Centering Blackness

Racism, and institutional racism in particular, has suddenly hit the news. Of course, by suddenly I mean not at all suddenly unless you require something to be front page news with coordinated mourning… but we appear to be ready to have at least part of this conversation. Fantastic.

I need us to meet this challenge by centering blackness.

I’ve heard a lot from white people. I’ve seen a lot of hashtags where we all fess up to what we got away with or got because we’re white. I’m tired of it.

Where are your black classmates, your black neighbors, your black friends, your black church community? What color are the students in your children’s school?

But what are we to do? I hear so many white friends and family cry out. They feel bad, they are sad, the circulate videos and photos and explanations. Our communities are so far apart that reaching out to support already feels like an unnatural act.

I want to shut my mouth and listen.

I’d like to challenge you then to respond to this continuing attack on our black community in the United States by centering blackness. I want us to center blackness until it becomes a habit. Our cultural racism renders blackness literally invisible. We can push back and build a new culture and a new way of seeing. Center blackness.

Like all exercise, it will take time. The first thing you will want to do is fall back. You will want to talk about your feelings. You will want to reflect on old ideas. Don’t succumb to the temptation. Keep at it. Center blackness. When people want to talk about the violent terrorist who killed 9 people in Charleston, talk about those 9 people who deserve to be remembered and spoken about. When you take your child to the library for summer reading, look for books where some black kids are at the center of the story. When you pick up a book to read at the pool, why not try something by Octavia Butler, or Kiese Laymon? Are you trying to understand the conversation about Ferguson, the Confederate flag, or the upcoming presidential election? Listen to black voices. Read black journalists. Is your first instinct when confronted with racism to claim that your ancestors didn’t own slaves, so it isn’t your fault or problem? Learn some history. Center blackness. Listen to podcasts from Black people. Trust first hand experience of the racism that is endemic to our country. Understand that ignoring the history of racism in this country is a privilege afforded to us because of our skin color. When a terrorist says he committed his crime for YOU, for white women, don’t just repudiate this with throw away words. Dig in and understand the deep and damaging complicit role of white women in maintaining the racist status quo. Meet the discomfort head on. Sit with it. And then turn to your friends, family, and neighbors, and share what you’ve learned.

Make new choices.

Center blackness.

This essay comes from a week of examining privilege at “Inclusive Astronomy”, and from long conversations with my friend Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein. Thank you. Thank you also to the group joining me in our 6 month anti-racism astrophysics challenge, where some of these resources were shared.


(This is in no way comprehensive and is merely a collection to get you started.)

Starting out

Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race:

What is white supremacy?

Open Letter to My Fellow Whiteys

Only white people can save themselves from racism and white supremacism

Slow Work

Current Events

“The Condition of Black Life Is One Of Mourning”

“Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves.”

America’s war on Black girls: Why McKinney police violence isn’t about “one bad apple”

Know Their Names

The History of Using White Female Sexuality to Justify Racist Violence

“The Appropriation of Cultures” by Percival Everett

“Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism”

Books (Non-fiction)

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

“Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought” by Beverly Guy-Sheftall

“Seeing White” by Jean Halley, Amy Eschleman, Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya

“Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” by bell hooks

“Women, Race, & Class” by Angela Y. Davis

“Crow After Roe” by Jessica Mason Pieklo & Robin Marty

“Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches” by Audre Lorde

“When Affirmative Action Was White” by Ira Katznelson

“The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois

Books (Fiction)

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

“Long Division” by Kiese Laymon

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

“Kindred” by Octavia Butler

“Native Son” by Richard Wright

“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“The Egypt Game” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (YA)

“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor (YA)

“One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia (YA)

“Hush” by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

“The Watsons Go to Birmingham” by Christopher Paul Curtis (YA)

Anti-racist Organizations

Equal Justice Initiative

Showing Up For Racial Justice

Blogs & Other:

This week in Blackness (TWIB) (Elon James White)

“The Case for Reparations” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Let Physics Be The Dream It Used to Be” (Chanda Prescod-Weinstein) (Professor John Johnson)

Black Girl Dangerous (Mia McKenzie)

Gradient Lair (Trudy)

“No Child Left Behind” by Dominique Christina & Denice Frohman

“This Father’s Day , Let’s Shatter the Myth about Absent Black Fathers.”

More Resources:

#CharlestonSyllabus (Chad Williams / AAIHS)

I read 50 books by people of color this year

Racism Review

A list I made for our astronomy anti-racism group

Look Different