This book club has given me such a fire in my belly for learning and change in myself. I have been doing all I can to listen and learn from authentic sources and to take part in the #BlackLivesMatter movement in genuine ways. I am currently weaving my way across the USA and am writing this post from the passengers seat between some fields and mountains in no-mans-land Utah. My hope in sharing the responses to our book club questions I can shine a light on the learning that people are engaging in around this subject. The thoughts relayed in this post are raw, honest and evolving. By no means do I want to take any spotlight from the Black voices that are shining through in this moment, rather I hope this helps to show that there are real people really trying to shift their perspective and genuinely putting in energy to learn. Below are both my responses and the responses from those members in our #WoWaWildBookClub that have not chosen to keep their responses private.* I asked everyone in this book club to come to the book with openness and honesty, and I have been very touched by both in the responses. Below are some of the many thoughts from this group. All of which are turned toward learning and curiosity both introspectively and in the world around each of us.
*As a note, I may not share the whole responses from any particular person, but perhaps excerpts from their responses to express a unique experience.
Our first topic was around Black Lives Matter and the concept of Code Switching. You can read the Session 1 prompt and resources list here.
1. Before you read the story: Write down what you currently know about the Black Lives Matter movement and current social justice issues.
Chelsie from #WoWaWild: I have known about the Black Lives Matter movement for a while now, but I have to admit that I can’t quite pinpoint when it started or the exact moment that started the movement. I do remember feeling, until very recently, that it was a movement that I should not participate in as it would “not be my place” as a white woman. I completely misunderstood how my lack of engagement and silence aligned me with the oppressor. My apathy was a privilege that I was completely blind to. I also remember hearing sentiment around the beginning of the movement that compared the BLM movement to a “clut” or to an “radical extremest group” which always made me want to eye roll, but again I didn’t engage because I felt it was “not my place.” This in itself showcases how often some people will take a Black experience and try to frame it as “bad” and “wrong” which adds extra barriers to the positive shift in culture these movements are fighting for. Only recently have I felt broadly aware and slightly educated enough to engage others who are interested in making these sweeping hurtful comments.
Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:
“I remember when the BLM movement first started not understanding it and what they stood for. I think I was blind and ignorant to the social justice issues at hand. I know now that they fight for justice for the black community against systematic racism and are fighting for police reform.” – Hannah
“I have never considered myself to be discriminatory however I am currently more aware of my lack of knowledge on the issue. With all that is going on in the US I have come to realize just how big of a problem racism is. I was a “All lives matter person” because i do believe all lives matter no matter the color of someone’s skin. I have seen so many people post “All lives cant matter until black lives matter” It makes 100% sense to me now. Ill admit that I don’t know a ton about the Black lives matter movement other than they are calling attention to the fact that black people are treated unjustly and deserve equality.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader
“Prior to reading this book I know some outlines of Black Lives Matter. They are an organization founded by three Black women (two of whom are also part of the LGBTQ+ community) that was founded in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin. The organization has swelled as a grassroots group fighting against violence against Black people. I would classify my knowledge of current social justice issues as ok at best. While I believe that I am aware of a large number of social injustices and the efforts to combat them, my knowledge is usually pretty shallow and I would like to change this.” – Matthew
“Black Lives Matter movement started a few years ago (maybe with Ferguson protests?). It emphasizes that Black lives are in danger, especially from police, but the movement has seen a lot of backlash in the form of an “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” response. I think with this current movement people are wanting to spread awareness and educate those with privelage and that may not understand a day in the life of a person of color. Especially things that others may take for granted, like not being afraid of getting pulled over by the police, or looking/speaking a certain way at school or work.” – Madison
“Honestly, not that much which makes me ashamed. I know that the BLM movement has been around for almost a decade, and I do follow Shaun King who is a civil rights activist so I see and read a lot of what he posts. I can say that I’m eager to learn more.” – #WoWwaWildBookClub Reader
2. In the first chapter, Khalil and Starr listen to Tupac in the car. Khalil explains what Tupac said “Thug Life” meant. Reflect on what this acronym means and how it relates to social justice and the BLM movement.
Chelsie from #WoWaWild: It was a revelation to hear Khalil explain that Thug Life (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone) that racism towards children not only exists, but is creating a worse world for everyone. As someone who has professionally studied the importance of early experiences and learning in children, this resonated so deeply with me. Children notice, mirror and learn so much from the adults in their lives. They even understand implicit interactions – they are sponges learning ALL of the time. So, if they are witnessing hate from others, based in race, they will understand it very early on in their childhood and will perhaps change behavior based on this. This applies to the BLM movement in so many ways – first, it’s a privilege that I never explicitly learned about or experienced racism as a child, but I have seen so many Black children having to learn about the world in a very harsh way because of how they may be treated because of the color of their skin. From learning how to properly interact with police to how to speak differently to appease an audience that discredits their culture. All of this breaks my heart. Second, it directly relates to young Black boys being killed at such a high rate – these are children, in grade, middle and high school, being treated with fear and hate – which is terrifying and appalling. And this hate holds us all back. It is well understood that diverse groups create and innovate at a higher rate – by seeding hate and killing Black voices (both literally and socially) we are hurting us all.
Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:
“I think that this acronym is showing that the way that you treat someone from the time they are young/and their experiences will shape the teenager and adults that they grow up to be. It is so important especially in today’s world that we are treating everyone with respect & equality, so they they can grow up feeling confident in who they are- regardless of their color!” – Kelli
“In an article I read with students, it says “you must actively teach your children to be anti-racist, otherwise they will be racist. It’s ingrained in our culture. You turn on the TV and even with it on mute black people are criminalized just by their roles and body language”. So in a lot of households, kids quickly pick up in this. Right now, if their parents are being silent Or watching the news and talking in Disapproval — kids are internalizing this hate. And it will f everybody in the future.” – Katie
“I realize this is something I have had a hard time accepting over my lifetime, but now it seems to obvious. I used to think there’s more crime in areas where there are more minority populations (so therefore they are more likely to be bad people- I never voiced this conclusion outright but based on the premises I believed, it goes unsaid) This “justified” the disproportional rates of African Americans incarcerated, or even their suspension rates in K-12 schools. Now it makes so much sense. When our country abolished slavery, many white Americans had already built their fortune (whether large or small) on free labor. They were set up for success, the generational kind! African Americans were given little to no reparations. That also has generational effects.” – Caroline
“THUG LIFE – > The Hate You Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. “Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in them in the ass when we wild out.” Due to the oppression some kids face, they must find ways to survive, sometimes resulting in gang violence, drug dealing, etc. Even though society as a whole is not problem-solving to help these individuals when they are kids, society as a whole is not happy with the path many of these kids take as a way to find money and survive.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader
3. Throughout the book, Starr talks about how she’s different “versions” of herself. She’s one person in Garden Heights and a different person at her school, Williamson Prep. This is called “code-switching,” when a person feels they must speak and act differently in one social situation than in another. Where does code-switching come up in the first section? What are some instances of code-switching you’ve noticed in your day-to-day life? Take some time to reflect on this concept and how it may impact yourself and others.
Chelsie from #WoWaWild:
Code switching is something that everyone does. I can think about how I change how I speak when I talk to my grandma versus my boyfriend versus my boss. Code switching is a way to connect and empathize with the people around you. I learned from one of the extra resources that you will converge with peoples speak if you like them and diverge from people when you dislike them. So our speech can say a lot about the people around you.
The difference between my code switching and Starr’s code switching is that I am doing it to accommodate people in my life, but she is doing it to mask parts of her self to gain respect and not be treated negatively. Also, it was talked about in the Ologies pod cast about language, but often kids are being taught in “standard English” and are expected to speak one way at school and a different way at home. They are then learning their home dialect does not have worth in school – it’s very very sad.
Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:
“Code-switching comes up in how Starr acts towards her friends and how she speaks. She tends to not be the “crazy ghetto black girl” in her school while at Williamson and wants to blend in with everyone else. I think about how this affects me and how I can sometimes interact with people in a different light. When I was in the military, I often tended to talk a different way with my black platoon members and tried to “make them feel like I was close to them.” Looking back at this, I was not only doing a dis-service to myself, but to the fellow platoon members by pushing a stereotype.” – Jay
“I notice code switching in my day to day when I’m talking to strangers – always wanting to put on a polite face and make a good impression. It’s not as distinct and certainly not as life threatening as what black people feel they need to do, especially with law enforcement. I imagine it’s also something they do at school or when applying for jobs. How exhausting it must be to be putting on another version of yourself – one that’s not authentic.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader
Code-switching comes up a lot in the first section. Starr specifically mentions her code-switching between Garden Heights and Williamson, but I’d say she does it too with different people. The way she spoke to Ms. Rosalie was different than her parents and even her Uncle Carlos. Now knowing what code-switching means I’d say that I code-switch between work and time with friends or family. I’m a preschool special education teacher, so at work I’m more sing-songy and obviously can’t swear. But with friends and family, I can, at times, have the mouth of a sailor. My mom has even called me out on it, and I’ve said it’s because I can’t at work. I think the difference between Starr and myself though is that, until now, I’ve just done it subconsciously. Whereas Starr has had to consciously code-switch so as not to be perceived in the wrong way.” – Kate
“I certainly find myself unhappy with myself at time when I talk or act a different way around certain people. I think its a sub conscience draw that we may not intentionally plan to act differently. I believe we can sometimes lower who we are or who we want to be according to who we are with. I think there is a strong desire to connect with people and sometimes we make errors in judgment by assuming we need to talk or act a little different depending on our current environment.” – Daniel
“I’m white. The closest I come to code-switching these days is trying not to curse at work. For POC, though, code-switching is not a habit or a casual practice, it is often a necessary tool to minimize or avoid discrimination. Having an accent or using a certain grammatical structure or even using particular vocabulary/language can result in not being hired, being perceived as unintelligent, or far more violent consequences.” – Becks
Responses about other resources:
“I liked the Articulate speech, it brought me to realize that I may judge people’s intelligence based on their accent or language. The BLM interviews made me realize that while I don’t feel like I contribute to their problems, I also have done nothing to help.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader
“I watched the videos and read the three resources. I’m sad to admit that before this I was unaware that the BLM movement was started by three Black women. And I was unaware just how deeply involved they were in trying to help all members of the Black community, especially women and Black trans women.” – Kate
“I haven’t looked at the resources you’ve shared specifically but I have been following other accounts on social media. I watched the documentary “13th”. I’m embarrassed at some of the things I’m only learning now – history of the police force, relationship between prosecutors and police departments, the years people spend in jail before being proven guilty or innocent and how they’re treated.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader
“The Phonology episode of Ologies is AMAZING. In undergrad, I took a 6-week Linguistics course that completely upended my perception of language. In that course I learned how fluid language is, how often it shifts and changes. I learned that AAVE has its own grammatical structure, its own grammar rules. I learned about its history and origins. I went into that class a self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazi” and emerged with a broader, more inclusive perspective of the nature of language. (For the record, it would be a few years before I realized that proclaiming myself an anything-Nazi was wildly problematic and cringe-worthy. Yikes.)” – Becks
Other things I have learned:
– Capitalize the B in Black when referring to the Black experience of humans in our country