Hello Friends!!! Well, it’s been a year since the world shut down due to the Pandemic, and I have been doing some reflecting. Today, I am talking about how the last year has changed the way I read and what. Before the shutdown, I decided to shift my focus from print copies from publishers to reading more books on my kindle through NG and EW. With the publishers no longer able to send out books, the timing on that was perfect. With the load of print copies off my plate, I began to look at what I wanted more out of what I was reading, and I began to see more of what I liked and didn’t like from the books I was reading. I questioned if I was influenced as to what to read by the print copies publishers were promoting instead of my interests and the changing world around me. I began to feel more in control of what I was reading instead of being influenced.
That led me to focus more on the books I read and enjoyed and the books’ authors. With authors not promoting their books, I started to add more author Q & A to The Behind the Pages Group. I was thrilled with the response I received from the authors, and their passion shone through. I started to look at their stories differently and feel their love for their stories and characters. My focus shifted from the publishers and myself to the authors. I gained a deeper appreciation for their work and stories as they shared why they wrote the characters and themes the way they did.
From watching how the Pandemic separated us in different sides with wearing a mask I questioned how social justice played in those sides. I wanted to understand how there was such a huge gap between us. That began to influence what I wanted to see in the books I read and I became aware of how often themes of us against them was used in fiction.
The most significant change to what I read came from the black lives matter protests, and I began to see the world differently. I bought a few books on racial justice, which opened up doors for me, and I started to challenge how I thought about the world around me. It became clear what I wanted from books instead of what was expected in books. I then chose to challenge those expectations in books, and I wanted better from what I was reading. My search for better books started.
The book that had the most significant impact on me choosing to challenge those expectations in books and how women are portrayed in fiction was Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. She starts by addressing “flawed if not damaging representations of women we’re consuming in music, movies and literature.” I took a look at my feminism and what that meant to me. I realized how all those expected gender roles for women shaped me, isolated me, and formed my thoughts on women’s roles. I started to question how conditioned we have become with expected gender roles for women and men and wondered how much of an impact what we read and watch has on those exceptions. I connected to her and her thoughts right away, and her tone and approach to her essays that open my eyes to how I connect to the world through what I read, and I started to see how important it is to expected better from what I read.
Feminism gave me the framework to begin to understand the world more.
I began to challenge the way I thought about racism in Canada and realized I denied it existed here. I didn’t want to believe it did and I broke out of that bubble and read my first collection of essays by Canadian Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott.
Alicia Elliott covers a bit of ground here with the subject matter she explores in her personal essays. She draws on her own experiences as she explores colonialism, racism, mental health, abuse, sexual assault, poverty, malnutrition, capitalism parenthood and writing. With some of the essay I found myself denying her reasons for her arguments and I wanted to argue some of my assumptions with her in my head. I began to become aware of my denial and assumptions towards racism and I realized how important it is to listen instead of defending.
My eyes were now open and I began to look at more Canadian authors sharing their life experiences.
While I had the privilege of owning a loft in downtown Kelowna BC it overlooked a street where homeless people lived. A much smaller and protected street than the streets Jesse Thistle lived homeless in Vancouver, BC. My perceptive of homelessness did change, and I wondered what their stories were that led them there and wanted to understand more about addiction and homelessness. Jesse Thistle gave a voice to the unseen homeless people by sharing his personal story and journey from his early years in Saskatchewan, abandoned by his parents, living with his grandparents in Toronto, his self-destructive cycle of drugs, alcohol, crime and homelessness, to finding his way.
“I longed to be part of something again. To be known and accepted. To hear my name. No one ever said my name anymore. I never told anyone who I was for fear of being found out. For what? I didn’t know. I had forgotten years ago. I slumped forward on the bench and held my head in my hands, trying to remember how my name sounded. I spelled it aloud to myself. J-E-S-S-E. Jesse.”
It is an extraordinary, remarkable and inspiring story of survival that offers hope, an inspiration to others, and a lesson in empathy.
I picked this one up because I wanted to understand the importance of identity. While Samra Habib showed me the importance she shared her experience growing up as a Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, where she was taught to keep her identity a secret to protect herself from danger. Hiding became a familiar way of survival for her, and she continued hiding after reaching Canada as a refugee and following her parents’ rules. She began to realize she needed to find her authentic self, who she identified as. I picked up something valuable here from her and her journey, and she challenged my thoughts on a few things towards racism, identity and the privileges of feeling safer because of the colour of my skin or who I identify as. This was another book that challenge my denial of racism in Canada.
With both books I read on talking to white people about racism, it’s clear to see the authors goals are to open up a meaningful discussion about race, between white and people of color while entering the conversation as equals.
With her compassionate and understanding tone, Ijeoma Oluo put me at ease right away as I took an uncomfortable look at my own denial about racism. Through her examples of conversations with white people about race and racism, I could see myself as the white person she was talking to, and it opened my eyes up to the assumption we have as white people. I realized the first step was I needed to understand that everyone who is white has white privilege and how I benefit from it. My understanding of privilege came from books I have read that portray privilege as something that wealthy people have or is “good shit you should feel bad about having so that other people can feel better about not having it” Ijeoma Oluo helped me to understand that privileges are advantages we have that other people don’t. I can’t help myself by saying this, a few authors miss what privilege is. Understanding privilege changed the way I felt about myself and the world.
Ijeoma Oluo starts each chapter with a question and then explores the answers in a nonjudgmental, understanding way and avoids any tone of us against them by honestly exploring the answers. This also had me thinking about author’s tone in fiction with us against them and harmful that is. She explores “What is intersectionality and why do I need it?” “Is police brutality really about race?” What is school-to-prison pipeline?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and more.
Ijeoma Oluo ends with the chapter Talking is great, but what else can we I do? She offers us great tips and reminders as well as a discussion guide.
Well, I can see why Reni Eddo-Lodge is no longer talking to white people about race. She boldly lays it all out there why. While it was easy to feel her frustration, her tone comes from exhausting conversations with white people about race. “She is done talking to white people who haven’t thought about what it means to be white, who defend their whiteness and then flip it to a black person’s problem to deal with.” I realized the uncomfortable truth that she is done talking to white people like me. Nice white people who don’t understand or recognizance that racism is a systemic problem, or see the existence of structural racism and it symptoms.
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”
While Reni Eddo-Lodge delves into structural racism and white privilege, she focuses on events and history in Britain, the themes she explores touch all people of color everywhere. Even though I still have more to understand once I check my denial and defence I was able to see the existence of structural racism and how whiteness plays into the world we live in. The thing that stood out the most to me was white feminism, and Reni Eddo-Lodge gives us a good understanding how the feminism movement is not about white women fighting for equal treatment in their workplace, but it is about equality for all women.
“For those who identify as a feminist, but have never questioned what it means to be white, it is likely the phrase white feminism applies“
While it was a challenging year, it was a year of so many changes, opportunities to do thing different, and take a look at the world around us. To choose to do better and choose to challenge!!! It opened up a whole new world of information I seek to find from what I read!!!
Want to chat? How has the Pandemic changed the way and what you read?