Home Arts Anti-racism Book Group: ‘Informed and inspired by the thoughts of others’

Anti-racism Book Group: ‘Informed and inspired by the thoughts of others’

Some of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s 16 book discussion sets are shown here. The library can also build additional sets through interlibrary loans. Photo by Tom McKone.
In the fall of 2019, almost 20 of us participated in Seeing White, a guided discussion series at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center that aimed to help white people see some dimensions of whiteness, race, and the position of Black and Indigenous Americans that are not often talked about. When the series was over, some of us wanted to keep going, so we started a book group. 

We had met only a few times when COVID struck, but we kept going on Zoom, in large rooms sitting far apart or, in good weather, outdoors. At first, we all read the same book — which we still do sometimes — but we shifted to mostly reading separate books and each sharing what we learned. Often those books get passed around. We have also watched films, had a guest speaker, and made a field trip to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh.

This experience has been meaningful to all of us, so we decided to share some of our thoughts, hoping to inspire others to do something like this with racism or some other important issue.

“What I knew about racism was just the tip of the iceberg,” said Joyce Werntgen. “The books that we have read gave me a much deeper, wider perspective on pervasive racism. The Black authors have given me knowledge from other than a white perspective.”

Almost everyone commented on how limited our knowledge of Black history was. 

“I feel better informed about and in tune with African Americans’ experience, and humbled by the depth of resilience that seems to require,” said Anne Sarcka. “As we watch the country being torn apart over changing demographics, this (our reading about racism) seems more timely and urgent than when we began.”

“I have a deeper understanding of the issues we’re talking about,” said Marsha Bancroft. “Seeing other people’s point of view is fascinating and sometimes revelatory.”

“Books, well chosen, tell us about people whom we’ve been taught to think of as the ‘other’ or the ‘out-group’ (if we think of them at all),” said Donna Goodrich. “Despite what we’ve been told by people with a divide-and-conquer agenda, the more we know, the more the people we’ve been taught to disregard become real to us, and we’re able to see them more clearly. We learn to empathize, and that’s the first step toward working for change when something’s not right.”

“I have always held anti-racist values, but before reading about Black life and history in depth, I didn’t fully realize how very challenging it is for a Black person to live in a sea of white people,” said Cynthia Hartnett, “and how insensitive white people can be toward Black people in ways that they (white people) don’t even recognize.”

Speaking about both the thoughts of people in books and in person, Pam Walker said, “We need to be informed and inspired by the thoughts of others. This can give us the energy to continue activism and to fight for what we think is right.”

Every person spoke about the camaraderie and trust that grew within the group. Walker appreciated “talking about important justice issues — economic, political and social — in a group where we trust each other,” and the comfort of having “an outlet for me to talk candidly.”

Marsha Bancroft said the group has inspired her to speak up more often. “I can encourage people to be more open, caring, accepting, and active.”

“The more I learn and know,” Joyce Werntgen said, “the more I can pass on to family, friends, and neighbors to get more people thinking about how racism keeps us from being a true democracy and what each of us can do to effect change.”

Library Supports Book Discussion Groups

Fifteen book discussion groups rely on the Kellogg-Hubbard Library to help them get what they need. The library has 16 book discussion sets, typically with six books to a set; however, there is often an extra copy in the regular collection. The library can usually get more copies through interlibrary loan — sometimes even entire sets.

The Kellogg-Hubbard has ten sets of books dealing with social issues or change, many of them Vermont Reads titles that came from Vermont Humanities. Here is a list of those sets:

  • “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo
  • “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson
  • “Kindred” by Octavia Butler
  • “March” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • “The Most Costly Journey” edited by Marek Bennett, Andy Kolovos, Teresa Mares, and Julia Grand Doucet
  • “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
  • “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
  • “We Contain Multitudes” by Sarah Henstra
  • “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks
  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
—info provided by Carolyn Picazio, director of library services