Monday, August 5, 2013

More Than a Pile of Books

It's time to start making piles again, the "take to NY pile" and the "keep in AR" pile.  After a month at our home in AR, I'm headed back to NY this week.  I invariably think I'm traveling light until I notice the stack of books on my bedside table. Not only on top, but spilling off into a basket and littering the floor underneath. This morning, as I begin mindlessly (as opposed to mindfully) scooping them up, I stop short.  There's a pattern here.

Besides The Mindful Writer (ever hopeful that reading mindful thoughts will make my thoughts more mindful), the Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou books present a strong clue.  Maybe a closer look at the other books will trigger the Aha! moment.

Literary, perhaps?
Poetry, quotations, autobiography, a Newberry Award winner.  Exemplars for an aspiring writer, like myself, to be sure. But to put a finer point on the collection. . . African American.


I ask myself the same question.  Why did I pull Dr. King's quotations off my shelf, then go to the library and check out Ms. Angelou's autobiography and complete collection of poems, decide to re-read Mr. Johnson's Negro sermons in verse, and quickly buy another of Mr. Curtis' books after reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963?

Swirling in that part of my brain that makes connections, usually unconscious connections, I remember hearing an NPR piece weeks ago. "How to Fight Racial Bias When It's Silent and Subtle."  About the same time as the Trayvon Martin case.  The silent and subtle parts caught my attention.

I grew up in a small Arkansas town.  Schools were not integrated until my senior year in high school;  everything from water foundations, to toilets, to the balcony at the movie theater were clearly marked in separate but unequal signs, "colored" and "white."  I heard the N-word used openly and in whispers.  Something in me, somehow, knew this was wrong, that all of this was wrong.

I try to be aware of prejudices I carry, and rely on Awareness to pull me up short and shout in my ear, "Stop! Try harder. Don't let your thinking go down that road."  But Awareness has an easier job when signs of racism are blatant, on placards, displayed in restaurant windows and shoved in faces.  Where, I wonder, does racism (or its more undercover cousin - racial basis) go when the signs are taken down?

So unintentionally, or was it intentionally, I've surrounded myself with books by African Americans.  Through their language, can I reach a deeper level of understanding?  Can I feel beyond the words?  Can I become more mindful of how my own silent and subtle prejudices manifest themselves?

The books go in the "take to NY pile."  (Except Ms. Angelou's which goes back to the library tomorrow, when I'll place an order for my own.)




  1. Enjoy your discoveries. I'm curious what thoughts you will write about as you reflect after reading these books. You really have lived in a world influenced by bias. Well all have but you more first hand, I think. I look forward to you poignant reflections like the ones you shard here.

    1. We can even talk about it in person since I'll be back soon!

  2. Safe travels and have fun exploring your new neighborhood with Elizabeth and Ruby.


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