I Am Not Your Negro

Review by Eric L.

The title itself should take you back to a time and parlance that we, as a country of “free” citizens, should have moved past long ago. Sadly, we have not. 

I am Not Your Negro is a great introduction to James Baldwin. Filmmaker Raoul Peck worked on the project for nearly a decade (a recent article by Peck in The Atlantic entitled James Baldwin Was Right All Along is a great primer). The film offers a potent collage of civil rights era footage, recent Black Lives Matter protests, interviews, and debates that feature Baldwin speaking (captivating), as well as the narration of excerpts from an incomplete manuscript read by actor Samuel L. Jackson, tentatively entitled Remember This House.  

The 1979 manuscript concerns Baldwin’s reluctant return to America after a long sojourn in France. The nonfiction piece, a pensive essay on racism in America, details his relationship with, and observations of, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Baldwin refers to himself as a “witness” of these three titans of the civil rights movement, all murdered before the age of 40. Baldwin explicitly states that he’s not missing his native land; the impetus for his return seems out of a sense of guilt that America’s serious racial divide is an abstraction to him while living abroad.  

Baldwin succinctly states that “segregation equals apathy and ignorance,” as they are forces very difficult to overcome. His assessment of Americans’ sense of reality and the reasons for it should give us all something to contemplate. I love good writing, and Baldwin’s prose is beautiful. I believe this is why some have compared his essays to those of George Orwell (I encourage you to read his essays, too. I’m a huge fan). I would describe both as moral or political artists, and perhaps I appreciate their contemplative tone.

As a side note, Baldwin’s fictional  Another Country, included in PBS’s the Great American Read, made for a great discussion in my book group. The narrative deftly examines race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, power, and anger. The nonfiction title The Fire Next Time is comprised of two essays, one a letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew. I find them both beautifully written and compelling.  

Perhaps it’s a positive sign that the aforementioned materials are currently in high demand and hard to borrow, both in print and digitally, so just start by streaming the film on Kanopy. It is well worth your time! 

It some ways it seems odd that someone like me is writing this piece. If you met me you’d quickly realize that I’m close to the apex of privilege in America for a variety of reasons. I’m well aware of this fact, though I wasn’t always. I’d proffer that sometimes single words such as “privilege” become overused, politicized, and more importantly, lose their intent. This is precisely why we should all contemplate our world, and art is an engaging way to do so. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Discussing Racism with Children

By Laci R.

Racism isn’t a new issue. However, it is one that people all over the world have recently come together in order to take a stance against. How do you bring the conversation into your own home? Were you ever directly told about racism, yourself? 

I’d like to share some vital information: 

  • As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences.”
  • By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.”
  • By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.”

(Authors Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP 
Last Updated 7/29/2019 
Source American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019) 
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx)

It’s not always easy to provide an explanation to a child; whether it’s the mechanics of something (why a toy will no longer beep and light up), safety (why it’s important to hold hands and look both ways before crossing a street), or why some people are treated poorly, hurt, and killed based on nothing other than the color of their skin.  
 
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano shows children as they discuss with their families the incident of a local black man who was shot by the police. These discussions look different in the home of Emma (who is White) and Josh (who is Black) but share a similarity in the feeling of injustice. The use of historical and present-day context is utilized in a way that promotes compassion and eagerness to learn. The story shows Emma and Josh applying what they learn when a new student from another country named Omar arrives at their school. This book provides general guidance for parents and caregivers full of vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and additional online resources to visit to continue the conversation about racism.  
 
Opening up a safe space for children to learn about racism and how to be actively anti-racist is a necessary step in parenthood, guardianship, and adulthood in general. It’s crucial to be proactive during such an impressionable time.  
 
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson is a story about Clover, segregation, and a determined friendship. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. The two girls bend the rules set in place by their grown-ups by spending time together sitting on the fence that separates their homes. This is where they are allowed to exist in the same space, one they have created themselves. A lyrical narrative and thoughtful watercolor images show how this friendship is formed during a time when it seems impossible. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these discussions and questions that arise will look different in every family based on a variety of details and factors, including race. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham invites white families and children to become more invested in the reality that is racism and, in turn, to cultivate justice.  This story explains how each of us are affected by power and privilege from the very moment we’re born and offers an honest explanation for kids about racism, white supremacy, and civic responsibility. Pair these books with others about racism and segregation such as: Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson (also available from Libby/OverDrive in eaudiobook format).
 
It can be daunting to know where to start despite the vast amount of resources flooding our social media accounts. Keep in mind that the conversation about racism can easily become a fruitful one, full of eagerness to learn and the desire to be kind. I strongly believe in the importance of embracing curiosity, including the tough questions. If you don’t have an answer ready for the child in your life, be sure to let them know you’ll have one for them soon- and then, follow up. Whether it’s just the beginning or you’re continuing the conversation about racism, don’t ever let the discussion end. No matter what.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books. 

Just Mercy

Michael B Jordan stands tall in a gray suit and blue shirt and tie, looking off into the distance.  Behind him, in muted yellow are scenes from the movie. Just Mercy is written in white, along with names of actors, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson

Let me be clear… Just Mercy is a hard and emotionally draining movie to watch. And it needs to be seen. This film tells the true story of a civil-rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), who works to defend wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

In this deeply affecting movie, the repressed and palpable fury that Bryan Stevenson feels sits uneasy with me. Jordan portrays the complexities of emotion in a stirring and emotive way. Stevenson conducts himself professionally at all times, even when the behavior he endures made me want to scream.  My indignation and anger at Stevenson’s mistreatment pales in comparison to the outrage at the injustices that are perpetrated against his clients. This film is honest and frank about sharp truths, and it had an impact on me.

In the United States, we proclaim, “Liberty and justice for all,” but this movie shines light on the harsh reality of systemic injustice. Our system is broken: for every nine people executed by the state since 1973, one person has been exonerated and released. It is an untenable rate of error. I felt uncomfortable after watching this movie and investigating further. However, I think it is important not to shy away from that response.

Sit in that discomfort.

Ask hard questions.

Have the conversations.

Advocate for change.

“Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing.”

– Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on CloudLibrary and OverdriveJust Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) is also available on eAudiobook on Overdrive.

During the month of June, Warner Bros. has made Just Mercy free to watch through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayMicrosoft, the PlayStation Store, RedboxVudu,  and YouTube.

Just Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Libraries Stand Against Racism

Black box with white text that reads, Libraries Stand Against Racism atop red text that reads, Anywhere. Anytime.

My heart aches at the cruel and inhumane acts routinely inflicted upon my Black brothers and sisters and all people of color. Tears stream from my eyes because statements like this continue to be issued in the aftermath of senseless killings like those of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I wail as committees are formed to check the box so we can bird watch in public parks and not endure what Christian Cooper endured. My gut wrenches because conversations must held to see that our children have the protections denied Aiyana Jones at seven years of age. My soul is in a state of unrest to see people of all races and ethnicities in harm’s way and being harmed as they peacefully protest in support of respect, equal justice and equal treatment for all. The statements, committees and conversations should and must continue, but we must also move past them, standing against racism and hatred each time it is in our midst, and strategizing and enacting change until America’s promises ring true for all citizens.  

Learning of one another, our shared history, and the peaceful steps we can all take is essential to reaching this goal. In line with its mission of high-quality education for all, Howard County Library System (HCLS) dove into the topics of systemic racism with the Undesign the Redline exhibit and Color of Law author Richard Rothstein event (in person and on our HiJinx podcast), and racial justice with Waking Up White author Debby Irving and educator Lisa Gray. HCLS condemns racism, hatred and violence. Today, HCLS invites you to join us in committing to and engaging in an educational pursuit for justice. 

Public libraries across the country have the responsibility to advance social equity. HCLS stands united with the Urban Libraries Council and the American Library Association in condemning racist incidents and behavior that targets individuals and communities. 

HCLS is one of more than 160 North American public library systems that have shown their strong commitment to ending structural racism by signing ULC’s Statement on Race and Social Equity, which asserts that “libraries can help achieve true and sustained equity through an intentional, systemic and transformative library-community partnership.”  

The American Library Association unequivocally condemns racism and endorses recent statements by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Laureate once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” 

I implore you not to be neutral. The cost for neutrality is simply too high. It’s incalculable. I invite you to take the deep pain felt in our community and use it to fuel positive change. Peacefully learn, grow, share, support and act. Our talented team will continue to add to the list of materials below and on our website curated for all ages in various formats. Read. Watch. Listen. Share. Act.  

Sincerely, 

Tonya Aikens 
President and CEO 
Howard County Library System 

Read 

Anti-racist books 

Anti-racist reading list from Ibram X. Kendi  

Social Justice Books – Young Adult Fiction 

20 Social Justice Books for Young Adults and Middle Grades 

31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance 

Watch 

https://www.kanopy.com/category/29286

Learn 

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice 

HOUSING 

Listen 

Howard County Library System’s HiJinx podcast, Episode 19: Seeing Red, focused on the Undesign the Redline exhibit. This episode featured Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, a forgotten history of how our government segregated America, and Braden Crooks, co-founder and partner of Designing the We which created Undesign the Redline. Tune in here via SoundCloud or listen on iTunes

How Racist Property Laws Formed The Neighborhoods We Live In Today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Listen

Watch 

Designing the WE co-founder April De Simone gives a tour of Undesign the Redline in Washington, DC. Watch