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23 February 2021

Critical Conversations at the American Library- reflections after the conclusion of the first series

23 February 2021

In November 2020, the American Library in Paris launched a new programming initiative, “Critical Conversations,” that allows Library members to participate in expert-led discussions. “Critical Conversations” represents an exciting opportunity for the Library to offer our members direct, sustained engagement not only with each other, but with professionals in fields of interest at the center of societal change, growth, and transformation. 

Below you will find the syllabus of our first series, which was led by Dr. Tarani Merriweather and entitled “Race in America.” The 25 participants who tuned in from across Europe and America for weekly meetings were central to the success of our pilot and we include community-sourced recommendations they suggested for further reading and reflection below. Thank you to Tarani and all of our participants. 

Stay tuned for announcements regarding future “Critical Conversations” happening at the American Library.  

-Catherine Olien, Programs Manager

About “Critical Conversations”: Our hope is that participants will join us to educate and challenge themselves, through reading and dialogue, on timely topics. We aim to inspire critical conversations within our community, as we believe open debate is vital to healthy societies and democracies. This series is made possible by the generous support of the Heather and Robert Keane Family Foundation.

Syllabus for Critical Conversations- Race in America

American Library in Paris November 2020

Dr. Tarani Merriweather 

Week 1: The Past 

The history of the United States doesn’t start in 1776; it is necessary to go back to the 15th century to acknowledge the genocide of those indigenous to the land. For our limited purposes, we will go back to 1619, when the first enslaved Africans landed on American soil. 

Required:

America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One

Recommended: 

Read: The 1619 Project

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Executive Order Combating Race…

Watch: I Am Not Your Negro 

Listen: When was the electoral college created?

Week 2: The Present 

Much of the racism that is inherent to the country is still felt today, not just in interpersonal interactions, but it is written into the law. Acknowledging race isn’t the problem; racism is. It is not enough to say one is not racist, but it is necessary to be actively anti-racist. Living through a global pandemic has unearthed longseated disparities around access to healthcare with Covid-19 disproportionately affecting Black and brown people the most. 

Required:

Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not. 

Ava DuVernay Talks to Angela Davis About Black Lives Matter

It’s not Obesity. It’s Slavery: Why the Coronavirus Is Killing African Americans 

Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Health Care? One Word: Race

Recommended: 

Watch: 13TH

Read: Vanity Fair’s September 2020 Issue: Guest-Edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Perspective | When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs

Your Anti-racism Books Are a Means, Not an End 

Making America White Again 

Week 3: The Future 

Race relations have certainly changed, but there remain many, many far-reaching disparities, from economic outcomes to whether we are given the benefit of the doubt when stopped by the police. We cannot begin to address the future until we redress the past. 

Required:

The Case for Reparations 

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Recommended: 

Read: Ta-Nehisi Coates Revisits the Case for Reparations

What Is Owed: It Is Time for Reparations

Listen: Tackling The Racial Wealth Gap: William Darity’s Plan For Reparations

And after the series ends…

Continue the conversation after we wrap up with these suggestions for further reading. 

The Election: 

Black People in the US Were Enslaved Well into the 1960s 

Stacey Abrams and Janelle Monáe on the Fight for Democracy in an Election Season for the Ages

Charlottesville belies racism’s deep roots in the North

The Last Slaves of Mississippi?

The Life of Sally Hemings Exhibit

More recommendations sourced during and after the series (submitted by participants):

Books related to race:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The fire next time by James Baldwin

Invisible by Stephen Carter

A Peculiar Indifference by Elliott Currie

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

How to be less stupid about race: on racism, white supremacy and the racial divide by Cristal Fleming

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

Dr. Gloria J. Brown Marshall’s books

Tusk Tusk by David McKee

The South Side, A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Moore 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves

STAMPED by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.  

How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

The Buddhist on Death Row by David Sheff 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stephensen

The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson 

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

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