Reading our way through the holiday season with a decolonized gaze
This holiday season, how can we show our appreciation and gratitude for our fellow book community members? And how can we do so in a way that also recognizes and dismantles these holidays’ western gaze?
[Dear readers: Before continuing on, please note that this newsletter edition contains discussions of police brutality, racism, Indigenous erasure, incarceration, and transphobia.]
December ushers in a season of holidays, with the likes of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Omisoka all quickly approaching. For many, this time calls to mind, family, friends, and traditions. And after almost two years of the ongoing pandemic and subsequent losses, gathering with loved ones (safely, of course) is what many are longing for. For all of you that are planning to spend time with the people you love, we wish you a happy, safe, and healthy season. And for those of you who don’t celebrate, or who might find the holiday season complicated, lonesome, or mournful, please know that you are not alone and we hope that you are able to take time for yourself.
Simultaneously, we can also recognize how these holidays are far too often situated within a western lens, one that prioritizes capitalist values and whitewashes history. Though society likes to place things into binaries, believing only one truth can exist at once, we can both celebrate and cherish certain holidays and acknowledge/work to dismantle their harmful practices (Note: We are not claiming that this is possible or the best route for all holidays. We encourage you to read these two resources on Thanksgiving and National Day of Mourning). Many might be quick to label such a stance as “woke” (sidenote: a term that has been misappropriated from Black culture, with its roots in protest music), but this completely misses the point. It’s a matter of making the world more equitable for all—and that, arguably, is what a season known for amplifying gratitude and love should really be about.
In this edition, we’ll be sharing resources to help us all continue along with our decolonization efforts. And in that spirit of showing community members appreciation, we also have free downloads to help you spread holiday gratitude and cheer.
If there’s one book we’ve read this year that brings to mind the complicated nature of families and how to go about combating an exclusive, western definition of them, it’s Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.
A story that follows three individuals, Detransition, Baby considers how families are made and the structures that they uphold. It questions whether our society will ever make space for trans women to succeed, whether in careers, relationships, and/or family life. And by prioritizing the humanity of her characters over the readers’ expectations and knowledge, Peters dismantles a cis-privileged lens.
We’re curious: Have you or do you plan to read Detransition, Baby? (We’d also recommend it as a fantastic gift for fans of Godshot or You Exist Too Much.)
“Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” —Toni Morrison
While books are not always written with the intention to teach (it’s problematic to assume that all books—particularly those by BIPOC authors—are), books that are written for this intention can be incredibly powerful. And even from those books that aren’t, we can gain empathy, new perspectives, and growth. There are countless members of the book community, including authors, social media creators, reviewers, etc., that continuously share what they’ve learned and advocate for change. Their decolonized lens can help all of us better understand why it’s important to combat systems of oppression around the clock, including during the holiday season. A few issues, resources, and individuals that immediately come to mind:
Abolitionism: In 1999, Julius Jones, who is a Black man, was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death, despite maintaining his innocence and there being significant evidence suggesting he did not commit the act. On November 18, 2021, the Oklahoma governor commuted Jones’s death sentence and instead sentenced him to life in prison without parole. However, this action should not be credited to the governor. Rather, it took years of work on the family’s behalf, months of protests and walkouts, petitions, and demands for Jones’s clemency. And, in sentencing him to life without parole, the governor continues to uphold the problematic incarceration system. Also this month, Kyle Rittenhouse, who is 17-years old and white, was deemed “not-guilty,” despite using a military-style weapon and murdering two individuals. The two outcomes of these charges are completely different, laying bare the stark inequity that our incarceration and judicial systems are rooted in.
Trans rights and equity: November brings Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance, both of which aim to raise visibility around trans rights, inequities, and violence faced by the community. 2021 was yet again the deadliest year on record in the U.S. for trans individuals killed in acts of transphobia. Remember their names: Tyianna “Davarea” Alexander; Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín; Bianca “Muffin” Bankz; Dominique Jackson; Fifty Bandz; Alexus Braxton; Chyna Carrillo; Jeffery “JJ” Bright; Jasmine Canady; Jenna Franks; Aidelen Evans; Diamond Kyree Sanders; Rayanna Pardo; Jaida Peterson; Dominque Lucious; Remy Fennell; Tiara Banks; Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga; Natalia Smüt; Iris Santos; Tiffany Thomas; Keri Washington; Thomas Hardin; Whispering Wind Bear Spirit; Sophie Vásquez; Danny Henson; Serenity Hollis; Poe Delwyn Black; Oliver “Ollie” Taylor; Tierramarie Lewis; EJ Boykin;Taya Ashton; Shai Vanderpump; Miss CoCo; Pooh Johnson; Zoella Martinez; Disaya Monaee; Brianna Ulmer; Kièr Solomon; Mel Groves; Royal Poetical Starz; Jessi Hart; Jo Acker; Rikkey Outumuro; Jenny De Leon; Marquiisha Lawrence.
Organizations to amplify: Trans Women of Color Collective; Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective; FOR THE GWORLS; The Mahogany Project; The Okra Project.
Additional actions to take: Vote for politicians and legal measures that advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and safety; work to dismantle binary language, systems, and structures (whether that means day-to-day conversations about gender, clothing, etc., or practices such as gender-designated restrooms); and perform bystander intervention.
Indigenous Heritage Month: November is Indigenous Heritage Month. While we should read and support Indigenous-identifying authors from around the globe year-round, the month serves as a time to further our support for equity and rights (such as land-back and learning/sharing the true history of “Thanksgiving”).
Learn about and amplify the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit movement.
Check out this list of bookish organizations and community members to follow.
Here’s a list of recommended reading.
We all have those book community members for whom we are extra grateful. To help show our thanks, we’ve created a set of holiday templates for you to share with the community members you’ve grown to love. Make sure to tag us so we can re-share!
And, of course, you as a newsletter subscriber get access to an exclusive download batch. Visit this page, use the password WinterReads to download some winter-themed phone backgrounds.
It’s getting colder outside, the days are only getting shorter, and we are craving a good read and a hot drink. What kind of winter reader are you?
Words We Love
Interested in submitting a piece for a future newsletter issue? Send us an email or DM us on Instagram. We’re looking for short prose/poetry pieces (~150 words or less).
It’s easy for many to dismiss the need to take action during this time of year. “Can’t you just enjoy the holidays?” they might say. But taking action is not about avoiding or not-celebrating the holidays; rather, it’s about being grateful for what we have, recognizing the privilege that enables such gratitude, and combating the systems that favor privilege.
So what can we do to celebrate the holidays with a decolonial lens? There isn’t a step by step approach—for each of us, the actions or reflection taken will be individualized.
Dinner conversations: While we should all respect safe spaces and the decision to decline conversations, being prepared to navigate conversations considered “political” can be helpful and comforting. Additionally, it’s on all of us with privilege (particularly us white, cis, straight, and abled folks) to call out those that enable and perpetuate violence—especially if we find it uncomfortable to do so.
Consider donating time or money to organizations in the names of friends and family, instead of gifting physical gifts, and ask them to do the same for you. Even more, consider extending such gratitude year-round to provide continuous support.
Learn and share about holidays different from the ones you celebrate. For example, bring new recipes to the table from different communities around the globe. Consider cooking something traditional from the Indigenous communities whose unceded land you live on.
Gift books you’ve learned from to others who can do the same.
Give gifts that aren’t coded or selected based on gender binaries.
Encourage the respect of everyone around the table, especially with names and pronouns.
We are so grateful for you and your support. If you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns, be sure to get in touch.
Olivia and Fiona