Volume II: May 2021
Reading as a stepping stone for social justice
How can the book community be true advocates for social justice? How can we take our reading and turn it into practice?
“Oppressive language does more than represent violence, it is violence,” wrote Toni Morrison. If you were to scroll through our Instagram feed, you’d see this Morrison quote quite a bit. It truly encapsulates part of the reason we began ad astra: to highlight critical stories that need to be read, and critique those— and the systems in place— that contribute to racist, transphobic, sexist, and other oppressive stereotypes. We believe reading and activism go hand in hand, and looking at titles through an intersectional feminist lens gives us a starting point to not only champion social justice in real life, but also to dismantle the problematic language that is, as Morrison writes, violence.
We’ve seen a form of social reckoning happening in book spaces, just as we have in our day to day lives. From the book community committing to diversifying their shelves and showing support for Black Lives Matter, to calling out those that defend problematic authors and publishers, activism and advocacy runs deep through many members of the book community’s feeds.
But around the latest and ongoing genocidal actions by the Israeli government against Palestinians, many in the book community were silent. Whether this was out of a lack of information, or perhaps even disbelief, we cannot say. But the silence was obvious. For some reason, this infringement on human rights was not equated to be the same as Black Lives Matter, or stopping anti-Asian hate. For some reason, this was considered “different.”
Advocates, including @booksnextdoor_ , @beautiful.bibliophile, and @yara_reads, called out this hypocrisy, challenging the book community to get involved, to share posts, practice BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions), and firmly declare support for #FreePalestine like they had done not yet even a year ago for BLM. More people began sharing, but we must pause to ask ourselves and each other: why was there any hesitation in the first place?
In this edition of our monthly newsletter, we’re diving into how we can take what we read and turn it into practice.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mikki Kendall, Audre Lorde, bell hooks— these are just a few critical writers often recommended to individuals hoping to gain a deeper understanding of white feminism and intersectionality. Ruby Hamad, author of White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color, is another I’d add to that list, as her title takes a much needed global look at an often Westernized conversation. Hamad weaves together global examples to demonstrate the negative impact of Westernization on women of color everywhere, particularly through the constructed binary between them and white women, and to call for the destruction of white feminism to end patriarchal control.
Whether you’ve read the title or not, I’m curious:
What action items have you taken away from the feminist titles you’ve read? How have you turned your reading into advocacy?
What resources can help you learn more about Palestine? What actions can you take?
We worked with Sarah of @booksnextdoor_ to compile a list of resources to help you get started. From books to read, movies to watch, and petitions to sign, this post is meant to help you not only get a better understanding of what is going on, but also to help you then put that learning into practice. Palestinian activists have made clear that there are two main ways to immediately take action: amplify their stories and implement BDS. Learn more about BDS in this post and on the BDS website. And, because we are a platform that looks at social justice through an intersectional feminist lens, we’d be remiss to not encourage you to read stories about gender equity in Palestine and Israel. DecolonizePalestine has a great list of recommended reading.
May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Throughout the month, our friends Swati (@booksnailmail) and Mara (@thisislanderreads) have been pushing out amazing posts, celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander authors and stories, and challenging the unequal representation of AAPI identities. They’ve also spotlighted members of the book community to follow on Instagram. You can learn more by checking out #PIAAHeritageMonth (PIAA stands for Pacific Islander Asian American, which they created as a first step to challenging the aforementioned unequal representation).
An organization we’ve quickly become a big fan of is the Asian American Feminist Collective. Rooted in Black feminist thought and Third World feminist movements, AAFM “seeks to address the multi-dimensional ways Asian/American people confront systems of power at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, disability, migration history, citizenship and immigration status.” They have a fantastic resource collection on feminism, which includes their own beautifully designed and curated Zines.
An important part of activism is community— we must work together to dismantle mechanisms of oppression, from harmful books to governmental actions. We’ve sized our ad astra banner—designed to demonstrate the impact we as a reading community can have on society—for your desktop.
And, as newsletter subscribers, you get access to another exclusive background, also focused on social justice. Just visit this page and enter the password “DownloadMay2021.” By having these backgrounds so prominently displayed, we hope that they help us stay focused and encouraged, and maybe also start conversations with those around us (whether friends or strangers in coffee shops) on what it is for which we are advocating.
An important part of activism that is easy to overlook is self-care. Although taking a break might often feel like a waste of time, it’s important to avoid burnout. Advocacy is not something that happens overnight; we must take care of our mental health to ensure we can continue fighting oppression. Taking a moment to rest, laugh, or rant are all important ways to care for ourselves.
May also happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month, and one of the best ways we know to take a break is to escape into a book. Is there a genre that you escape into?
Violent language “must be rejected, altered, and exposed,” Morrison continued on.
“It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language— all are typical of the policing languages of mastery and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”
Morrison’s words capture what we have been seeing from the Israeli government, from women on Instagram complaining about “cancel culture,” and all-too-often from the elected officials representing us here in the States: oppression masked as freedom.
Too often, “freedom” comes at the expense of others’ safety. It comes at the expense of erasing history. As readers, we have the ability to learn from those whose stories have historically been pushed aside. We can take what we learn and read, and put it into action. We can support these creators, advocate for their stories to be shared, and help advance a more equitable future for all.
Thanks for reading and please do send any feedback our way.
Olivia and Fiona