That’s right people, we have officially re-branded ourselves as The Alt-Book Club - the book club devoid of actual books!
In our last discussion, we discussed James Baldwin’s incredible 1964 essay “Nothing Personal” and Theo Wilson’s fascinating TedTalk “A Black Man Undercover In the Alt-Right”. Some wonderful men and women from all walks of life came together to face tough questions about racism and America’s origin story. Our beautiful country, as most of you know and will agree, has a very complex past. As Dave put it on Sunday, “There have been two perspectives of America. The European settlers of this country saw themselves as the Jews fleeing Egypt to the Promised Land. For the slaves, they were the Jews and America was Egypt.” Here’s how Baldwin puts it:
“We have all heard the bit about what a pity it was that Plymouth Rock didn't land on the Pilgrims instead of the other way around. I have never found this remark very funny. It seems wistful and vindictive to me, containing, furthermore, a very bitter truth. The inertness of that rock meant death for the Indians, enslavement for the blacks, and spiritual disaster for those homeless Europeans who now call themselves Americans and who have never been able to resolve their relationship either to the continent they fled or to the continent they conquered. The inertness of that rock meant death for the Indians, enslavement for the blacks, and spiritual disaster for those homeless Europeans who now call themselves Americans and who have never been able to resolve their relationship either to the continent they fled or to the continent they conquered.” (p.2)
Yes, y’all. We went there. And honestly, it was cathartic! As one participant expressed the day after our meeting, “I think talking about ‘life’ with great people helped me sleep the best I have in months!” As I stated earlier, everyone in attendance Sunday night was from a different background: religious and not (and of different expressions), different races and heritages, different social classes). We all, however, connected over the difficulty of speaking to the people around us about race and our complex American past.
One person spoke about confronting someone on her community Facebook page, only for that person to make it plain to her that they are set in their prejudice ways and have no intention of being persuaded otherwise. This not only was difficult to hear, but this mother of color became afraid of the possible repercussions her neighbor’s prejudice views could have on her children or husband. Another person talked about a couple of white men discussing a sensitive race matter within earshot of her black co-worker, and how even after urging her to confront them, her co-worker stayed silent because she didn’t want to look like an “angry black woman”, a label that could potentially affect her relationship with her other co-workers or even cost her her job. One person during the meeting recounted how she overcame the barriers that made speaking to her Trump-supporting family members. She described meeting them where they were and choosing not to be offended by how they said things, but directing confronting what they were saying. This impacted me because she was basically practicing what we all preach: empathy and validating another person’s identity as defined by them. In his TedTalk, Theo Wilson made the point that stuck with still rings in my head, “Why must I be hated for the person I cannot help to be?” This is the core fear of every race represented in this country. In our last Alt-Book Club meeting, I learned that I cannot let my perceptions of others keep me from actually interacting with them and trying to connect with them, because those connections will ultimate change our nation.
Our next meeting will be Sunday, November 19th from 4-6pm. We feel like meeting in the late afternoon may work better for our families who have school-aged children. Please RSVP by Monday, November 13th so that we can give our host ample time to prepare. We are considering providing childcare, especially for single parents, so please reach out if this would help you attend.
Along with incorporating the last discussion pieces, we will be adding an article for the Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest article for The Atlantic entitled "The First White President" (which is also available in an audio format) and the rebuttal by George Packer, as well as an interview with author Mark Lilla (The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics) by Slate journalist Isaac Chotiner (its a part of their “I Have To Ask” series). For more information about the Alt-Book Club follow our Facebook Page, AFAR Book Chat! And feel free to pitch topic and discussion material ideas for future meetings!
See you in November!