Tag Archives: race

If Between the World and Me Had a Soundtrack

bookcover

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a wonderful book and a necessary read. It’s very powerful and eye-opening. The book is basically a letter to his son about what it’s like to be black in America. After I was done reading this book, I began thinking of songs that connect to it. So here’s five songs that would be on the soundtrack for Between the World and Me.

This is one of Michael Jackson’s most powerful songs. Jackson is calling out the powers that be and saying that they don’t care about his people. This song fits with Coates’ idea that the “system” doesn’t care about the black community and that it never did from the start.

I have always enjoyed the songs by Tupac where he is talking about the state of the world. This song is almost 20 years old and it’s still sadly relevant. Shakur talks about how the world hasn’t changed, and he mentions police brutality, which is still obviously a problem. This song connects to the book because Coates talks about the many unarmed black men & women who have been killed by the police.

On this song, which is one of my favorites by Marvin Gaye, he’s singing about the state of the world and how it bothers him. This connects to Coates’ book because some of the same things that Gaye is singing about Coates is talking about. It’s sad that 40-plus years later we’re still having these same issues.

This is one Stevie Wonder song that I would consider underrated. It’s a great song. Wonder sings about things like race relations and different issues going on in the world. The themes here link nicely to Coates’ discussions on race and culture.

J. Cole is one of my favorite contemporary rappers. I would consider him not only a rapper, but also a storyteller. In this song, Cole tells of his dream where he was trapped in a city where he got robbed at gunpoint. In a separate dream he and his friends were the ones committing the robbery. This song reminds me of Between The World And Me because there’s a part of the book when Coates talks about when he was younger and he saw a boy pull out a gun during an argument and how that changed him.

Between the World and Me is a book that will make you think. I’d like to believe that these songs will do the same thing. If you’ve read this book, what songs would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

 

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Citizen Rankine

As much as I love losing myself in a good story, I have to admit that my favorite books are the ones that send me out of the text and back into the world for further exploration. I read a lot of non-fiction, so I’ve developed the habit of keeping a notebook handy for scribbling down names to Google, URLs to explore, topics to research, and–perhaps inevitably–titles of additional books for the TBR list.

This hardly ever happens with a volume of poetry. Not because poetry doesn’t teach me things, but because the things poetry has to teach are usually personal and private. As I’ve recently learned, however, poetry can also be an interdisciplinary textbook; the class I’m currently taking could be called Civics 101, and the teacher is Claudia Rankine.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter - click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins's review of Citizen.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter – click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins’s review of Citizen.

Rankine is a poet, playwright, and scholar whose body of work demands not only private introspection, but also your full attention to and engagement with the world around you. Her epic prose poem Citizen, a 2014 National Book Award finalist,  is rooted firmly in current events, comparing them to and contrasting them with her own lived experience to create a ruthlessly honest exploration of black American citizenship in the 21st century. And if that were all it did, it would still be an amazing piece of work.

However, the reader is challenged, at just about every turn, to go the extra mile, to look up that unfamiliar YouTube series, to track down the Situation videos (created by Rankine and her husband, photographer John Lucas) mentioned throughout the text. Whose quotation is that? What is this un-captioned photo all about? Who created the artwork featured here? You cannot, in good conscience, not look these things up as you read, and the resource list Rankine provides is only the beginning of inquiry. At least, for me: my own citizenship seemed to be at risk, considering how ignorant I was of some of Rankine’s references.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College - click through for source page.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College – click through for source page.

Educational as they are, however, the seven sections that make up Citizen are hardly didactic in the traditional sense. Straightforward narrations of events are broken up with passages of pure longing, in which the speaker reveals portions of her inner landscape, the one the external world hasn’t been able to touch:

Words work as release–well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in the neck, the shiftiness of the hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid–what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise–words encoding the bodies they cover. And despite everything, the body remains (69).

The language of poetry, Rankine seems to say here, is what makes it possible to be human, to achieve, despite obstacles, full citizenship.

If you’re the kind of reader who would like to try poetry, but is often put off by obtuse language and a lack of connection to reality, Citizen will serve as a breath of exhilarating air. If current events have made you twitchy lately, and you need a literary remedy that is both consolation and call to action, this, too, is your book. And if you’re honor-bound to read all award-nominated books, you should definitely move this poem up on your TBR list. There’s a waiting list at the moment, but if you hurry, you won’t have to wait too long for your choice of print or ebook.

Leigh Anne

anxiously awaiting the arrival of Rankine’s next book, Racial Imaginary (with Beth Loffreda).

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The Colors of Challenge

Last week author Malinda Lo published a blog post that raised some disturbing questions:

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

After looking at a variety of data points (including several lists from the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom) and creating a number of revealing pie charts, Lo came to the following conclusion:

It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo. This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

I strongly urge you to read Lo’s entire analysis (you really need to see those pie charts) and examine her data-crunching, which she has made publicly available here and here. Once you’re done with that, I invite you to celebrate Banned Books Week this year by checking out any of the titles Lo analyzed, or the following suggestions, which are taken from the ALA’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color, 1990-1999:

Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane. Protests. Boycotts. Fear. Hunger. A true tale of life under apartheid in South Africa, told by a man who suffered through it first-hand, eventually escaping to became a well-known tennis player. Most often challenged for homosexuality and explicit sexuality in general.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Newbery medal-winning novel tells the story of Cassie Logan and her family, who are struggling to hold on to the land they own in Mississippi, despite the challenges of the Great Depression. Most often challenged for offensive language. Also available in OverDrive.

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende. Meet the Trueba family, three proud, passionate generations of them. The Truebas are known for two things: the psychic giftedness that seems to run in their bloodline, and their political involvement, which frequently puts them at odds with fellow family members. A long, sweeping saga that is most often challenged for being sexually explicit, and containing offensive language.

Always Running, Luis Rodriguez. By the time he was twelve, Rodriguez was already a battle-scarred veteran of L.A.’s gang wars. The power of words led him to complete his education, become a poet, and leave his former life behind him…at least, that is, until his own son joins a gang. A New York Times notable book, and winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, Always Running  is most often challenged for being sexually explicit and containing offensive language.

If you’d prefer to keep to this year’s theme, banned and challenged comics, you can explore diverse works like Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, or Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth. But what I’d really like you to do is go back and read (or re-read) Malinda Lo’s essay, and then tell two friends, who will hopefully tell two friends, and so on, and so on. It’s a whole new (albeit appalling) way of thinking about book bans and challenges, and it will be interesting to see if there is an even stronger correlation over time (though we librarians will do our best to ensure that doesn’t happen).

Keep your reading diverse and colorful!

Leigh Anne

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Somewhere Inside the Rainbow: Pride 2014

Pride Pittsburgh is only a few days away, so this week the Eleventh Stack blog is highlighting selections from the Library’s LGBTQ collections. We’ll be covering a wide selection of materials, from movies to memoirs, written by, for, and about LGBTQ people and their families, friends, and other allies.

Pride week 2014

Of course, the term LGBTQ isn’t an end in itself, but a jumping-off point for exploration; there are millions of ways to be in the world, including pansexual, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, and androgynous (click here to see one blogger’s list of frequently used terms and definitions). You could say that LGBTQ is a continually evolving conversation from a chorus of voices, simultaneously complicated and enriched by considerations of race, religion, and class.

If you are–or would like to be–part of that conversation, there are as many points of entry in the Library as there are kinds of people in the world: comics, biography, short stories, history, theology, cultural studies, YA lit, wedding planners, you name it. Whether you’re reading to broaden your horizons, or to see your own experiences reflected in the literary/ cultural record, we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect title (or fifty).

Welcome inside the rainbow – we hope you’ll enjoy reading along with us this week.

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Researching Race Relations in Pittsburgh Music

For his quartet of the 1930s, clarinetist Benny Goodman hired Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, “the first black musicians to perform regularly in public with a white band.”¹

What was the situation in the Pittsburgh jazz scene?

If you explore the Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP) collection housed in the Music Department, you’ll find race relations touched upon by a number of interviewees such as journalist Frank Bolden, drummer H. B. Bennett, union member Philip Slaugh, and organist Charles H. Heaton.

Another great resource would be the almost 100 interviews conducted by the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) that are housed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center.   The AAJPSP has also done tremendous research and archiving of the African American branch of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 471, which remained separate from the rest of the union until the mid 1960s.

Carlos Peña’s research into Pittsburgh jazz recordings interestingly revealed that “aside from African-Americans, Italian-Americans seem to be the most highly-represented ethnic group.”   In an interview by Peña, keyboardist Frank Cunimondo “indicates that ethnic backgrounds never figured into the dynamics of the scene on a conscious level, and that the musicians, Black, Italian, or otherwise, generally had good relations.”

One might expect or, at least, hope for a fair amount of integration and respect when white musicians were playing and enjoying a musical genre created by African Americans (that itself was an adaptation of European musical forms).  And this was the case, albeit temporarily, in the Hill District in the 1950s, the black cultural center where whites partook of the nightlife.  Or in East Liberty, Italian American jazz musicians lived in close proximity to African Americans before the 1960s.  Then such things as urban renewal projects and an economic shift away from manufacturing drastically changed these neighborhoods’ demographics and certainly affected Pittsburgh’s music history.

It’s a complicated story and worthy of further research, not just during Black History Month, but year round.  The above-mentioned resources and many others are available at your library.

— Tim

¹ Teachout, Terry. “Swinging with Benny Goodman.” Commentary 105.5 (1998).

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