In my workshops, participants often walk away with one clear action item: “Get Proximate.”
As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and a lawyer who works closely with death row inmates) states, “There is power in proximity. When you get proximate, you learn things you cannot learn from a distance.”
People who participate in my workshops are often seeking the answer to this question: “How do I learn more about diversity and people from diverse backgrounds if my neighborhood, town, state, area, and social circles is glaringly not diverse?” One piece of that puzzle — one helpful tool — that people can implement immediately is to pick up books and start reading. This is only one piece of the larger puzzle, but it certainly is a start.
You can easily search for lists that focus on particular racial/ethnic groups, by racially diverse authors, or by issues. Given that it’s September, my mind is always focused on Latinx heritage, so here’s an example of a great list that includes authors from Latinx backgrounds.
If you are just getting started in all of this, I highly recommend picking up Young Adult fiction/non-fiction. I admit, this was not a category I had previously read. However, working in a PreK-8 school these past few years really opened my eyes up to a whole new space and conversation. I just finished reading the Jason Reynolds series of books. Jason Reynolds’ writing is a great example of how sophisticated, and yet simple and accessible, today’s young adult fiction/non-fiction is.
Other folks like picking up books by authors who, traditionally, have not focused their writing on race but who have courageously entered into that space. One popular one is by Jodi Picoult titled, Small Great Things.
And, coming up in November, I’ll be hosting a book discussion group of Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility. It’s non-fiction and addresses, head on, the issues of whiteness, white supremacy, and white fragility. RSVP is required and it is limited to 25 people. People take different approaches to this type of book — do you dive right into a book this direct OR do you ease into the conversation? I’ve taken both approaches in my own life. So, whatever your approach is, just do it.
Whether you are joining a formal discussion or you just want to process a topic, book, or issue by yourself, here are some helpful questions that I use during-and-after reading a book:
What did you notice about yourself and your reactions as you read this book? What parts of the book or situations did you most notice these reactions?
Why did you choose this book? What issue were you interested in getting more proximate to?
As you read the book, what took place when you had a “that can’t be true” reaction? What took place when you had a “yes, this is all so true” reaction? What would it mean for you to believe that the “can’t be true” is and can, in fact, “be true”?
As you read the book, who in your life came to mind in particular examples? Why?
What parts of the book felt very proximate to your own experiences? What parts of the book felt distant, separate, and far away from your own experiences?
Which characters, if any, in the book did you feel proximate to? Which characters, if any, did you feel furthest from?
What are you left wondering after you finished the book? How might you get closer to answering those questions or exploring those curiosities?
After reading this book, what you do you realize about yourself? About others? About your upbringing or socialization?
What parts of this book will stay with you long after you have read it? What does that mean for you?
I hope you find these reflection questions useful as you continue your journey to learning, planning and doing more to #makethingsbetter in our lives!
Peace and reading,