Like many of you I’ve been disgusted and appalled by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. They’re just the latest in a long string of racist incidents in the United States. As an individual, I feel powerless, and I’ve struggled with how we in the Cold War Studies community can make a difference. I haven’t come up with any easy answers, but I’ve decided on two baby steps that I hope will lead to more substantive action.
In today’s post, I’ll pass on some resources that I hope will help us all examine our attitudes and actions. Our community is diverse and international so I know that there’s not ‘a one size fits all’. We’re all in a different place on our social justice journey. But I hope you find something in this listing that is relevant to where you find yourself now and where you want to be. After I lay out some resources, I’ll suggest an action that we might take, targeting especially our American readers.
Here’s my list. It’s in no particular order, and was recommended to me by the black scholar and activist, Bryan Massingale, the James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics at Fordham University.
(In full transparency, if you choose to purchase any of these items through our affiliate links, Cold War Studies will receive a small commission. We thank you!)
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (2007) is a book by activist and writer Tim Wise that has also been made into a documentary. According to the film site Kanopy, the documentary explores race and racism in the US through the lens of whiteness and white privilege. The reviewer goes on to say that “Wise offers a fascinating look back at the race-based white entitlement programs that built the American middle class.” He argues that our failure as a society to come to terms with this legacy of white privilege continues to perpetuate racial inequality and race-driven political resentments today. You can watch the trailer below. Watch the full film on Kanopy.
Just Mercy (2014) is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us. Amazon says that the book is a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. The book has also been made into a movie. You can watch the trailer below and the full film on Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016) is a documentary film directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his personal observations of American history. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary. You can watch the trailer below. The full movie is available on Amazon.
13th (2016) explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. It gets its name from the American Constitution’s 13th amendment, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” You can watch the trailer below. The film is available on YouTube and on Netflix.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018) is a New York Times best-selling book that explores “the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.” I’ve just checked this book out of the library, but haven’t started reading it yet. Have any of you read it?
If you have suggestions, I’d love for you to enter them in the comments. And, just as an aside, I noticed this morning that Netflix has a good selection of movies that they’ve put in a Black Lives Matter section on their site. You might want to take a look.
Now for the action item. The 2020 elections are coming soon. Regardless of your preferences, I think we can all agree that it’s really important for everyone to vote, so here’s the action item I mentioned earlier. Voter suppression is a ‘hot’ issue and a group called Reclaim Our Vote is tackling that problem. I’m suggesting that you go to their nonpartisan website and check them out. Volunteer if you’re so inclined.They’re currently working to inform and motivate voters of color in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas. You can sign up to make phone calls or send postcards.
My very best wishes to you all. Let’s work together to stand for change!