We’re nearing the end of February, loyal readers, and I hope that you’re keeping your energy up, getting your vaccinations, and remaining hopeful as we hit the one-year mark of this pandemic. For many of us, reading is a respite, and that’s one reason I send out this newsletter every week and am app
We’re nearing the end of February, loyal readers, and I hope that you’re keeping your energy up, getting your vaccinations, and remaining hopeful as we hit the one-year mark of this pandemic. For many of us, reading is a respite, and that’s one reason I send out this newsletter every week and am appreciative that you open it.
This week’s articles talk to each other, as they sometimes do, and I hope that you try reading a few of them. The lead article, by Anna Deavere Smith, is a brilliant memoir of her time in college and her awakening as a Black civil rights leader. The middle pieces explore two harmful ways that white people disengage from racial equity work. Rounding off today’s issue is an essay about beginner’s mindset, and though it has nothing to do with race, I found it to be a helpful reminder to stay engaged when there’s conflict. Enjoy!
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When Anna Deavere Smith was a high school student in Baltimore in the late-1960s, her white counselor encouraged her to attend Beaver College, a predominately white women’s school outside of Philadelphia. Beaver was “looking for nice Negro girls like Anna,” the counselor told her mother.
But in this outstanding coming-of-age piece, Ms. Deavere Smith recounts how her childhood politeness, an expectation of Jim Crow, quickly shifted in college as her political consciousness deepened. One of just seven Black students, Ms. Deavere Smith and her classmates demanded courses in Black history and the hiring of Black professors. Any remaining vestige of “niceness” disappeared with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the rise of Angela Davis and the Black Power Movement.
Connecting her transformation with the current moment, Ms. Deavere Smith writes, “In our current moment of division, we cannot afford to go forward without looking back. We must excavate history to assess how we learned to restore human dignity that had been ripped away by plunder and slavery. How did we get this far? Not by being nice.” (16 min)
In the northwestern part of Lower Michigan, where teachers play Hangman with their students without considering the game’s connections to violence, career educator Lois Beardslee, who is Native American, and whose grandfather was lynched, knows to speak “submissively, hoping not to offend” when asking a white second grade teacher to consider an alternate name to the game. It doesn’t go well. The teacher flips out, gets defensive, and demands that Ms. Beardslee never return to the school. “A lot of educators turn out to be ineducable, especially when the person doing the educating doesn’t look like them.” (13 min)
+ I highly recommend this piece for the quality of its writing.
“We all knew it was coming,” writes Angie Franklin, yoga instructor and wellness entrepreneur. After last summer’s surge of protesting against police brutality, supporting Black-owned businesses, and unsolicitedly Venmoing Black people money, white people have mostly retreated in their efforts to be allies and co-conspirators. The main problem, Ms. Franklin writes, is that “white folks have an uncanny way of centering themselves even when they aim to decenter.” (7 min)
+ This article reminded me of “When Black People Are In Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs,” one of your favorites from last year.
We were all supposed to learn a new skill during the pandemic, right? You know, like a new language, or maybe quilting? Unfortunately, many adults have trouble taking on a beginner’s mindset. Not Tom Vanderbilt, though, whose 4-year-old daughter inspired him to learn (painstakingly sometimes) the game of chess. After some ribbing from his friends, Mr. Vanderbilt hires a coach and goes all in. “There is safety in sticking with what we’re already good at,” he writes. “But we forget we were once beginners in all sorts of things, until we were not.” (16 min)
+ Have you learned anything new since last year? Hit reply and share your inspiring accomplishments.
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