Five Books/Films to Understand Racism

I think of past movements that brought change in our nation and world. The abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights protest of the 1960s all had naysayers, those who refused to see the importance of the times they lived in. I don’t want this moment to past by without me changing in the process.

As I look at what is happening across the nation, I have been trying to listen and learn. I want to learn and make real changes in my thoughts and actions towards the black experience. There is something profound happening in our country.

Here’s five books and films that I can personally recommend if you want to join me in learning about racism.

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s a book and a movie. It’s also the true story of a black man on death row in Alabama. I haven’t finished the book, but I watched the movie. It moved me to tears. The movie is available free for streaming through the month of June on most streaming services.
  2. undefinedWhite Fragility: Why it’s So hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I am engaging the text.
  3. undefinedA Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines. It’s a fictional work about racism, imprisonment and justice in the South. This short volume is a modern classic.
  4. undefinedHarriet. A movie available through various streaming services including Amazon Prime. It is the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed heroine of the Underground Railroad. Sometimes we have to understand the past in order to understand the present.
  5. undefinedNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Again, understanding the past roots of America’s struggle with race can help navigate today’s complexities.
  6. BONUS MOVIE: Get Out. Being white is spooky in this movie. It’s a thriller/horror movie with racial commentary thrown and mixed around. I loved this movie.

The Story of Gumbo and a bit more

The name of this blog is Gumbo Ya Ya. For years, I wrote under a similar name, the Honduras Gumbo. That changed when I left Honduras over 5 years ago.

In parts of Africa, the word, gombo, means okra. And in Angola, specifically, okra, was known as ngumbo. Is gumbo, then, an African dish? Well, yes and no. The slaves who came to Louisiana brought okra with them. They were known to eat a dish of okra and rice. But, we know that the French brought bouillabaisse with them to the New Orleans area. Then, there is the filé, which is dried and ground sassafras leaves, which is used to thicken gumbo. Filé came from the Native Americans who lived in this area.

Where do we get gumbo from exactly? Hard to tell. I would say all these cultures had a part in the dish. It’s a composite dish.

In the same way, we as a multi-ethnic nation. We live in a diverse culture. White, Black, Native American, Latino, Asian, and much more make this a culture that’s dynamic and ever-changing.

At this moment in our nation, I couldn’t write under the title gumbo, which is itself a fusion dish without mentioning our national diversity. I also must mention the ongoing protests in the nation and in some parts of the world, too. I believe these protests are a good sign that white people in particular are being awakened to the plight of our black brothers and sisters.

It is tempting to be cynical, to say that the protests are not going to change anything. It’s tempting to say that the media is capitalizing on the sensational of the moment. Or, we can acknowledge that racism exists, and that we, especially white Americans, can and must change.

What can I do besides post a social media post about race or write a few words on a blog read by a small audience? One thing I will do is be part of the conversation on race. Starting Tuesday evening, I am taking part in a book club that will discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo.

I refuse to be a cynic. I believe my small efforts can make a difference. If you are interested in being part of a book club with me, let me know. We can start another group using Zoom.

I can’t share a gumbo with you via Zoom, but I can and will invite you to the table of humanity where we all have a seat. We can make a difference. It doesn’t have to end with just a few more days of people in the streets.

An Elegy to a Disappearing Bayou

mosquite supper clubThere’s nothing quite like the comfort of a beautiful book, especially when one needs a respite from the world’s events. Who couldn’t use an escape right now from the world around us? We’re in a worldwide pandemic. Americans are in the grip of unrest and riots as racial tensions rise.

In the midst of trying times, I found the perfect antidote in the book, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, by Melissa Martin. The author is a native of Chauvin, Louisiana, along Bayou Petit Caillou, a community just a bayou away from my birthplace, Bourg, on Bayou Terrebonne. Like me, she grew up in a Cajun community.

Melissa Martin has a degree in English from Loyola University of New Orleans. Her cooking education was in Michelin rated restaurants in California. She melded her two talents of writing and cooking to produce an enchanting volume about Cajun cooking and culture. The rich photography adds another layer of beauty to this book.

The author and I are both from the southernmost part of Louisiana, a different place altogether from the South as defined as being below the Mason Dixon Line. Here’s her words to which I can personally witness: To me, everything above Baton Rouge was the north. I grew up with leftover gumbo in the fridge and an oil rig drilling just outside my window. I didn’t know it was special to eat cold crabs for breakfast and be surrounded by water and bayous, ibis and pelicans, receding land and dying cypress trees. 

Here’s more examples of her beautiful writing. From the chapter on crabs: Crabs are the crabssummer sun held together by shell and seawater. To introduce the section on gumbo, she writes: Gumbo is the tie that binds in South Louisiana. It symbolizes family, a shared table, local ingredients, patience, and the subtleties of culture and tradition.

The book is an elegy to a disappearing bayou and culture. As she cites in her introduction, Louisiana loses a football’s field’s worth of land every hundred minutes-that’s sixteen miles of lost barrier islands, swamps, and ground each year. I know what it’s like personally to see the land loss in my lifetime. It’s incredibly sad to watch my hometown, my region, my way of life become one step closer each day to extinction as the water swallows up our communities.

This book will one day, maybe very soon, serve as a history book to what was lost in a few generations in Louisiana. If you want to know more about Melissa Martin or the Mosquito Supper Club, her restaurant, I added a few links below. However, the best way to appreciate this volume is to buy it.

Link for her restaurant: Mosquito Supper Club

Link to an article detailing information about Melissa Martin and her legacy: Bayou Benediction: A Taste of Chef Melissa Martin’s Mosquito Supper Club. 

Link to Amazon: Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin

 

 

 

How To Spend The Time

Since my state, Louisiana, is under orders for the citizenry to stay home except for essential tasks, I have to consider how to spend my time. I am not spending the time listening to presidential news conferences that seem mostly useless. I am not engaging or prompting social media arguments, which no one has ever won. I am not eating out in restaurants anymore, but we can order delivery or take out. I have done my part to support the restaurants that are trying to survive by ordering a few lunch orders to go.

Probably many of us, although I can only speak for myself, have spent the first weeks of this imposed sheltering at home, attending video chats and Zoom meetings. I have accepted every Zoom invitation I have received. Soon, I will need to find an online Zoom support meeting for Zoom codependency.

And I walk. A lot. I have a foster dog who has not entirely decided that my dining room is not her toilet. We walk whenever I think she has an eye for the far side of the dining room table. Thus far, I haven’t seen a reduction in using the floor, as she seems bent on finding relief in the house once a day. That’s not terribly bad, but zero is the goal here. Since Daisy is recovering from a hip injury, our walks are slow with lots of time to sniff and investigate the ground.

House
Creole cottage next door

Although it’s technically trespassing, our walks tend to be in the extensive grounds of an empty Creole cottage next door to me. The house has been on the market for over a year, with only occasional visits from realtors, visitors or a lawn care crew. It’s perfect because there are no cars, no driveway, and lots of shady space. Since Daisy likes to chase cars, walking on the streets is not the best place for a dog with a hip injury.

I am reading, too. I just finished A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. Why have I not read this book before? It’s a small, well-crafted novel set in 1940s Louisiana. This was the last book I checked out of the local library before it closed for the duration.

Now l will have to read on my Kindle. Last night, I downloaded The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History by John Barry. I actually had read a free sample a few months ago, before the craziness began. Now that the times have changed, I think I’ll indulge in a little light pandemic reading.

One thing I want to cultivate more is gratefulness. It’s too easy to wallow in self-absorption since I live alone. I want to be grateful for my life, the lives of my family and friends, and the small miracles that I see each day. Soon, we may be in the thick of knowing family, friends and acquaintances who are sick. I had some concern this week, as my niece was showing signs of the virus. Since she has a genetic disorder that causes her to have low immunity, her doctor ordered the test. Last night, I received news that the test was negative. For this news, I am grateful.

Later today, I will pick up an order from Walmart. There were no paper towels available when I made the order on my phone app yesterday. I’m trying to forget that I have only one paper roll in reserve at the top of my cupboard.  It’s disturbing.

IMG_0255
Louisiana live oak tree next door

Then, after putting away groceries, Daisy and I will return to the cottage grounds next door. The old oak tree next to the house provides a shady canopy that shields from the warm afternoon sun. Overgrown azaleas and magnolias growing along the fence line provide lots of curious sniffing for Daisy as we amble along.

As I stated above, the property is for sale. I believe they are asking about $400,000 for the cottage, barn, and extensive grounds. Won’t you be my neighbor?

 

 

Shorts

No, I am not wearing short pants. It’s unseasonably cold in Louisiana. We’re having days  upon days of subfreezing night temperatures. I am speaking of short bits of information that I will write about in this space.

  • I finished a Shutterfly book this week about my father’s family. I wrote about my family’s arrival to the New World in the early 1700s to the present. Lots of pictures of my modern ancestors kept it fresh.  I will try to flesh out a few stories into blog-worthy posts in the next several weeks. Especially intriguing are the stories about my ancestor whose first name was a derivative of the word, Bear. Ursin, from the Latin, Ursa, was bearish in his pursuits, accomplishments and appetites.
  • Since the weather has been unseasonably cold, I took the opportunity to read a bit. Three books captivated my interest.
  • White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik is not the best-written book. However the subject was intriguing and it was well-researched. The story is about a woman who left New Orleans with a black identity and white skin, married into a white family, and forever left her black roots behind. At least she did until she died. Her daughter tells an intriguing story of New Orleans society, where the one-drop rule kept otherwise white-looking people forever in the colored/black social class. Thanks, Carol King, for the tip on a good read.
  • The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee and David John was a gripping tale of a girl who, at first, left North Korea for a few days lark, but could never return. Her story makes one wish fervently for the overthrow of the North Korean regime. Thanks for the suggestion, Michael Dickson. 
  • You Were Born For This: 7 Keys to a life of Predictable Miracles by Bruce Wilkinson and David Kopp is a book I haven’t completed yet. The premise is that we all experience nudges from God to do sometimes simple things that have great impact. Here’s an excerpt:

    We’re never more fully alive and complete than when we experience God working through us and in spite of us in a way that changes someone’s life right before our eyes Nothing compares to the wonder of seeing God’s goodness and glory break through – and knowing we played a part in it. p 26

That’s a wrap for this post. Stay warm. And don’t forget to wait on God for nudges to bring forth a miracle in someone’s life.