n i g h t i n g a l e s h i r a z / shelf
Ijeoma Oluo | So You Want to Talk About Race
Ijeoma Oluo | So You Want to Talk About Race

Oh no, not another race book!  (I know.  You’d think this was something important or something.)  At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to get this one (I read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility last August, and had just begun Crystal M. Fleming’s How to Be Less Stupid About Race).  But I’ve seen how often Oluo’s book comes up in lists of resources and recommended texts for better understanding race, racism and white supremacy, and unlike some people (sigh), I get that these lists and articles are written by people who know and understand much more about all this, than I do.  I get that I’m nowhere near done with knowing what there is to know.

(Which reminds me, small world that this can sometimes seem, of a quote from MLK in Fleming’s book: It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.  Exactly.)

Anyway.  Those people who made those lists and wrote those articles?  They were right.  In fact, this book may be (for most people) the best first book to read on racism and white supremacy.  It feels slightly lighter and more accessible than Fleming’s (which is a little heavier on theory, and a little tougher in its talk too, perhaps...), and while it does ask the (white) reader to do some ‘work,’ it is not nearly as demanding in this sense, as I think White Fragility might be for many folks.  Finally, the layout is nothing if not straightforward: every chapter addresses a likely question / area of understanding, from tone policing to police brutality, from privilege to the prison pipeline, and from intersectionality to the “N” word.  Really, she could have called it Racism for Dummies.  But something tells me that might not have helped the way it does with all the other Dummies titles...  Huh.

[Acquired in August 2020.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

Crystal M. Fleming | How to Be Less Stupid About Race
Crystal M. Fleming | How to Be Less Stupid About Race

You know that feeling (if you’re a person of color in a white world), when you wish you could drop a pointed-but-ostensibly-not-at-all-pointed quote in your email signature, as a way of telling a well-intentioned (and of course, impeccably progressive) white friend what you would really like to tell them, about the sometimes rather magnificent gaps in their understanding of racism, whiteness, and white supremacy?  This book has plenty of those quotes.  Enough that if I had to pick just one, I’d have to pick at least four:

In order to oppose racism, we have to actually be concerned with oppression writ large.  This means drawing critical connections between the plight of people of color and the poor in the United States and the broader struggle for freedom and tolerance on our small planet.  It means fighting ethnic and religious bigotry throughout Asia and standing in solidarity with the Roma in Europe as well as African migrants.  It means denouncing the immoral violence of anti-Semitism as well as Israel’s immoral destruction of the Palestinian people.  It means taking a stand against ethnocentrism and genocide in Rwanda and standing up against antiblack racism in Brazil, Latin America, and the Arab world.  As antiracists, we have to cultivate concern and compassion for the suffering marginalized people in our own communities and on the other side of the world.

Have you ever wondered how people lived with slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching [or, I might add, with Hitler, Mussolini, and the Manifesto of Race...] but looked the other way?  Look around right now.  This is how they did it.  They did it by going on with their lives.  They did it by being polite, not rocking the boat.

Let the record reflect: white supremacy persists, to a great degree, because of white folks’ refusal to aggressively challenge other whites on their racism.

So, white people: y’all need to team up with your antiracist homies, leverage your social influence, stand up against racist behavior, and be willing to make your racist family members, friends, and/or colleagues uncomfortable.  Even more to the point: white folks need to make a proactive decision to do this work, rather than rely on people of color (who are already subject to the terror of racial violence) to pick up your slack and carry the burden of dismantling oppression.

Also: interpersonal and institutional racism are connected.

Read the books.  Do the work.  Please.  Do the work.

[Acquired in August 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

Beth Ann Fennelly | Heating and Cooling
Beth Ann Fennelly | Heating and Cooling

Early in July I started ‘going’ to more poetry readings (because what better for an introvert, than a poetry reading for which you don’t have to get dressed, don’t have to make small talk, and don’t have to perform your interest, interestingness, and sociability).  And there was this one, in which Beth Ann Fennelly read a piece from her new(ish) book of what she calls micro-memoirs...  And this piece, it made some gears grind to a halt inside me, in a way that—whatever you call it, micro-memoir or flash or prose poetry or poetry too—it’s these short, shaped forms that know how to do it.  Shaped to fit in your cupped hands.  Small enough to carry in a pocket, if your dress has a pocket.

The Visitation

I remember being in the car on the way to my sister’s surprise funeral.  In the backseat, I think.  I can’t imagine who was driving.  At a stop sign my head swiveled toward a flicker in the roadside greenery: a fox, poking its snout from between two bushes. I thought, or chose to think, That is my sister. That is my sister, come back in animal form to tell me it’s okay.  She’s okay.  I’ll be okay.

But it was not okay.  She was not okay.  I would not be okay.  I would not be okay for so long that when okay arrived it couldn’t place me.  It looked right past the veil of flickering leaves, my long red snout, my gloved paws swiping tears into my little black mouth.

(The other poets were amazing too.)

[Acquired in August 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

June Eric-Udorie (Editor) | Can We All Be Feminists?
June Eric-Udorie | Can We All Be Feminists?

It’s been a year and half since I started my little reading project on intersectional feminism.  And I have to say that this one book delivered on more fronts than many of the books I’ve read so far—maybe not so much in depth, but very much in terms of the sheer breadth of perspectives.  The essays vary widely in style (and a few are not as well-written / well-shaped as the others), but if you want some truly intersectional bang for your anti-capitalist buck, this is a starting point for all kinds of isms across all kinds of bodies—black and brown (including from Pakistani to Punjabi and beyond...), deviant and disabled, trans and migrant and fluid and fat.  I’ve underlined and asterisked all over this book, but in terms of a (very random) sampling:

On the plurality of feminism: There’s no explicit platform for feminism because it’s an idea, ownerless and atomized, based on the observation of one specific, persistent source of imbalance in a stunningly unfair world.

On intersectionality: Asking that feminism be intersectional is not asking it to do anything other than make sense.

On abortion: Folks who believe that abortion is permissible in the case of rape, but not permissible in the case of accidental pregnancy from consensual sex, are not actually condemning abortion; rather the moral axis here is the sexual behavior—the blameworthiness—of the pregnant person.

On beauty: Public policing of Beauty isn’t always obvious, but it is constant.  Its threat haunts every plan, every outfit, every decision you make before stepping out in public.

On fat: A good body can be permitted to carry weight, unlike a beautiful body, but this must be in moderation, carried in seamless proportion and coupled with hyperfemininity.

On the trans toilet-wars: Use of bathrooms and changing rooms is predominantly about safety, and which bodies are deserving of safety—and which aren’t.

On cultural appropriation: [It is] ignorance that leaves people believing, unthinkingly, that cultural exchange happens in a fair context and on a level playing field...

And on the everyday rollercoaster of being a nonwhite minority among your white friends: [That instant in which] whiteness becomes aggressive and hostile to our way of being.  One moment, it’s a normal conversation, and in the next, the person we’re with has revealed the limits of their understanding.

[Acquired in August 2019.]
[Read on and off from January 2020 through to July 2020.]

John Berger | and our faces, my heart, brief as photos
John Berger | and our faces, my heart, brief as photos

For his talk of poetry: In all poetry words are a presence before they are a means of communication.

For his talk of time: The deeper the experience of a moment, the greater the accumulation of experience.  This is why the moment is lived as longer. [...] The lived durée is not a question of length but of depth or density.  Proust understood this.  (So did Rovelli, I think to myself.)

And for his talk, finally, of train stations: Before the railways were built, what took the place of stations in people’s dreams?  Perhaps cliffs or wells or a blacksmith’s forge?  Like a tram or a bus this question is a way of approaching the railway station.  (I think of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.  And Neruda’s Book of Questions.)

For his talk, too, of Caravaggio.  And for the future of that parcel.

[Acquired in June 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in June and July 2020, in Florence.]

Angela Y. Davis | Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
Angela Y. Davis | Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Some things in this book—like all the books from 2019’s birthday crop on blackness, whiteness, and wrongness—have felt like salvos.  Some other things, like salve.

Like understanding incarceration and detention as ways in which the state consolidates its inability and refusal to address the most pressing social problems of this era.  Like understanding the need for collective and community-based change, at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms.  Like understanding the tyranny of the universal (and the abstract).

And any book that describes marriage (in passing, mind you) as a bourgeois hetero-patriarchal institution, and as a capitalist institution designed to guarantee the distribution [or rather the lack thereof] of property... is my kind of book.

Still, this was sometimes hard to read—hard anyway to finish—through a June (and July) like 2020 has had.  But also urgent, necessary, long overdue.  One of those books (and there are at least a couple more, from that birthday crop), that I wish I could press into the hands of my wonderful white friends and say, read this.  Because we cannot go on as usual.  We cannot pivot the center.  We cannot be moderate.

[Acquired in August 2019.]
[Read on and off from August 2019 through to July 2020 (in tandem with Carlotta...).]

Fernando Pessoa | The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa | The Book of Disquiet

Among the blurbs at the beginning, a reviewer from the Daily Telegraph speaks of exhilarating lugubriousness.  This feels perfect, and yet there is so much more, so much quotable, so much that I have underlined and starred and squiggled across the multitude of mirrored and othered selves that make up this book...  On every page, something that reaches out and makes a wave in you.

Like this: I enjoy using words.  Or rather: I enjoy making words work.  For me words are tangible bodies, visible sirens, sensualitues made flesh.  (I think of Humpty Dumpty, holding forth with Alice...  “They’ve a temper some of them—particularly verbs...”)

Like this: Each thing is the intersection of three lines which, together, shape that thing: a quantity of material, the way in which we interpret it and the atmosphere in which it exists.  (I think of content, form, and context.  Also, of everything.)

And like this: Some people have one great dream in life which they fail to fulfil.  Others have no dream at all and fail to fulfil even that.  (I think of you and me and the universe of people that may or may not lie, between us.)

[Acquired in June 2016.]
[Read on and off from June 2016 in Santa Marinella, through to July 2020 in Florence.]

Ben Lerner | The Topeka School
Ben Lerner | The Topeka School

The idea that the deep truths are sedimented in syntax...

Now when I close my eyes and see phosphenes (though I seem always to need to search for the word, seem always to need to consider first, for a moment, whether they are phonemes)...  All my life I have wondered too, if they were universal, if everyone saw them.  But they were so faint and difficult to describe that he was never able to figure out if his parents or friends shared this experience just above the threshold of perception; the patterns dissipated under the weight of language, remained irreducibly private.

[Acquired in January 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in July 2020, in Florence.]