such a space and to engage more students in it. 

Research and Resources: The Anti-Racist Reading List at MCNY Library 

We’ve been doing the reading; and so can you. It’s worth noting that the MCNY library has all the books included in many of the anti-racist reading lists currently circulating on social media. As befits the library of an institution of higher learning dedicated to social justice, we have both the canonical works of African American literature now being rediscovered once again as well as the more studies on racism that everyone is talking about from  White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism to How to be antiracistIn addition, check out the library’s Research Guide on Cultural Diversity in Children’s Literature, an excellent tool for dismantling racism right at the beginning.