Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge-December
And just like that, it’s been a year. I accepted a Diverse Book Challenge last January. Some of the books I read, I included in the monthly blog posts. Others, I read only for myself. It is important to create the lists of stories, read them and pass them on, but I also recognize, and it is worth repeating, that none of the stories I read were my stories. That is why the blog post series was unified by Bergman’s book told around Wiesel’s emphasis on being a witness. I cannot claim the words. I cannot speak from the stories, but I can speak through them. More importantly, I can stand next to those while they speak their own truth. While the texts, I read contributed to my experience as a witness. In the upcoming year, I need to add to my goal. For an example of what I mean, read here: https://medium.com/@katstory/white-people-are-broken-ab0fe873e5d3
Last month I referenced the importance of “our own corner”, but what if such a corner instead was a blank square. What if it was worse, and there was only a blank page without even the hint of a frame to stand in for an existence. To mark the frame can require a witness. To include the photograph can require a witness. To color the shades of the image can require a witness. And, Wiesel remarked, “Listening to a witness makes you a witness”.
I sat in the audience at an Immigration Panel organized by a local diversity action organization. The DACA youth who sat across the table from everyone did not share new information, but they did share of themselves in ways that today can be characterized as both dangerous and brave. Just as striking was the activist who detailed the history of driver’s licenses in the state. She quoted economics and administrative practicalities, but more than that she referenced quality of life. Minimal social interaction. Inability to attend cultural or community events. Access to health care, economic opportunity, education are limited. Without the driver’s license, there is not a high quality life. We were facing a health epidemic. Good Samaritan law dictates that if you can act to make a difference to someone else’s well being you will be protected. Failure to act requires you to do so. Bystander is one thing. Witness is something else. Both are individual actions. Change requires something else.
Change comes about through intentionality. In community development circles primarily around healthy choices, I learned about four areas of focus: Individual, Environment, Policy and Systems. The book choices for this month are reflective of each piece. The words you hear and repeat are not about being good, but about being intentional, not about how you are seen, but how you see your role moving forward.
Individual means the practice of addressing individual attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Quit smoking. Take the stairs. Choose an apple over a doughnut. Through this strategy, education will equate to change. This strategy requires much of the individual, because often times it becomes a matter of the individual versus his or her circumstances. Still, through the sometimes seemingly fire hose of information, or repetition of a singular fact, new presentation can still be powerful. I listened to Jacqueline Battalora speak from her book Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and its Relevance Today at a recent conference. In her work, Battalora explores the moment in time when "white people," as a separate and distinct group of humanity, were invented through legislation and the enactment of laws. In an often used divide and conquer strategy, the lives of too many were irrevocably altered. Not only was her text a moment of re-inspiration in my individual journey, but it speaks to the importance of the next three areas.
Environment means making choices practical and available to all. Environmental change includes the economic, social, or physical surroundings or contexts that affect health outcomes. This, in fact, is what DACA was meant to achieve. When the healthy options are available, education and employment and health care, for example, individuals are not lead unhealthy options, criminal activity and homelessness and poor mental health. We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults speaks to this truth. It is not their choices that need fixing, but the environment around the choices. Especially powerful in this text is the utilization of empty photo frames where the narrators’ faces should be.
Policy means decisions made by organizations, agencies and stakeholders. Policy includes legislative advocacy, investments and regulatory oversight. While there are, unfortunately, so many histories in the United States that can trace policy prejudice. The beginning and continued invisibility of First Nations compelled me to share this text: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. In her nonfiction work, Barr traces common policies from their inception to their continued use today. Policy shapes environments and individual actions. Policy teaches and promotes and sanctions what occurs every day. She challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the lands’ original inhabitants was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. Policy is about intent.
Systems refers to a fundamental shift in the way problems are solved. It affects organizational purpose, function, and connections by addressing organizational culture, beliefs, relationships, policies, and goals, and I cannot offer a better text with the goal of creating such a fundamental shift than The Latino Question: Politics, Labouring Classes and the Next Left. The authors emphasize the importance of political economy for understanding Latino politics, culture and social issues. This text is not a history but a collection of illustrative case studies that describe the variance in supposed identities and the disparity in collective experiences in an attempt to be both better informed and better inform those who have recognized their individual growth will mean little without systemic change.
Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life
The Mother of my Mother’s Things
A Construction (or Constructive) Conversation
A Quiet Day
My Ideal Bookshelf
Battalora, Jacqueline. (2013). Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and its
Relevance Today. Strategic Book Publishing and Rights: Houston.
Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. (2019). An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. Beacon Press: Boston.
Ibarra, Armando, Alfredo Carlos and Rodolfo D. Torres. (2018). The Latino Question:
Politics, Labouring Classes and the Next Left. Pluto Press: London.
Kuklin, Susan. (2019). We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults.
Candlewick Press: Somerville.