Monthly Archives: December 2016

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah, is more an essay than a book (52 pages – easily read on a lunch break) adapted from her celebrated TEDx talk of the same name. Adichie proposes a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.

weshouldallbefeministsShe first unpacks the term feminist from all the negative baggage and stereo types: “you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t use deodorant.”

She tells a story from her childhood. At the beginning of the term at her primary school, her teacher said that whoever got the highest score on the test could be class monitor. If you were class monitor, you would write down the names of the noise-makers every day. You also were given a cane to hold in your hand as you patrolled the class. Even though you were not allowed to use the cane, it was an accoutrement of authority. Adichie very much wanted to be class monitor, and she got the highest score on the test. To her surprise, the teacher then said the class monitor had to be a boy – so the boy with the second-highest score became the class monitor. “What was more interesting is that this boy was a sweet, gentle soul who had no interest in patrolling the class with a stick,” while she was full of ambition to do so. The teacher didn’t make this caveat to the rule clear as she assumed it was understood. It was “normal” that only boys could be class monitor. If we do something over and over again, or see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, clergy, presidents, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should hold those positions.

Adiche acknowledges that men and women are different – different hormones, sexual organs, and biological abilities. And, women can have babies; men cannot. Men have more testosterone and are, in general, physically stronger than women. It made sense a thousand years ago that men ruled the world, because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. Today, the person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. “It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes.” We have evolved. She argues that our ideas of gender need to evolve to catch up.
We teach girls to be “nice,” not angry, aggressive, and tough. Boys are taught to be “hard” – so, angry, aggressive, and tough are okay. We spend too much time teaching girls to worry what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case; she goes on to state: “I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.”

Adichie ends with her own definition of a feminist: “a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.” We should all be feminists.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, January 2. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 4 for a discussion of We Should All Be Feminists at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

 

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“The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, winner of the Man Booker Prize, is an irreverent, satirical novel about race relations in America, specifically in and around Los Angeles.  The nselloutameless narrator is an African-American male of undetermined age who lives and works as a farmer in Dickens, California. Dickens is a predominantly black suburb of Los Angeles, notorious for its violence.  The narrator is smart, college-educated, sarcastic, and witty. Initially, he is a self-interested libertarian who has no interest in giving back to his community. The narrator disagrees with the prevailing black cultural mindset. For example, his father and Foy Cheshire (a washed-up black intellectual who became rich after stealing an idea for a Saturday cartoon series from the narrator’s father) see racism as prevalent everywhere. Though the narrator himself has experienced racism firsthand, he also knows that race relations are far better than they used to be, though they still require cultivation. He sees the issue to be more about class and “opportunity kicked aside.”  When the City of Dickens is “deleted” from the map to increase the property values of homes and business surrounding the area, the narrator takes it upon himself to restore Dickens with the help of his friend Hominy Jenkins.

Hominy Jenkins is an elderly African-American man in his eighties. He is a local celebrity for being the final remaining living member of the Little Rascals. Hominy is well-loved and well-respected, but he is heartbroken when the City of Dickens is “deleted”. Hominy, who has experienced the most vile racism of anyone in the neighborhood, feels powerless and used like a slave. He opts to become the narrator’s slave. The narrator grudgingly takes on Hominy as a slave, as Hominy insists. The narrator and Hominy set about marking the boundaries of Dickens with spray paint. They put up signs for Dickens and seek to re-institute segregation in the community as a way to bring people together. It will serve as a reminder of how far they have come and of how far they still have to go. The narrator’s work enrages people like Foy, who condemns the narrator as a “Sellout.” The narrator’s attempts to integrate the all-minority Chaff Middle School with five white kids are opposed on racist grounds by Foy, who ends up shooting the narrator. It is during this time that the narrator’s holding of Hominy as a slave and his work in segregation are discovered. The two factors earn him a case tried before the Supreme Court.

The narrator recognizes that, although racism is nowhere nearly as bad as it used to be, it still exists and must be dealt with, rather than ignored or exaggerated. For example, a truth that most people ignore is that Los Angeles is one of the most segregated cities in the world.  The narrator approves of young white people and black writers at the Atlantic magazine who are willing to risk controversy by having conversations about race. He opposes people like Foy who want to shut down debate and then control the narrative, or people like a black comedian who chases white people out of the audience by saying that this is “our thing.”  This timely novel is sure to spur conversation and debate about the current status of race relations in our country.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, December 5.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 7 for a discussion of The Sellout at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

 

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