Imani Perry is having a moment in the limelight, and we hope she’s relishing every minute of it. When she first came to our offices to talk about her biography on Lorraine Hansberry, Looking for Lorraine, we knew it was going to be special. Fast forward to this year’s PEN/America Awards, and we delighted in seeing just how special her book is. She won the PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography!
By Imani Perry | Lorraine was frustrated by some critical evaluations of the play, even as she understood them. She was particularly frustrated that Walter Lee’s “ends” were read without complication. They were deliberate and clearly shaped by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, the WPA Negro in Illinois project’s publication Black Metropolis, and Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, which she considered an essential companion to the writings of Karl Marx. Walter Lee’s yearnings were a manifestation of Veblen’s theory of desire in a capitalist society, one that cut across class and caste. Her mastery of full characters, her sensitivity to speech and personality so that the characters never read as types, made the politics invisible to so many. But Lorraine intended to correct that.
There’s nothing like cooking a good meal to bring people together. What better way than with the recipes in the late Ntozake Shange’s If I Can Cook/You Know God Can? Shange’s eclectic tribute to Black cuisine and culture is one of the first two books in our new Celebrating Black Women Writers series. This season, we launched this series to reissue and repackage timeless titles “to share essential voices with a new generation of readers in a celebration of Blackness, Black womanhood, Black women, and all the contributions they bring to the page,” as our editorial assistant Maya Fernandez said. Several of us got together to prepare some of the meals for a potluck lunch at the office. And reader, let me tell you: It was delicious! Here are comments from some of our staff about their experiences with Shange’s recipes.
By Deborah L. Plummer | The critically acclaimed film and Best Picture Academy Award winner, Green Book, tells the story of a real-life tour of the Deep South in the 1960s by Jamaican-American classical pianist Don Shirley and New York bouncer Tony Lip, who served as Shirley's driver and security. Set in 1962, they use The Negro Motorist Green Book to guide them to establishments safe for Blacks as they travel through the Deep South. It is a feel-good movie that touts the power of friendship in closing the racial divide and leaves its viewers with the assumptions that these challenges do not persist today for establishing cross-racial friendships.
We’ve reached another milestone with Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, celebrating thirty-three weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List! It’s climbed as high as number two in the listing. And now, we’re excited to announce that we’re signing a second book with DiAngelo that will build on the conversation that started with White Fragility. The follow-up book will explore the need for white people to break with white solidarity in order to better support efforts toward racial equality. It is tentatively scheduled for release in late fall 2020 or spring 2021.
By Feminista Jones | Twenty years after I first began writing publicly about Black Americans’ experiences with oppression, I didn’t think I’d still be at it. I didn’t think I’d still be writing about our collective struggle, the restoration of our full humanity, and respect for our autonomous citizenship. At least not with the same ferocity or the same lamenting heart. Yet here I am. We have so much more work to do to achieve equal rights for all. But at the heart and forefront of modern movements for social justice is one group who I believe will lead Black communities to the personal freedom and collective liberation we’ve been fighting for. We will be led by Black women.
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.
By Thomas Norman DeWolf | I looked forward to Dr. Robin DiAngelo coming to the town where I live, Bend, Oregon, since her appearance was announced a few months ago by The Nancy R. Chandler Visiting Scholar Program of Central Oregon Community College (COCC). She was the featured speaker for this year’s Season of Nonviolence. I’m a big fan of her work, and we share a publisher: Beacon Press. I’ve not had the opportunity to see her present until now. I reserved tickets for her Wednesday evening presentation as well as her workshop the following morning. I attended with several friends, members of our local Coming to the Table affiliate group.
By Feminista Jones | Black women have endured generations of being treated, by media and community alike, as if we are unworthy of love and respect, are unattractive and undesirable, and we are expected to rise above the negativity and continue to put others before ourselves. We can no longer internalize this hateful, damaging nonsense, and we have to do everything we can to make sure the next generation of little Black girls coming into this world know they are valued, told they are beautiful, encouraged to reach their fullest potential, and embody the “Black Girl Magic” that lives in each of us.
By Richard A. Serrano | For years, I have carried around in my head a haunting tale—that of a handsome young black army soldier named John Arthur Bennett, and what occurred along a snowy winter creek in Austria and deep in the bowels of death row basement at the army’s Fort Leavenworth prison.
By Howard Bryant | For black men, sports was not as promising an employment opportunity as it appeared. Their bodies were valuable, but beyond playing, chances to coach, evaluate personnel, or run or own teams were as remote as they were in the non-sports world. And as for the Heritage, Jackie Robinson had created the template of the black political athlete, but it was still a game, and employees were still just ballplayers, with plenty of visibility but not nearly enough security (the million-dollar, guaranteed contract was a decade and a half away), so the tolerance for speaking out about social issues was low. Even during the obvious inequality of the Jim Crow era, the white mainstream was still confounded by the black demand for equality.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | The incident with the Covington Catholic school boys has been an astonishing exhibition of not only an intensely polarized country, but a dizzying conglomeration of issues. There were countless mixed messages contained in the assortment of video clips of Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandmann who appeared to be in a standoff. As an American Indian journalist and academic trained to analyze information from all possible angles and come to some kind of understanding of the evidence, I agree that much of the reactionary rhetoric and hateful response to the Covington students was misguided and outright wrong. The students did not deserve death threats.
By Deborah L. Plummer | My husband, Mike, is an engineer—a full-blooded engineer. Not only is it his career choice, but he also lives and thinks like an engineer. Often when we go out with my friends, the occasion is loosely planned and somewhat spontaneous. A phone call made that day inquiring about the evening’s plans usually gets things started. Mike’s friends (fellow engineers), on the other hand, plan events literally months in advance—even if we are just meeting for dinner. Time, place, and confirmed reservations are emailed in a precise manner.
By Lisa Page | As a kid, I heard that Carol Channing was black (the word back then was negro). She was one of many celebrities rumored to pass, in Hollywood—a list that included Angie Dickenson, Dinah Shore, and others. These women had large brown eyes, full lips, and bleached blond hair. Looking white—being light-skinned—allowed many Americans to cross the color line into the mainstream, back in a time when that meant serious opportunity. But rumors are rumors.
By Lori L. Tharps: I’m not mad. Not mad at all that executive producer, Peter Saji, covered the same ground regarding colorism and family dynamics in a twenty-two-minute Black-ish episode that I covered in my 200-page heavily researched 2016 book, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families.
With an introduction by Bettye Collier-Thomas | “One Christmas Eve” was published in Opportunity in December 1933. The editor noted, “Langston Hughes, just returned from a lengthy stay in Russia, turns his hand to the short story and shows a growing mastery of that medium.” Prior to going to the Soviet Union in 1932, Hughes, at the insistence of the noted educator Mary McLeod Bethune, travelled throughout the South reading to mainly black audiences. Listening to the stories of black Southerners, and personally experiencing segregation and discrimination at every turn, Hughes became inspired to write this story.
This year’s Human Rights Day marks the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the perfect day to reflect on the US’s treatment of the immigrant community. And let me tell you: It’s going to be a stark reckoning. Just look at some of this year’s headlines. Many migrant families are still separated. Border patrol agents fired tear gas at migrant families at the US-Mexico border to disperse them. This is inhumane treatment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the “inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being—regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” That’s not what we’re seeing. Where are the inalienable rights for this community?
By Linda Schlossberg | Like many white Americans, I read To Kill a Mockingbird in junior high and loved it. Published in 1960, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is told from the point of view of young Scout, whose father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, defends a black man falsely accused of rape. Scout’s innocent and appealing voice is an accessible vehicle for discussing race relations, and the novel has become a staple of school curricula. Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus in the 1962 film. The novel’s previously unpublished and controversial sequel, Go Set A Watchman, hit bestseller lists a few years ago. And Aaron Sorkin’s highly-anticipated Broadway adaptation, produced by Scott Rudin and starring Jeff Daniels, is certain to sell out. It’s no wonder that Mockingbird, published almost sixty years ago, emerged the winner of PBS’s The Great American Read television series, where viewers could vote, American Idol style, for their favorite novel.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | Robin DiAngelo’s brilliant 2018 manifesto on white fragility was a much-needed truth bomb at a time when it’s more clear than ever that we are light years away from the “post-racial state.” Perhaps most important about the book was its clarity that racism is systemic and structural, that no white people are immune from it, and that their fragility about it is based on a belief that they are being judged as bad people (the good-bad binary). In this second part of a two-part series (see part one here), I take on the similar but very different concept we in Indian country call settler privilege and its companion, settler fragility.
By Mirta Ojito | On November 8, 2008, having had a few beers and an early dinner, Marcelo Lucero, an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant, took a late-night stroll with his childhood friend Angel Loja near the train tracks in Patchogue, a seaside village of twelve thousand people in Suffolk County, New York, a county that only three years earlier had been touted by Forbes magazine as one of the safest and wealthiest in the United States. It is also one of the most segregated counties.