Racial Justice Book Discussions

Each month, we gather at a local library somewhere in Marin where we read and discuss books that center race, racism, privilege, and whiteness. Book selections and library locations are posted at least one month in advance, to allow you time to order and read the book!

This is an open discussion group for anyone interested in discussing the topics raised, and if you haven’t had a chance to finish reading, please come anyway — the discussions are always lively and engaging. We try to set up the discussions at different libraries so that folks from all around the county feel welcome to participate.

This month’s book discussion:

Saturday, August 24, 2:30pm – 4:00pm, San Anselmo Library,  110 Tunstead Ave.

Infamy by Richard Reeves. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans into primitive camps for the rest of war. Their only crime: looking like the enemy.

In Infamy, acclaimed historian Richard Reeves delivers a sweeping narrative of this atrocity. Men we usually consider heroes—FDR, Earl Warren, Edward R. Murrow—were in this case villains. We also learn of internees who joined the military to fight for the country that had imprisoned their families, even as others fought for their rights all the way to the Supreme Court. The heart of the book, however, tells the poignant stories of those who endured years in “war relocation camps,” many of whom suffered this injustice with remarkable grace.

Racism and war hysteria led to one of the darkest episodes in American history. But by recovering the past, Infamy has given voice to those who ultimately helped the nation better understand the true meaning of patriotism.

Upcoming book discussions:

Sunday, September 22, 3:00pm – 4:30pm, San Rafael Library,  1100 E St.

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Publication date is August 13th – preorder your copy now from a local indie bookseller, or from your local library online or by phone.

From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a refreshing approach that will radically reorient America on the urgent issues of race, justice, and equality.

Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America–but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. Instead of working with the policies and system we have in place, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it. 

In his memoir, Kendi weaves together an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science–including the story of his own awakening to antiracism–bringing it all together in a cogent, accessible form. He begins by helping us rethink our most deeply held, if implicit, beliefs and our most intimate personal relationships (including beliefs about race and IQ and interracial social relations) and reexamines the policies and larger social arrangements we support. How to Be an Antiracist promises to become an essential book for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step of contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

Previous book selections:

There There by Tommy Orange is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

Waking Up White by Debby Irving. Debby Irving’s powerful Waking Up White opens a rare window on how white Americans are socialized. Irving’s focus on the mechanics of racism operating in just one life — her own — may lead white readers to reconsider the roots of their own perspectives — and their role in dismantling old myths. Readers of color will no doubt find the view through Irving’s window fascinating, and telling. — Van Jones

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. In this New York Times bestseller, Ijeoma Oluo offers a hard-hitting but user-friendly examination of race in America.

White Kids: Growing up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, by Margaret Hagerman. White Kids, based on two years of research involving in-depth interviews with white kids and their families, is a clear-eyed and sometimes shocking account of how white kids learn about race. In doing so, this book explores questions such as, “How do white kids learn about race when they grow up in families that do not talk openly about race or acknowledge its impact?” and “What about children growing up in families with parents who consider themselves to be ‘anti-racist’?”

Chief Marin, by Betty Goerke. It’s a little known fact that the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin County is named after a Coast Miwok chief who achieved notoriety for defying Spanish authority over his people. Anthropologist and archaeologist Betty Goerke has pieced together a portrait of the life of this Native American leader, using mission records, ethnographies, explorers’ and missionaries’ diaries and correspondence, and other material.

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality―the black Chinese restaurant.

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.

The Line Becomes a River, by Francisco Cantú. For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. 

Kindred, by Octavia Butler. The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.