Especially if you are white, you may have found yourself in the past week reading a list of ways to be anti-racist or to be an ally beyond, or in addition to, protesting the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. These are often lists arranged in steps, one of which is educating yourself. This is a step not in the sense of stairs. You do not move past it. If you want to start with Seattle, here is a list of books, a website, and a couple things to stream. If you want to look nationally, you have many other lists to choose from.
(The first two books on this list are currently sold out in a number of places, like Amazon. Consider local bookstores to try to find copies or use bookshop.org, which offers e-books and audio books. It supports independent bookstores nationwide and has its own reading list.)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
If you haven’t already, this is a good place to start. This primer on navigating race was published in 2018, a little over a year after many Americans could no longer ignore the fact that this country remains deeply, systemically racist. As the title indicates, Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo explains race conversationally, breaking down more academic language like “intersectionality” so that anyone can be included in the discussion.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
In 2011, sociologist (and University of Washington graduate and professor) Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to refer to the unwillingness of white people to engage in the uncomfortable and painful conversations about race. This 2018 book expounds on that term. Some white liberal readers may not agree with DiAngelo’s assertion that “white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color” (she is a white progressive, too). But confronting it, with honest commitment to change, is the best way to assure it’s not true in the future.
My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain by Aaron Dixon
When he was 19, Aaron Floyd Dixon founded the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968. His 2012 memoir encompasses his family’s history (going back to what little he knows of his great-great-great-grandmother Mariah, a slave in Mississippi), his childhood in Seattle’s Madrona, and his political activism and radicalization—hearing Martin Luther King speak, having James Brown write $500 checks to the party in his hotel room, firing a shotgun and having it tear his arm “almost in two”—and the Panthers’ split.
If you want to broadly explore the history civil rights in Seattle, the University of Washington’s online resource is a trove of interviews, essays, documentaries, even maps about different eras in this region’s activism. Need a list of the city’s civil rights organizations going back to the NAACP in the 1910s? An explanation of redlining? Documentaries by 2019 city council candidate Shaun Scott? All here.
Seattle in Black and White: The Congress for Racial Equality and the Fight for Equal Opportunity by Joan Singler, Jean C. Durning, Bettylou Valentine, and Martha J. Adams
Among the groups you can learn about at the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The Seattle chapter formed in 1961 and successfully took on discriminatory hiring practices at local grocery stores. CORE even coordinated a “shop-in” where activists filled carts and asked cashiers if the store hired Black people. If not, the protestors walked out, jamming the lines. Other campaigns worked for more employment and housing for Black Seattleites. This 2011 book, written by four CORE members, recounts the group’s history.
This Glittering Republic by Quenton Baker
It is rare that a debut book arrives with as much assurance as Seattle poet Quenton Baker’s 2016 collection. That assurance appears in Baker’s command of meter and beat (he can do ecstatic things with monosyllables), in the rigor of his thought, and in his focus on the many facets of what it means to be Black in America, both in the present and the past. If you need an intro to his work, you can see some of his poems here.
Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s documentary reckons with police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown in 2014 and the protests sparked by Wilson’s release. The movie is composed of news clips, videos taken during the protests, and interviews with people in Ferguson—teachers, artists, families. For those who didn't pay as much attention then, it's a necessary watch. What's happening is not new or unprecedented. It's only more widespread. The Northwest Film Forum is streaming the documentary through June 30 for $3.99. All proceeds go to the Black Lives Matter Seattle Freedom Fund.
Donald Byrd's Spectrum Dance Theater first produced Shot in 2017. The piece, part dance, part theater, grapples with police shootings of unarmed Black people. On stage that takes the form of a rapid montage of videos of police violence being projected over dancers. Or passages of discomfiting dance. Or Byrd, center stage, giving a lecture about The Talk—which in this case is not about sex but a conversation Black parents have with their children about "rules of survival in the mean streets, particularly when it comes to encounters with police." All of it is meant to incite empathy and thus action. It's currently streaming for free on YouTube.
Produced by Patricia Boiko and Tajuan LaBee (and scored by Seattle’s SassyBlack), this documentary features some of the local Black women integral to the catalyzation of Seattle’s Black Panther Party and its commitment to supporting communities in the city’s Central District and south end neighborhoods. Victims of and witnesses to the racial injustice of federal and local institutions—like the Seattle Police Department—the women joined the ranks (and reordered the gender roles) of Seattle’s BPP to fight for equal access to jobs, housing, healthcare, and education. Their their work led to a breakfast program for children and a free health clinic, recognized today as the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center in the Central District. The women—now in their 60s and beyond—continue, in varied and unexpected ways, the movement they helped ignite. –Sam Luikens