Reading lists give me that nerdy syllabus high. So when the Women’s March created a booklist, off I went to the library.
I was embarrassed that most were new reads. (But I try so hard to read widely! I was just a few credits shy of a women’s studies major! How could I have missed these?)
Anyway, the situation is now remedied. This is the list they published, as well as one more I thought fit in just fine. The one book that is on their list and not on mine is only absent because I am still having trouble tracking down a copy. Check out the original list here.
Here’s my take on You Can’t Touch My Hair, Feminism is for Everybody, Redefining Realness, This Bridge Called My Back, and The Miner’s Canary.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, Phoebe Robinson
Let me just start with the caveat that Phoebe Robinson is the hilarious cousin I wish I had; I waited a long time to read her book. Ms. Robinson is funny, of course, and scrupulously honest. This book tackles big issues in feminism and race relations. It’s not all serious; there is a heavy dose of silly, but that only makes her impact greater. Despite the title, she spends a decent chunk of the book addressing black women (and men) and offering relief and suggestions for coping with racism. Ms. Robinson is still young, but she is an important voice I’m always excited to hear or read.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, bell hooks
It had been a while since I read this, and it was a timely reread. hooks insists that as feminists we should point out the problems inherent in patriarchal culture. She also argues we have a responsibility to offer an alternative. For example, what does feminist fashion look like?
This point is linked with an insistence that feminism must be more than an academic discourse. She argues that visionary feminism must make a greater effort to reach across class, race, and other dividing lines. bell hooks presents her ideas in a straightforward, refreshing manner. This is an excellent primer especially if critical feminist thought is new to you.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, and So Much More, Janet Mock
If you search for memoirs embracing the transgender experience, there are so many wonderful options nowadays. Each tells an unique and often painful journey of identity. What makes this particular memoir stand out from the rest is Ms. Mock herself, her particular voice, confidence, and story.
Poor, black, Hawaiian, and with a troubled early family life, this story was not destined for a happy ending. Ms. Mock’s determination to realize her dream of being the woman she always felt herself to be is remarkable, and perhaps what saves her. Her ability to repeatedly rise above her circumstances, and the love of those around her are inspirational. In this memoir, she is able to look back on dark periods in her life with patience and understanding. Forgiveness of yourself and of those who have most hurt you is a rare, beautiful thing to see come to such full flower.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Ed. Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa
If you believe, as a white feminist, that it is your responsibility to seek out viewpoints that diverge from your own, this is a decent place to start. First published in the early 80’s, this is an anthology of photos, poems, stream-of-consciousness pieces, well-reasoned political arguments, and personal reflections from a variety of women’s experiences.
Of course, as with any anthology, the quality of the writing varies. There are some real gems in here. Most pieces are short, making it a good book to pick up and put down over a long period of time. I dipped in when my schedule allowed, in-between other books, which let me think carefully about what I had read.
For reference, I particularly enjoyed “Asian Pacific American Women and Feminism,” by Mitsuye Yamada, and the poem “Wonder Woman” by Genny Lim. There are some anachronisms in this book but most of it still rings awfully true. Would also be a great source for short pieces to prompt group discussion in a classroom or consciousness-raising kind of setting.
The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy, Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres
Of all the books, this was the most challenging and transformative for me personally. If you only read one, make it this one. It’s the kind of book you need to read with a pen in hand, and mine is cluttered with the margin notes I know I’m going to refer back to many times over the coming years.
Written by two lawyers, this is an intense academic journey through race in America. Grassroots movements, power hierarchies, academics, policing, everything is in here. The authors posit the idea of “political race” (all those who are affected by the racism inherent in whatever the particular issue, for example, poor whites who are also excluded from a college based on their SAT scores, which are correlated mainly with parental wealth.)
They investigate not only the ways race functions in our democracy, but also outline the way activists can use race to push forward a progressive agenda that betters life for all. They highlight the importance of having people of color lead these movements. They argue for building consensus and exercising power-with, and the crucial importance of making explicit how reducing racism benefits us all.
When liberals ask why conservatives vote against their own self-interests, the answer is here. Poor, rural whites have much in common with poor people of color, but (white) Democrats do a terrible job pointing this out and overcoming the racism that looms in the background.
There is just too much amazing writing here for me to feel like I could ever properly summarize this book. Although it was at times a tough read because the language can be academic, for the most part the stories and arguments carried me away. I always ended up reading for far longer than I intended. The authors’ ability to deftly dig to the true root of every issue was inspirational. I want more leaders who have read this book and are trying to lead by its lights.