DELMAR — The topic of race is a conversation scrolling from national headlines to words shared over family dinner, and it can be an uncomfortable one.
Weeks after two converging rallies vollied insults towards one another — Back the Blue vs. Black Lives Matter — it’s clear such a conversation is worth having. The question, however, is how best to conduct it.
Kate Lambert has taken the charge on how to orchestrate such discourse. The librarian at Bethlehem Public Library will conduct the first of her “Anti-Racist Book Group” through a Zoom conference meeting (tonight) on Wednesday, July 22.
“Libraries are for everyone,” said Lambert. “Libraries are devoted to equity; access to equity, access to opportunities, information, technology. So, of course, the issue of anti-racism falls into that realm and it fits the mission of libraries.”
Lambert’s approach is a younger generation’s perspective on the topic that reaches beyond what many read in high school years before. “Black Like Me,” written by John Howard Griffin, was a pioneering look at how the treatment of Black people in the deep South during the height of the Civil Right Movement.
In 1960, the white journalist famously overdosed on methoxsalen and exposed himself to hours of ultraviolet light for the purpose of darkening his skin. He spent six weeks in Louisiana and documented his experience appearing as a Black man. It was a learning experience for him as much as it was for his readers. As he noted one event in his book, he instinctively went to yield his bus seat to a white woman but stopped once he received glares from Black passengers. As genuine as Griffin’s efforts were to capture the strife of marginalized people, it would remain impossible for him to articulate issues as a whole.
Author Corinne Duyvis coined use of the social media hashtag “Own Voice.” It’s an internet movement she started in 2015 as a means of promoting works of fiction featuring marginalized characters written by authors of the group they portray. Lambert said such fiction doesn’t just allow readers to immerse themselves into a different world, it is told through an authentic voice.
The idea for the book group germinated from a query emailed by one of the library’s patrons. Lambert said she fielded the idea and ran with it. Growing up as a young, white woman in the Hudson Valley, she doesn’t recall the first time she heard the phrase “white privilege.” It’s a construct only recently introduced to the lexicon of today’s suburbia, and a polarizing topic many continue to struggle with. Lambert, who describes home as a place for “lots of hippies,” said she was raised with a more socially conscious awareness.
“I feel like these issues have been on my radar for a very long time,” said Lambert. “I would say I was exposed to this kind of idea more than others may have been, and that’s the way that I am privileged.”
The first book group begins with a discussion over “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. The New York Times bestselling author places everyday racism into proper context, from what’s happening in today’s headlines to the jokes shared between college roommates. It delves into intersectionality, affirmative action, model minorities and white privilege.
The context behind the conversation Lambert intends to share allows participants to be enlightened without thrusting friends or acquaintances into the unwanted position of being the voice of a group. Especially when it’s not their responsibility to educate you. A second book group is scheduled for Thursday, July 23, at 7 p.m.
Lambert said copies of “So You Want to Talk About Race” are in high demand, but cardholders have instant access to the audiobook through Hoopla. The title is also available as a simultaneous audiobook through Overdrive through July 26. You will also find the Anti-Racist Book Group on Goodreads. You’ll find more information, as well as links to register, follow the discussion on Goodreads and download the audiobook from Hoopla at https://bit.ly/BPLantiRacist.
The goal is to do the labor to educate ourselves on these issues, by using the resources that are available,” said Lambert. “It’s not only important to study systemic racism, we need to care about and celebrate other lives, unique cultures.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
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