How one white girl took the initiative to educate herself about black culture

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Nine months ago I wrote a blog post entitled, “#BlackLivesMatter: One woman’s call to action for white people to listen, read, study and learn.” I clearly understood it was a delicate space after the death of George Floyd. As a result, I’ve been on a one woman crusade to learn more about black culture, black lives, black history and racism.

I’m sharing my educational recommendations for books, podcasts and movies. One caveat: I’m not claiming to be a black culture media expert. It’s humbly where I’ve been residing to listen, read, study and learn.

A shortlist of reading brilliance

a view of wood shelves and books with a long hallway, window and chairs in the background
Photo by Adriana Velásquez on Unsplash

I remain old school and enjoy the touch of paper on my fingers and my eyes pouring over pages versus a screen. Although a short list, these books were part of my reading mix, each rich with life stories.

It was never about a hot dog and a coke by Rodney Hurst Sr. As the title suggests, Hurst writes about the sit-in demonstrations in Jacksonville, FL during the 1960s. He shares his personal account of a historical day known as Ax Handle Saturday. Hurst also highlights many unsung black leaders including Rutledge Henry Pearson, Earl M. Johnson and Thurgood Marshall, among others.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book highlights the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. Gladwell shares several case studies demonstrating how conflict and misunderstanding often occur and how this clouds our judgment and perception of people. Sandra Bland’s story is featured in the introduction and chapter 12.

Uncensored by Zachary R. Wood. A painfully honest memoir of Woods’ life and his passionate pursuit of open dialogue and free speech. He lives his life caught between two worlds, one black and one white, and with two very different parents. Woods details his personal journey of code-switching – the shifting and negotiating of his identity and voice – in order to survive. Woods is an Assistant Curator at TED and a former Columnist at The Guardian.

Plug in your black culture earbuds and listen up

three charging cases with ear buds sit on a white table
Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

I’ve talked about Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast in previous posts. Therefore, it remains in my top three playlist. Here are a few of my favorite episodes featuring the lives and stories of black leaders and stars.

  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III: Otis’ Dream (11/1/20)
  • Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1 and Part 2 (6/17/20)
  • Bishop T.D. Jakes: Suffering is Part of the Journey (5/20/20)
  • Common (4/8/20)
  • Laila Ali (3/18/20)
  • Gayle King (3/11/20)
  • Michelle Obama (2/12/20)

In addition to SuperSoul Conversations, I want to highlight two women with powerful podcasts. The Manifesta with Portia Mount showcases women finding career success. And But What About Me with Jennifer Tardy features career advice for underrepresented job seekers.

Grab the popcorn and the Kleenex

a black remote control with a prominent view of the netflix button
Photo by Piotr Cichosz on Unsplash

With the click of a remote, there’s an amazing opportunity to easily access black culture stories. To hear and see narratives that may not be familiar. I do want to note some of these movies and series may no longer be available on Netflix so check with your favorite streaming provider.

  • Self Made stars Octavia Spencer as Madam C. J. Walker, the first black self made millionaire. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, a must-watch.
  • The Central Park Five is a film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon about five teenagers wrongfully accused of rape. A lesson in the dynamics of power and love.
  • American Son with Kerry Washingon is an adaptation of the Broadway play about a mother’s pursuit of the truth as she tries to find out what’s happened to her missing son.
  • I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin is based on an unfinished book by Baldwin. Racism is explored through the lives of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation based on James Baldwin’s novel. Set in Harlem in the 1970s, the film explores the deep love between two young people.
  • Malcolm X is directed and co-written by Spike Lee and stars Denzel Washington who portrays the life of the controversial black activist.
  • Greenleaf is a series about the family dynamics and relationships of the Greenleafs, who run a megachurch in Memphis.
  • Being Mary Jane first debuted on BET and features Gabrielle Union as a tv news anchor. The series follows her personal and professional life – one of my favorites!

While not a movie, this falls into the video category and is absolutely awesome. Emmanuel Acho talks with regular and famous folk on topics most people wouldn’t even think about approaching. Thus the title of the series: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. Watch on YouTube or get the book.

The lesson is in the learning

a bright colored mural depicts two hands holding each other
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

If you’re a white person wanting options for learning about black culture, I hope the above list opens a path for self-education. I gratefully acknowledge the black community of authors, podcasters, producers, actors and leaders for sharing their stories in an accessible manner.

However, if you’re still not convinced on why black culture education is important, I leave you with the words of Jumar Martin, ’23, a student at my alma mater, Elon University. He’s working with administrators like Randy Williams, who was recently appointed to vice president and associate provost for inclusive excellence. He’s also working with students to encourage conversations and forward movement around diversity, equity and inclusion at Elon. May it shed light; may you be enlightened.

Martin looks forward to the day when he doesn’t need to worry about walking behind a group of girls. Or place his car registration on the car visor or be alert of where a police car could be. He states, “It’s incredibly subconscious and weighs down in ways you don’t know because this has been your life since you’ve been born. It’s become second nature and a part of you, and it should not be.”

Debbie is the founder of Seachange Branding, a content strategy and brand management agency helping startups and SMBs own their competitive advantage. She blogs on the topics of branding and inclusion. Click here to learn more about Seachange Branding. To contact Debbie via email, click here.

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Danielle McGrath · at

This is terrific! Exactly the resources I’m looking for to broaden my knowledge of others’ experiences. Thank you Deb! I look forward to continued discussions around this topic.

cooldeb · at

Thank you Danielle. I hope you find the depth of storytelling as moving as I did in any one of the genres. I hope to foster greater dialogue and conversation…that’s the plan! : )

    Harold Adams (Kinney) · at

    Great post Deb, It would great if there were more groups for white people to gather and have these discussions with each other because I believe they would feel more comfortable telling their true feelings. Which is the best way to gain growth, empathy and real understanding.
    Thanks for keeping attention this because some white people have already moved on to the next issue in the news.
    Mean while a 100 more black men and boys have been killed by police since George Floyd

    This is an ever remaining risk of being black in America !!

      Loretta · at

      @Harold, there is an anti-racism group that educates people together and then separates participants (in phase II) by race to have deeper dialogue about race and racism. Google ‘Organizing Against Racism Alliance.’

        cooldeb · at

        Thank you for sharing Loretta. Here’s the link if anyone is interested. OAR: Organizing Against Racism (as you noted). Kinney and I spoke last weekend and discussed how to best engage in meaningful conversations and move the needle forward. One, in a way that white people feel comfortable asking questions, and two, in a way that black colleagues don’t become the point person for all things black culture. There are layers and may we keep digging to uncover and discover.

cooldeb · at

I understand what you are saying Kinney. I believe some white people are afraid to ask questions so they simply don’t. I believe some white people truly don’t understand this incredibly large equity gap so they don’t know how to relate. I believe some white people ‘mean well’ and miss the mark so frank and honest conversation among us would help. I plan to stay focused on this and will do all I can to be an ally, friend and advocate in visible ways. I know the death of black men continues; I know racism continues. This is why I want to dedicate my voice and actions – to be a small light that encourages conversation, education and ideally, change. Thank you my friend for reading and sharing your perspective.

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