Reading as an antidote for indifference and exclusion

Drawing of a white young woman looking through a telescope to a 13 book covers. The books are named in this post.
Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from images from Pixabay and Goodreads .

Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.

Toni Morrison

(5 min read)

In 2018, I discovered that in spite of considering myself a diversity and inclusion evangelist, the books I read were mostly written by white, anglophone, American, and heterosexual men. I was appalled at the homogeneity of the voices to whom I was paying attention. Decided to do something, I began to record not only if I liked a book, but categories such as the gender and ethnicity of the authors, where they were born or their religion.

As a result, in 2019 I read 40 books written by a much broader range of voices. The experience was so energizing, that a year ago I launched the #CuriousMindsDiversePeople2020 challenge [source]. The aim of the challenge was to serve as a quarterly accountability check for the diversity of the voices participants heard in 2020. Subscribers to the email list received quarterly emails reminding them to check the diversity of what and whom they were reading, listening, and watching and sharing with them the list of books I’d read in the previous three months

Reflecting on #CuriousMindsDiversePeople 2020

If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant. 

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I read 52 books in 2020. Some disappointed me and some were aligned with my thinking. Most importantly, some were absolute revelations! Books that upended my beliefs, provided unexpected insights, and kept me from retreating to my cocoon in a year where the combination of Brexit, Trump, and the pandemic – helped by social media – made it so easy to ostracize difference. Those books were:

  • Seven and a half lessons about the brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett. Professor Feldman Barrett is among the top 1% most cited scientists in the world for her revolutionary research in psychology and neuroscience. This book is thin but powerful. For example, I was used to think about the brain in terms of a limbic system for emotions and pre-frontal cortex for rational thoughts. This book dispels these outdated assumptions that the brain evolved like an onion. It also highlights the major role of the brain as a continuous creator of all our experiences using as “script” predictions based on the interaction between our previous experiences and our bodily sensations and needs. Equally important, she presents research showing how words can change both our brains and our bodies. You can check some of her videos and her TED and TEDx talks on her website.
  • Doughnut economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist by Kate Raworth. If you are looking for innovative ways to think about economic concepts and sustainability and you are a visual learner, this book it’s for you. Her TED talk is a great starting point.
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler. Before reading this book, I believed I didn’t like science-fiction. Short stories such as the one that gives the book its title have converted me. As a bonus, the author writes an epilogue providing context for each story.
  • Freedom is a constant struggle by Angela Y. Davis. This is a collection of essays, interviews, and speeches, read by the author herself (I listened to the audio version). She discusses complex issues such as activism, Black liberation, prison abolition, intersectionality, and feminism, compelling us to collective action rather than wait for a champion, approach that I wholeheartedly support [source].
  • Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. The author “is a queer disabled autistic nonbinary femme writer, educator and disability/transformative justice worker” [source] and her book overhauled my vision of carework, prompting me to create the Fair Care Tracker [source] and sowing the seed for my focus on quantifying the effect of covid-19 on the unpaid work of professional women [source].
  • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read these three books during the first quarter of 2020 and they were instrumental in gaining insights into the extremely multifaceted background of the Black Lives Matter protests later in the year. These are thought-provoking books addressing complex topics such as the interplay of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Sometimes I forget I like fiction. This book reminded me of the power of storytelling as a conduit for imagining a world beyond our limiting beliefs in sexuality, ethnicity, and love.
  • Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serrano. The author is a writer, performer, activist, musician, and biologist. As she says in her website “her understanding of biology, along with her life experiences as a trans woman, give her a unique perspective on gender and sexism that challenges many commonly held beliefs.” I cannot agree more. I’m a more rounded feminist since I read this book.
  • Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra. A lot of us – especially women – have been socialized to believe that we need a certification or somebody else’s permission to stretch ourselves and that, before daring something new, we must first spent time thinking and planning all the details that the change may entail. This book not only dispels those myths, but provides an actionable framework of how to grow as a leader by doing first.
  • Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. This book reclaims the power of anger as a tool that has been long denied to – and used against – women. The author posits that we women should use it as a catalyst for change.
  • About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times by Peter Catapano (editor) and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (editor). This collection of essays (about 6-10 min each) written by people with disabilities enriched my understanding of topics for which I thought I had a formed opinion, as I already mentioned when discussing the importance of curiosity [source]. For example, I came across one from a woman with cerebral palsy sharing her struggles to get support from the US health system to continue her pregnancy. Before listening to her, if somebody would have asked me to empathize with her, as a person that doesn’t have cerebral palsy or children, my response would have been that in her situation I’d have welcomed the possibility to avoid the health risk, responsibility and sustained effort that having a child involves. Listening to her gave me a much more nuanced view on the topic.

As I said a year ago, monitoring and accountability are key. We all forget to keep an eye on the endless list of promises we do to ourselves every year. It’s for that reason that I’ve relaunched the challenge this year so I remember to check how well I’m doing. Is my accountability board making me proud? Am I walking the talk regarding the diversity and inclusion of whom I read, listen, and watch?

If you need an accountability buddy, join the Curious Minds & Diverse People 2021 challenge by signing here and receive a copy of my quarterly email reminding you to monitor your progress.

Stay kind and curious.

#CuriousMindsDiversePeople2021 #DiversityInclusion

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