Book: So you want to talk about race

We have to talk about it because we’ve harmed people

so you want to talk about raceA friend of mine asked if I had read So you want to talk about race, the 2018 book by Ijeoma Oluo. I said it was on my list. The truth is that it was in the house, but in a flurry of tidying up, it got misplaced.

Now it’s found. And I read the 240-page paperback in three or four hours over two days. The story was compelling because she put a lot of herself, a “black, queer woman” with a white single mom, on the pages.

“It’s about race if a person of color thinks about race.” I related to that. At the same time, she notes that “almost nothing is completely about race.” And that explaining systemic racism is not always easy.

In the chapter about talking about race incorrectly, the primary subject was her own mom. “Why can’t I be talking about… anything but this.” Conversely, Ms. Oluo tells about her OWN failure to check her privilege. She explains intersectionality better than most people I’ve read.

Her chapter on affirmative action was not academic but personal, with her family finding the need to sneak into a vacant apartment in order to take showers. A school game tagged her brother as “homeless,” when in fact the family had literally experienced this.

Lock ’em up

The school-to-prison pipeline the author talked about is quite insidious. I recently saw a story on the news about an eight-year-old mixed-race kid with special needs. He was arrested for felony assault for hitting his teacher in December 2018. He couldn’t be handcuffed because the boy’s wrists were too skinny. The child is STILL traumatized by this experience.

The particular pain of the author, at age 11, and her brother being subjected to the N-word in what they perceived to a safe setting was particularly awful. She explains an almost comical example of cultural appropriation at a dining establishment. I’ve never understood why any white person would ask a black person if they could touch their hair. Yet it’s a common phenomenon.

I’ve never liked the word “microaggression.” It seems to trivialize the pain of being, for instance, the fat black kid afraid of eating pizza, even though she hadn’t eaten all day. I myself hear the one about my proper use of English. Also, generally, “you aren’t like other black people,” as though that was supposed to be a compliment; n.b., it is not.

Ijeoma Oluo’s then eight-year-old son didn’t want to sing the national anthem or say the pledge of allegiance at school. He wanted to duck a school assembly to avoid it; it did get worked out. I’ve had my own issues with those symbols, albeit slightly later in life. He also realized he ought not to play with toy guns like his white friends did because he didn’t want to end up dead like the 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Importantly, in “But what if I hate Al Sharpton,” he addressed a lot of myths. About Martin Luther King and what he really stood for. About Malcolm X. (The late folk singer Phil Ochs also addressed this in Love Me, I’m a Liberal.)

The book ends with a call for action, including Vote local, Bear witness to bigotry, Boycott bigoted businesses, and Supporting businesses owned by people of color.

Yes, Ijeoma Oluo may tell you a few things you already knew if you’ve read other books on racism. But because she puts herself in the story, So you want to talk about race got me to turn the pages. And watch this video. Listening to her speak explains why people who listen to her audiobook enjoy it so much.

The graphic novel as learning tool

Meryl Jaffe is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel.

Worth A Thousand WordsAs you may know, I used to work at a comic book store called FantaCo on Central Avenue in Albany for 8.5 years, May 1980 to November 1988. It was the second-longest job I ever had.

During this period, Marvel put out something they called a graphic novel. It was a squarebound comic book of the X-Men, 81/2″ by 11″, with much nicer paper, and a price of $4.95, when regular comics were still under $1.

How the graphic novel has changed. I came across Meryl Jaffe through her participation in the ABC Wednesday meme. She has a blog Departing the Text, which is still interesting, although she has’t updated it in a few years. She wrote Using Content Area Graphic Texts for Learning: A Guide for Middle-Level Educators (2012), which is more readable that the title might suggest.

Meryl is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel. Yet she makes a confession in the preface of her new book, with Talia Hurwich, Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy (2019).

“Until fairly recently, I didn’t think graphic novels were appropriate for my classroom or for my kids’ reading at home.” But her children, “as comfortable reading Neil Gaiman as Alexandre Dumas,” gave her I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Nimura, and Meryl did a 180. BTW, Talia Hurwich is Meryl’s daughter.

Chapter 1 addresses the fears of using the graphic novel in the educational setting. Chapter 2 is the necessarily “scholarfied” stuff to sell the concept to the principal or school board. It uses the word “multimodal.” Several times.

After that, Worth A Thousand Words is a great read, very practical and hands-on. The book has sections on how to interpret the elements of graphic novels – narrative and thought balloons, e.g.

The authors show how to teach reading, but also how to do create instruction in writing, with students encouraged to create their own illustrative narratives. And it’s not just for prose, but social studies, science, even math. I realize that my creative daughter might be able to use the tools laid out therein.


A commercial: I will be reviewing March, Books One, Two, & Three, graphic novels by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell for the Friends of the Albany Public Library on April 16 at noon at 161 Washington Avenue. Not incidentally, the March books are cited in Worth A Thousand Words.

The Heart of Christianity

Marcus Borg uses the term metaphor, not as a negative, “nonliteral,” but as a positive, “more-than-literal.”

Heart of ChristianityIn trying to explain what I believe, in terms of my faith, I found that the right words were not always available. Then I read the 2003 book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus Borg this past winter. My answer became: “Mostly what HE said.”

Borg was a “world renowned Jesus scholar” who, as the book sleeve notes, is out to reclaim “terms and ideas once thought to be the sole province of evangelicals and fundamentalists.”

As the Amazon description of The Heart of Christianity notes: “Being born again… has nothing to do with fundamentalism Continue reading “The Heart of Christianity”

Maybe I’ve taken up cursing for Lent

Iran’s Mother Teresa, Passes away at 91

It’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of the holiest period on the Christian calendar. The news is on the TV. The previous evening, he gave a speech before Congress in which he exploited the misery of a Gold Star widow. Earlier THAT DAY, he threw his generals under the bus for the death of that Navy SEAL. “They lost Ryan.”

I wasn’t yelling, but was talking aloud, “You schmuck! You’re the Commander-in-Chief! The buck stops with YOU! You’re SUPPOSED to say, ‘WE lost Ryan,’ you @$$#01e!” This was loud enough that The Wife, who had been upstairs at the time, to comment that she heard that. She also opined that I’ve cursed more in the past three or four months than I have in the 20+ years since I’ve known her. And this is almost certainly true.

It has usually happened when he lies about his lies. Or when one of his surrogates does the same. I remember giving the finger to the TV when adviser Kellyanne Conway came up with the phrase “alternative facts.”

When Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz said that rather than “getting that new iPhone that they just love,” low-income Americans should take they money they would have spent on it and “invest it in their own health care” – as though that was anywhere near equivalent cost, I gave him a silent “Chuck you, Farley.”

I have mixed feelings about swearing. I don’t buy that “everybody does it, so it’s OK.” I know PLENTY of people who forego it, at least not publicly. Moreover, he is a well-known vulgarian, and I don’t want to stoop to his level. I do keep reading that swearing is actually a sign of more intelligence – not less, but that’s obviously NOT universally true.

In other religious topics:

* My presbyter (think bishop, but it’s not, really) Shannan Vance-Ocampo wrote about going through the immigration process with her husband. Beyond the personal agony of these stories, I worry that we’ll discourage people coming into the country who have long provided economic wealth to this country, such as students and scholars, because of our xenophobia.

* Ashraf Qandehari-Bahadorzadeh, Iran’s Mother Teresa, Passes away at 91. She’s the aunt of Darius Shahinfar, the Albany city treasurer, who I first met when we were schlepping our kids to the same preschool.

* Diane Cameron, who led a writing exercise I participated in nearly three years ago, has written her third book, Never Leave Your Dead – A True Story of War Trauma, Murder, and Madness. Initially, this was about a guy who was involved in a dismal US military (in)action barely hinted at in this narrative. She writes about how “war can inflict deep and lasting psychological wounds in warriors.”

She spoke at my church on a Friday night in February. “In March of 1953, Donald Watkins, a former Marine… who served in China during the Japanese invasion of 1937, murdered his wife and mother-in-law.” Some of her points she also shared in this December 2016 TEDx talk. Not incidentally, Donald Watkins, many years later, married Diane’s mother. Riveting stuff.

* I just got a flyer for Dr. Henry G. Covert’s book Ministry to the Incarcerated, “a vital resource for prison ministry. The contents include the emotional world of inmates, institutional challenges, models for prison ministry, biblical teaching outlines, penal reform, re-entry and aftercare… Ministry to the Incarcerated is available on Amazon, eBook, and Kindle.”

* The Day Ringo Starr Got Death Threats -for Being Jewish. September 1964: I had forgotten about this.

Mother’s Day 2016

mom_meI was watching Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, talk about the book they wrote together.

In the interview, Cooper said that he “realized there were many things that neither of them actually knew about the other. We decided, on her 91st birthday, to change the conversation that we have and the way we talk to each other.”

“According to Vanderbilt, it was all done by email.”

“‘I think we’re both at a place where both of us didn’t want to leave anything unsaid,’ Cooper added.”

It struck me, HARD Continue reading “Mother’s Day 2016”