Reading about Race

At BDS we believe that book groups can help pave the way to a fairer, kinder, stronger New Zealand by being places where people can connect, learn, be inspired, and grow together.

Literature has the power to act as gateway to compassion, hope, love, understanding, epiphany and empowerment. Pair that with the kind of meaningful discussion a book group provides, and it can take your reading from a personal pastime to a shared experience that encourages real-world action and positive change.

In light of the building momentum in the United States and around the world for action around racial inequality, we wanted to share some reading and resources that may help groups to engage with the issues being raised.

It's not comprehensive, nor is it the most 'woke' piece of writing you will find on the subject. But we hope it shows global solidarity and prompts us, as New Zealanders, to examine the inequalities and injustices that occur in our own country as well.


What is Racism?

It might sound like an overly simple question to start with, but a common way people dodge talking about racism is by failing to agree on the definition in the first place. The Merriam Webster Dictionary is updating their definition of racism, highlighting that our understanding of these terms can't stay static as they play out differently in the real world over time.



Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

Let's also begin by acknowledging that this is can be uncomfortable subject matter for Pākeha, who often aren't aware of their own power and privilege relative to non-whites.

In the video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Emmanuel Acho takes the time to address some of the questions asked by his 'white brothers and sisters'. With simple analogies and plain language, Acho summarises some of the key reasons things have reached a tipping point in the US and why it's important for white people to be part of the solution.



Death Row Book Club

The powerful story of Anthony Ray Hinton exposes both the systemic racism that led to his wrongful conviction and also the potential for books to redeem, educate and provide solace. Hinton served 28 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. During that time he was allowed to start a book club, among its members, a fomer Klansman...

Listen to the 27 minute mini-documentary Death Row Book Club on BBC Sounds and read this article for more background on Anthony Ray Hinton's story.

"To Kill a Mockingbird was my favourite...I stumbled upon a book that was me and I couldn't help but to read it and cry...and I always ask, even to this day "why me?" — Anthony Ray Hinton in "Death Row Book Club" on BBC Sounds



Open Books Open Minds

Now, more than ever, it's time to start reading outside your comfort zones. That 'squirmy' feeling you get when you read something confronting — that's signalling an opportunity to grow. Book groups can challenge your perspective and help you see things differently. They can also be safe spaces to ask questions and be vulnerable.

Here are just a few books from the BDS catalogue you may wish to add to your group's reading list for a timely discussion about race and privilege.





Bringing it Home

For anyone still wondering about why what's going on overseas matters here, this edition of The Spin Off's Bulletin gives a nice summary. It points to very real and tangible reasons for people in New Zealand to fear racism and violence from police officers and also explains qualitative differences between here and the US.

See also this interesting dual timeline that parallels events historical events in the USA with the racial injustice happening here in Aotearoa.

There have also been many Māori and other non-Pākeha speaking out about the racial discrimination they face on a daily basis in our country. When you come across these stories, listen. Privilege is the least obvious to those who have it and we all have something to learn.

Kia kaha, kia maru, kia atawhai.
Be strong, be calm, be kind.


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Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations