February: a month that’s too short to celebrate the centuries’ worth of contributions Black Americans made to American history—and in 2019, evidently, a hot mess of a breeding ground for racial stupidity in the news! Whether it’s Liam Neeson revealing his past racist vendetta. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitting he was in a racist yearbook photo involving blackface. Or Gucci apologizing for and removing its “blackface” sweater. So much blackface. Even though we’re in 2019, it keeps happening. And because it keeps happening, we need to keep learning why and what to do about it. Time to hit the books! Again! In the spirit of Ibram X. Kendi’s anti-racism syllabus, we put together our own, featuring books from our catalog that speak to the dumpster fire of prejudice and racial ignorance that never runs out of kindling. (Garbage in, garbage out, people!)
In a Good Morning, America interview, after talking about his racist vendetta, Liam Neeson said he wasn’t racist. How do you reckon that, Liam? You wanted to kill an innocent Black man. Is it because you think that since you’re an overall good guy—after all, you’ve been playing vigilante action heroes in your last films—you couldn’t possibly be racist? And that only mean, detestable people are? That’s the good/bad frame Robin DiAngelo writes about in White Fragility, and it’s a false dichotomy. Her book will give you something vital for your very particular set of skills, Liam: the acumen and courage to examine your white fragility!
Crystal Fleming makes it clear that it’s not just white people who are prone to racial stupidity. So are people of color. Take Michelle Rodriguez for example. She said Liam Neeson couldn’t possibly be racist because of the way he kissed co-star Viola Davis in the film Widows. Er, that’s not how racism works, Michelle. Racism and white supremacy are systemic, and as Fleming shows in chapter six, an interracial relationship, real or otherwise, doesn’t guarantee that it’s anti-racist. Crack open her book, Michelle. She wrote chapter six just for you.
Does Gucci have staff members of color? When you see the photos of Gucci’s “blackface” sweater, you have to wonder why on earth anyone at their offices would think it looked like a good idea in the first place. There’s no way a Black staff member would say, “Yeah, that looks bomb! I’d gift it to my loved ones for Christmas.” If you ask how diverse and inclusive their staff is, this racially stupid slipup makes sense. A Black staff member could’ve put in a word to prevent this. And as Carol Fulp argues in her book, a racially and ethnically diverse workforce help make businesses more profitable. Gucci should study her book and learn from what Eastern Bank, John Hancock, PepsiCo, and other corporate cultures have done.
Does Kati Perry have Black friends? Just like how good friends don’t let friends drink and drive, good friends from diverse backgrounds don’t let friends design racist footwear. It’s good that Kati Perry immediately removed her blackface shoes from her website, but she could’ve avoided the whole thing. Because when friends of color call out their white friends for racist missteps, it means they value the cross-racial friendship and want to keep it. Having those difficult and challenging conversations about race is part and parcel in cross-racial friendships as Deborah Plummer writes about in Some of My Friends Are. . .
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo isn’t an isolated incident. It’s part of the bigger picture of American society dehumanizing the country’s Black population. We only need to look at the American slave trade to see how an inhumane institution reduced enslaved Africans to commodities—and the repercussions of it through time. Daina Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh takes a humane look at this ugly part of our past by centering the voices of the enslaved and following them through every phase of their lives. Something for Northam to read in order to remember that the descendants of enslaved Africans are human and that they don’t deserve to be debased with racist cosplay.