The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach reaches out to inspire, inform, and create a delightful quality of life. Let's get expansive and make some sound waves. Haven't you heard? Libraries aren't that quiet anymore. Voices from the Stacks empowers library users by giving them a voice. How has our library changed your life? Contact us. We'd love to hear your story.
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Episode 3: #LibrariesRespond: Black Lives Matter
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
Lisa: The Mandel Public Library at West Palm Beach is here to bring our community together through our commitment to understanding, inclusion, and unity. The doors to our library may be temporarily closed but the Mandel Public Library remains open to all regardless of their circumstances or background.
Our library staff will continue their commitment of giving everyone the chance to realize their potential through free access to knowledge and ideas.
Thank you for being a part of our library family as we work to ensure equity and opportunity for all.
Kristine: The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, sparked a movement of protests and public demonstrations in our city, across the united states, and around the world. Right now history is being written.
[Protesters chant: “What’s his name?” “George Floyd” “I can’t breathe”]
Kristine: This is Voices From the Stacks, a podcast from The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach.
The hashtag “#LibrariesRespond” was started by the American Library Association’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. Its purpose: to create a space for libraries “to help keep current events in conversation with libraries' ongoing work in and commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
In solidarity with this ongoing conversation and our communities’ stand against racism, The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach was quick to share “#LibrariesRespond: A Black Lives Matter Reading List” on our blog, as well as curated virtual shelves on CloudLibrary: “#Libraries Respond - Understanding and Fighting Racism.” We also invite you to share your Black Lives Matter and anti-racism reading recommendations. Reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We’re listening.
In this episode of Voices From the Stacks, we’ll speak with our staff about race, injustice, and issues that affect the daily lives of BIPOC -- that’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
And this is a library podcast; you know we’ll talk about books and programs too.
Sandra: I’m Sandra Coleman. I’m supervisor of the circulation department.
I've been in this position since 2008. I worked from 2001 to 2003 in the children's department. Most of my library work is in children's. I worked in New York, I worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, I worked in Virginia, worked in Texas. The first time I got involved in [the] library was in 1990 or something, ‘89.
Yeah. Well, I started out in New York City. Well, actually Brooklyn, New York. I was working in a daycare center. Right? So there was a young man that worked with me. And he left, he went to the library and he said, “Oh, Sandra, you have to come over here.” And I applied and they hired me.
The rest of it was history. I just kept going. I worked in children's. I did a lot of programming when New York, I was in the public library system. And then I went into the school system. And then when I went to Orlando, I was a media specialist in middle school. Oh, that's rough! (laughs) I mean, even elementary in New York City that was rough too so.
I actually miss working with children, but I think my last time that I was here, I decided, okay, I've had enough children. It's time for me to move on. So (laughs) I had been doing it for 20 some years since that time, you know, stuff. But I enjoyed it. I did a lot of storytelling. I would go out into the schools and do storytellings.
So you have to be very creative and have a lots of expressions and stuff like that. You hold them in the book and the kid is looking at the book. But other than that, they're looking at you. I actually thought about doing storytelling once I retired, but I don't know if I will. I'm going to get when I retire. I’ll be ready to just sit down probably. I'm one of those people I like to walk and be busy, move around, touch things, do stuff, you know? So. I don't know if I can sit down. Probably just for one month. (laughs)
Oh yeah. I did a lot of Anansi. I was an Anansi keeper. Do you know about Anansi?
Jeremy: The spider?
Sandra: Those are my stories. Yeah.
Jeremy: Do you want to do one?
Sandra: (Laughs) No, I don't know. I mean, I've done stories -- I mean, I've done it at family reunions. I did it once in Orlando. I was at a children's bounce room and she wanted somebody to do storytelling. So I did it.
There are more people with degrees now than it was when I was... back then. I mean, because the library profession was not that popular with the young people back then. They were begging people to go to library school. So lots more younger people now go into library... Yeah. And you see here, there's a lot of young people in Reference department. In children's also.
I have sort of been isolated from the communities, the black communities. I have lived in a lot of white communities on my jobs. I've been with basically mostly white people. There weren't that many Blacks around. So it's sort of isolating.
In some things like, um, slavery and stuff like that. I don't like to watch that kind of stuff. It upsets me. So. Something that's going to really upset me, I don't really want to watch it. So last night I was watching this um.. I think the riots or something last night. I started watching it. I wasn't sure if I was going to watch it, but I started, and there was so many things that I just didn't know. I mean, they were burning the city down. Back in 1992, somewhere back there. I mean, I watch it, I try to keep abreast of what's going on, but I haven't participated in anything like protesting. At my age? I don't think so. I don't think I'll be able to do it. I'm too afraid, so... Even though sometimes I'm thinking as I should do something, say something, you know, cause my friends all out there, they're doing stuff. They're saying stuff.
A cousin of mine. He's a professor, right? See he’s in Washington, DC, and he's on Facebook, he was showing us that he was out there, you know, for the cause. And he's older than I am! So. Like I said, it's been going on for so long... Change has got to come. Now, I have been saying we're a small group of people, Blacks, you know, compared to whites, you know, people think that there are a lot of Blacks in this country, but they're not, maybe we were very, that's why we're a minority. So you're outnumbered.
And then I think about the Tulsa one... I just found out about that one recently. I don't know, I was reading something and I came across it. About all those people that were killed in, um, something that was called, um, Black Wall Street. The people didn't like the idea that these people were affluent, you know, they didn't like that at all. So they pretty much tore down the town and... Like I said, it's quite upsetting. Actually, my minor was in black history, believe it or not. But, um, like I said, over the last probably 20 years, it's just bothered me too much to even think about all this kind of stuff, you know, and get involved. You know? It may be, when I retire, who knows, I might become involved and stuff. Who knows. I mean, with twenty, I mean, how many days has it been? Um, I'm really surprised it's been going on this long, but, um, they're determined this time. So it's been happening too much so and it keeps on happening even while they’re protesting.
I think it's history repeating itself. Every time I think about it, you know, I think about it, I worry about my grandson when he grows up. My grandchildren, boys, when they go up, you know, are they going to have to deal with this? Uh, my grandson is 14. Now I think about, I was thinking about him last night and I'm like, is he going to have to deal with this? Yeah, probably will.
You know, and my ex husband, you know, he was in Selma and he's got scars from, you know, when he was beaten and stuff like that. When I was growing up, my mother would let my brother go out to protest. She would not let me. Of course, he was two years older than I was. So, I've never been involved. And I was talking to a friend of mine and he was saying that. He remembered, you know, the, he was out there with my brother and everything. But it's kind of hard. It's kind of like, why now did they see it on? You can see it on TV all the time. So it's just hard to watch so... That's the worst of all, I mean, and when you see somebody kneel on the neck and they were saying “I can't breathe.”
And the people who were standing, in, you know, you would think that one of those police officers would have said something. You know what? I think it really bothered me because the guy was standing there with his hands in his pocket, all nonchalant, like, you know, picnic in the park. You would think that somebody one of them would have stepped up and said, “Man, stop that's enough. Okay?” Just push them off, you know? Like when those people on the man, beating that guy, kicking him, that's just terrible. That's terrible. That's the way it was back in slavery time. So when you take a baton and just start beating people and beating them, that's what they did in slavery time. So that's why people think we haven't advanced very far. And I know that some of my young cousins and things would probably been abused by the police. So, you know, like here we are, we didn't go anywhere. And then I understand they have a lot of hate groups coming up now. And then they were saying last night, this one guy, he was a white guy, he said these kids are taught that. That's really sad that you teach your kids to hate because of the difference of skin color.
This is my thing about libraries. Okay? So you need to do more programs that will attract more African Americans and not just during Black History Month.
Jeanne: I'm always searching for a good book to share with our kids here at the library, because they are African-American for the most part. And so it's important for them to see themselves in the books and be inspired about the person that they're reading about.
So some of the book and art books that I use are Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe. Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. She's got amazing books, all kinds of good books, but Tar Beach was a beautiful one.
I chose Jake Makes a World. This one also is part of the school curriculum now. It's part of the arts provider program. So the school district can come here to our library and students K through fifth can learn about the great migration and also be inspired by Jacob Lawrence himself for documenting the whole migration and through his artwork. It's so important.
They really do have fun once they hear the-the story behind the artwork, you know? So we do this, the book first, we read the story about the artist who is a real person, real artist, successful. And then they're so inspired to do the art afterwards. You know, you can't tear them from it.
Within the last two years probably had about 200 students come for the Jacob Lawrence program throughout the school district. And one of my most favorite responses, a little kid, first grader, after I read the story, he raised his hand and he said, “Is that guy really real?” And I said, “Yeah! He was really a real man, a real artist. And he achieved so much.”
And he said, “Oh, I can be an artist too!” It was, like, the best. That's why I do these programs. The kids are just amazing. They have so much fun. And the teachers are actually gleaning a lot from these books as well. You know, that they can introduce other types of literature in their curriculum as well.
So, um, Jake Makes a World, it's young Jacob Lawrence, wonderful story about him as a child growing up in Harlem. He actually was so attuned to his surroundings that he took it all in. The sights, the sounds, the rhythm of Harlem. He was always very creative and in different, like, aftercare programs like they have here, doing artistic things. And people recognized him as a child that he was, you know, going to be an artist.
You could just tell he had it in him. And so then later on, as he reached closer to adulthood, he said he was going to, um, he decided he needed to document the great migration. No one had ever formally documented it and it was all word of mouth. Nobody had ever written it, to put it to words. And so he decided as an artist, you know, it was his duty and he was inspired to document it. He was seeing, it was, this was too important that to document.
He has a very unique style. And so that's another thing in the art program. When we are doing it, we view some of his artwork, you know, put up some of the prints up on the walls. And so they can actually see his style. You can take one little book and, and get so much out of it. His paintings, now, they tell the whole story of the great migration and, um, and they hang in all the beautiful museums, like the MoMA and, um, then…
So the kids learn a lot about social studies, geography. I wrote a whole curriculum, you know, standards and everything. So it ties in a lot. I mean, this book, you look at it and you say, Oh, it's just a little picture book, but there's so much you can glean from this. It’s chock full of all kinds of stuff for the kids.
So they learn, you know, millions of African Americans migrated during that period from 1920 to 1940. So I'll, I'll ask the kids, what does it mean to migrate and you know, why do people migrate and what have you heard about migration? And then I'll just ask them, well, what else migrates, like birds? They go from North to South and South to North, during seasons. So that means they're moving and they're moving for a better life or a better season. Same as people. People migrate to make a better life for themselves and their family, you know, to get a job, to get an education. You know, just to live.
I found the Basquiat before I found Jake Makes a World, but this book is actually a really great book for kids as well. He's from a mixed race family. His mother was Puerto Rican, his dad was African-American, and he shares a studio with his mom and dad and since his whole house is the studio, he's been painting since he was a kid.
So this book and it just introduces, like, street art and how you can put your emotions into any kind of art project. And you don't need a lot of materials to do that. You can express yourself through symbolism. So they learn a little bit about symbolism and stuff.
You know, it's just a really good book. It's just great. And Javaka Steptoe captures Basquiat’s art so well in this block. He's always been inspired by Basquiat. It took him years to write and illustrate this book, but it's a very good book, Radiant Child.
Since we moved to the new library here, so about 10 years, I've been doing the art programs. Before that I used to do all the science programs, but then I switched it up to art. I stumbled upon these. And since I am an artist, I thought, well, that's a waste of talent. You know, I can relate with all these books and help the kids as well. So I decided I would do both art and librarianship.
Kristine: And can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist?
Jeanne: Yeah, probably not. So I was a practicing artist for years. I call it my pre-Christian period before I had my first son named Christian. So I was an artist and I was selling work and working. My art was rolled up and traveled around the country. So then after I had my son, I kind of honed it down, the art, ‘cause I was so busy with, you know, raising a child and working part time and all that kind of stuff. Life gets in the way of things. But now I'm back doing a little bit of stuff. I do a lot of mixed media. So I do, I create the rooms here. Every summer I'll do an artistic room for whatever theme we're doing.
It's nice here at the Mandel because we are a creative library, you know? We're not part of a branch system. No offense to branch systems, but we're kind of like a unique facility here and can be very creative. And we're allowed to create, I think. Don't you?
Kristine: I do! What are you listening to right now?
Jeanne: I'm listening to, of course Jason Reynolds’s Stamped. Very good. Oh my gosh. It's very insightful. And I think anyone for any age should read this book, especially for our kids, but it's engaging for anyone to actually get a little bite of history, you know, that we don't normally -- we don't hear. He narrates it, it’s so good. I’m listening to the audio.
Kristine: Thank you so much Jeanne. You’re amazing!
Kristine: So what made you apply for the... is it called “Great Stories”?
Sophie: Yeah, there's like a, there is a full title, like “Transforming Racial Healing...” something. The Great Stories grant allowed me to start a book club with some local teens talking about books with a focus on race and ethnicity and how kids of color kind of see the world around them. I believe Jennifer, my boss, who is the youth service manager, I think she had alerted me to the grant because she had maybe done it in the past. And I remember looking into it, into the site and what their goals are and feeling like that would be a great idea to reach some kids who maybe they don't come to the library and they are not able to, or they have afterschool programs, and get them reading and get them talking about how they experience racism and how the books that they read don't really reflect their lives.
So they provide the money to buy supplies or food and they provide the books and they provided a training that we did in Chicago.
Kristine: Yeah, I want to ask you about that.
Sophie: Yeah, it was... it was really eye opening. It was a weekend in Chicago. That was all about talking about difficult subjects. I mean, for me being a black woman, like I already had experienced a lot of racism in my life. But the training was also about how, like, if you don't experience this, how to talk to kids that do. Because the program was teen librarians and youth librarians who were also running their own book clubs.
I dunno. I found it to be a really eye opening experience. Like, sometimes putting my feelings into words can be difficult. And that was one thing I felt like the training really helped with, in addition to just like talking about the books and talking about how to teach them, I thought it was great to kind of get me into like talking to other people who may or may not experience what I've been through. And I met a lot of cool librarians, so that was fun. But everyone seemed to really have an open mind.
There were a few experiences I had in, you know, just sort of talking and learning and hearing from other people and their experiences, there were a few moments of discomfort for me. So again, there were, there was all sorts of representation, like racial representation at these workshops, but I do feel like it was primarily white librarians. And there was a moment where we were having some hard discussions about how... about, just, prejudice. And there was one uncomfortable moment where I feel like this woman, she was a white woman, who was just kind of like apologizing to me on behalf of every white person in existence. And I was just kind of like, “I don't know what you want me to do here.” I just felt like I was kind of a target for guilt and I think we can all do better. But I think that if you're going to a person of color or a person who shares a marginalization that you don't have and you're just kind of like asking for forgiveness, it can be extremely uncomfortable.
Sophie: You know, if you're apologizing for a specific incident, you know, where you've hurt someone or you said something hurtful or what have you, that's totally fine. I'm not saying don't apologize for anything ever. But this discussion, like, it had nothing to do with me.
So that was one moment, and that's really the one big moment I can think of. But overall, I think everyone was there really, really ready to learn.
So I hosted it in partnership with the Youth Empowerment Center. They're like a partner organization and I've done some book clubs and programs with them in the past, but basically on Tuesdays, Tuesday afternoons after school, I would drive on over to the Youth Empowerment Center with pizza and drinks and we got to kind of sit around and in, like, bean bag chairs and read together.
So it was pretty, it was pretty great.
Kristine: Did you already know the kids?
Sophie: No, I didn't. Like I said, I had done a few things with Youth Empowerment Center in the past, but this was a brand new group of kids. And all these kids, they go to the schools, that, where we see a lot of kids are from, and they actually know some of our kids that come in every day to the library. So that was really fun. But no, this was my first time meeting them. So we kind of got to know each other over like two or three months.
Kristine: So after you went to the training and everything, and came back to implement the book club, can you tell us about the books?
Sophie: Yeah. So there was a, uh, a list books that we could choose from. So there was already a set list. We couldn't just choose any book. But I thought that the books that they chose were really great. So I had initially chosen three books. The first was The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. The second was Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson and the third was Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro.
But the kids really enjoyed reading together. And I found that having them present, listening to the audio books and reading along worked way better than like, “Okay, read five chapters before next week.” It was great. I miss -- I mean, it may just be because we’re in a pandemic right now, we're closed -- I really miss talking to teenagers and asking them questions. Like, how does this passage of this book make you feel? And getting all of their opinions. I mean, those kids were a hoot also. They were really funny. They're really smart. And they were really engaged.
Kristine: Do you remember some aspects that really stood out to the kids?
Sophie: So one of the one thing that was interesting is when we were talking about The Poet X and The Poet X is one of my favorite books, YA or not. I just think it's brilliant. I was pitching the book to them, like our first meeting. And I was letting them know like what it was about and that it's written in like poetry, which some of them weren't used to. And I asked them, like, “Do you think you can relate to this book?” You know, the main character is, she's coming of age. She likes write poetry to get her feelings out, her mom is pretty protective, her dad is there but he's not there, and she’s like getting interested in boys and all this stuff. And I was like, “Do you guys think you can relate to this?” And they were all like, “No. I don't know. I don't think, that doesn't really sound like me.”
And then as we're reading along, I'm like, “Well, can you, can you relate to Xiomara’s choice here or what she's thinking here?” And they were like, “Yes, this has happened before blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “You guys said, you wouldn't be able to relate to this book!” And yet, you know, once you've actually started to read it and you're putting yourself in their character shoes, they had different feelings about it.
Kristine: Do you think it's because they, like, they hadn't read a book like this in particular, or…?
Sophie: It was kind of, like, mixed. But I don't think they've ever sat with an adult and were able to talk about certain scenes right then and there. And this is a character who speaks like that then, and may look like them. And so once you actually started to read, they were like, “Oh, okay. Yes. I see where she’s coming from.”
Kristine: I’m so glad. Like, when I was a teenager and when I was like a kid, I didn't have any books by authors that were like me at all. So I’m glad that there are more diverse books out there to choose from, and I feel like it helps kids understand what they're like, they can see their world being represented.
Sophie: And my goal was, I don't know that I ever really succeeded, but my goal was to get them to read something that they may not have come across if I didn't bring it to them. Or even if just like a character who looks like them.
Part of the reason I became a librarian is because I had a school librarian who was really encouraging me to read. And she would introduce me to the Lemony Snicket books and I would catalog them and I would be the first one to read them. And I'm just kind of thinking like, wow, it would have been even cooler if I was reading a book where the main character like, looked like me. Like, how would that have changed me to see that so early on?
Kristine: I wanted to ask, what difference did you think that it made for the teens?
Sophie: Yeah. So I feel like I won't really know unless a teen in a few years comes back and was like, “Oh my gosh, I remember the book club!” But I want to say, on a week by week basis, being able to see them kind of like, how the rapport between them grew. So not even just like with me, but between the kids, that was really heartwarming to hear their thoughts and to see them start to think about things that quick questions they may not have been asked before. There were some really, really funny moments, some really introspective moments. So I hope I made a difference.
One thing I will say is that at the end, after we read both books, after we read, we read, Piecing Me Together. I had brought them kind of as a parting gift, some books that they could take home with them. And basically what I did was like throughout the weeks, I would kind of. Try to remember what they were interested in. And I was just trying to give them each a book that they could continue to love after reading The Poet X. And to see some of their faces like, “Oh, thank you! You remember this about me!” was really sweet. I hope they’ve read them.
Part of being a teen librarian and sort of like, I feel like I won't really know what a difference I've made until they tell me whether it's that week or in a few years. So, you know, like with every job you have good days, you have bad days. And sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the mistakes you made on a job or some not so great days you have. And so whenever we were having like a really, really great day, really great discussion, or when there was like a lot of laughter, I felt like, “okay, yes, this is why I did this.” This is why I became a team librarian... just trying to make a difference in the kids' lives. It can be something just like, really subtle. Something as subtle as like just finding a book that you love. And so I hope that I did that for them and just kind of makes me feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be.
Kristine: And I do notice with one of our, the teens that would come all the time, she would come up and talk to us and be like, she’d talk about the books that you recommend. You know? So she might not tell you, but I'm like, “Oh, how do you know about this book” and she’d say “Sophie told me about it!”
Sophie: One thing I do want to say it's part of the reason I really loved reading The Poet X and Piecing Me Together with them is that these were books. I felt like they could relate to, but they weren't just like steeped in pain and trauma. And I think it's important to give kids books, like books, about joy, books, about hard times, you know? There should be a range. It's just something that I try to think about when I'm giving a book to a kid, like, are they going to feel uplifted? Are they going to feel even sadder than they've been?
I mean as a librarian, I feel like, I hope that publishing will continue publishing books by Black authors about police brutality and about racism and discrimination, but also books about falling in love and wanting to be in the running for a scholarship or valedictorian or what have you.
Right now, it feels like there's just not enough of that. But we can only buy what's published. So there have been a lot of discussions lately about holding publishers, like, holding their feet to the fire with regards to the type of books that they purchase by Black authors and authors of color and LGBT authors and wanting there to be a wide variety of stories. Because I’ll buy them! I’ll buy the happy books too! You know? Like making sure that you're not just like looking at The New York Times Best Seller List and just buying whatever's on there. Like actually doing research about books. Especially for like debut authors, who it feels like for marginalized creators, like a lot rides on that debut and how well it does.
So I would say just going out and supporting or changing out from the library, like books on that wide spectrum. Obviously the more book gets checked out or as the holds build up, like, we'll purchase more copies and that supports the author as well. So I would say, yeah, definitely just doing your research about what's out there instead of looking at who’s getting the most promotion.
Kristine: And ask a librarian! Ask Sophie.
Kristine: Our programming is designed to help cultivate a more inclusive community by learning together, listening, and working with partners like the Palm Beach County School District and the Youth Empowerment Center of West Palm Beach.
Jeanne, one of our Children’s Librarians and resident artists, highlights the lives and works of Black artists through her Art Day programs. These events offer children an opportunity to learn about African American history, to create and express themselves, inspire self-confidence, and empower the next generation of local artists.
Teen Librarian Sophie's book club, The Great Stories Club on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, encouraged underserved teens to read and discuss stories that explore questions of race, equity, identity, history, institutional change, and social justice.
The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach strives to inspire understanding and community healing through our programming and our diverse collection. Books can be powerful and profound. They bring us joy, comfort, and even challenge us to broaden our perspectives. Books provide an opportunity to sit, reflect, and engage with ideas.
The New York Times best sellers for combined print and E-book Nonfiction on June 28 2020 feature books focused on racial justice.
Here are the top 3:
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
During this time in history that inspires readers to read for social change, we asked library staff to share the books that have made an impact on them.
Amris: Hello. My name is Amris. I am an Associate Librarian here at the Mandel Public Library, and I'm going to start by reading a tweet from a comedian named Athena Kugblenu who says: “Please read happy black books too. We don't just write about slavery and colonialism. Consume Black history and art about anything. It helps to de-center whiteness.”
Now, to me, the happiest genre is romance. The genre literally requires a happily ever after. Romance also provides a look into the inner emotional lives of the protagonists as they navigate through their worlds and find each other. With this in mind, I want to share five Black romance authors whose work is currently available on Hoopla. And I have read and enjoyed at least one book by all of these authors: Alyssa Cole, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Talia Hibbert, Beverly Jenkins, and finally, Mia Sosa.
Bingo Love is a graphic novel written by Tee Franklin with art by Jenn St. Onge, color by Joy Son. Bingo Love is a love story spanning six decades between Hazel and Mari, two black women who fall in love as teens. When their families learn of their relationship, the young women are separated. But years later, they get a second chance at love. This book beautifully conveys the joys of falling in love and contains gorgeous artwork. The ebook is available on hoopla.
Finally, I would like to recommend the book, The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson. I moved to Florida about two and a half years ago from Oregon. While Oregon has a liberal reputation, only about 3% of the state's population is African American. As a white woman raised in a rural, predominantly white society, I had to put a lot of effort into being educated about the Black experience in America. I'm still continuing in this process today.
A book that I read a couple of years ago that really affected me was The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson. This book investigates the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. Like many children in the United States my school taught a brief lesson about Emmett Till. However, this book filled many of the gaps in the story.
Tina: In solidarity with those who are discriminated against, I'd like to recommend a book. The book is Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It was published in 2017 and it won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
Desmond describes the housing insecurity that is rampant in the United States. Those most likely to experience eviction are black women and, of course, therefore, their children. Desmond found that in Milwaukee, a woman from a poor Black neighborhood was nine times more likely to be evicted than a woman from a poor white neighborhood.
He draws a parallel between the eviction of Black women and the incarceration of Black men. Poor Black men were locked up. Poor Black women were locked out. This has all kinds of consequences. Here's just one: Some women are afraid to report partner abuse because this can classify their rental as a nuisance for which they may be evicted.
This is a compelling narrative backed up by facts that helps us understand the struggle of the working poor, especially Black women, in finding and keeping housing. I found it very moving. I believe that this is the kind of book that can change hearts and minds and I hope you will read it. It is available as an ebook and an audiobook on CloudLibrary.
Theresa: Following a recommended reading list on Facebook that was suggested by my niece, I decided to watch Just Mercy, a movie based on the bestselling book by Brian Stevenson, it was simply extraordinary and certainly an emotional film. It's the true story of Stevenson's fight for the poor and the oppressed and those jailed as a result of intentional racism.
After graduating from Harvard, Brian heads to Alabama, to defend those wrongly condemned and sentenced to die. One of his cases is that of Walter McMillan, who in 1987 was sentenced to die for the murder of an 18 year old girl despite overwhelming evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Brian has to deal with racism from the legal system as he fights to free Walter.
This film is strong, powerful, and an example of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. I urge everyone listening to please read the book or, at the very least, watch the film Just Mercy. For the month of June, Just Mercy will be available to rent for free across digital platforms in the US. Warner brothers issued the following statement:
"To actively be part of the change our country is so desperately seeking, we encourage you to learn more about our past and the countless injustices that have led us to where we are today. Thank you to the artists, storytellers, and advocates who helped make this film happen."
Please, watch with your family and friends.
Kristine: So I'm here interviewing staff to see what they've been reading to help them expand their horizons.
Leah: Hey, I'm Leah. I'm from the first floor and I've been reading Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. It's a book about an African American nurse who works in labor and delivery and in the course of her job, she's confronted with a white supremacist couple who do not want her to care for their baby. There's an actual note written in the file and she has to abide by that, that she's not allowed to touch the baby. But at some point an emergency happens and she's left alone with a baby and the baby goes into cardiac arrest. And she hesitates because she knows that there's that directive that she can't touch the baby. She doesn't know what to do. It's a moral dilemma.
I'm halfway through. It's very good. It really makes you think about privilege and race and I've been enjoying it. After everything that's been happening lately, I also want to read a book called White Fragility. And just, it sounds very timely and I hope that it will help me also learn more about different perspectives.
Kristine: Thank you Leah.
Jeremy: My name is Jeremy. I work in the Circulation Department. So I read White Fragility a few months ago, so it's not super fresh in my memory. But the idea of White Fragility is basically white people, myself included, generally get very uncomfortable talking about race. And there's a lot of reasons for that. I think a lot of the fear comes from we're afraid we're going to say the wrong thing, we're afraid of being perceived as a racist.
In the book White Fragility, DiAngelo writes about how racists are portrayed in predominantly white media: a racist is a bad person who has, in very blatant ways, shown themselves to be a bad person, and then they're just sort of knowingly being hateful towards someone for their race. And that kind of racist does exist, but there's a lot of kinds of racism. Most of it is much more subtle than that. But because of the media, it's like, okay, only bad guys are racist so if you're racist in any way, you're a bad person. You're a good person, therefore, you can't be racist. Well, my understanding of it is it's much more complex than that.
Racism refers to a system of racial injustice. And as white people, we benefit from that system. Which isn't to say that all white people have power or that all white people are, you know, wealthy or have a ton of influence. It's just to say that we do have some benefit from being white. Even if the system is still stacked against us in other ways, like for class reasons, we still do have the privilege of our whiteness, which comes in handy in a lot of circumstances that it's easy to overlook or be blind to if it's just something that's always been normal for you.
So really, no matter who you are, you have some racial biases and a lot of the work in White Fragility is becoming cognizant of your racial biases and not thinking, “Oh, I have racial biases therefore I'm a bad person,” but “I have racial biases therefore I'm a human being.”
As a white person, it’s really easy to feel racially neutral because whiteness is centered. You can sort of shield yourself from having to think about race and having to think about your race as a white person since it’s sort of presented as the default setting in media.
I think the important thing is being open to information, being open to noticing when, what you're saying is causing discomfort or pain in someone else and taking ownership of that. I think with white fragility, there's a tendency to be defensive or to make intent the thing that you think is your pass. Like, well, I didn't intend to hurt you or I didn't intend for it to mean that so you're not allowed to have your feelings. You know, if you step on someone's toe, you didn't intend to do that but it happened and that person's toe hurts now so you have to be able to take responsibility for that and to make it right, and to learn, you know, to learn how to navigate the space.
Yeah, it was a great book. I absolutely recommend everyone read it. Especially white people. I think if you are a person of color it’s not going to give you new information about how hard it is to talk to white people about race, but it might give you some useful vocabulary.
Kristine: Leah talked about why she wanted to pick up the book. So I wanted to ask why you did pick up the book.
Jeremy: Well, it was a combination of things. One was finding myself working with more people of color and taking ownership of my own race, my own part in it, seemed like a really good idea. It was also just kind of “right place, right time.” I was looking for the next thing to read and it was on a display, I think. And so I grabbed it. That happens a lot when you work at the library. There's more serendipitous encounters with new reading material
Kristine: The New York times Best seller list for nonfiction includes White Fragility at the top. Does this surprise you?
Jeremy: It does a little bit. It kind of indicates maybe that there is an increasing awareness that is overcoming the white fragility that might be a barrier to learning about white fragility. So it does surprise me a little bit, but I think it's fantastic.
I am glad that this book was written by a white author who took great pains to educate herself. I think a big reason why it's on The New York Times best seller list is because it was written by a white author. I don't think this message would have been as received as it has been if it was written by a person of color. So Robin DiAngelo, thank you very much.
I think the biggest takeaway from white fragility for me, was being aware of how you might be centering your own feelings in a space where your feelings shouldn't really be centered. Race isn't something that any other race in America can go without being exposed to or thinking about regularly. So it might be new for some of us and we might have emotional reactions and that might be normal, but if you're having a conversation about race or a racial issue with a person of color, it's good to not center those emotions that you're going through because it's new to you, but to recognize that this is something that people of color have been going through for a long time. And don't add to their emotional burden by making them do emotional labor to help you process your own feelings.
[Overhead announcement: Your attention please. The library will close in 15 minutes. Please log off computers and gather your belongings in preparation for leaving. All library material will now need to be checked out on the first floor.]
Ionnie: During this time, when it happened, as it happened, there have been two people that have come to mind that I was like, “man, I wish they were here.” And it's Toni Morrison and Dick Gregory because I value their perspectives. And, yeah, they're just older, they’re wiser they’ve been through it before and just able to shed a certain line of continuity of our experience to their experience.
Kristine: So when you say, “our experience..”
Ionnie: I mean, as Black people, yeah. You know, like I was telling you earlier, It's not a surprise to me. [sigh] I think... And it's interesting because I think just this past 60 Minutes, this past Sunday, they were able to make these comparisons of, you know, what's going on now to a hundred years ago. And the images are very much the same.
Ahmaud Aubrey. I saw the video. What appalled me was, you mean to tell me I could just go out and kill somebody, leave their body on the side of the road, I can go home to my wife and my son for two whole months? It just seems like when it comes to Black people, where are the standard operating procedures? If you just follow those same procedures, we wouldn't even be in this predicament. But no, it’s always some lapse of something.
I mean, I act like that ‘cause I, I guess kind of expect... not saying white people in general, ‘cause not all white people are in positions of power. I mean, of course, by being white you get the assumption of innocence. But just... the systems, you know? Like, I just want you to do your job.
I'm not outraged. You know, it is something that... Within my own household schools that I grew up in, um... I did graduate from Howard University, I did minor in African American studies. And so, you know, there's a whole history, there's a whole system in place. When you think about just the start of America, it's no different than the plight of corporations right now: labor is the highest cost you could ever have. So the fact that you just built a country using free labor, you can't tell me that's no advantage. So I think if we're not looking at that, you know, you're just doing a disservice, because then it becomes like this person versus that person. And you're not seeing the structure in which it came into play.
But, yeah, it's just one of those things, like I was telling you earlier today, which kind of goes to the quote. You know, the reason I selected this quote is because we, as Black people here in America, [sigh] the whole trauma around how others respond to us? We have normalized it. And we've normalized it in order to stay alive. You know, so whether it's police brutality, whether it's having to defend your existence in a space, whether at work, whether out in public places... as I say that, it just, it dawns on me, all of these recent videos of regular white people tell regular Black people that you are not supposed to be here. And for so much of our lives, even if that white person didn't have status, if we wanted our lives, we would quote unquote “obey them.” But when I come to you, just like old boy did in Central Park and say, “Hey, can you please put your dog on a leash?” “Oh, I ain't about to listen to you. In fact, I'm gonna call the cops. I'm gonna tell them such and such.”
My response to that is not even about her coming out, so talking about, “I'm not a racist.” I never called you racist. My thing is why didn you lie? You sat there and lied on somebody? Answer to that. What prompted you to lie? It's basic.
As, oh, gosh, Neely Fuller and Frances Cress Welsing says, if you don't understand racism and white supremacy, everything else will confuse you.
You know, for all of this to be happening with Mr. Floyd... I was already reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. In fact, I was listening to the audio on CloudLibrary while also following along in a library book. And, um, you know, these quotes really speak to how we as a Black community talk about other people killing us.
You know, I'm not excusing killings or anything like that, but in these situations, what I think really needs to be understood is the level of fear that cops, white cops, have against Black people. Because only fear will make you over respond like that. Only fear. Now they have to answer to what they're afraid of.
And I had some friends talk about how, you know, the writings of James Baldwin is coming up and how it’s so relevant. I mean, you know, it’s just like a merry-go-round. You keep going on and on about this...
But, um, yeah, I mean that, that is something for them to handle and for all the people that don't look like me at their jobs or at work, turning to people that look like me, their coworkers, Black coworkers, talking about, “Oh, how are you doing? Can I help you?” That Black person would benefit more by you standing up to the justice system, reaching out to the prosecutor's office in this case, make your voice heard there on behalf of your coworkers. But turning your coworkers, unintentionally expecting them to explain their Black experience. I mean, we tired of it.
I do think that for those that are not in this boat that want to help, there are organized efforts for you to be able to contribute your time, petition, contribute your money. And I would say contribute that way. You know? All this dialogue to people that. It’s just like...
Kristine: Yeah, that’s like putting... if you are like a white person asking a Black person to explain racism, then you are giving somebody more work to do and they don’t have to be doing that. And I want to get your take on this because the New York Times best seller list right now. There’s a a lot of Anti-Racist work by Black people, and there's one book that's by a white woman about White Fragility. Do you think that things are changing, or progressing, or is it showing that people are trying to look in the mirror and understand white supremacy?
Ionnie: Well, I think that they are. Like you said, if these are multiple titles of this genre on the New York Times Best Seller right now... I mean it, when you asked a question, it actually made me think about slave narratives and the time of Frederick Douglas and abolitionists, and them writing their story and their perspective to help abolish slavery, to help advance the state of Blacks here in America. And maybe... maybe that time has come again. You know, we are a hundred years removed from the Harlem Renaissance. And so that is another period of time where people were actually listening to what Black people had to say in written form.
One of my favorite professors at Howard University Dr. Gregory Carr said the Harlem Renaissance was not when Black people were writing because Black people were always writing, publishing books and writing poetry. The Harlem Renaissance was when the white gaze focused on Harlem to hear what they had to say.
And so that is what is happening now. White people are finally picking up these books written by Black people about what they have to say and now their voice is being heard. Now what's being deemed as important.
You know, Blacks are going to continue to do what we do, which is make the best out of our situation whether or not white people listen to us. But it is great that white people are listening because white people have to talk to white people. They do not hear us. They have not heard us unless their own talk to them.
This excerpt is from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and speaks to what I feel is the irreverent response to Black life in America.
“But people who lynch, they're crazy Guitar! Crazy!”
“Every time somebody does a thing like that to one of us, they say the people who did it were crazy or ignorant. That's like saying they were drunk or constipated.
“Why isn’t cutting a man's eyes out, the kind of thing you never get too drunk or ignorant to do, too crazy to do, too constipated to do. And more to the point, how come Negroes, the craziest, most ignorant people in America, don't get that crazy and that ignorant? No. White people are unnatural. As a race they are unnatural. And it takes a strong effort of the will to overcome an unnatural enemy.
“What about the nice ones? Some whites made sacrifices for Negroes. Real sacrifices.
“Hmm. That just means there are only one or two natural ones. But they haven't been able to stop the killing either. They are outraged, but that doesn't stop it. They might even speak out, but that doesn't stop it either. They might even inconvenience themselves. But the killing goes on and on. So will we.”
Kristine: So I want to ask you about the book. Why did you pick that particular passage?
Ionnie: So the conversation between Milkman and Guitar. Milkman and Guitar are two young men in their late twenties. Milkman comes from a privileged background, Guitar doesn't. In fact, Guitar is actually more of an orphan. His father passed when he was maybe four and then his mother couldn't handle it and abandoned him and his siblings. And so he ended up moving to Michigan by way of his grandmother. But this is like, I'm gonna say seventies, sixties - seventies because of some of the references they’re using.
Not to give the book away, there have been, as there are now, as there always have been, and as there always will be, Black men, women, and children, not just by police, but by random people, specifically white people. Anybody right now will say, “Oh, that was a bad apple.” That one cop that had his knee on a man's neck for nine minutes or the other three cops that had him handcuffed and was, in some way, shape or form, touching him, holding him down and ignoring whatever it was that he was saying, because he's unimportant. What he's saying is unimportant... For anybody, Black or white, that would say, “Oh, that cop was crazy.” The quote says “why do white people only get to be that crazy?”
He talks more, but that's my reason for submitting it is because it really does speak to how much we normalize what we can and cannot do, how we then proceed, and the freedom that somebody else who happens to be white has whether they are police or not. And then it's just, it gets written off like, Oh, well that person's crazy. So it's white privilege.
The other quote deals with why we still don't have the same level of justice as white people in America.
“We poor people, Milkman. I work at an auto plant. The rest of us barely eke out a living. Where's the money, the state, the country to finance our justice? You say Jews try their catches in a court. Do we have a court? Is there one courthouse in one city in the country where a jury would convict them? There are places right now where a Negro still can't testify against a white man. where the judge, the jury, the court are legally bound to ignore anything a Negro has to say. What that means is that a Black man is a victim of a crime only when a white man says he is. Only then. If there was anything like, or near justice, or courts, when a cracker kills a Negro, there wouldn't have to be no seven days. But there ain't. So we are, and we do it without money without support, without costumes, without newspapers, without senators, without lobbyists and without illusions.”
Ionnie: So what was the number one book that was voted in America?
Kristine: To Kill a Mockingbird?
Ionnie: Right. What color was the lawyer? What color was the defendant? A Black man. And so the second passage deals with... they don't hear us. Police officer didn’t hear him, didn't want to listen whenever we say we're in pain. He's saying he can't breathe. We don't get heard in a court of law unless a white person says “yep.” Which is all the more important why if you are white and you do care about Black people, even the one Black person you work with, they're not going to hear us. They can only hear you. So really this is up for you to change.
You know, we have a history in this country of not being heard, not being represented, not having our own things and our existence isn’t seen, isn’t heard, isn't validated, especially in the court of law, especially when it deals with a crime against us, unless a white person can vouch for us. So that was the point for that.
The third submission, that, in and of itself, is a very beautiful piece, I think. The story is, Milkman's real name's actually Macon Dead, who was named after his father, who was actually named after his father. So the grandfather Macon Dead was killed for his land. A Black man killed for his land by a white neighbor who also owned most of the land in the County. Milkman, the grandson that grows up in the city, way far away from his grandfather's land, now he is the one asking, well, don't we get the same justice?
“Did anybody ever catch the men who did it? Who killed him?
Reverend Cooper raised his eyebrows. “Catch?” He asked, his face full of wonder. Then he smiled again.
“Didn't have to catch him. They never went nowhere.”
“I mean, did they have a trial? Were they arrested?”
“Arrested for what? Killing a n-----? Where did you say you was from?”
“You mean nobody did anything? Didn't even try to find out who did it?”
“Everybody knew who did it. Same people Circe worked for: the Butlers.”
“And nobody did anything?”
Milkman wandered at his own anger. He hadn't felt angry when he first heard about it. Why now?
“Wasn't nothing to do. White folks didn't care. Colored folks. Didn't dare. Wasn't no police like now. Now we got a County, sheriff handles things not then, then the circuit judge came through just once or twice a year. Besides the people what did it own half the County. Macon’s land was in their way. Folks just was thankful the children escaped.”
“You said a Circe worked for the people who killed him. Does she know that?”
“Course she did.”
“And she let them stay there?”
“Not out in the open. She hid them.”
“Still, they were in the same house, right?”
“Yup. Best place, I'd say. If they came to town, somebody would see them. Nobody would think of looking there.”
“Did daddy, did my father know that?”
“I don't know what he knew, if Circe ever told him. I never saw him after the murder. None of us did.”
“Things work out, son. The ways of God are mysterious, but if you live it out, just live it out, you see that it always works out. Nothing they stole or killed for did them any bit of good. Not one bit.”
“I don't care whether it did them good. The fact is they did someone else harm.”
Reverend Cooper shrugged. “White folks different up your way?
“No, I guess not... Sometimes, though, you can do something.”
By the time he goes to find out about his grandfather's land and his people, this man, who knew his father, answers his questions about what does justice look like.
We all know who killed your grandfather. We all know why he killed him. Did he ever get arrested? No. Did he ever have to leave town? No. It's no different than the father and the son that went to go shoot the Black man.
There is a phrase in that passage that said something like “White people didn't care, black people didn't dare.” And if you think about it, this may be the first time that a lot of people were hearing about this Black man being suffocated. It happens all the time. It happens to one of our family members all the time. And that is a generational family response to why a white person does not have to answer to the crime they committed against us. We don't expect it. We don’t.
Kristine: Thank you for sharing. I mean, I think it really brings to heart that Black authors have been writing about this for a long time.
Ionnie: Mhmm. It's been a long time. That's why so many Black people are religious, ‘cause we can't get justice here on earth. But I will also say that I think it's going to be major change, major change. Even if people don't see it structurally, there is something changing within the hearts of everybody, especially Black people.
I think Black people are going to be much more self-reliant, much more entrepreneurial, much more responsible in response to this because every time this happens, it just reaffirms that we can’t expect the United States government to hold certain people accountable. And so I think that we kind of end up turning inward and doing things differently. Of course, we would like to give the same level of treatment. But some things are just kind of out of your control. It doesn't mean stop fighting with the advocacy, like Theresa mentioned in the book that she reviewed. But I think it is going to be a lot more of that because people are tired. People are tired of it.
Kristine: Thank you so much, Ionnie. I really appreciate that you were really open to talking. And you said you weren’t gonna talk about this.
Ionnie: Yeah! I weren’t gonna talk about it. I mean, you know, what I got to say that hadn’t already been said?
Kristine: Well I didn’t hear you say it, so I’m glad that I get to know you more.
Ionnie: [laughs] That’s why I’m reading the book. It’s like I’d rather have Toni Morrison talking to me.
Jeremy: There’s a quote that is, like, on my mental list of most important quotes for me, personally, that I've ever heard. I can't remember who said it, though, but: “everything has already been said before, but they weren't listening that time so say it again.” So here we are.
Ionnie: And I'm glad you said that because that's a conversation I had with my brother. He was like, you know, the VP of our company reached out to me and he had this whole “Just checking on you, man. I wanted to see, I know, you know, it may be, it's okay if you don't want to explain to white guy…” Da da da da da. And he was just like, my brother was like, you know... The hopelessness. Why would I keep talking about it? Y'all still don’t pay, give us equal pay, y’all still don’t do this, ya’ll still don’t do that. And I said, you need to go talk to him. Because this is the first time white people have been asking you what you think. So maybe they'll hear you now. But you need to tell them everything you’re thinking, feeling. They asked you, go ahead and tell them. They're finally listening. And I know they're listening because they asked you a question.
They weren't listening to you before when we was protesting and doing all this, they never asked. So they don't listen. They weren't listening. This time is different because of footage and because it's not just the Black people -- all people are showing up. And it's not just that city. That's why I think that this is, it's a very ripe moment because of that, you know? And I think that if we show up, then we will finally be heard... Because they are listening.
[Overhead announcement: May we have your attention please. The library is now closing. We ask that you leave the building at this time and hope that you have enjoyed your visit to the West Palm Beach Public Library. Thank you.]
[Montage of library staff saying “Black lives matter.”]
Xiomara: Black lives matter. Power to the people.
Jeremy: Power to the people! Thank you. Black lives matter.
Kristine: Black lives matter.
Thanks for listening.
Visit wpbcitylibrary.org to check out “#LibrariesRespond: A Black Lives Matter Reading List” on our Notes From the Stacks blog, plus the virtual shelves on CloudLibrary: “#Libraries Respond - Understanding and Fighting Racism.”
[Protesters: “No justice, no peace.”]
Thanks to all our staff who contributed to this episode:
- Lisa Hathaway
- Sandra Coleman
- Jeanne Taylor
- Sophie Meridian
- Amris Allemand
- Tina Maura
- Theressa Pezzo
- Leah Elzner
- Jeremy Mattocks
- Ionnie McNeill
And everyone who joined us in declaring Black Lives Matter
You can find a list of all materials recommended this episode on our website, wpbcitylibrary.org.
This episode was written, hosted, and produced by me, Kristine Techavanich; edited and co-produced by Jeremy Mattocks.
The music used in this episode was:
Links and licenses in the show notes.
Books mentioned on this episode:
- Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe
- Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence A Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
- Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
- Stamped by Jason Reynolds
- Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
- Black romance authors: Alyssa Cole, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Talia Hibbert, Beverly Jenkins, Mia Sosa
- Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
- The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson
- Evicted by Matthew Desmond
- The film adaptation of Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson
- Small, Great Things by Jodi Picoult
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison