I blame this month’s lack of reading on the U.S. government. In particular, preparing documentation for our appointment at the U.S. embassy to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), which perhaps I’ll write about at another time, but probably won’t. The good news is at least all that work/not-reading paid off and our little one is now a U.S. citizen.
But in between cursing profligate bureaucratic obtuseness and the absurdity of citizenship, a few books got read, along with a series of fascinating academic essays, which I’ll be sharing more about below. This month’s round-up includes:
Becoming an Ally to the Gender-Expansive Child: A Guide for Parents and Carers by Anna Bianchi
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty
Polarización y transfobia: Miradas críticas sobre el avance de los movimientos antitrans y antigénero en México por Julianna Neuhouser, et al.
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
For those who don’t know, one thing I love to do is read. And while the Occidental calendar of months and years are rather arbitrary, one thing I have started doing in 2023 is writing brief reviews of what I’ve been reading and sharing them on a couple social media sites. I figured I might as well share them here as well. Instead of publishing each review as its own post, I’ve decided to just do a one-off round-up of every book I’ve read this month. I have no idea if this will be a regular feature of the blog, we’ll see what next month brings.
A major reason for doing this is that along with reading books, I love talking about books. So if you’ve got thoughts on any of the books or reviews below, or have your own recommendations, please do share! I’m always looking for new reads to add to my list.
Here’s a list of the books reviewed in this post:
Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Critique of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging by Dionne Brand
Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory by Martha Wells
The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation by Calvin L. Warren
Machinehood by S.B. Divya
Cannibal Metaphysics by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
Near the end of last year, I became a father. As expected, it’s been full of ups and downs, joys and frustrations, precious moments and sleepless nights. But one thing I didn’t expect to encounter was racism. More specifically, racism in the guise of compliments.
My partner is Mexican and currently we are living here as we wait an eternity for the US immigration system to process her visa request. During this time, we’ve been inundated by visits from her family members and friends. And I’ve been consistently taken aback by how many have pointed out the color of our child’s skin and complimented us on it – as if we somehow genetically modified our baby to meet their racialized expectations. “How light-skinned he is!” or “Oh, what a good color! Congratulations!” are some of the more frequent comments.
To be certain, our child is light-skinned and at this moment can easily pass as white. But the phenomenon of an individual telling my partner that she had “chosen well” by reproducing with me and as a result was “improving the race” was not a response we had been anticipating. Nor the other range of comments, such as our child being smart because “first-world babies are more advanced.” One wonders what words would have been (un)spoken if our child had different skin pigmentation.
In a recent post – Racism, privilege, guilt and social justice – I say a couple of times that “I was racist,” in relating my process of becoming aware of white supremacy and white privilege. That realization was a powerful moment for me that I’d like to unpack a bit more. In part, I said it for effect, to put myself out there in no uncertain terms, to bring the issue home to self, because that is where it resides. Racism is not something that happens “out there” but inside of me and everyone else in this society. (This is clearly not an exact formulation and obviously racism plays out very differently internally and externally for people of color than it does white people.)
It is easy to find racism in the most heinous of acts, such as the Emanuel AME Church shooting or the burning of Black churches. To point to something outside and identify and judge it as racist also provides a false sense of separation and distance between the ordinary white person and racism. But what of the seemingly inconsequential, mundane racism that daily insinuates and reinforces itself in our society and culture? The type of racism that truly sustains the system of white supremacy and is the cornerstone upon which is based the fanaticism that leads to atrocities such as the one in Charleston? That is the racism that is reproduced societally but also impacts individually, as I encountered at age 17 and what led me to realize that I was/am racist.
With a few edits, I wrote the below piece before the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It expands on my previous post and shares the path I traveled when it came to beginning to understand racism, white supremacy and my place in it all. It is my hope that as white people grapple with what it means to be white in the United States, and to publicly speak and act around it, that this account may be helpful.
When I was 17 years old, I went on a student exchange trip to Mexico. I ended up having a fantastic time and was perplexed by that. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of my host family and the ebullient friendliness of so many others I met. In looking at why I was surprised that I enjoyed the trip, I uncovered a world I was previously unaware of. I realized that outside of my conscious awareness I had formulated negative stereotypes and expectations about Mexico and Mexicans. I was racist and didn’t even know it! How did this happen? Prior to the trip, I knew no Mexicans personally, so I couldn’t have had a negative experience, and in my home environment racism was frowned upon. Yet here I was with these deeply disturbing attitudes. Upon further examination, I came to understand that my beliefs, about Mexicans in this case, had been formed bit by bit, societally and culturally, until by the age of 17 I held racist views yet was unaware that I held them until they came into conflict with reality.
I hesitate to write this. I do not feel it is my place to take up space opining on what happened. I would, however, like to attempt to hold a space for reflection in this corner of the internet.
Nine people are dead. How does one respond? For me, the first act is to give space for grief. Lives have been taken, families torn apart, a community terrorized. Those facts easily get lost to analysis and spin. I cannot imagine the pain, loss, disbelief, fear, anger, confusion, sadness, or outrage that this single event has laid at the feet of so many. My heart hurts for those lives stolen and those who now find a piece (and peace) missing in their lives. Those in the midst of this storm must be tended to and cared for.
The next part is to understand. I am not original in identifying this massacre as the culmination of what white supremacy offers. The Charleston killings are only the latest manifestation of a politics and belief structure embedded in the fabric of the United States. One that traces its legacy from the genocide of the indigenous populations to slavery to Jim Crow to the prison industrial complex to Ferguson and countless indignities and atrocities committed along the way. This was not an aberration or a bad apple, it is part – granted, an extreme part – of how the institution of white supremacy unfolds in the United States.