Educate Yourself: Black Lives Matter protests part two

Knowing context behind the protest is one thing; listening to the experiences behind it is another

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OLIVER MCKENNA

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The Black Lives Matter protests are a product of centuries of injustice and refusal to change. What I continue to find as more stories of police brutality come out and more people speak out is that only the people change. Despite how much this country has changed, so much of the systemic racism has stayed the same.

The last Educate Yourself focused more on facts and explanations, and while I still believe all the information in those recommendations are integral to understanding the protests, I also think you have to understand experiences between Black people and America. 

There are people protesting who don’t know the school-to-prison pipeline or the difference between defunding and abolishing the police but understand the experiences and know it’s wrong. The following list will offer Black writers’ perspectives on those experiences, whether through book or film.

Also, I don’t want to put “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon in this list, but I also really want to, so just go here to read what I had to say about it last time, as well as my other recommendations.

“Notes of a Native Son” (essay) by James Baldwin

I can only recommend the essay because I haven’t read the essay collection Baldwin released after this essay, but you really can’t go wrong with any Baldwin, so read the book.

“Notes of a Native Son” is a very short autobiography. Baldwin describes his relationship with his father, leaving the house and trying to find his place while dealing with racism. Not to give the essay away, but Baldwin’s story ends with disillusionment with America, not because of any single event (though there is certainly a tipping point) but a lifetime of them.

“Notes of a Native Son” is short and easy to find online. Plus, if you haven’t read anything from James Baldwin, you haven’t actually lived, so this is a great place to start.

“Between The World And Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Working on the last Educate Yourself made me realize I owned this book but never read it. Not reading this book was a mistake.

Coates is one of the best current writers talking about race, and this autobiography framed as a letter to his son cements it. It’s not a long read, but it’s a very poignant one, and Coates’ commentary on whiteness is always relevant. At less than 200 pages you could read this in a few hours and have it stay with you for years.

I also want to recommend “The Case For Reparations” as another excellent work. He also wrote a couple of Black Panther comics, which were really good, though they have less to say on race politics in America.

“When They See Us” on Netflix

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this series already because when it came out it was all anyone talked about (for good reason, though). If you haven’t, that’s probably because this is a very tough watch. 

I can’t really criticize anyone for not wanting to watch it. I think there is a discussion to be had about the idea that watching Black pain and trauma (both real and fictional) is the way to understand America’s race problems, but I also think this show is about more than the pain they went through. It’s also about how they survived, despite having the world against them.

This is an amazing watch and it’s been on Netflix for a while so definitely watch it.