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Today is #blackouttuesday, a day for us to pause and reflect— black, white, and every other race/ethnicity globally.

But as you pause today, what exactly are you using to reflect? And when it’s time to speak up again, will you have the right words to use?

Almost a year ago today, I saw a comment on LinkedIn by a well-known influencer, using a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote to claim that everyone benefits from being privileged in America.

Normally I’d roll my eyes at this cliché and swallow my frustration. However, a whole year later, staying quiet cost us even more black lives. And the irony is that the quotes used by this white influencer represent the thoughts of people considered the most violent activists the world has ever seen.

The problem is that violence is given a different definition in a way that benefits people of privilege at that moment in time. Perhaps the broadest definition of violence for them is anything questioning their right to not be questioned. They don’t really fear riots or destruction of property as much as they fear our ability to see why they have so much more than those asking for just a fraction of the same.

Today’s blackout is pointless if we don’t change that narrative. If we continue to water down the legacy of MLK, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and other civil rights leaders, black people will continue to die at the hands of poverty, anxiety, depression, and police brutality. 

One year ago today, I told that influencer I’d put a reading list together for him, to question his notion of privilege in a racist society. But then I thought, why do I have to do this work for you? Why aren’t you capable of doing this research and self-reflection yourself?

For today, and the sake of putting this issue to rest, I put my pride aside. I’d regret it if I missed a chance to protect black lives from physical and emotional danger. On this designated day of meditation, I’m giving you an in-depth tool I pray will push you to rethink power and privilege, globally. I hope this will have to be the last time a resource like this is needed, and that this work isn’t in vain (because you’ll actually use it).

The list is broken down by three common assumptions you might have, and books that will push you to reconsider that assumption. The reading list can go on forever, but I’ll stick to the books I think do the best job. The books won’t always focus on black people, because my goal is to illustrate that privilege, white supremacy, and despotism by racial injustice is a universal, WORLDWIDE problem.

The first two recommendations I list will be, in my opinion, the most crucial texts. Each recommendation has information that can be fact-checked, so don’t read then gloss over anything you find hard to believe. 

DO THE WORK. As I told my 8th-grade students, use your ANEEY sources (almanac, newspapers, encyclopedias, and eyewitness accounts) to find the evidence used to corroborate the details you find, whether or not it’s not the first time you’ve heard them.

Let’s start.

Assumption 1: Education is the great equalizer.

All you have to do is “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”, study hard, and climb the social/corporate ladder out of poverty and into success, right?

Wrong. Several texts exist that are considered the canon of the political economy of education. They show and prove how the privileged in society use the idea of work ethic as a justification for their egregious wealth, and a way to blame others for living in poverty. Even worse, the privileged tell those they placed in poverty to simply copy what the rich do and poof, they’ll attain the same wealth and status.

I put it this way in a thesis I wrote about the topic: 

…the elite are in a precarious situation to maintain their ability to govern. On the one hand, they must provide the nonelites with a sufficient safety net in order to prevent social uprising; on the other, the elite aim to prevent the nonelites from entering their social realm and thus share their political power.

Here’s an easier way to say it— those aware of their privilege will never make it easy for anyone to take that privilege from them, and they’ll do anything to convince you that you have what you need to gain that same privilege.

Examples of readings that go into depth about this:

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

The Political Economy of Education, by Martin Carnoy

Literacy and Racial Justice, by Catherine Prendergast

Inequality in the Promised Land, by R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy

First Class, by Alison Stewart

Despite the Best Intentions by Amanda E. Lewis

“As Higher Education Expands, Is It Contributing To Greater Inequality?”, by Martin Carnoy, published in the National Institute Economic Review, 215(1)

Assumption 2: Peaceful protests are just as, or more, effective than violent protests.

Hopefully, you’ve seen the hundreds of memes out about the infamous Boston Tea Party revolt that created the “greatest democracy on Earth”. If not, let the reading suggested below teach you this (in the words of Angela Y. Davis): freedom is a constant (violent) struggle. 

No significant movement against tyranny was won peacefully, be it the French Revolution, American Revolution, Haitian Revolution, or even the Protestant Reformation (there goes the argument that the Bible is for pacifists). 

And if your definition of violence is destruction or bodily harm, DO NOT flip the script and try to also label words or symbols against tyranny as violent. It’s not up to the oppressor to tell the oppressed how to resist their oppression. 

You CANNOT change your definition of violence simply to avoid dealing with any attack against your warped sense of entitlement.

And last, but certainly not least, please realize that your favorite peaceful and/or Christian protestor to quote was once your forefather’s sworn (violent) enemy. If you’re going to quote them, do your homework and get to know the full intent behind their words.

Examples of readings that go into depth about this:

Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community by Martin Luther King, Jr. (pay special attention to chapter 1, page 22)

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

How Not to Get Shot by D.L. Hughley

Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

Assumption 3: Slavery ended 400 years ago. We passed the Civil Rights Act. We shouldn’t be talking about this anymore. Blacks are in a much better place!

To an extent, it’s not entirely your fault for thinking this way. The elite— politicians, the wealthy, tenured professors at esteemed universities, and some in the media— are like the Wizard of Oz. They built a reality that fits their beliefs, one that revolves around them being in a position to tell us what is truth. 

The U.S. education system is designed to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as milestones leading to the end of racial injustice in America. You’ll rarely find a textbook drawing a clear line connecting data on Black Americans’ poverty, incarceration, and death rates to decisions made to perpetuate a system of inequity. That line, a literal timeline of Black American history, would clearly show a correlation between how blacks have been viewed since this country was founded and how they continue to receive the same treatment at large, despite the tokenism of a few black people with wealth and status.

U.S. textbooks conveniently leave out historical moments like the bombing of Black Wall Street, a clear sign that everything can be taken away from them even when Black Americans try to build something after given nothing. They also leave out discussions about the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement post-MLK, which includes the Black Panther Movement and a proven abuse of federal power when the FBI assassinated its members (look up Fred Hampton and watch this documentary to learn more). 

The question isn’t whether or not black people still suffer from social and political inequality. The question is why would anyone want to deny this, despite the evidence that says otherwise?

If you can’t understand why we ask for reparations, why some of us are smashing windows and why many of us feel the need to scream #blacklivesmatter at the top of our lungs, ask yourself where we find the urgency to do any of this, and examine whether or not you decide to come to that understanding.

Examples of readings that go into depth about this:

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

April 4, 1968 by Michael Eric Dyson

Coming of Age in the Other America by Stefanie DeLuca et al.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Souls of Black Folk and Other Writings by W.E.B. Du Bois

Root and Branch by Rawn James, Jr.

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

This reading list is not comprehensive. You won’t finish reading them in one day. Even if you did, most of you will have to wrestle with the desire to keep your points of view the same for some time.

Just know that the longer it takes, the longer the pressure remains. Black people won’t stop demanding what’s fair and right just because it’s taking you a while to get used to their courage to speak out.

So the onus is on you. How much longer do you want this to go? How worse do things have to get? Don’t say we didn’t warn you, or give you the tools you need to speed things up.