Why I read “Diversely”

After the disastrous 2016 US Presidential Election, I had a conversation with a friend in which she asked me how I went from growing up in a house with incredibly conservative values to being an adult who is very left leaning.

I thought about it, and the shift really did begin in college. I took a class, and really, I have no idea which one it was, where I was required to take an Implicit Bias Test (IAT). I was shocked to see the results, which were that I had significant racial bias. This began my journey towards engaging around issues of race, and then sexuality, and gender until I became the annoyingly progressive intersectional feminist that I am today (and hope to be even more tomorrow).

Think you are colorblind and are raising your kids to be the same? I encourage you to take a test. Why? See what the test makers say:

Why Should I Care About My IAT Score?

It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. Implicit preferences have been shown to be related to discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.

What Can I Do About an Implicit Preference That I Do Not Want?

Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged “diversity trainings” generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed “structured” decision processes. Investment by federal and private funding sources in research to develop evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases is, right now, quite minimal.

Implicit bias affects behavior. Implicit bias affects behavior. IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR.

I know so many people who would swear they are not “racist.” I don’t care if you don’t use the “n” word – chances are, you are biased. And that bias affects your behavior.

Lest you think I consider myself immune – I don’t. I took the Race-Weapons IAT just before writing this blog post. Shocker: my data suggests that I have “a moderate association for Harmless Objects with White Americans and Weapons with Black Americans.”

So, what does that mean? It means, among so many other things, that I’m more likely to find it “reasonable” that a harmless pack of skittles is a weapon when it is in the hands of a black hoodie wearing teenager. Maybe I can’t change that automatic assumption, but I can recognize that I have it and work to correct any chance it has to operate.

So what does this have to do with reading? Well, even though the IAT creators said the research is still out on whether you can reduce implicit bias, I read (and I can’t remember where, but I think it was a Malcolm Gladwell book, and if anyone recognizes this anecdote please tell me where it’s from) where a guy took the IAT every day. And every day, he was still biased. Then one day, his results changed. He was pleasantly surprised, and tried to figure out what caused it. Turns out, before he took the test, he had watched Michael Johnson win a race.

michael johnson.jpg

Michael Johnson being a badass

So he looked into this. It turns out there is some support for the idea that positive exposure to marginalized groups makes you see them more favorably. Which, um, makes sense. Since a HUGE part of negative associations with groups such as black people, LGBTQ+ individuals, muslims, etc is because of negative press.

I have made a concerted effort to expose myself to a diversity of marginalized voices in order to basically retrain my brain and its automatic assumptions. (Because again, IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR, and I don’t want to be an asshole.)

And guess what? There is AWESOME ART being created by people in all kinds of groups! I am never lacking for good book suggestions. And if I can read books by women of color and queer people and Arab men and immigrants and feminists and talk about those books and suggest those books and ENJOY those books, and by doing so make the world a teensy bit more fair and make myself recognize and grapple with my own bias a bit more, then why the heck wouldn’t I do that? And if I don’t like a book by someone in one of those groups it is easier to say “I didn’t like that book” and not “I don’t like books written by black women” because I have read LOTS of books by black women and I don’t think that one is representative of the whole.

So I’m hoping to be blogging more about what I’m reading. And lots of those books will probably be from authors that aren’t cisgender straight white able bodied men. And I hope you’ll join me.

And seriously, before you get all annoyed or whatever, take any one of the tests. Take. The. Test.

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Inspiration

I am *finally* reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. This is one of those books that I knew I’d love from the moment I heard about it. Fortunately, I haven’t been disappointed. Phelps Lake

Inspired by the title poem, and a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I sat down and wrote a poem of my own:

Long summer days

So many hours in the hot sun

Burning skin

Until refuge is taken in the shadow of a mountain

If not, winter

With its crisp icy beauty

Broken by the crunch of our feet in the snow

Cold puffs of hot breath

Anticipating your hands

Building a fire

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Book Cover: The Miseducation of Emily PostThe Miseduation of Cameron Post
Emily M. Danforth

This is the third book I’ve read recently featuring girls sent away to camps designed to solve their troubles (the other two being Maya’s Notebook and The Girls of No Return). This time, the camp in question is meant to de-gay the youth attending. News flash: not all that effective! Um, at all!

There was a lot I liked about this book. The focus on a girl growing up and coming to terms with her sexuality was well done. I felt tranported back to high school when all your emotions are bubbling up and you can’t think straight. I also liked that the book recognized that there is a difference between gender identity and sexuality and that these categories don’t necessarily exist as binary.

My main complaint about this book was that it was just too darn long. It felt like the author should have chosen to either focus on before the camp, or the camp itself. And the camp itself was mainly horrifying, so I think less focus on that would have been better. Reading about the camp kept me in a state of heightened awareness and sensitivity.

~~~~~~

Orange Juice and Ginger Ale

My new favorite drink

Towards the beginning of the book, there’s a scene that mentions Cameron drinking orange juice and ginger ale. I’m a big fan or mixing club soda and juice, but had never thought of using ginger ale. I like ginger ale, I like orange juice. I figured I’d try it.

OMG IT IS SO GOOD.

I filled my glass about three quartes up with ice, then Vernor’s Ginger Ale about halfway up, then topped it with Tropicana Grovestand OJ. Grovestand = lots of pulp.

Side note: Tropicana recently went back to all Florida oranges, so I bought it. I’ve been drinking Florida’s Natural pretty much exclusively for the past couple of years. I’m a Florida girl, and I try to keep it local. There are some other small groves near me that produce their own stuff, but I have to buy it at the farmer’s market, and it’s not always available. Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice is also super local, but they use a type of orange that’s sweeter. I like my OJ to have a little sourness to it, but if that’s not youthing, I encourage you to try Natalie’s.

Have you had this delicious concoction? What other Juice + Fizzy drink combos do I need to try? Let me know!

Weekend CookingWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Page by Paige

Page by Paige book coverPage by Paige
Laura Lee Gulledge

This graphic novel is heavier on the graphics than the novel, but the drawings and story are so sweet I really didn’t mind.

Paige Turner (yes, really) is a country mouse moving to the big city. She’s worried how she’ll fit in with so many new people, but at the same time wants to use the opportunity to develop her true self.

She falls in with a small group of creative kids at her school, and they bond over comics and other artsy endeavors.  Jules is a singer/songwriter, her brother Longo is a cartoonist, and Gabe is a writer (and maybe a love interest for Paige).

Paige devotes time daily to her sketchbook, and Gulledge uses the opportunity to show the reader what it looks like inside the mind of her introverted artist.

I lived in New York for a couple years, and I always marveled about how cool it would be to grow up in the city. Paige and her friends take advantage of it – decorating buildings with paper artwork attached with wheat paste, performing in shows, exploring the city. They do enjoy substantial priviledge – as Paige’s father points out, what they are doing may very well border on illegal. Some kids in New York can get away with that. Others, not so much.

Paige and Diana

Paige and Diana

I was excited to see Paige’s old friend Diana some to visit her in New York. Diana wasn’t jealous of Paige’s new friends. She fell right in with them. In fact, I was hoping there would be a little something between her and Jules. We know Jules is a lesbian, and Diana’s portrayal makes me wonder if Gulledge was trying to imply something about her sexuality. (Not that how one dresses or looks necessarily means anything about their gender identity of sexual orientation. In fact, Jules is pretty darn “girly” looking.)  Of course, they could both be lesbians and just be friends, which would be awesome, too! Not every lesbian in a book has to be attracted to any other lesbian that wanders across that pages. (Okay, I’m probably flubbing this up. Bottom line: I like that there was a lesbian in the book, and it was no big deal, and I want more of that. The end.)

Tiny quibble: I do wish the book would have been in color, but I understand that isn’t possible with many graphic novels. We know that Paige is a redhead, but in black and white she reads blonde to me.

Overall, a nice, if a bit idealist, coming of age story.

#Readathon Time!

readathonbutton2

Update 9:35
So this break was a little longer than I anticipated, but all the budget reading was time well spent because I got a call that our offer on a house was accepted! Holy crap, it doesn’t even seem real. I was convinced the deal was going to fall through. I mean, it still could, but this is one step closer. Good thing I like to use the library, because the hubby did not put a book buying line in the budget, and things are going to be *tight*.

But on to the books: Just So Stories is finished. A glass of wine has been poured. I’ve getting ready to immerse myself in Magdalena Tulli’s In Red.

Update 5:51

Finished my first book! Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall. Very good.

Just So Stories is playing in the background as I update this post. Then I need to do some boring reading, reviewing a budget the hubby has proposed for us. We’re talking about buying a house, so we’re going to have to really watch what we’re spending.

Update 3:36
I’ve been listening on and off to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. (talk about problematic!) I’m mixing it up with a little 1990s Canadian lesbianism courtesy of Zoe Whittall’s Bottle Rocket Hearts.

I participated in two photo challenges so far.

Here’s my entry for Book Spine Poetry:
spine

And here’s my readathon self portrait:

Self portrait with book

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Gorgeous South Florida – I will have to read from somewhere outside at some time today.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Um, I haven’t planned snacks. I know.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I watch Game of Thrones, but have no interest in reading the books. Heresy!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
I’ve never full-on participated in the readathon. I’m more of a dipper-inner. This morning I had to work, and I have another commitment until about 1:30. I guess I hope to devote more time than before? I’m looking forward to knocking out a few books, since I’m behind pace to meet my yearly goal.

Two Graphic Novels

Book cover of Skim, with face of teenage Asian girl in comic styleSkim
Mariko Tamaki
Jillian Tamaki, Illustrator

Skim is set in 1993 in Toronto. The main character, a Japanese-Canadian girl nicknamed Skim, attends an all-girls high school, where her best friend is Lisa, a typical 16 year old with a bit of a cruel streak and an interest in Wicca.

Things start getting tense at school when popular girl Katie gets dumped. Then her ex-bf commits suicide, and Katie’s friends  respond by creating the Girls Celebrate Life (GCL) club. Skim thinks despite their newly professed compassion, they are still your average high school mean girls clique.

This is a confusing time for Skim. She’s fallen for Ms. Archer, a free spirited young teacher who is definitely crossing all types of boundaries with their relationship. Plus there’s the rumor that Katie’s ex killed himself because he was gay. She is keeping her same sex explorations to herself, feeling increasingly isolated from her already not-exactly-welcoming school.

This novel felt “true” in many ways. Skim’s parents exist mainly off-stage, which is a pretty realistic portrayal of how I remember my teenage years, at least. There was no way I was talking to a parent about anything that I was stressing over. Additionally, it seemed like I went in cycles with friends – things were great with my bestie, then we drifted apart and I was glued to someone else for awhile.

Overall, good read, great illustrations.

Book cover of Laika, with small dog in blue jumpsuit and rocket launching in backgroundLaika
Nick Abadzis

A plucky, adorable stray dog gets caught up in a ex-political prisoner’s big dreams in this Cold War tale. The Soviet space program has just had a major victory with Sputnik I, but Krushchev wanted an even bigger spectacle to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The director of the space program decided to send a living being, a dog, into orbit.

Sweet little Laika becomes that pioneer. I was completely caught up in her journey from stray on the street of Moscow to the cages of the space program to her spot on the satellite.

Unfortunately, I probably should have refreshed my history or at least read the book flap, with compared this tale to that of Old Yeller.

Which raises concerns for me – Laika’s tale apparently drew much criticism even at the time, at least from the West. So this retelling feels a bit like a rehashing of Cold War bickering, where a Western artist is telling what a horrible thing those Communists did. That doesn’t make their actions laudable, but it’s always important to consider the messenger. And it’s not as though the UK has a blemish free record on animal cruelty.

Do you read graphic novels? Have any suggestions? Leave them, or any other thoughts, in the comments 🙂

Orlando

Book cover for Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Woman in white dress lays on back on a bedwith dress and sheets spread out around her. Orlando: A Biography
Virginia Woolf

Basically, Orlando is this young nobledude in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, well known for his awesome legs, and his way with a water bowl. Yes, seriously. He loves the ladies, and ice skating, and hanging out in the great outdoors, especially under his gigantic oak tree. Then his heart is broken and he runs off to Constantinople to act as England’s ambassador. A pretty pedestrian plot (written gorgeously, of course) until, after a night of civil unrest, violence, and looting of the ambassador’s residence, where Orlando sleeps through the mayhem, he then wakes up as a she.

Woolf’s subsequent musings on gender and sexuality are pretty awesome. Yes, this is a book of it’s time, but also, since it covers 300 plus years of Orlando’s life, it is a book of many times. Orlando’s legs are still the stuff of legend, but now instead of securing him an ambassador’s post they must be covered completely lest the glimpse of a calf send a sailor tumbling from the mast to his death.

One of the things I really liked was how Orlando still is attracted to woman after he becomes a woman. It’s pretty radical to realize that Woolf was separating out gender identity from sexual orientation back in the 1920s. It seems to be a concept people today still struggle with.

On a side note, I’m reading The Island at the Center of the World, about Manhattan when it was a Dutch colony. It contained a copy of this painting of James, Duke of York, that made me think of Orlando and hir legs:

Painting James, Duke of York

Great legs, yes?

This is one of my favorite Classics Club reads to date. I’m glad the Classics Spin and Modern March pushed me to reading it now rather than later.

Have you read Orlando, or anything else by Woolf? What did you think?

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Review of "The Salt Roads"

The Salt Roads
Nalo Hopkinson

I’m really glad I kept reading this, because the beginning was not exactly my cup of tea. There were a couple graphic sex scenes, and some mentions of bodily fluids, and well, I sometimes get a bit squeamish. But I persevered, and was happy that I did. 

The Salt Roads consists of three main narratives that are connected via the experiences of the goddess Ezili. In Hopkinson’s tale, Ezili is brought forth one night as three slave women bury a stillborn child in the French colony of Saint Domingue (modern day Haiti). Ezili sees how her people, the Ginen, are suffering, and wants to help them. I loved hearing how Ezili learns who she is and how to harness her powers. I’ve never read anything similar describing the birth of a goddess.The first narrative follows Mer, a slave born in Africa, carried through the hellish Middle Passage, to the Caribbean. Mer has lived twelve years in Saint Domingue – longer than most slaves survive there. She works bent over in the cane fields until she is needed to tend to suffering fellow slaves. The master wants to protect his investment, after all.  Mer uses her abilities to comfort her people the best that she can. She can sometimes speak to the lwa, or spirits, who seek her help in clearing the salt roads back to Africa.

Thais is a Nubian slave, made to work in the brothels of Alexandria. She and her friend Judah, a fellow slave, run away on an adventure to Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). The two of them practice their only trade in exchange of passage across the Mediterranean. Hopkinson manages to rework their journey into the origins of the Catholic Saint Mary of Egypt. Thais’s story is the weakest of the three, but the sly religious commentary makes it fun and irreverent.

The character, and narrative, of Jeanne Duval is based on a real person. Duval was a dancer and actress in Paris, during the mid-1800s. She was the longtime mistress of poet Charles Baudelaire. Hopkinson sketches the hard life Duval lived. Her mother and grandmother had to work as prostitutes. She endured sexual harassment from the owner of the venue where she performed. She finds comfort in the arms of one of the other performers – a white woman named Lisette. Both women are searching for men that will elevate their stations and give them long term comfort and stability. I loved how Hopkinson took this historical figure and rewrote her “ending.” There’s not much known about the real Jeanne Duval, and most, if not all, of it comes from the famous men in her life. Nadar, an early French photographer and one time lover, reported that he last saw her alive in 1870, forlorn and hunched over a cane. Hopkinson puts her own spin on this sighting.

I have one major gripe with my version of the book, which I checked out from my library. The book was sitting on y end table, and I noticed it had a bright green label on the spine. My library uses these labels to mark special interest categories, like mysteries or science fiction. I knew that Hopkinson wrote speculative fiction, so I thought perhaps this was labeled as science fiction. Upon closer inspection, I quickly saw this was not the case:

 
Black interest?
Yes, this book features black main characters. One of the settings is a Caribbean slave plantation. Does that mean that only black people would be interested in it? I hope not! So why the label? I guess one interpretation is that the library has found that this makes it easier for people specifically searching for books about black people to find those books. The problem is that there are a lot of people who would like this book, but aren’t specifically looking for “black interest” books.  I wonder how this book is shelved. Do some library branches have separate “black interest” sections? If so, they may need a visit from Carleen: