“What does it say to Black kids watching when the world’s biggest children’s entertainment company cannot give them even one animated film that features a Black person that stays a Black person throughout? What does this say about Blackness to kids who are not Black? About whose life is being portrayed as mattering? And whose does not?
This is how bias and harmful stereotypes are created and perpetuated in society. This is how whiteness protects whiteness and thus a system of white supremacy through media representation: by normalizing itself as human and othering Blackness through erasure and dehumanization. Whether conscious or unconscious, this bias and adherence to white supremacy and Black erasure and dehumanization is real and damaging.”
For NPR Books, I wrote about The Devil You Know, the incendiary new book from Charles Blow:
“Some time into his new book The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, Charles Blow recalls hearing Harry Belafonte give a speech.
The subject was Belafonte’s bailout of some student members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.) Belafonte had raised $70,000 in bail money and called up his best friend Sidney Poitier to help him deliver the money. But it was not easy. Belafonte recalled how he and Poitier were chased by the Ku Klux Klan, whose members accosted them at the airport; Belafonte and Poitier had to take off speeding in a race for their lives.
Poitier and Belafonte were, without a doubt, two of the most acclaimed Black stars in America. And this still happened to them. But Belafonte’s did not end his story at the recounting of this memory of vile racism and terror. Belafonte turned it into a call for action. Facing the audience that Charles Blow sat in, Belafonte asked a simple question: ‘Where are the radical thinkers?'”
Read more here.
So much is happening everywhere, but here is a bit of joy for today that I can now announce that my latest poetry collection will be published by @haymarketbooks, one of my favorite publishers! Thank you to the wonderful trio that is Sarah Bowlin, Julie Fain, and Maya Marshall.
My book is dedicated to the women and children who have survived the violences of genocide and war, and I couldn’t imagine a better home for it than Haymarket Books, committed to publishing beautiful books that marry artistic craft with social justice.
Hello October. I have a new and very personal essay up at Catapult. It’s called What is Left, What is Held, What is Grown as Roots. In it, I talk about the year of missing my father after his death last year, and parenting during a pandemic and what it’s like seeing and feeling the effects of the racial violence stoked by the president against people who look like us, and other things. It’s here.
I was honored to be asked by NPR Books to review Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the compelling new work of nonfiction from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson:
To read Isabel Wilkerson is to revel in the pleasure of reading — to relax into the virtuosic performance of thought and form one is about to encounter, safe and secure that the structures will not collapse beneath you.
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s first book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Wilkerson evinced a rare ability to craft deeply insightful analysis of deeply researched evidence — both historical and contemporary — in harmonious structures of language and form.
Now, in her sophomore effort, the former New York Times Chicago Bureau chief does not disappoint. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is a masterwork of writing — a profound achievement of scholarship and research that stands, also, as a triumph of both visceral storytelling and cogent analysis.
What is caste? According to Wilkerson, “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.” Racism and castism do overlap, she writes, noting that “what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system.”[…]
For NPR Books, I write about the new luminous new memoir Memorial Drive, written by the brilliant Natasha Tretheway, former US Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. This book is unparalleled. It is the kind of book that comes around once a century, if we are lucky.
In the closing pages of her memoir Memorial Drive, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey writes: “To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.”
The memoir, out this week, is a meditation on Trethewey’s own life as well as those of her mother and grandmother — an interrogation of the self and of family history haunted, in large part, by the abuse Trethewey and her mother both suffered at the hands of her stepfather. It ended, ultimately, in the murder of Trethewey’s mother by her step-father when Trethewey was 19.
Like Lucille Clifton’s poem “june 20,” a rising tension is created between the threat of the known violence that is to come and the present movement of the narrative building to that moment. “I need now to make sense of our history, to understand the tragic course upon which my mother’s life was set and the way my own life has been shaped by that legacy” writes Trethewey in the opening pages. Structurally, this tension becomes the driving engine of the book; thematically, this becomes a ghost of the terrifying future that haunts the present text.[…]
I am THRILLED my first nonfiction book PLEASE DON’T KILL MY BLACK SON PLEASE has sold to Vintage Books, home of Toni Morrison & James Baldwin, my literary mom & dad since I first read them at the age my kiddo is now and their books changed my life forever. Thanks to my family and the brilliant Sarah Bowlin and Maria Goldverg. The Publisher’s Weekly article is here.