Buying books about anti-racism isn't enough
Stop giving money to yourself.
Good morning, today’s post will be short because I am tired.
Last night, I went to the protest at the White House. To be honest, I spent the day going back and forth in a moral loop about whether or not to go. I’m glad I went. We were peaceful and we were loud. People walked around with extra masks and extra hand sanitizer, extra goggles and extra water. There were fruit snacks and granola bars. There was a type of camaraderie I’ve only ever felt inside churches.
And then there was terror. The police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd without instigation or warning. They fired them well before curfew. You cannot breathe or see through tear gas. It is bad. Later, my friend Hannah told me it was so the president could get a little photo op. All of this sucks, but is not what I’m going to write about to day. What I want to talk about today is this:
Books do not solve racism. Buying books does literally nothing in this moment.
This is a newsletter about loving books, about how we should read them and how we are sold them. But I’ve been thinking about this tweet for the past few days:
This part is for my fellow white people.
Here’s the thing: it takes time to wake up. It’s hard to rise from a peaceful slumber of privilege into the real world of hate and violence. I know it is difficult because I did it. My parents didn’t teach me about racism. My schools didn’t either. At best, we were read some quotes from MLK that neglected to note that he was murdered by people who disagreed with him, and generally hated by white people during his lifetime. The first black people I knew personally were in HIGH SCHOOL. High school!
I went through a progression in my personal growth. In high-school, I realized that education is unequal and that that inequality is racist. In early college, I learned about systemic oppression and intersectionality. In late college, I learned about protest and the 60s. In 2014, I learned about police brutality. All of this to say, I wasn’t brought up interested in politics or activism. I learned.
Learning is not enough. I’ve seen a lot of lists promoted by mostly white people lately. “Read this book!” the lists say! “Buy this book to help you understand.” This is all fine. Buying books and learning to check your privilege and learning that American capitalism is based on slavery, are all important parts of individual growth.
Individual growth, however, is not the goal right now. Buying a book so that you can learn about how you can be better is still a continuation of focus on yourself instead of on black americans who need support right now against physical assault by police officers. Buying a book does nothing for your community, does nothing for your neighbors, does nothing but make you feel a little better. Posting a black square on your Instagram is not helpful. “I agree that racism is bad,” is what that black square says. That is the absolute LEAST you can do. In fact, it is basically nothing. Buying a book is worse almost because you are spending money on yourself in a moment when other people need your help.
Educating yourself is important and good, but don’t convince yourself that’s a helpful action. Not everyone can protest. I am young-ish and healthy and a decent runner. I chose to protest because I thought I could be helpful. That’s not the answer for everyone. But if you have 22 dollars to spend flippantly on a book to learn about racism, you need to keep that wallet open and donate twice that to a bail fund right now. If the amount of money you gave felt like nothing, give more.
UPDATE: if you are going to buy books in addition to your donations, please buy them from these black-owned independent bookstores.
Someone emailed me Friday to say they were unsubscribing from this newsletter because they didn’t come here for politics. Good riddance! You cannot consume books in a vacuum. You cannot read anything without making a political choice. Right now, there is a clear right side, and I am on it. If you do not like this, go away!