The Week-ish: A Primer on Race in America
This Week-ish is curated by Liz Lin, a writer and educator on race and culture and friend of Level Ground.
Race is rarely far from the national spotlight, but in the last few years, a slew of widely publicized police shootings and a highly racialized presidential campaign have pushed it right to the center. If you wanted to better understand race in America and you had only the internet at your disposal, here’s what Liz would have you read, listen to, and watch. (This primer intentionally focuses on black-white relations, since understanding this history is crucial to understanding nearly all racial dynamics in this country.)
If you want to continue the conversation with Liz in real time, you can find her on Twitter @curiousliz.
“The Case for Reparations” is an Atlantic cover story written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me. It’s the single most helpful overview of race in America, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining, that I’ve ever read. Emotionally powerful and impressively wide-ranging, this piece should be required reading for every American.
Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a documentary about how the 13th amendment laid the groundwork for the mass incarceration of black Americans. With the help of lawyers and activists, DuVernay meticulously traces the depiction of black people as criminals from Reconstruction to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation to the dog-whistle rhetoric of Nixon and Reagan to the campaign promises of our current president. It’s a gutting and meticulously well-researched piece that's available on Netflix.
O.J.: Made in America is a 5-part docuseries chronicling not only the football star’s notorious murder trial but also the racial climate of the U.S., and Los Angeles in particular, that fostered both his rise and his infamous fall. If you’re interested in race, gender, sports, celebrity, the criminal justice system, and/or the ‘90s, you’ll find this Oscar-winning series worthwhile. You can watch the entire 7 hours on Hulu or ESPN.
Listen to This
Another Round is a podcast hosted by Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, two black women writers who met while working at BuzzFeed. They discuss everything from race and gender to the minutia of their everyday lives. Moving with ease from the substantial to the silly, their interviews with the likes of Hillary Clinton, Roxane Gay, and Janet Mock are insightful and fun. These two offer intelligent, accessible, hilarious takes from a perspective that’s woefully underrepresented in mainstream media.
Who to follow
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the MacArthur Genius-winning author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists. If you ever see a book of hers on a shelf, her byline in The New York Times or The New Yorker, a talk of hers online, or an interview with her anywhere, you should stop and read/watch it immediately. A Nigerian writer who splits her time between the U.S. and Nigeria, her take on the racial landscape of the U.S. as a non-American black person are incisive and thought-provoking. (As are her takes on feminism, which have been sampled by Queen Bey herself.) Adichie’s intellect is matched by her prose, which is almost infuriatingly good.
Speaking of feminism, Adichie recently made headlines after making comments about trans women's role in feminism. Watch what she said and read her response, as well as the response of Raquel Willis, a Black queer transgender activist below. The conversation about feminism and trans-feminism is a deep and complex one that's worth studying up on.
While promoting his memoir Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson – lawyer, professor, MacArthur Genius – did a number of interviews about his experiences of representing poor death row inmates that hit me right between the eyes. (His more recent New Yorker profile was equally compelling.)
His insights into race in America, particularly as it plays out in the criminal justice system – and our failure to grapple with it as a country – are thoughtful, accessible, and unforgettable.
Dialogue, Not Division
The thoughtful and prolific Ana Marie Cox recently started a podcast called With Friends Like These, in which she talks with a wide range of guests about the things that divide us. Her second episode is a conversation with Ira Madison III, a fellow MTV News writer, in which they discuss his experience of being a black friend and her experience of trying to find more black friends. It’s honest, funny, and slightly uncomfortable, which is just as it should be.
Other Conversations the Internet is Having
Jia Tolentino, who writes for The New Yorker’s website, is one of the best cultural commentators writing today. Her piece on the Women’s Strike, and the critiques that the strike was only for privileged women, was characteristically nuanced and beautifully written.