Finding Me by Viola Davis

Finding Me

Finding Me by Viola Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Viola Davis’ book is more than just her life. Although this book talks about her childhood and her struggles with poverty, food insecurity, and dealing with abuse and trauma throughout her childhood, she shares her journey to finding her purpose in life, and herself. Her upbringing, as horrible as she has described it, was for a purpose. God doesn’t waste anything. Although it was a harrowing experience going through, God has placed her strategically in life to do magnificent things. She knows this now, but going through life, she didn’t have the insight to see how her struggles and experiences were going to mold and shape her into a star; a success. I don’t think any of us truly understand that the bad experiences we suffer in life is actually for a greater purpose; to show God’s glory. If anything, Viola Davis shows us how good God has been to her, and presents her story in such a way that God’s glory cannot be denied.

I am deeply humbled and sympathetic to Viola’s story. Her story is heartbreaking, a personal interpersonal reckoning, and a survival story. However, all these experiences, have allowed her to bring forth characters in her career that has made us all see the gift and talent that have not been diminished by her upbringing. If anything, her struggles shaped, molded, and built her in order for her to reach back and use these experiences for future success.

Reading this book made me realize how privileged I was a youth. I wasn’t raised in a rich family by any means, but my modest upbringing and lack of financial resources were not as poor as I thought. I went to school with kids like Viola, but I personally was not affected by poverty like her. Though we lived in a redlined Black neighborhood, I wasn’t food insecure, nor did we have to move to various houses throughout my childhood. Now I understand that God prepares us and builds us up for each of our unique situations.

Viola talks about systemic racism, colorism, sexism, misogynoir, domestic abuse, poverty, and how white systems try to erase our blackness just to digest us in a more tolerable way. It is also worthy to note that representation is absolutely necessary in our world. Shonda Rhimes was able to get Viola Davis into a part that allowed her to heal from many of her traumas she experienced as a young woman. Only a Black woman could do that, could see her, and ensure this happened for her. It was empowering to read, and I was so touched by everything Viola shared in her memoir.

Reading this book stirred a ton of emotion inside of me. Putting up with bullying throughout my childhood was difficult, going to a PWI was shocking and demoralizing, navigating the white man’s military was rough, but I made it. Her book really made me reminisce on all the things I’ve experienced, and how those unfortunate experiences shaped and molded me into the woman I am today, and allowed me to use those experiences to become a better person.

“There is absolutely no way whatsoever to get through this life without scars. No way!!”

“There is an emotional abandonment that comes with poverty and being Black. The weight of generational trauma and having to fight for your basic needs doesn’t leave room for anything else. You just believe you’re the leftovers.”

Viola is not only telling her story, but she gives hope to those who can’t see their way out of their situations. She talked in detail about how therapy saved her, and its something the Black community has not talked about openly until recently. Therapy was always something white people did in my mind. My parents and friends of my parents would either joke or talk around the topic of therapy, like its something people with money did… and Black people never had money to spend on therapy. However, I’m glad Viola was able to find a therapist that helped her heal. That there were people in her life helping her move forward a little bit at a time. I also am thankful that she spoke of the acting world in realistic experiences because we as regular people don’t know what goes on behind the acting/celebrity world. It reminds us all how human we all are.

I am more in awe of Viola Davis after this memoir than I was before I read her book. Though I knew some of her upbringing in poverty, I didn’t know the extent of her poverty and all that went with it. We all face difficulties in this world, but we don’t know the level and severity of those experiences and how they can show up later in our lives, behaviors, and mentality. God did protect her throughout her life. Definitely not the way in which she thought he would, and not at the times she wanted, but he has clearly came through and used everything she went through for good. To God be the GLORY! Viola Davis is an amazing woman, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity to read her memoir.

This book is a top read this year, hands down. 5 stars.

**Thank you to HarperOne for the gift of this book.

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Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

Angel of Greenwood

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A historical fiction YA romance novel that shares beauty and pain in the lives of two teenagers, Angel and Isaiah. The two of them are living and growing up in Greenwood, Oklahoma; home of “Black Wall Street”, as Booker T. Washington has called this town. Due to racial tensions, segregation, and white supremacy, the Black people in Oklahoma, have carved out a plot of land for them to enjoy and reap the benefits of their labor for themselves. However, as it always goes, when Black people succeed, white supremacy decides to destroy it and take away the limited freedom Black people try to enjoy amongst themselves.

If you don’t know the background behind the bombing of Greenwood, you should definitely read up on it. One of the single deadliest killings of Black people in history, was the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. A mob of white men bombed 35 blocks of Greenwood, left 10,000 Black people homeless, destroyed $1.5 million in real estate and $750,00 in personal property, and up to 300 Black people were killed, in a span of 2 days, over an alleged incident where white men accused a Black man of assaulting a white woman in an elevator.

This book however, doesn’t necessarily center itself over this story, but tells a budding love story in the midst of the lead up to May 31, 1921, when the Race Massace happened. This story is supposed to share the love between these two teenagers, and how they rallied together along with others in their community to help everyone somehow survive the deadliest thing that could’ve happened to them in their lives. The author’s note in the back describes how she wanted to tell a love story of two kids falling in love without fear or pain, but also share how Black people have had to deal with white supremacy all of their lives and in all facets, to include just being Black in their own neighborhood.

This book also takes a look at the differences between Booker T. Washingon’s philosophy and W.E.B. DuBois’ philosophy in how Black people should be, live, work, and enjoy life. Booker T. Washington believed in passivity, where W.E.B. DuBois did not. Matter of fact, DuBois probably greatly disliked Booker T. Washington’s take on life. Washington believed in waiting white people out. Living peacefully and passively in hopes that the white people would reconcile their differences on their own and see how we are docile and not creating trouble, but living within our means, making life simple and easy, and learning to build our own things up from the ground. DuBois believed that being docile was being a punk, basically. That if we didn’t go out and aggressively pursue what we wanted, it would never be given. DuBois was assertive, bold, and decisive, and did not care for Washington’s philosophy. These two ideals come together when Isaiah and Angel have to work together on a bookmobile in their community. They are both passionate about what they believe is the right way to live, and at the end, they both come to an understanding of how Washington and DuBois have influenced their thinking.

Another aspect to this story is about how love is needed everywhere, and when love is not available, hate is able to creep in. It is only when you make a conscious effort to love all, you then start to understand what’s important and how to work out your differences.

For me this book started off really slow. Introducing you to Angel and Isaiah in their own way, counting down to the day in which their world comes to a complete stop. However, the counting down made me anticipate a much bigger ending than what happened, but overall, it was a decent read for YA. The book wasn’t heavy on history, which I guess is something most YA readers would enjoy, as it still gave some historical account to the deadliest event that happened to Black people in history. Yet, I really wanted to have a much better picture of the racial tensions in Tulsa during that time. There is only one incident that occurred between the white people on the other side of the tracks and the residents of Greenwood, and it seemed like the massacre just happened out of nowhere. I’m sure the white residents who could see the success of the Black people were constantly edging in on their side threatening to do something all the time, but that aspect of the atmosphere in Tulsa was not present in this book. I feel like that was a missed opportunity because the massive event seemingly came from out of nowhere.

Overall, this book was decent. It could have been so much more though, and that is something that has stuck with me since finishing this book. The ending was but a few pages, and more than half of the book was setting up who the two teenagers were in their own right. I feel like the author spent way too much of the book not dealing with the real world that was going on in Tulsa in 1921, that the ending felt rushed and underdeveloped.

I rated this a 3.5 and rounded up because it is a lovely read mostly, but I was a bit disappointed in the ending and the missing racial tensions that I’m sure was there in this community since it’s inception.

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In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lola Åkerstrom

In Every Mirror She's Black

In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book was very slow for me in the beginning. So slow to the fact that I had to ditch reading the book to listening to it. The writing was cumbersome to say the least. The story was somewhat interesting in various parts throughout the book, but by the end, I wasn’t very impressed.

The story is about 3 Black women who have all found themselves in Sweden for various reasons. Kemi, relocates to Sweden because she feels undervalued, restricted, and underhanded with her current boss, and is being headhunted to be the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for one of the top marketing firms in the world, IKON, owned by Jonny von Lundin. Due to a diversity debacle IKON has recently experience, Kemi has come to save the face of the marketing firm from complete ruin. She is also very lonely, and is hoping this move is the right one. However, quickly upon arriving, she realizes that the same troubles facing her in the states is also present in Sweden.

Muna, is a refugee from Mogadishu, and has lost everyone she loves. She is in search of a place to call home. Upon arriving in Sweden, at an asylum center that is funded by the owner of IKON, Jonny von Lundin, she befriends a man name Ahmed, who has also lost everyone he loves, and they both hang on to each other since they have no one else. However, Ahmed is constantly being rejected by this new country and the people in the asylum center, and he also leaves Muna behind. Muna is longing to be apart of something, and not be in this world by herself, but it seems she never can catch a break.

Brittany-Rae, hailing from Atlanta, GA has piqued the interest of Sweden’s IKON owner, Jonny von Lundin. So much so that he has went to extreme lengths to get her to come to Sweden and be with him. Brittany, beautiful former fashion model, turned flight attendant, she meets Jonny on one of her flights, and decides to pursue what he is throwing out to her. A chance of a lifetime. She takes it. However, when getting to Sweden, she realizes she’s bitten off more than she can chew.

The story follows these three women and how their lives are shaped by Sweden’s culture, and Jonny’s presence in their lives. The women briefly all come in contact with one another, but their stories do not intersect in a way that makes them intertwined, which kind of makes meeting feel like happenstance, instead of meaningful. I wish the author had put more thought into an interconnecting story about these three women and Jonny, but the way it was written, did not make the stories of the women’s lives interesting enough. Matter of fact, I don’t even know why Muna’s story was even included because it seemed so inconsequential to the entire plot of what was going on.

By the end, you learn some new details about Jonny, but it makes for more questions instead of clarifying things with him and his behaviors. He was depicted as quirky and eccentric, when there is a bit more going on, and the details don’t really shed that much light, but makes things even more murky and underhanded.

Some of the topics of interest were:
– Immigration
– Ex-pats
– Politics
– Racism/prejudice
– Sexism
– Micro/macro-aggressions in the workplace
– Assimilation

TW: suicide, domestic violence, death

Overall, I’d give this a 3.

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All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep by Andre Henry

All the White Friends I Couldn't Keep: Hope—And Hard Pills to Swallow—About Fighting for Black LivesAll the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep: Hope—And Hard Pills to Swallow—About Fighting for Black Lives by Andre Henry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ok, so based on these Goodreads reviews, this is going to be an unpopular opinion.

**P.S. Please don’t correct my grammar in this review, I know how to write, I’m just speaking from my lived AAVE experiences. And don’t come for me in the comments. This is my opinion. If you don’t like it, go write your own.

This book is lame. Maybe that’s pretty harsh, but lemme ‘xplain…

The Introduction is ‘A Warning From the Author’ to explain that what he’s about to say in this book is not going to be an easy read. My question is, ‘’for who?” White people? or Black people? Cause for any Black person who reads this book, this is our everyday lives. This book was not hard to read, and dare I say, Andre Henry must’ve been living under a rock or have been too enmeshed with white culture to notice until Black folks started to get shot on live video feeds around the country.

He states that he had a political awakening during the last decade during the conception of Black Lives Matter era, but I am not buying it. He may have been enraged and that emotion made him have a call to action, but if that’s the case we’d all have books published. Where was he during the time previous to the rampant viral videos showing our Black lives being murdered on video?

Guess where he was?? Schlepping it up with the white folks. Then when he started to speak out about the grief that panged him, and made him realize he could be at danger anytime and these white folks ain’t going to help him, that’s when he was like… “oh, so now I gotta step away from the white folx, cause they all the same.”

How can a Jamaican man, raised in Stone Mountain Confederate Georgia, ever think that his Black ass mattered to white people? I’m confused.

He spoke of being adopted by white families. He spoke of being encapsulated by the white evangelical parishioners. He spoke of his initial preference (let’s call it that) of his non-Black love interests and friends, and his Theology degree from a PWI. He was looking to be white adjacent all his life! Then when the viral videos started hitting FB, CNN, IG, and everywhere else, seeing how innocent Black lives were being snuffed out with little to no repercussions, now he is having a panic attack from all the white people who never supported him and realized his Black life never mattered to them.

The part of the book where I was like, “oh hell nah” was the part where he talks about dating Black women as happenstance. Like for real??? He never intentionally dated Black women? Even though his family is Black, his mother is Black, his grandmother is Black, his father is Black… he looked for other ethnicities to provide the love he was looking for, first?? Is that what I am understanding here? 10/10 he recommends to date Black women… umm, yea! Black love is the epitome of resistance of how we were treated during slavery. White folks never thought we were human. They separated us at birth, or for revenge, or for business pleasure on a whim. Never considering the emotional damage and generational losses we took as a people.

I was exasperated when he talked about his college experience lugging around a boulder just to call out what’s so obvious in our lived experiences. This book isn’t written for Black people at all, but a direct response to the hate he received from whites who expressed or didn’t express their sentiments when he started speaking up about his fears and dangers as a Black man in America. These problems have forever been happening. Pick up any James Baldwin book, and he would have clearly seen everything he needed to see. This book is clearly for the white friends he specifically lost. This is not a book for Black people.

Furthermore, Jesus is not white. Let’s clear the air there. So his, “let’s break up with white Jesus” chapter ummm… I don’t think any Black person I know living today thinks Jesus is white. Christianity was forced onto enslaved people to keep us subdued and in chains, and that religion has been used to execute violence around the world. Jesus is for everyone, but he ain’t white. Most Black people I know who are religious don’t believe in the evangelical/Anglican christianity anyways.

Black people don’t debate or try to educate white folks about anything, especially about race. We are too busy trying to mind our own business and not get in trouble at work because of micro/macro-aggressions that happen everyday to us. We know about the worst of white folks. We’ve had to overcome the worst of white folks in all manners of our existence. What do you think the Great Migration was all about? Getting away from white folks for better opportunities for our families in more livable/workable/hospitable places where the racism wasn’t AS BAD. Not non-existent, but just not AS BAD.

Read: I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

My initial thoughts while halfway through this book, I was like, wait a minute, is he biracial? No. Ok, so why is he late to the “white folks don’t really care about Black lives or feelings” memo we all got at birth? After finishing this book last night, I just had to sit back, flabbergasted. Henry really wanted to be liked, loved, appreciated, cared for by white people. Like, seriously. Now that Black lives are being murdered in real time for all of us to see at a moments notice, the fear set in that it could happen to him at any time. Now he takes that understanding and fear to his white friends and they do not validate his feelings. He’s hurt. Shocked. Appalled. He’s ‘clutching his pearls’ in disbelief. Plus he’s from Jamaica where his culture and heritage stems from Maroons! Rebels against enslavement. How and why is he so shocked at the ways of white folk? Has he read, Langston Hughes, The Ways of White Folk?? Any of W.E.B. DuBois? Did any Black friend read this book? Did he have a Black editor?? I mean damn, where has he been in this country where he thought his Black self was safe from the vitriol spewed by the worst of white folks? And coming from STONE MOUNTAIN GEORGIA??? Say it ain’t so. He said he read some James Baldwin, but clearly he didn’t read enough. James Baldwin is famously quoted for saying: “To be Black and conscious in America is to live in a constant state of rage.” So it’s quite obvious that he has not been conscious of what’s been going on in America until viral videos hit the scene, and Black people have been shown to be murdered in cold blood over literally nothing.

As a friend told me in discussion with this book, this book is serving a whole lot of Hotep behavior.

I hate blasting on Black authors like this, but damn… this ain’t it.

2 stars, cause I finished it.

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There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

There Is Confusion

There Is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is lots of confusion going on in this book. For the first part of this story (49% of it) I was not really enjoying the characters or the way the old antiquated way of writing that is in this book. However, I am well aware that this book was written in the 1920’s, so I have to take into consideration the time and place that this book is set in. After having now read this book, I am very complete in my understanding of why this book is on the Zora Canon List.

This book is so vital to the Black community in so many ways. We all embody a piece or pieces of ourselves in these characters and come to a realization of why and how they were, especially in the timeframe in which this story is set. In the 1920s, segregation was definitely in full swing in the south, and there was also so much discrimination and segregation in the North that incapacitated people of color. The institution of racism is exactly that. It permeates in every facet of life, and for Black people there was no way to escape unless you left the country. However, even if you left the country, as we see Peter did when he went to war, there were still Americans there fighting to keep the races separate even in a country that did not have such immense restrictions.

This book follows three young people, Joanna, Maggie and Peter through their childhood to adulthood, in close introspection to see how their lives shape up through living in America as a Black individual. These people are literally two generations away from slavery, and we see the massive impact that slavery has had on Black people, on their opportunities, and in their livelihood. The subject of race dominates all facets of life, and whether you are rich or poor, being Black is the dominant factor in your limited success or failure.

Fauset describes in immaculate detail what it is like to be Black, to be a man, and to be a woman living in the North during Jim Crow. Your opportunities are not abounding or limitless as some may believe. Though Joanna was shielded for most of her young life in the company and economic safe space of her father’s wealthy catering business, she did come to a final realization that she was not going to be as successful as she hoped because of her race and her gender. There were too many obstacles in her way to succeed, and it had nothing to do with her abilities. Though she was very narcissistic and egotistic, she had to come to that sobering realization that she could not accomplish what she had spent her entire life aiming towards. Being a Black woman has very limiting opportunities, and Fauset writes that out in such a way that makes you see how Joanna fell from her “high-faluting” ideas to a more realistic domestic lifestyle, as a housewife and supporter of her husband’s career. Women have worked so hard to get where they want to go and then have to swallow everything to know what they wanted to do can’t be done, at ALL. It’s a shock! Some women don’t take that fall as easily as Joanna did, and even Joanna had to fight her own self into understanding that this was her place now, as much as she was capable, it just wasn’t feasible. No matter how hard you work to get where you want to go, in this period of time, your race was your determining factor. Joanna had to realize this for herself even though she pushed and prodded others to go for the top, she ultimately had to come to the understanding that being Black was not a treat anywhere.

“To have the ordinary job of living is bad enough, but to add to it all the thousand and one difficulties which follow simply in the train of being colored – well, all I’ve got to say, is that we’re some wonderful people to live though it all and keep our sanity.” (p. 167)

The perspective from Maggie’s point of view was interesting because I can see how what she wanted was a viable option. People living in this time wanted an easier life. She desperately believed that all she needed to do was be swept up in the right company, marry the right person, be in the right social groups and be able to live life to the fullest. However, sadly, that’s not the case. I appreciated the growth that Maggie goes through in this story because she really needed to understand that she needed to be a whole and complete person separate from what she thought she could get from other people’s social status. She had skills and abilities that came in great appreciation, but she wasn’t looking within herself for her completeness. She was looking to what she could get out of others. There are women today who still go around like Maggie, looking for the next big thing to get caught up in or being in the right circles, or going to the right schools all for the wrong reasons. Life isn’t easy. No one gets to escape the hard times, so we must embrace adversity and learn to glean from it what we can and use it to our advantage.

Peter was so lukewarm through most of this book. It was funny to see the source of where he got his bad traits from, it was definitely serendipitous. However, Peter was showcases how race impacts a Black man in the world. How, race carves out places that he could go, people he had to interact with, and careers that were within his grasp. He didn’t really let up on how he felt about white people until the end, but even then, he didn’t trust them as a whole.

“I’m glad I’m colored – there’s something terrible, terrible about white people.” (p. 254)

Even being a doctor, educated, a Veteran, and a free descendent of a slave from a prominent family wasn’t enough to escape the injustices of racism. We see Peter, and other men, struggle in their fight against racism. Though as a man, Peter has more opportunities than Joanna, but he still faced an uphill battle with trying to become a doctor and a soldier. Though he made very poor decisions in his life, he was also only trying to make the best of his situation. As I’ve said earlier, the disposition of being Black in the 1920s was a hard reality. There was constant struggle at all times no matter your class.

This book was definitely timely in 1924, and seeing how this book ended, I’m interested to know if she had to have some changes made to the final ending because there were some pretty bold choices made for all the characters that didn’t see quite realistic. I wonder if Fauset was forced to let white people off the hook so to speak before she could get her book published. Seeing how she was first published by Boni & Liveright Inc., I can understand now how she was able to write so scandalously in this book. I’m so grateful that she was able to undergo all that she wanted to do with her story here. It’s a must to read this book. Though the time is now 2022, this book published a century ago, is still relevant today. That, my dear friends, speaks VOLUMES!

The character development was amazing. I didn’t care for any of the main characters, especially Joanna, but as the story played out I started to sympathize with them and why they made the choices they did. I could understand why Joanna wanted Peter to be top notch. I could see why Maggie wanted to be high-class. I understood Joanna’s need to be someone great and accepted everywhere. Though I didn’t like the choices they made necessarily, it did help me to understand the why behind what they did. The pacing of the book, and antiquated language made it hard sometimes to really get engaged with the story, but once I got halfway through, the story picked up, and everything came together nicely.

I am really glad I got the chance to read this book. I never even heard of this Harlem Renaissance writer, and now that I have I will definitely encourage more people to pick this gem of a book up. 4.25 stars for me.

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Unbound by Tarana Burke

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book shares some deeply personal stories that have affected Tarana as a young child, and may trigger some feelings if you have experienced sexual trauma in the past or present. Please be advised. Take care of yourself while reading her book, as you may need to take breaks or put the book down because of overwhelming emotions.

Tarana Burke, the founder of the ‘me too’ Movement shares her personal experiences with sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape. I remember first learning about ‘me too’ while on Twitter. I had heard some white women talk about Harvey Weinstein, and his sexual assaults on women. I do remember reading accounts of other women who suffered/experienced sexual assault by other men, not as notorious and prominent as Harvey though. I came to recall some issues I’ve had in the past with men, and how those men, who most often couldn’t hear the word “NO,” and acted like a toddler who is being told “no” they can’t have something, assaulted me and continued on with their life as if nothing ever happened. However, here I am, decades later, remembering and flashbacking to those times in which my womanhood was stolen/forced/pressed upon until I either relented or didn’t and it was taken…anyways.

Tarana Burke, takes her experiences, and those around her who shares their pain, and uses it for good. She faces her past, and tells herself, no one should have to go through that alone. Although she understands there is power in prevention, she also is well aware of the damage that is done and the community that is needed in order to face another day. She tells how she grappled with the first young woman who fell through the cracks after sharing her experience, and how Tarana ensures that it never happens again, where she doesn’t share and try to help another woman undergoing the pain and stress of bearing this trauma that violated their being and bodies.

Tarana is also sharing this story to ensure people know that SHE was the woman who started the ‘me too’ Movement. So often, white women, who’s womanhood is always the first to be fought for, whether real or imagined, is put in front of the world to help, NO ONE helps Black women. NO ONE hears Black women. NO ONE believes Black women. Burke is sharing that, sexual violence, which occurs to all ethnic groups, is something EVERYONE should be be concerned about, but the ‘me too’ Movement was designed specifically for Black/Brown girls/women/femmes who had no one to talk to, no community to heal within, and no one to help support them during the aftermath of their trauma. ‘Me too’ is for the Black and Brown girls who get overlooked when the world wants to run after the white women’s stories and accusers, but looks down their noses at Black and Brown women, where this violence occurs, unfortunately, too often.

The book definitely triggered some past emotions and memories as I’ve had to also grapple with sexual violence in my life. As a rape survivor, this book was so important for me to read, and also share my story with my own daughters at some point in their lives. It helps to share this with others because as Tarana felt and said in her book, many women think it’s their fault and don’t put the blame on the rightful person, the perpetrator. We are victims, and should not be shamed into silence. Those people who have violated us should be held responsible for their violence.

As a #girlmom, hearing the story of Tarana going through what she did without the help of the elder women in her life just struck fear in me. I remember not telling my own mother what happened because I felt shamed, like it was my fault, like I did something wrong. To this day, she does not know what happened, but I implored with my own daughter that if something like this were to happen to her that she can tell me and we can figure things out together. I also shared with her some ways in which to protect herself, should she find herself in a situation. I pray that nothing like this ever happens to her, but having someone she can talk to is also just as important because it’s so isolating, depressing, and horrible to have thoughts like that in your head every single day and not be able to talk about it or share because you think you’ve done something wrong.

The book is so welcoming and comforting even despite her telling you a horrible past. She shares her story because she wants the reader to know that she can be trusted, that you are welcome to share and come in for healing, that you are not shameful, that you have done nothing wrong, and that you have a place of community here with her and no one is going to leave you behind or out. Her growth and empathy in this book was just phenomenal, and I really appreciated feeling seen here in her book, and I felt compelled to share my own story with my oldest daughter in a way she could understand but not be traumatized by what happened, as she is at a curious age where boys are going to test her to see how much she is willing to do in order to possibly “prove” herself in some form or fashion. I don’t want to wait until it happens to her before she learns about this dark side of humanity, but this book definitely gave me the language to explain to her what could happen and what’s available for her to seek out if god forbid something like this happened to her in her life.

The bravery that Tarana Burke had in sharing her experiences are unmatched and I am so glad that she shared her story. Despite the harrowness of it, more people need to know what happens to women of color, and to believe our stories. Hear us when we speak. Protect us. Provide resources for us. Allow space for us to share our stories because some other young person could be also saying, ‘me too’ in their hearts and minds and need some people around them to care for them while they heal.

This book is so necessary and should be read by all. 5 stars. Required reading.

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Things I Should Have Told My Daughter by Pearl Cleage

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I am just infatuated with Pearl Cleage, and always have been ever since I read her novels. I love her writing style and the way her books engage with the reader, and her writing is just impeccable!

I had been “reading” this book for a few years quite honestly because I didn’t want to finish it. The way she speaks to you in her writing is just so refreshing that I wanted her book to last forever, so I shelved it to come back to at a later date, but then life happened and I am just now getting back around to reading this book.

This book is interesting in that she is sharing select journal entries from 2 decades and sharing them with us and her daughter about how she learned about herself and how she made it through some tough times in her life. She is intent on gifting these journals to her granddaughter, to show her how she went on a soul-searching, merciless, self-observation and rigorous self-analysis that allowed her to survive her early womanhood and emerge with her health and sanity still relatively intact. She states: “Looking back, I wonder if its possible that the things I didn’t tell her are as necessary as the things I did.” Her daughter thinks she should burn her journals because no one needs to know all her business, but Pearl is emphatic that we do need to know. For one, no one teaches us how to be a Black woman in this world, and Pearl Cleage is doing so in this book, one journal entry at a time.

Her journals are a testament of how to survive being a Black woman because we aren’t taught how to be a Black woman in this world. It is assumed that we will adapt and overcome, but it’s much more nuanced than that. Black women are still the most disrespected beings on earth to this day, and Pearl wants to educate her descendants and us on how it was for her in order to survive, come into her own, and make a life that she’s happy to live, without feeling like she was compromising herself out of the picture.

Reading this book clearly inspired me to journal, and I’m glad that I’ve been journaling over the years, but I am now going to make it a point to journal more consistently. She also warns people though, that journaling is a great thing to do, but to keep a watch so that you aren’t becoming an observer of your life, that you aren’t just doing things to record them, but actually living life. I think I’m going to start journaling on a more consistent basis, but to a point where I am intentional about what I am writing, and not just a brain dump.

Pearl is dropping gems of life and success here! Her topics range in a wide variety, but her point is, live life on your own terms! Also, “Praise yourself as much as you fuss at yourself.”

Topics covered:
– Feminism
– Black womanhood
– Black pride/love/respect
– Gender roles
– Sexism
– Racism
– Politics
– Motherhood
– Men/patriarchy
– Everyday Black life
– Marriage/Relationships
– Love
– Self-care/reflection
– Sex

I love how so unapologetic Pearl is and becomes through her early womanhood. She is wild, she is free, she is living! Her main concern throughout her early womanhood was becoming free. Free to live, free to write, free to love, free to mother, free to be a woman, free to be Black and alive. She gives encouragement, warnings, admonishments, advice, and concern for herself, which in turn is something she is giving to her daughter and granddaughter. Live your life, but be careful, there are dangers out there! She shares with us all about how it was for her to make a name for herself. How important it was for her to be independent. How she wanted to be able to write and be in control of her content. How to navigate white spaces when it comes to your art and how you do not have to compromise with those who do not understand the uncensored Black. How important it is to throw off the censors that plague us all as creatives, and how you need to be free to create. She also shared insecurities, rejections and how she got fired numerous times, but that those closed doors did not stop her from pursuing her writing.

“…if you are good enough and true enough to your real self, to your real voice, and talk to the people who are as familiar with that real voice as they are with their own, then it transcends what we have been told are our limitations and reveals not only our specific humanity, but our general connection to the company of other human beings.”

Pearl wants us all to live a life uncompromised. You cannot accomplish anything in this life if you are worried about what other people think about you or what you are doing. You have to be authentic and live a life regardless of the praise or admonishments you get. “I would have never have accomplished what I did if I’d live the life others thought I should live. You have to be authentic about who you are.”

You have to tell the truth to yourself. Period.

“The truth–that’s the whole thing; that’s what life is. I’ve learned to tell the truth, most of all to myself. The exciting thing about life is that you learn more as you go along. But it also gets less complicated as you get older. You no longer need to decide whether to tell the truth. You just peel back the layers. You have to figure out who you are. It robs your life of so much richness not to claim it all. I think I’m engaged in living a really interesting life now. I remember as an 11-year-old kid wanting an interesting life, and living this way, with truth, is how I’ve been able to have it. –“ Pearl Cleage https://tatteredcover.shelf-awareness…

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The Sisters are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris (2nd edition)

The Sisters Are Alright, Second Edition: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America

The Sisters Are Alright, Second Edition: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“… the world does not love Black women – not in the way we deserve to be loved. It doesn’t truly see us. Our authentic collective and individual selves are usually hidden by racist and sexist stereotypes that we can’t seem to shake – or rather, images that other folks won’t let us shake.”

Having read Feminist AF by the Crunk Collective, Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen, Blaxhaustion, Karens & Other Threats to Black Lives and Well-Being by Theresa Robinson, I’m pretty deep into feminism and particularly the way Black women navigate in these feminist waters, under the Alice Walker’s coined term, Womanist. I whole-heartedly love the way Tamara Winfrey Harris discusses all of the issues Black women face today, with a look back into the past to see where and how far we’ve come, in order to set our selves up for the future.

Harris discusses misogynoir, how Black women are depicted in the media, how Black women are treated, talked to, passed over, looked under, maligned, dogged, and abused by every body on this planet. She informs the masses that Black women, despite the many generations of wrongful mistreatment, we are still amazing beings. “Black women are a million different kinds of amazing.” We have been the shit since the beginning of time, and if you aren’t hip, then you lose out. Period. “No one can define Black women like Black women.”

Harris talks about the beauty industry and how Black women are constantly being erased, dumbed down, lightened up, hair straightened, shaped and molded to perfection to be consumable. She talks about how the “unfiltered Black” has to constantly be on guard, least she be erased because of her refusal to adhere to White standards of beauty and comeliness. Harris discusses how our own generational traumas are perpetuated by people who are our own. Those who talk out the side of their neck to uphold patriarchal stereotypes and ideals just to save face and/or have a place in society without reproach. However, no matter what you do as a Black women, no one is coming to save you. We have to save ourselves because everyone is trying to pit us against each other and keep us in this impossible box that serves no one. We cannot allow ourselves to feel responsible or buy into the notion of adapting to oppression, we must demand that society and those around us stop treating Black women differently than others.

Harris also warns about the dangers of respectability politics, which Sesali Bowen brings up in her book. The respectability politics harms us more than anything. Respectability politics has the ability to deny Black women pleasure, and education in numerous ways that can lead to our detriment. We have to be authentic if we’re going to love ourselves correctly. Trying to appease to white culture and their standards of living, beauty, love, and fairness is not something we can do. Or should be anything we should strive for… it’s not for us. We have nothing to prove. We are alright. We’ve always been alright. We will continue to be alright. Nothing is wrong with us. We are human. We are complex. We are amazing.

Harris also discusses Black motherhood, village raising, revolutionary self-care, self-awareness, self-love, how to deal with race, gender, socioeconomic problems, and the myth of the Strong Black Woman. The ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope is killing us. We are complex human beings that deserve rest, relaxation, to be stress free, and to see ourselves fully, not just when things are going well or wrong, but in all capacities. We are deserving of love. We are deserving of protection. We are deserving of being vulnerable. We are deserving of existing in our own right.

We, the Black women, the sisters, we are still alright. Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise. You are a queen deserving of all the praise. We are pushing back against the stereotypes, and are making people accountable for treating us poorly. We are getting free every single day. This book, will help you see that you, my sister, are alright.

Highly recommend: 5 stars

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White Like Her by Gail Lukasik

White Like Her: My Family's Story of Race and Racial Passing

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book for my bookclub, and would not have picked this book up on my own. I know I can be somewhat nit-picky about books and how they are written, but this one in particular grated on my nerves.

From the first chapter I was in dislike, not with the actual story of Gail Lukasik learning about her family, but of the way in which she wrote about this journey she took herself on. I understood why and how she felt the need to learn more about her ancestry, but I felt like she wrote this from a white woman’s gaze who wanted people to take sympathy in her naivety about her not knowing anything about her mixed heritage.

So she finds out she’s Black because her mother secretly passed for white, and now her white woman entitlement and tears and whatever white fragility she has comes screaming out as she learns she’s not as white like she thought. Her book has the vibes of, “woe is me, I’m Black now. Here comes the disappointment and feelings/shame of being less than…” That’s what I got. I feel like she wrote this book in the vein of having won the prize for being white, but then it gets snatched away because she finds out she’s Black and now has to live in inferiority. In one instance she equated Black life to now all of who she is and her accomplishments are going to be questioned, and that makes Black people, who are Black and look Black, question and see themselves from a perspective that see us as less than, inferior, always questioned about our credentials, etc. I was deeply offended when I read that in her book. As if being Black should be a damning curse. Maybe to white people, being Black is a curse, but damnit, being Black is beautiful, and this book didn’t come across as finding out something exciting and thrilling, but finding out she’s a burden on society, having to navigate white spaces in fear, and thinking her life’s work is going to be questioned just because people are finding out that she’s Black. I wanted to throw this book away, but I couldn’t, ‘cause it was a library book.

To me, the book was empty. Other than writing a book about the journey she went on to find out her mother’s race, the rest of the book was empty filler and uninteresting. Her point of view sounded like she was teaching white people about something she just learned, but in fact has been here for hundreds of generations. “Passing” is nothing new in the Black community. It does come with great trepidation, especially if one is caught trying to “pass,” but it can also come with great rewards for being able to step over the color line and not look back. It can also be isolating and harrowing, living your life in fear of being found out, but also never able to really be yourself… always pretending.

I felt like this book was a behind-the-scenes view of what she went through to write her book and also learn about her mixed race heritage. I also felt like this book was a bore and did not uplift the Black community at all with her learning of how rich her ancestry actually is, she sounded very ashamed in many ways to find out she has some Black ancestry in her heritage. Even after she learns she has some Black heritage, she’s very careful to share how small the percentage actually is, to be sure to other white people, that it’s nothing crazy, it’s only a drop, so I’m still safe and white, and … and… and…

“Passing” is nothing easy. You lose family. You couldn’t go back and forth like you can now. It was a grave danger to “pass” for white because you would automatically be entitled to “The American Dream.” If you are found to be living a lie, then horrendous dangers could come and annihilate you and your entire family. Her mother was brave to have passed over, but to wind up in the throes of a racist bigot, now that’s ironic.

Her mother’s depression I’m sure came to be because she had lost her family and couldn’t go back. That she had somehow finagled her way into white spaces all to be married to a bigot, and had to live in fear of her own husband. I’m glad that Gail finally had a chance to solve her family’s mystery, but she doesn’t get kudos from me. Being Black is a blessing and not a curse, and Black people should not have to live in fear of being found out. It was horrible that her mother had to make a huge life decision to actually “pass,” and to do so that came with some fear and trepidation in her own home. No wonder she had depression.

I don’t believe Gail fully understood the enormous bravery it took her mother, and the toll it took on her life to be able to do what she did. It seemed like Gail was scared to be Black, scared to learn that people in her family were enslaved and slave owners, and that she is apart of the society that discriminated people like her mother. Maybe now that she’s learned of more family, whether they are Black or non-Black, she should cherish them for who they are and not what they are.

2.5 stars – rounded up to 3.

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Bad Fat Black Girl by Sesali Bowen

Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist

Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listening to this book was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Although I probably could have physically read this book quickly, listening to the author read her own work was quite amazing.

After having read Feminist AF by the Crunk Collective, who’s backdrop of feminism is against 90s hip-hop, Sesali Bowen went in a similar direction, but towards trap music as her backdrop, which presents a whole ‘nother experience if you are familiar with trap music.

Hearing the author read her words and hearing her voice, tone, inflection, emphasis, etc., really brought this book to life for me and I was instantly able to connect with the content of her book in a wide open way. Especially seeing that I grew up in the hiphop and trap music era, surrounded by the Black American ghetto of Cleveland, OH.

Although Sesali Bowen focuses on being fat and Black while growing up under the backdrop of hiphop and trap music, Black women can especially relate to her and how our bodies are constantly policed and criticized for any and everything.

Bowen also explores sex work, feminism, Black queerness, classism, sexism, violence towards Black women, and how gender and race play a huge part in how society views Black women who are not the picture of perfection. I feel like this book is a love letter to Fat Black Badass Black women who can easily identify with Bowen, but also Black women who are not necessarily seen as “fat,” but the misogynoir that is directed towards Black women, I feel like we can all relate to. This is a love letter to all of us who grew up in the hood, who had to focus on survival vs being privileged enough to not have the same or similar issues with socioeconomic issues that people in the hood have to deal with.

Although Black people are not a monolith, I feel like we’ve all had similar experiences because we’ve all been forced into certain spaces and experiences because of our race, gender, socioeconomic status and education level. Another thing I related to with Bowen’s work was her ability to meet us all where we are, but has space for people to be who they are whether highly educated or struggling to make ends meet. Just because you came from the hood, doesn’t mean that you can’t politick and are not educated or have no skill set. We should be able to be who we are without policing our bodies, the way we speak and talk to others, the way we move through situations and handle our finances, and handle societal pressures with dignity and be proud of where you come from and your experiences that shaped and molded you to who you are today.

Bowen talks about trap music in detail and the lyrics that is diametrically opposed to certain issues within feminism. For example, how we can be called ‘bitches and hoes,’ in the music, but not be an actual bitch or hoe and still love the music, still love the attention men/people give you, or actually love being the ‘bitch or hoe’ and being successful in selling yourselves in order to get what we need to get. “We do what we have to, when we can’t do what we want to.” She also proclaims that she is ‘with all the shits and not one to try,” and I love that! Bowen’s work makes me feel aggressively self-determined, and I’m so glad her voice is here to give us another perspective of feminism that is focused on Black women/femmes who has been left out of conversations because they don’t fit the ideal picture of what the society feels is the norm.

I am a trap feminist. I’m with all the shits and not one to try! Though I may be highly educated, I’m still from the hood and can come with it if tried on any given day. That is the magic about us, and especially Black women who are the most educated people in this world. We have to navigate so many spaces and places that we need this perspective to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged because though we may nod and pop our fingers to Megan Thee Stallion’s music, but we can also push our dissertations and handle job interviews, all while code-switching (or not), and check a bitch if necessary when we need to.

This book says to me: “Bitch, I gotchu!” Which is used as a term of endearment and a declaration of solidarity, all while processing how those words are often used to demean and belittle us, but can also be seen as a term of friendship, solidarity, and familiarity. I loved it!

5 stars!

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