Last night my president said farewell to his nation. Next week the unthinkable will happen. Within a five day span, America will honor Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most influential leaders for rights and equality in American history, and then shamefully, publicly dishonor his legacy by inaugurating a man who sneers at education and knowledge, who actively promotes hate speech, who openly disdains, demeans, and disregards the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, those with differing sexual orientation, and those who have the audacity to live in poverty.
We have come to a place in America where, much as we’d like to, it is nearly impossible and absolutely irresponsible to ignore the dangerous power dynamic in our country and the hatred and ignorance that feed it. We are bombarded every day by vitriol and spin, where volume overshadows veracity. Power is what matters. Power, and a pulpit.
As Ya’a Gyasi instructed in her novel “Homegoing”, “‘We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too.'” In our modern world flooded with voices and opinions, we have to choose who gets a pulpit. What we read matters. Who we read matters.
Reading forces the reader to see, at least for a brief moment, through the eyes of another. Reading creates empathy and understanding. It shapes who we are and how we view the “other”. Ever a reader and a champion of reason and knowledge, Mr. Obama referenced literature in counseling empathy.
“If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'”
When we, as bookworms and consumers of words, embark upon a book, we are listening to an other’s voice. We are learning an other’s point of view. We are expanding our minds, embracing our world, and acknowledging our differences. We need to push our boundaries and seek broader voices. With our reading, we can choose to support and enable the voices that continue to face suppression. We can choose Ta-nehisi Coates and James Baldwin over the asshats from Breitbart. We can read the stories of immigrants rather than anti-immigrant rhetoric. We can grab women’s books, not their pussies. Read diverse, read well, read for your life.