Understanding Racism: a Book and Movie Recommendation

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not fully understand the deep-rooted racism in America, and how that negatively impacts not only the black community, but also all people of color. As Asians, we’ve been taught to work hard and keep our mouths shut. Our internalized anti-blackness taught us that the sufferings of black people were somehow their fault.

Growing up in Hong Kong, racism seemed like a problem so far from me. But over the last 17 years since I’ve lived in the U.S., I have slowly started to recognize the importance of learning about the history of racism. First of all, I’m married to a black man and we’re raising two brown, biracial kids. I have to know how racism is affecting the lives of the people I love most. But also, I realized it’s up to every single one of us, no matter what color of our skin is, to open our eyes to the injustices around us. It’s not enough to just say, “yeah, I know racism exists and I don’t condone it.” We all need to stand up and do something about it.

Below is a list of books and movies that I have read/watched and found very educational, and others that I plan to read/watch in the coming months (thanks to friends who have sent their recommendations my way). I hope this is helpful to my non-black friends. I’ll keep adding to this list as I find more.

Start reading some of these books. Recommend it to your book club. Read it with your children and/or your friends. Discuss it with them. These books should all be available at your local library. If not, request them. Or you can buy them from a black-owned bookstore (here’s a good list).

Books

       

  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

       

  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Unravelling the Model Minority: Listening to Asian American Youth by Stacey J. Lee

       

  • Yell-Oh Girls: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American, edited by Vickie Nam
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
  • The Source of Self-regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

       

  • Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis
  • They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery
  • How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

       

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald
  • White Rage by Carol Anderson

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by [Patrisse Khan-Cullors, asha bandele, Angela Davis]    An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (REVISIONING HISTORY Book 3) by [Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz]    The Making of Asian America: A History by [Erika Lee]

  • When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

Movies and TV Shows

13th, directed by Ava DuVernay (available on Netflix)

13th (film).png

The title 13th refers to the thirteenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which “abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.” This film features interviews with activists, academics, political figures, and other public figures, including Angela Davis, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr., etc.

 

Asian American, a 5-part series from PBS

Asian Americans DVD

This documentary tells the epic story of Asian Americans in the last 150 years, and examines their journey in American history through the lens of racial politics and international relations. It is a bold departure from the stereotypical portrayal of Asian Americans as the model minority.

I’m Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck

I Am Not Your Negro.pngJames Baldwin was himself a well-known activist, and the inspiration behind this documentary, his unfinished manuscript Remember This House, was a collection of notes and letters which tells the lives and stories of his friends and leaders in the civil rights movement, including Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay

When They See Us (TV Mini-Series 2019) - IMDb

I know, I know. It’s Ava again. I can’t help it. I’m her fan! Adapted from the real story of five young black men imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, this is a powerful miniseries from the award-winning director. I challenge you to not cry watching this movie. If you’re a parent, you’ll ache with all those parents in this movie.

 

 

If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins

If Beale Street Could Talk film.png

Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, the movie is a deeply moving story about love, race, and the struggle of the common people.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Mercy, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Just Mercy Official Poster.jpg

I just watched dthis movie and would recommend everyone to do the same. The movie is based on the book of the same name, written by Bryan Stevenson, who’s the lawyer in the movie. If you want to see how race affects the judicial systems in American, and how people of color and people from poor communities are hurt by the criminal justice system, watch this movie please.

 

 

 

    TheHouseILiveIn poster.jpg    3 12 Minutes, 10 Bullets poster.jpg

  • White Savior: Racism in the American Church, directed by Aaron J. Christopher
  • The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki
  • 3 1/2 Minutes Ten Bullets, directed by Marc Silver

The Cruelty is the Point: Hong Kong Edition

Illustration by Ah To @ah_to_hk

Since the weekly mass protests broke out in Hong Kong last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the social conflicts in my hometown, Hong Kong, and my current home, the United States of America. While the causes of the social divide are not the same (or are they?), I keep thinking there is something very similar in the way people behave. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—until the violence started escalating very rapidly over the last two weeks: gangsters clad in white attacking anyone in their path in Yuen Long a couple of weekends ago, police firing tear gas inside the Yuen Long train station Sunday night when protesters were simply trying to take the train home, while numerous rounds of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired around the same time on the other side of the city in Sheung Wan. It finally dawned on me that the excessive force employed by the police, gangsters, and other pro-establishment groups all point to one thing: cruelty.

I’m instantly reminded of an article by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic, titled THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT. In the article, Serwer argues that what brings Trump and his supporters together is the shared joy of seeing “the suffering of those they hate and fear.” One striking example is the collection of photos in the Museum of African American History and Culture: white men in different times and locations all smiling happily in pictures of black men being tortured. According to Serwer, the horrific act, and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they’re doing it together, creates a special bond between them.

In the case of Hong Kong, maybe it’s not so much smiling faces, but more of smirks and sneers. The cruelty, however, is the same. After repeatedly criticized for violating international code, police kept firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets directly at protesters, knowing full well that this would induce maximum damage. This is beyond crowd control. This is aiming to hurt, or even kill.

When legislator Junius Ho shook hands with gangsters in Yuen Long, congratulating them for a job well done after a night of violence, it was a sign of comraderie. They’re basking in the joy of achieving a common goal. It’s the same sentiment expressed when, during a pro-police rally last month, a couple of men destroyed the makeshift memorial that protesters set up for the young soul who fell to his death in Admiralty. It’s the same reason why medical crews were not allowed to give necessary treatments to injured protesters. They want to see the other group suffer, emotionally and physically. These acts of cruelty are a bonding mechanism.

Many wonder why such hate exists. The answer is simple. It’s a tactic that has been employed by the wealthy and the powerful around the world for centuries. They knew that if they throw a wrench between two groups, there will be a fight. And when people are busy fighting each other, no one would paid attention to them.

There’s a Chinese saying, “When the crane and the clam fight, the fisherman reaps the benefits,” because now that they’re both injured, the fisherman can just scoop them up as his catch of the day.