Overflow to benefit others

On the decision to give a damn

Hello, fellow traveler. No gifs or content stories or links this week. Instead, I hope you’ll enjoy a decision tree, below, for participating in this moment.

New York Times Sunday Review cover, animation for "Life After a hear Attack at Age 38"

To be completely honest, I don’t know what to do in moments like these.

Even describing this, ah, situation as a “moment”—gestures broadly at everything—isn’t adequate.

This “moment” has been happening for four hundred years.

So allow me to say: I don’t feel comfortable talking about race because I’ve never found it necessary. Of course I’ve never found it necessary. Nothing in my lived experience ever compelled me to consider it. That’s my privilege.

I grew up in a liberal household, I said to myself, so of course I wasn’t racist. That’s what I thought anyway. Pretty comfortable to think that. To have done all the work without having done any of the work at all. It’s like that old baseball saying about wealthy people who’ve never accomplished anything without family connections: born on third base thinking they hit a triple. That’s me, but about race.

But I wanted to say I support the protests.

I support an end to police brutality.

I support an end to policing as its done today.

Like somebody said on twitter the other day, wouldn’t it be nice if you called somebody for help and they didn’t bring a gun.

So I think it’s a good time to listen, watch, read, and—if you’re in a position to do so— support. Like many folks, I’ve been wondering how.

I’m a reader so I’m naturally drawn to books. And if you haven’t looked, reader, let me tell you: There are plenty of reading lists out there.

But should I start with Coates? Baldwin? Ibram Kendi? Non-fiction? Novels? I was uncertain. The process of choosing felt like I was trying to compress maximal empathy into minimal time. Which is ludicrous. You can’t find a sense of shared humanity in a zip file.

So as I considered my reading options (which itself felt like privilege!), and as I kept reading all these reading lists, I kept coming back to this piece: What Is an Anti-Racist Reading List For? It’s worth quoting at length:

An anti-racist reading list means well. How could it not with some of the finest authors, scholars, poets, and critics of the twentieth century among its bullet points? Still, I am left to wonder: Who is this for? The syllabus, as these lists are sometimes called, seldom instructs or guides. It is no pedagogue. It is unclear whether each book supplies a portion of the holistic racial puzzle or are intended as revelatory islands in and of themselves. Aside from the contemporary teaching texts, genre appears indiscriminately: essays slide against memoir and folklore, poetry squeezed on either side by sociological tomes. This, maybe ironically but maybe not, reinforces an already pernicious literary divide that books written by or about minorities are for educational purposes, racism and homophobia and stuff, wholly segregated from matters of form and grammar, lyric and scene. Perhaps better to say that in the world of the anti-racist reading list genre disappears, replaced by the vacuity of self-reference, the anti-racist book, a gooey mass.

Right. It’s a complicated topic. Each book, on its own, does help move the reader away from seeing racism as an individual moral failure and towards seeing racism as a systemic feature. That’s good!

But none of these lists tell you where to begin. And why.

Plus, there’s the feeling that maybe reading a book isn’t the way to participate in the moment. Maybe participation means just that—actively joining the conversation in small ways every day. “Greasing the groove” of empathy, so to speak.

So in case anyone is interested, I made a decision tree.

It’s for helping you decide how to participate. It’s wildly incomplete. It doesn’t pretend to be authoritative. It includes some media and books I haven’t read or seen. Most of the books, actually… as far as books and journalism goes, I’ve only read Coates. So far, that is.

This isn’t a decision tree that will reveal deep cuts or some secret insight. It was compiled with suggestions from friends and from reading lists around the web, and from my research and choices on where to donate.

You can’t read just one of these books or watch just one of these videos or donate to just one of these causes and suddenly “be an ally”, or “be empathetic”, or “be absolved”…if that’s what you’re after.

But you can begin towards reconciling your privilege to the lived experience of others.

So all of this is to say, I’m just a white guy trying to be a better white guy. But maybe, if you’re anything like me, this tree will help you make a decision about how to get involved.

Help me act

Campaign Zero: Donate to support policies that aim to correct broken windows policing, excessive force, racial profiling, for-profit policing, cash bail, and more.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Supports racial justice through advocacy, litigation, and education.

Act Blue Bail Funds: Split a donation between 70+ community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers

Help me witness

13th: In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.

A Class Divided: The day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, Jane Elliott, a teacher in a small, all-white Iowa town, divided her third-grade class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups and gave them a daring lesson in discrimination. This is the story of that lesson, its lasting impact on the children, and its enduring power 30 years later.

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement documentary: an original documentary film that chronicles the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement through the first person accounts of local activists, protesters, scholars, journalists and others.

When They See Us: Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they're falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story.

Fruitvale Station: Based on the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed in 2009 by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale district station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in Oakland.

Help me read

The New Jim Crow: Though the conventional point of view holds that systemic racial discrimination mostly ended with the civil rights movement reforms of the 1960s, Alexander posits that the U.S. criminal justice system uses the War on Drugs as a primary tool for enforcing traditional, as well as new, modes of discrimination and oppression.

Between the World and Me: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his teenage son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being Black in the United States

Sister Outsider: Fifteen essays and speeches on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, all propounding social difference as a vehicle for action and change.

Women, Race, and Class: A powerful study of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S., from abolitionist days to the present, that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.

The Wretched of the Earth: A psychiatric analysis of the dehumanizing effects of colonization upon the individual and the nation.

So You Want to Talk About Race: Honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: Your essential guide to breaking through the half-truths and ridiculous misconceptions that have thoroughly corrupted the way race is represented in the classroom, pop culture, media, and politics.

How to Be an Anti-Racist: Part memoir and part argument about how racism permeates power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and more.

White Fragility: Concerning the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.


Back to the content grind next week. Thanks for being a human, human. Be seeing you.