The current situation in the world, especially in the United States, gives us great cause to consider how we came to be here. The pandemic has exacerbated and laid bare problems and issues that have been embedded in our country since its earliest days. The fact that many of us don’t know or understand this history has allowed these issues to fester.
In 2021, Placitas Comunity Library Adult Programs presents the Placitas Reads program. The theme: “Color, Class and Caste: The Other Social Distancing.” It’s like a book club for the entire community.
From May through October 2021, the library is holding a series of events and conversations around the issues in the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Dr. Isabel Wilkerson.
As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative.
She tells us stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system—a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.
Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others
Finally, Wilkerson points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today. (From the publisher.)
Questions and Topics for Discussion
A resource list for Placitas Reads: Color, Class, and Caste: The Other Social Distancing
Featured Title: Caste: The Origins of our Discontents
“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
1619 Project: NYT (available at PCL) https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/497465836
The 1619 Project’ is a long-form journalism project developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together–Heather McGee https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/499721732
One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone—not just for people of color.
How to be an Anti-Racist—Ibram X. Kendi https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/431898612
From the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves.
Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk about Racism—Robin Diangelo https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/386284186
The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
Walking with the Wind; A Memoir of the Movement—James Lewis https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/443626737
An award-winning national bestseller, Walking with the Wind is one of our most important records of the American Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis, who Cornel West calls a “national treasure,” this is a gripping first-hand account of the fight for civil rights and the courage it takes to change a nation.
Deacon King Kong—James McBride https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/431898528
The new book from author and musician James McBride, is a hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy set in the Brooklyn projects of the late 1960s. This alone may qualify it as one of the year’s best novels. However, McBride has constructed a story with a deeper meaning for those who choose to read beyond the plot, one that makes the work funnier, sweeter and more profound.
Between the World and Me—Ta Nehisi Coates Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/241285712 Overdrive Audio Book: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/253935114
Between the World and Me is written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being Black in the United States. Coates recapitulates American history and explains to his son the “racist violence that has been woven into American culture.
Warmth of other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration—Isabel Wilkerson Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/140986038 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/463266320
Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.
I’m not Dying with you Tonight- Kimberley Jones and Gilly Segal Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/431227840 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/492669151
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls―one black, one white―who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.
Night Watchman—Louise Erdrich https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/426868708
Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.
Home Going—Yaa Gyasi Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/268606014 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/463256974
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
One of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a PEN/Hemingway award winner, Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
Their Eyes were Watching God—Zora Neale Hurston Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71503990 Audiobook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71535128 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/463258942 Overdrive Audio Book: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/356789720 Film: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/97277950
“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian—Sherman Alexi https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71536742
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Just Mercy; a Story of Justice and Redemption—Bryan Stevenson
Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/462869802 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/463259284 Overdrive Audio Book: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/356789966 Film: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/437020788
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. (Also available as a feature film.)
Kanopy documentaries—These are available free through your PCL library card. Access the Kanopy link on the PCL website, register with your library card number and enjoy thousands of documentaries and foreign films.
Tim Wise: On White Privilege
The Talk: Race in America
The Uncomfortable Truth
How Racism Harms White Americans
White Like Me
The bolded films are available at the library.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age (Bryan Stevenson), a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. (Also available as a book.)
Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches initiated and directed by James Bevel and led by Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams, and John Lewis. The film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Common as Bevel. Selma: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/220631178
Green Book is a 2018 American biographical comedy-drama buddy film directed by Peter Farrelly. Set in 1962, the film is inspired by the true story of a tour of the Deep South by African American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and Italian American bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga who served as Shirley’s driver and bodyguard. The film was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, based on interviews with his father and Shirley, as well as letters his father wrote to his mother.[Green book: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/382180710
Birth of a Nation—available on Youtube– originally called The Clansman, is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel and play The Clansman. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay with Frank E. Woods and produced the film with Harry Aitken. The film was controversial even before its release and has remained so ever since; it has been called “the most controversial film ever made in the United States”. Lincoln is portrayed positively, unusual for a narrative that promotes the Lost Cause ideology. The film portrays African Americans (many of whom are played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women. The film presents the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order.
Black Klansman is a 2018 American biographical black comedy crime film directed by Spike Lee and written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee, based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, along with Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. Set in the 1970s in Colorado Springs, the plot follows the first African-American detective in the city’s police department as he sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. Black Klansman: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/382182728
United States v Billie Holiday –(Netflix)- is a 2021 American biographical film about singer Billie Holiday, based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film stars Andra Day in the titular role, along with Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne and Garrett Hedlund.Initially set to be theatrically released by Paramount Pictures, the film was sold to Hulu in December 2020, and digitally released in the United States on February 26, 2021. The United States vs. Billie Holiday received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Day’s performance but criticized the direction and screenplay as unfocused. At the 78th Golden Globe Awards, it won Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama (Day), and was also nominated for Best Original Song (“Tigress and Tweed”).
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross—PBS is a six-part documentary miniseries written and presented by Henry Louis Gates Jr. It aired for the first time on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the fall of 2013, beginning with episode 1, “The Black Atlantic (1500–1800)”, on October 22, 8–9 p.m. ET on PBS, and every consecutive Tuesday through to episode 6, “A More Perfect Union (1968–2013)”, on November 26. The companion book to the series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (SmileyBooks, 2013), was co-authored by Gates and historian Donald Yacovone. The two-DVD set of the series was released in January 2014. African Americans: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/177217642
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross chronicles the full sweep of the African-American experience, from the origins of the transatlantic slave trade to the reelection and second inauguration of President Barack Obama. It is the first documentary series to recount this history in its entirety since the nine-part History of the Negro People aired on National Educational Television in 1965, and the one-hour documentary Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed, narrated by Bill Cosby and broadcast in 1968. According to the PBS website for the series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross “explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed — forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. Commencing with the origins of slavery in Africa, the series moves through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to the present — when America is led by a black president, yet remains a nation deeply divided by race.”
Roots is an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The series first aired on ABC in January 1977. Roots received 37 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third-highest-rated episode for any type of television series, and the second-most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history. Roots: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/241650990
The Blind Side is a 2009 American biographical sports drama film written and directed by John Lee Hancock. Based on the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, the film tells the story of Michael Oher, an American football offensive lineman who overcame an impoverished upbringing to play in the National Football League (NFL) with the help of his adoptive parents Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. It stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy, and Quinton Aaron as Oher. Blind Side: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/73847608
Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. It is loosely based on the 2016 non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as NASA supervisor and mathematician Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as NASA engineer Mary Jackson, with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell in supporting roles. Hidden Figures: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/292277818
If Beale Street Could Talk is a 2018 American romantic drama film written and directed by Barry Jenkins, and based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. It stars an ensemble cast that includes KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, and Regina King. The film follows a young woman who, with her family’s support, seeks to clear the name of her wrongly charged lover and prove his innocence before the birth of their child. Beale Street could talk: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/382180830
Harriet is a 2019 American biographical film directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. It stars Cynthia Erivo as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, with Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, and Janelle Monáe in supporting roles. A biography about Harriet Tubman had been in the works for years, with several actresses, including Viola Davis, rumored to star. Erivo was cast in February 2017, and much of the cast and crew joined the following year. Filming took place in Virginia from October to December 2018. Harriet: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/433410964
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 biographical period-drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., by two conmen in 1841 and sold into slavery. Northup was put to work on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before being released. The first scholarly edition of Northup’s memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be accurate. Other characters in the film were also real people, including Edwin and Mary Epps, and Patsey. 12 years a Slave: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/160011256
The Hate U Give is a 2018 American drama film co-produced and directed by George Tillman Jr. from a screenplay by Audrey Wells, based on the 2017 young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The film was produced by Marty Bowen, ck Godfrey, Robert Teitel and Tillman Jr., and stars Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, and Anthony Mackie, and follows the fallout after a high school student witnesses a police shooting. This is an exposé of the kind of violence happening in black neighborhoods every day. The Hate You Give: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/444352076
Isabel Wilkerson with Bryan Stevenson
Wilkerson joins Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. He is also the author of the award-winning book Just Mercy, which was recently adapted as a major motion picture.
Isabel Wilkerson and Kens Burns
Join two of our country’s most accomplished storytellers, Ken Burns and Isabel Wilkerson, as they discuss the complexities of the American narrative and how grappling with the past might lead us forward.
James McBride interview seems right up our alley; Art, Social Justice and Deacon King Kong https://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/james-mcbride-on-art-social-justice-and-deacon-king-kong/
Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race. Whiteness Project is conducting interviews with people from all walks of life and localities in which they are asked about their relationship to, and their understanding of, their own whiteness. Each video interview is paired with a statistic that provides a greater societal context and offers an opportunity for self-reflection by the audience on their own thoughts about race.
Whiteness Project’s first installment, Inside the White/Caucasian Box, is a collection of 21 interviews filmed in Buffalo, NY in July 2014 and released in October 2014. The latest installment, Intersection of I, is a collection of 23 interviews filmed in Dallas, Texas in July 2015 and released in April 2016. This second installment features a cross-section of Millennials, ages 15-27, who share their views about race and identity. The project is ongoing and we are in production on additional installments.
By engendering debate about the role of whiteness in American society and encouraging white Americans to become fully vested participants in the ongoing debate about the role of race in American society, Whiteness Project aims to inspire reflection and foster discussions that ultimately lead to improved communication around issues of race and identity.
Join the conversation with #WhitenessProject and follow them on social media.
Juanita Fights the School Board – Print: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/497774952 Overdrive eBook: https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/231535750
Juanita Fights the School Board is the first novel in Gloria Velásquez’s Roosevelt High School Series, a series featuring characters with whom all children, and especially U.S. Hispanic children, can relate. This novel for young adults details the expulsion of a young Mexican-American girl from Roosevelt High School for getting involved in a fight with another student. The story begins with Juanita’s expulsion and describes the effect this event has on her self-image and on her family. One of six children of California migrant workers, Juanita hopes to be the first in her family to graduate from high school. With the help of a school psychologist and a former civil rights attorney, Juanita fights the discrimination against minorities at Roosevelt High School and returns from her expulsion more determined than ever to fulfill her dream of graduating from high school. This E book is on overdrive. It is a YA book.
Also suggested by the Placitas Reads committee was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The book is a letter written to his son as he tries to answer his son’s questions about race relations in the United States and how to face the challenges of being black in this country.
Easy Selections about Hispanic families and many selections about migrant families and their adjustment to life in the United States and how they handled the discrimination and challenges. Most, if not all are bilingual.
Chave’s Memories by Maria Isabel Delgado. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71524278 This book is about life on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Hairs:Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71528516 This book is about diversity in physical appearance.
The Upside Down Boy by poet, Juan Felipe Herrera. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71516136 The author recalls the year that his farmworker parents moved to a city so he could attend school for the first time.
Two books by Carmen Lomas Garza, En Mi familia and Cuadros de Familia. The author shares special memories and traditions from her childhood.
My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez is learning to adapt to crowded living conditions in a new city.
My Diary From Here to There by Amada Irma Perez. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/128868384 Memories of moving from Mexico to Los Angeles.
A Movie in My Pillow by Jorge Argueta. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71516032 This is a collection of poems detailing the memories of his childhood in El Salvador and his new adventures in San Francisco.
Iguanas in the Snow by Francisco X. Alarcon. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71531116 A collection of poems that contrast his grandmother’s home in Mexico with his new one in California.
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way by Luis J. Rodriquez. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71510410 A story of a young man dealing with gang violence in his barrio (neighborhood).
Me Llamo Gabriela/My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown. Gabriela was a Chilean poet and a teacher.
Pele: King of Soccer by Monica Brown and another by James Buckley. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71533600
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/241651488
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Caesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/71534240
Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora is the story of Tomas Rivera who became the first minority Chancellor of the University of California system. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/88092280
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/425308590
My Name is Jorge on Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina is a collection of poems describing the struggles of a boy attending school in the United States. https://placitas.biblionix.com/catalog/biblio/76374134
The $3,000 grant will help the Library work with residents on the community read project: Placitas Reads: Color, Class, and Caste: The Other Social Distancing.