Dr. Laura Jiménez joins Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton to examine ways to lead effective discussions centered on diversity and antiracism.
Jiménez and Broughton use our Vermont Reads 2020 choice, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, as a catalyst for the conversation. The free event was co-sponsored by the Vermont Library Association.
Dr. Laura Jiménez is Department Chair for Language & Literacy Education at Boston University. She studies literature and literacy through a social justice lens, and focuses on the ways teachers understand the systems of inequity and privilege at play in education, and their own roles within those systems.
Dr. Laura Jiménez: When I am doing these kinds of workshops, when I’m doing this work in libraries, when we’re doing this work in classrooms, I ask people to understand that there is not always going to be a red bow, that nice little red bow ending, that we’re going to learn and we’re going to discuss and hopefully we will change but we’re not going to come to an end. Instead, hopefully we will leave with more questions and more ideas as we exit the conversation.
Welcome to the Portable Humanist, the podcast where you can listen to Vermont Humanities talks and learn when you’re on the go. I’m Ryan Newswanger.
Vermont Reads is our statewide, one-book reading program, where communities around Vermont read the same text, and then host events around the book’s themes.
Our current Vermont Reads choice is “The Hate U Give” by Angie C. Thomas. In October of 2020, Latinx literacy scholar Dr. Laura Jiménez joined Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton on Zoom, for an event hosted by the Vermont Library Association. Jason and Dr. Jiménez talked about ways to lead effective book discussions that are centered on diversity and antiracism.
Here’s Jason Broughton.
Jason Broughton: We will be using The Hate U Give as a reference to talking about anti-racism programming while at the same time offering ways in which you would be looking at topics such as this even bordering gently on controversial topics. Again when I said is with sadness, it is with sadness that you actually have to have if you think about this, a workshop that says you need to be anti-racist. That really says something to me. If you pay attention to that in this day in time, yes, this might’ve always been an undercurrent within the country but never before have you had to actually openly declare it. I find that just absolutely astounding. I mean, this should be the norm and when I say that, I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who is racist say that they’re racist. Know that I know there are a lot of people who have certain types of issues. No one wants to be labeled a racist because they know exactly what that means and so for us to even have this conversation, it means that we are at a very interesting point in time and with that, we want to show how libraries can help foster different types of conversation. As we go forward, please know that this is not something that you want to jump in all the way, unless you wish to be so bold. We will be offering lots of tips and advice on how to start these conversations because they can be painful. They can also rupture and they can also fracture. If you don’t, as I like to call it, ’cause I like to cook and bake for those who know me, you must set the table properly. When the table is set properly, we all know what that means. There’s a little something for everybody. Otherwise people will sit at the table unhappy and you will definitely know what that means. So with them, I am going to start off with my first question to Dr. Jiménez, with a simple one. What brought you to this type of work and its importance?
Dr. Jiménez: So first of all, I want to thank the Vermont Humanities again for selecting me, for reaching out. I’ve really enjoyed working with the organization and it’s been only a pleasure to have a few ongoing conversations with Jason. It’s just been fabulous. It’s nice when you find your people, you know, so what brought me to this? What’s interesting is I have, so to look at me, I am a white presenting person right? You might think vaguely ethnic, maybe some beige in the background somewhere, but I’m a white presenting person and then you see my name. My name is Laura Maria Jiménez. That is sort of like Mary Sue Johnson for Chicanos. It is such a popular name and so my mother is white, my mother is born of immigrants. My grandfather was from Ireland and my grandmother was from Germany, which means she’s pretty much translucent. She is without pigment at all and my dad is Chicano. My dad is Mexican-American, although we’re not really sure where he was born, little hazy, could have been born in America could have been born in Mexico. We’ve got a baptismal certificate. We don’t have a birth certificate until he was about a year old, not unusual for that part of the country. I grew up in Long Beach, California in East LA, California and I am Loretta, I’m the white one, I’m Whitey and I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s under Daryl Gates and let’s remember Daryl Gates is the one who came up with the idea of SWAT teams. He militarized the police force in Los Angeles. So that’s where I grew up and having a, and I grew up with a Mexican family, being the white one, I grew up in what’s Gloria Anzaldua talks about growing up and being part of, or being in your identity, being in a liminal space in that space, in between. So think about if you’re walking from a hallway into a room, but you stop in the doorway, are you in the hallway? Are you in the room?-
Jason: I would add, I think for a lot of minorities, we would call that as you know, particularly in the African-American community, so you’re passing.
Dr. Jiménez: Yup.
Jason: And lots of minorities have that and some people in on this call might actually understand what that means but if you don’t, just as Dr. Jiménez said, you’re in in-between, you can pass where you walk into a room and people say, you’re not exactly one of us, but you’re not exactly one of them. I’m not going to exactly ask you but I think I’ve limited it down to you’re a light-skinned black person or, Oh, maybe you’re a Mexican might be a little bit Columbia I’m not sure and that’s where you’re in you’re straddling these two sides.
Dr. Jiménez: And I think because of that, when I started studying for my PhD, I was really very interested in the kids that aren’t reading and why aren’t they reading? And what finally gets them to reading? Those are the questions that I started with and we see the importance of reading early childhood, early adolescents, adolescents, young adulthood, we see the importance of it. We know history of United States says over and over again, that literacy is a path to freedom and the history of the United States also says that history is, excuse me, that reading is a resource that will be kept from marginalized communities, purposefully kept from marginalized communities and so that’s why I came into this is because I know the history, I know what the results are and we need to stop and so literacy and the right of literacy, the human right of literacy is paramount and for me, that involves looking at the literature.
Jason: Perfect. So let’s get into a little bit, let’s talk about, I was at preface to getting into “The Hate U Give”, let’s say everyone can imagine this. You are at your library, you’ve invited a variety of people and you were about to begin. So as you are thinking of that on an imaginary status Dr. Jiménez, what should people already have in place or have prepared to have in place to begin launching into a book similar to this? Or I will also say controversial, even though anti-racism should not be controversial, controversial topics. What needs to be in place already before or versus, hey, I got this book, it sounds really good, a lot of people talking about it, let’s all get together and talk about it.
Dr. Jiménez: Right? So I love your metaphor of setting the table, right? It’s such a beautiful idea because it also invokes that we’re all together, that we’re in a communal space and so I think one of the pieces that is often overlooked is setting community norms. So in other words, even as part of the invitation, as part of the response, now that we’re on virtual, we can ask people to register and then we send them a link and we could actually put on that link, we could put a little text that says, here are the community norms that we’re going to adhere to and one of them will be, the expectation of civil discourse. It doesn’t have to be nice or friendly, but it has to be civil and yes civility can be argued that it means different things but I think if we saw the debate, we’ll see civil discourse is not easy to come by these days.
Jason: It’s very difficult. Well and with that response, how does one appreciate and I hope that a lot of librarians have thought about this, what should ground rules look like? So we have civility at the top. What are some other things with topics of race and culture, society and class that should already be kind of established where people don’t feel that they have to have this need, which we all do, which is we’re human and sometimes guess what, there is a compelling need to want to win a discussion, which is quite an interesting thing when you think about that. I have to win this discussion on race and it’s like, well, how does that work?
Dr. Jiménez: It’s really yeah, I think, so I’ll tell you this, when I am doing these kinds of workshops, when I’m doing this work in libraries, when we’re doing this work in classrooms, I ask people to understand that there is not always going to be a red bow, that nice little red bow ending, that we’re going to learn and we’re going to discuss and hopefully we will change but we’re not going to come to an end. Instead, hopefully we will leave with more questions and more ideas as we exit the conversation.
Jason: Well, that’s perfect. You just segued into my next question of how do we prepare though, as we go through the discussion with people, if we were in person or productive virtually, how do we have people turn on active listening and use it properly? ‘Cause it’s not hearing, we all know what hearing is. When I was growing up, my mother would actually asked two questions. “Did you hear me you and your brother or did you just listen?” What’s going on here? And it was like, “Yeah, we heard you” and she said, “But that’s what I didn’t want you to do. Did you listen to what I said?” “Yes mother we did.” Of course, different times and I now understand there is a key difference between active listening and hearing.
Dr. Jiménez: Yeah. I think sometimes it can be challenging, more challenging with adults than with students. I’m just going to say that right up front. More challenging with adults, because we are used to being the ones who are right in the room and right is also that winning. I’m going to use the scare quotes a lot. Right? So right is also the idea of winning the argument being right. When I am starting these kinds of conversations and I would really encourage people to simply say, listen, we are in a racist, sexist, homophobic, Predominantly Christian, middle-class able society. That that is our normed value and what I mean by that is when we think about what is normal in scare quotes, what is normal, that is that very small area of identity, white, able, male, cis-gendered, straight, Christian. That’s it. Which means that we all grow up thinking that’s what we should be measured against. So our society has this idea. Our society is purposely built to support that idea, that ideal norm and in that case, part of what that function is, part of our function to support that is oppression because you cannot have an ideal norm if you’re not going to measure everybody else and everybody else is going to come up shy, they’re going to come up short, they’re going to come up wanting. So I actually begin these conversations by letting people know this is the society we live in, we are all affected by our society, which means we all hold racist, ideals. We all hold sexist ideas. We all hold, none of us get out of get out of this unscathed and if we can simply say, that’s where I’m starting from and I want to recognize that and I want to grow from there. So you’ve got civilized talk, you can admit where we are, then you can think about when we’re listening to each other, when I immediately disagree, what can I do? Because our immediate, what’s our immediate? But I, hold on to the defense. I’d literally, when I have discussions, I take notes. I have a pad of paper next to me, I’m taking notes, I’m listening to things that you say, I’m making sure I don’t forget things, I will always do that and part of that is my way of listening and I want to make sure that I am taking in what you’re saying, even when I disagree so far I haven’t disagreed with anything Jason, but who knows, it’s early in the day Jason.
Jason: No you have not.
Dr. Jiménez: But I will be able to say I’ve got that.
Jason: Perfect. Well let’s get into a little bit of the book. I’m only going to do a few questions out of that in case people have not read it, but you’ll kind of understand the topic if you have not, because we’re going to kind of hopefully transcend the actual question and get into a little bit of reality that we’re experiencing. So within the book, one of the things that I found very unique that we probably all go through, but here is where you move into race and class and culture, even geography can come into this if you think about it. So Starr, is let’s say having a flashback about her parents and within that, she’s thinking of when she was young and of course, as the book goes on, she’s thinking about how we all had to be, well not all of us, we hope that all of you’s bees say that had some adult talk to you about the birds and the bees. Of course, if you were like me with a scientific mind, your parents look at you, like, why are you making this hard? And I’m like the birds and bees can’t have sex. I don’t understand this. What are you talking about? Don’t people have sex, but I was a different child. So within that, the things that were very unique is being told and some people might find it very interesting. A lot of parents there is more with this with race, as opposed to class actually do have to sit down and tell their children how to engage the police if the police engage them and so when we have this type of conversation, one of the questions that the book kind of asks, if you had to be asked this question of yourself, how many of you have personally had an experience like that? I know some women have talked about, well I felt with this male cop, in my case, my father was a sheriff in South Carolina. So I’m a part of the law enforcement community but that man had to tell me and my brother, here’s what you’re going to do if you are ever engaged by the police.
Dr. Jiménez: The talk.
Jason: The talk. secondly, my father particularly talked to me as opposed to my brother. My brother is a little bit more shy, timid, even though he’s like six foot three. I, however, if you know me, I talk a lot and my father said, well this is why you will not make it into the settler Jason, you are probably going to be hazed into submission and so within that, I knew what he was saying is my mouth would get me in trouble because I’m not going to be disrespectful but if you stop me, what did I do? Could you please explain to me why you stopped me? And that could lead to an altercation and you’re talking about, Oh my goodness, the ’80s which was the heyday of this. So how do you help people in a situation where you’re having a book discussion, of this book or a different one, but you have something where you now diverge class and society to say, well, how many of you had that experience? ‘Cause I’m sure some people in the room have not had the experience. How do you help the group navigate those conversations if it is truly diverse? ‘Cause the goal would be, if you’re having a book discussion, you’re not going to have everybody in the group, say I’m not even sure what this question means, have you been stopped? You’re going to probably, if you do it right, you’re going to have people say, well, yes, I been stopped frequently. In fact, I was stopped the other day, as opposed to I’ve never been stopped. What is this thing called the police? What do they do? So how do you navigate that when you immediately set up a question where there’s going to be a break?
Dr. Jiménez: Right. So in education, we do address that. So the idea of having to diversify or differentiate our content for experience. It’s not new, it’s not rocket science. As the person doing the facilitation, I have to be ready for, to be that facilitator, to be that person that can help people bridge that gap and I have spoken to, I often I’m in Boston, I’m at Boston University. It is not unusual for me to have only white people in the class, not unusual at all. It’s a predominantly white institution, I’m in education, which means it’s a predominantly white field. It’s not unusual for me to have a vast majority of white women in the class.
Jason: How do you help them transcend that and understand the reality then?
Dr. Jiménez: So one of the things that I work very hard in doing is finding these kinds of metaphors or ideas or experiences they may have, that I can then help them transfer into understanding this new knowledge. So again, college of education about at the last big study that was done, 82% of teachers in America are women and I believe something like 78% of teachers are white. So that’s, I know my audience, the thing that women know living in a patriarchy is the fear and trauma of male sexual violence, of male initiated sexual violence, of toxic masculinity. We know that very well, we see it every day, we feel it every day. It is the common thread that guides most of our behavior. If it’s on the street, it’s on our relationship, if it’s in our families, it is a common, it is the air we breathe. If I can talk about that and say, listen, when you go into a garage at night and there’s not a lot of cars, you know that feeling that you get, your senses are heightened, you’re ready to fight or flight, you’ve got, you’re looking all around, you’re not breathing, you know, you’re breathing very shallowly, you’ve got all of that going on. That is what African-Americans feel around police officers most of the time. That feeling is the same because you are under attack, you are ready to be under attack. Giving them that metaphor, giving them that shared experience, although it is a different context, can help people understand that it is not unique, that these feelings are not unique. Jason, I think one of the things that you hint at and that you’ve touched on several times is the commonality of oppression. Oppression comes in many forms, but oppression has one playbook. and that playbook is the same across all marginalized societies, all marginalized communities and we recognize it when we are given time to recognize it.
Jason: Perfect. With that I’m going to segue into how to deal with what is known as the dissonance in certain populations and in certain States. Yes, Vermont is a predominantly white state and being the chair of the census, it’s actually 96.8% white at last count from 2010, with that, taking a book that is going to be what some would consider more urban in it’s design, how do you help readers who might not have ever experienced or even understood or been connected to anybody, living in an urban society, understand different parts? The best example would be, the book kind of starts out talking about Tupac Shakur who I grew up listening to, with that and of course, one of his most famous songs.-
Dr. Jiménez: West coat is the best coast.
Jason: Oh, here we go now. See me and Dr. Jiménez with West Coast versus East Coast, she knows that East coast rappers are the best but I’m going to be quiet on that okay. All right. I’m going to shut that down real quick, but I’ll be quiet you drag yourself back.
Dr. Jiménez: Coming back.
Jason: Okay. So within that, you have a lot of references to a lot of urban culture and when I say that, I don’t like to say just exactly black culture. I don’t necessarily always use that. This is something when you live in cities or even in suburbs, you see a culture that flourishes and you say, Oh no, that’s just not the culture. That is not necessarily a black culture. It’s an urbanized or a suburbanized item. When terms like “Thug Life” or different parts of music come up, how do help people understand through pretext how that interplays throughout the story and it’s importance? How do you ground the reader who has never experienced that to even say, what does this mean? I don’t understand what this term is.
Dr. Jiménez: So one of the beautiful things about Angie Thomas’ work is that she took the time to write a book that functions as both. So there’s a literacy scholar, her name is Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop and she talks about excuse me, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”. So literature as a, for the reader as a window into another place, like I’m not part of it but I can see, a mirror, meaning I can, it reflects my reality or a sliding glass door, which means, again, I am not of that culture, but through this experience, I can walk among that culture.
Jason: And that just sounds something that libraries do continuously in our mantra to have people have experiences.
Dr. Jiménez: Exactly.
Jason: To literature.
Dr. Jiménez: Yes and Angie Thomas, as an author, did a phenomenal job of providing us with senses, with sounds and smells and the tactile feeling of the city of the heat of the night, of the cars on the freeways, of all of these things. So she gives us as the reader, even if you’re not familiar with that urban landscape, she provides the reader with those senses, with that reality. The reader has to be open to taking those cues in and being engulfed in that reality that Angie Thomas created so gorgeously and carefully. I would also say Toni Morrison talked about the idea of writing literature that did not center whiteness and she talked about it being writing against, writing without the white gaze in mind and I don’t mean white gays, like I’m a lesbian and I’m white presenting, I don’t mean like that, I mean gaze like with your eyes, you know gaze and this book is an interesting book because of that. I don’t think this was written necessarily with the African-American or even the urban experience, the urban reader or the African-American reader in mind. I think it was actually written to bridge these two worlds.
Jason: I would agree. I would agree it is a book for for everyone to understand each other, as they’re pulling to me it’s like a tug of war. We’re both in this thing together. Maybe we should just drop the rope at the same time, as opposed to trying to pull each other each side.
Dr. Jiménez: Yes and you mentioned Tupac and I think, and I’m going to, I literally write, you know where I come from and you know what age I am and one of the things I do is I give some of his poetry. ‘Cause his lyrics are poetry stats to you know, a fabulous, you know, sometimes I’m someone I’m not crazy about his beats, but whatever and I give his poetry, there’s a small poetry book that I give students of his work and although he is grounded in the urban experience, he talks a lot about air and nature and freedom and I think that is another thing that can help bridge this. We’re not in separate worlds. We are sharing a world.
Jason: Now, as we move forward, let’s get to a little bit of the juiciness of the book, if you want to call it that the plot line starts to unravel in “The Hate U Give” and there is a shooting and so much like current society, there is a shooting and then there’s a series of events afterwards but I’m going to talk about that little tiny part of time, right after a shooting and how history begins to be created by events and so you have the shooting occur and within that Starr goes into looking at what has to be a conversation with the police and if you’re in a book group and you have this go through, you start to have questions which would be okay, the detective starts to shift the question from, well, okay, well what happened and who did this to? Well, let’s talk about his past, what’s going on in his background. Well, let’s talk about his past. What’s going on in his background? Why did he allow himself to get shot? There are lots of questions that people have about this because it’s a portrayal of the media comes in because that information is promoted out. Some people say, oh, here we go. We’re going to trash the victim first to say, well, you kind of deserve to be shot. How do you have appropriate recognition and conversation of those experiences when someone might as well, that is important to know this person’s background?
Dr. Jiménez: So they say the victor creates, the victor writes the history and in this rewriting, in this retelling in this reimagination of an incidence you see throughout the book that Khalil becomes less of a victim and more of a perpetrator for simply opening his door and so for me, again, because I’m looking at a piece of literature, I will go back to the text and again the author gives us such a moment by moment look at the scene. It’s begins in like, on like page 20, it’s three or four pages of moment by moment of what Khalil’s actions actually are. So we can, as we are progressing throughout the book and as the conversation is leaving and we’re starting to bring in our life experience or understandings or our biases, prejudices and stereotypes, it’s important to bring it back to the text and say, look, we can actually go and look and see what happened, because this is a work of fiction and I guarantee you, the reality is on the page and we can look at it. Khalil gets out of the car, yes he’s not cooperative, yes, there’s no law saying you have to be cooperative. He does want to know why he was stopped. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t know why we are stopped. He gives the officer everything he needs. He gives him his license, he gives me his insurance, he gives him his registration. He does absolutely everything. The only thing he does is he gives him attitude as Starr talks about it and he turns away from the officer, he reaches for the door knob of his car and he kind of leans in to check on Starr to make sure she’s okay. That is why he loses his life. That is why he is shot and Angie Thomas breaks that down so clearly. There cannot be a question. and so because we’re looking at a piece of media because we’ve got that in the book, we can always go, let’s go back to this page and let’s look and see what happened.
Jason: This is perfect ’cause it segues a little bit into a nuance that you were describing as to her emotions and talking about the situation down the road but it goes into a little bit of what you were hinting at, which I want to explore a little bit bigger and it can show different comparisons again, between our class and culture, not necessarily race, but class and culture, which is, how do you define family? One of the examples that I give is when COVID was coming out, I clicked through a lot of news very early morning and I realized that there was a public shaming of a person in Georgia. What they had done is as they heard the virus was coming, you might’ve heard of this, this man went out and bought like 20,000 bottles of sanitizer and then he decided he was going to sell it at a market rate of almost 200% and the community had to shame him but I will never forget his comment because I went, I wonder how many people think like that Or is that just somebody of a certain type of person? And he said, I did this for my family and this is what the economy says I can do and so I offered that as a situation to say, how does family in various cultures and races express itself? And how does that work when you know in minority nor to communities, which I grew up, you and even probably some Caucasian communities, you might have this where you know the person, not really a blood relative, but you will say, well, that was uncle Jason over there. That’s uncle Jason, even though it’s like, well, is he really uncle? No he’s really a friend, but we call him uncle Jason ’cause he’s really like my uncle. Oh yeah. I think what you’re talking about is this idea and this is predominantly white American, white middle-class American individualism. It is the absolute belief that the individual is the highest form of life on this planet. That as long as you are taking care of what you recognize as you and yours, you’re good. Now what’s interesting about this is that culturally we do not agree on who is our community. Culturally, that’s where it comes down to. Now look, I’m going to get really geeky here are you ready? You ready? So like I’m a PhD and so every once in a while, I’m a nerd out hard. So there is some really interesting neurological sciences that’s going on where it turns out there’s some cells in our brain that literally their only function is to mirror the emotions of people that you’re talking to. So if you’re telling me a story and you’re telling me a sad story, I’m going to mirror that emotion. All right and I’m going to feel sad, thing didn’t happen to me but I’m literally going to feel sad I’m going to share that emotion with you. It’s the beginnings of empathy. All right. Got it. All right. So take that little piece of information. These mirror neurons in our brains. Then let’s talk about us and them. We also know that human beings are really good at deciding us and them and culturally it depends on how, culturally, that’s where it gets a little bit messy of who us is and who them is but across the spectrum, whoever them is, they don’t deserve us, we deserve. Us good, them bad. So that’s the basic human trait. What culture does is it takes this human trait and it overlays on top of it. So my version of us is very much like yours because we’re from marginalized communities where we are economically disadvantage, our us is larger. It includes our neighbors, our neighbors across this way, our Thea’s and our Theo’s, our Primos, it includes our cousins and yeah, I don’t know some of the familial lines, but I know they’re family.
Jason: Like the common phrases you might hear, which a lot of people use now, but growing up you with hear, Oh, this is my brother from another mother.
Dr. Jiménez: Exactly. Yes. Right and in Latino cultures, right my primo. It’s my cousin but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s your aunt’s child. It means that’s my cousin. Right. And so I think what he was doing was for his culture completely appropriate, because his culture prizes the individual and as long as he’s taking care of his individual, us, his nuclear family, in his ethos he’s doing the right thing. The problem with that is if everyone does that which is happening right now, happening right now, we end up with what we have right now.
Jason: I want to move into something where you can help me expand to this and I’m assuming women do this, men do it, but it is more frequent when it comes to minorities but definitely it’s also culture and that is the issue, not an issue, the uniqueness for those who pay attention of code switching and a part of the book, there is a conversation between Chris and Starr and they’re having this connection where she is talking about the death of Khalil and at the same time, there are things where they are both just unloading but within that, there are some things that people might not be aware of what the term code switch means and again, it goes back to our original start of this talking about being in two places at once, navigating two worlds. I’m not sure how many women have just women things they talk about in front of men where men are like I’m not even sure what’s going on. I know men say a certain thing sometimes where a man knows like, Oh, okay and women are like what just went on here? What just happened and of course in minority communities, you say certain terms and people know, Oh, okay, we know what’s about to happen, prepare. So explain code switching so that someone can understand what that might look like and how they might consider what things they might even code switch or have a connection to that type of unique, conversational undercurrent language.
Dr. Jiménez: So code switching is specifically reserved for predominantly African-American, Latino communities and it is this idea that you may have a home register of language. So not necessarily another language, but a home register, the way you speak, your tone of voice, vocabulary that you use, phrases, metaphors, all of these things and when you switch out of that, when you code switch, you begin speaking whiteness. It’s very definitely. So you don’t code switch, so if you come to East LA, you don’t code switch into Spanglish. Correct?
Dr. Jiménez: Right? It’s always reserved for us coming out of our home language, our home dialect, our home nomenclature, if you want to fight all our word and coming into whiteness.
Jason: I know what you’re saying and In one aspect, I could say yes, if I’m greeting Secretary Young, my boss, I might say, “Well good morning secretary” but if I am connecting with my brother, I might go into a complete dialogue of “What it be, what is it today, what’s going on?” I don’t think the governor would appreciate that per se, even though he would understand like, okay, what’s going on here?
Dr. Jiménez: Yeah, exactly. What’s going on? Well, we had an appointment and when we talk about code switching, it’s really important to understand that it is incumbent. It has been traditionally incumbent on marginalized people to be the ones to have both languages. Again, we are the ones doing the switching. In order to get the power and privilege of that predominant social class, racial structure and all that. So James Baldwin talked about double consciousness and again, he was a African-American man. So I’m not going to claim that we have the same understanding of things but when he talked about double consciousness, it was having consciousness of the black community and the beauty of blackness and the beauty and struggle and strife and strength of his community and carrying that with him and the trauma of that community, as well as understanding the predominant white community at the same time. So literally having these two consciousnesses functioning. What code switching does is it allows you to speak fluently with both sides.
Jason: You’re helping our listeners understand that. You’ve now moved into something that is a little bit more difficult to discuss and I would like for you to kind of figure out a way to explain or give us your point of view on the situation. So in the book, the community now knows that someone has been killed, it’s Khalil and of course, within that it all starts with people are gathering, the sirens, everybody’s unhappy and the next thing you know, a gas station’s on fire. So now there is burning and the neighborhood is becoming a war zone and looking at that, what is the best way to begin dialogue? When you might hear a comment from one of the attendees say, I don’t understand why you people burn your communities down. Why do black people do that? How would you engage that conversation? Because I know that question has been posed to me frequently and I’m not going to give my answer because you talked about code switching, which means that you are thinking of both worlds and there is a burden there where my personal view would be, you want to express, I am with you and people should not be burning their own stuff down but at the same time, you almost want to say, well, what choice do they have if people don’t listen to them? What would you do when someone does not listen to you? They really do not listen to you. They’re looking at you and you’re screaming and they still don’t listen to you. What do you want to do with that? And again, you’re not condoning violence. You’re not condoning looting, robbing, burning down the villages but at the same time you are saying, tell me how you want people to react when they’re not heard.
Dr. Jiménez: I think that’s an excellent, that is a really good starting point. This idea that this is an expression of deep anger, trauma, hurt, vulnerability. I would also argue back that they are not in fact burning down their own community because if you see what happens in these communities is they often are burning buildings or looting buildings that are not owned and operated by the people in that community. So the economics of the community. The problem is that white society thinks of things, things get some tape, things as being these objects as being the community. The store is not the community. The gas station is not the community. The car is not the community. The object is not our communities. Our communities are our people, our families, our friends, our primos. We are not hurting them. We are expressing ourselves in a way that we are hoping will be heard, in a way I actually believe that kind of violence, that kind of civil disobedience is another form of code switching because it is a way that white people see it and they say Oh, that is property being damaged. That is important because they literally see property as more important than the people.
Dr. Jiménez: I mean, this isn’t new. We had race riots in Compton, We had Tulsa, which was not a race riot, but that was in fact a group of white people going through and completely decimating a community.
Jason: A bombing.
Dr. Jiménez: Yeah. It was literally a bombing. When we talk about Tulsa, often people don’t talk about, so historians don’t talk about Tulsa as the people that got killed, they talk about the city, they talk about the objects.
Jason: Well I usually also get, there were black people in Tulsa? Wow, that was kind of interesting. That’s usually the first question and I’ve had someone say, well, why are black people in Tulsa? Why were they there at that time? And I’m kind of like the country was considered open for all that say and people could sort of kind of go to the frontier. Didn’t we all agree with, we said we at least would allow that?
Dr. Jiménez: And so again these events, we’re not looking at an isolated event. I think in some ways, like I teach children’s history. I mean, excuse me, I teach children’s literature. I teach books but some of what I end up doing is teaching a hidden history. So the hidden history of the United States is that this is not unique. This is not a one off. We had Stonewall that was in the late ’60s that was where gay, trans, predominantly people of color rose up that was considered the beginnings of the gay rights movement.
Dr. Jiménez: We set fire to cars. We threw bricks at cops ’cause we had finally had it with the police violence and being arrested without cause, all of it. Again, oppression has one rule book. It has one playbook and it happens over and over again and I think Angie Thomas lays it out step-by-step. She’s not shy.
Jason: I’ll kind of close on one thought that I was always moved by when I was in South Carolina by a gentleman who was white and I was much younger and as I’ve aged, I really do appreciate it what he said, well, you know, no matter what happens, here’s one of our problems because I really do believe the average minority, whoever they be, has a lot more in common with the average white person, as opposed to the average rich person. That’s a whole different type of thought and as I age, I realize I do see that now where a lot of people think they have more involvement and connection to someone rich or wanting to attain that level of discussion as opposed to looking right in front of them and saying, my neighbor next door does the same thing I kind of like to do. Why am I not talking to that person? As opposed to, Oh, you have a Jag you say? And this person might look at you and say, are we in the same social class? Why are you talking to me? So quite interesting.
Dr. Jiménez: We have to put these discussions in the context of current and past history because without context, they lack verisimilitude. They lack, I don’t know, Angie Thomas did not write this book in a vacuum. She did not write this book off the top of her head. It was a book that came out of a lived experience of not just an individual, but as a of a community, within a culture and nation that has done nothing short of genocidal action against her and her people. That is what this book is born of and that is how we need to understand it.
Jason: I hope that we’ve been able to offer a perspective a little bit about the book but also guide polls for how you want to examine not only this book, but when you want to talk about topics of culture, race and class, gender and sex, because they can be landmines in your community and Vermont is very unique because the people that we see are just a few steps away from us and it’s such a small state that you’re going to see this person again in some form of fashion. So conversations and how they’re held is so very important because we’re so close knit. I hope that we’ve been able to bring a little bit of insight on how to craft those conversations and just reach across connection to make sure we understand each other.
Dr. Jiménez: I think it was an incredibly prescient move to have Angie Thomas’ book, be the state read. It was actually chosen what a year and a half ago now, something like that. I think, I’m hoping that it opens a conversation within white communities about racism because without the white community understanding and pushing against and refusing to adhere to systems of systematic oppression, especially anti-blackness, it will not change. It is incumbent on white folks to do this work and I think this is a gorgeous piece of literature to start or continue that journey.
Jason: Thank you and I’m glad to have had the conversation with you, dear friend.
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