“Reading literally transforms who we believe ourselves to be in the world. … Without story, and especially the stories of marginalized communities, we find ourselves perpetuating systems of oppression that serve none of our best interests in any long haul.” —Marlanda Dekine, founder and executive director of Speaking Down Barriers
Books possess a shaping power. What we read in them informs our worldview and theology; our worldviews and theologies inform our lifestyle; our lifestyles inform our systems of society.
The complicated connection between words and systems was revealed, once again, near the end of 2017, when black women turned out in record numbers to vote against Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama, and white progressive Twitter exploded in verbal expressions of gratitude.
In response, many black women pushed for more. Writer and speaker Austin Channing Brown wrote, “Thank black women by supporting black women. Pay us. Vote with us. Hire us. Read our writing …”
I (Britney) turned to my bookshelf, noting how few books on it were written by people of color — and fewer still by women of color.
My bookshelf represents a poverty of influence. So for Lent, we — two white middle-class millennial women — decided to fast from white voices and white-dominated media. For 40 days, we’re committing to only read books, watch films, and listen to podcasts written or directed by women of color.
In surrounding ourselves with the perspectives of these artists, we hope to take one very small step into repentance of our own racism, as we become more aware of our personal blind spots and learn to identify and begin to dismantle our own unconscious biases.
We are acutely aware of our own limitations in this project. But we also know the importance of beginning somewhere. And perhaps we can be most effective as allies by first educating ourselves, and each other.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Around the world, pastors repeated these words as they ushered in the Lenten season, with the cross-markings of repentance.
From what are we repenting this year? What parts of ourselves do we wish to see in the ashes, and what parts at the resurrection?
When I (Callie) undertook this project in 2017 — in which I focused my study on female and male writers of color — I was struck by the lessons I learned daily. Non-fiction books and theological works equipped me with new vocabulary and a revised sense of history. Fictional books and movies invited me to practice empathy and experience stories from a different worldview. Podcasts brought new voices into my everyday life, forming the intimate background noise of my exercising, dish-cleaning, and driving. Meanwhile, in the process of carefully curating my media diet, I found myself becoming more attuned to, and more outspoken about, issues of racial prejudice, bias, and inequality when I encountered them at work, at church, or in the news. Thanks to the voices of people of color, and the space made for listening to them, I was able to see shoots of new life growing within me at the end of Lent.
For this Lent, we have compiled a list of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, and podcasts — some that have changed our lives, others that may be about to. We're sharing it here as a helpful starting point for your own journey. Where possible and relevant, we encourage you to pay for these works in order to financially support their creators.
This list was compiled with input from spoken word artist Marlanda Dekine (Sapient Soul); Kimberlee Johnson, professor of Urban Studies at Eastern University; and Elaina Bueno, editor and content coordinator for Red Letter Christians and executive director for Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
It is our hope that this experiment will neither end on Easter morning, nor its transformations remain stuck simply to our bookshelves. Instead, as our own worldviews and theologies begin to shift, we seek to live into a new praxis: calling on our churches and communities to listen, learn, take concrete action, join existing conversations and movements, and ultimately, to heal.
We leave you with the words Ms. Dekine’s gave to us:
“Do it, unabashedly. Do not ask for permission, and do not brag. … Read the books, but with a posture of listening. The posture of unknowing. The posture of being out of control. The posture of a child entering in. You will not get it right, and this is okay. Just start. Start.”
- Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney C. Cooper
- Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God by Amena Brown
- Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
- Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne by Wilda Gafney
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Poetry and Essays:
- Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
- i am from a punch and a kiss by Marlanda Dekine
- My Soul is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality by Gloria Jean Wade-Gayles
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
- Behind the Brilliance
- Black Girls Talking
- Dem Black Mamas
- Jude 3 Project
- Truth’s Table