Workday Reading

The Edition: No. 178

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. // Thomas Edison

+ Dear Women: Make a bet on yourself.

+ These Madewell spotted calf hair sandals are sublime.

+ A dermatologist’s pregnancy safe skincare routine.

+ Don’t miss this vibrant H&M cotton dress and pretty smocked dress.

+ 9 Ways to Boost Your Resume in Quarantine.

+ The greatest gym bag ever made is finally back in stock.

+ 4th of July Barbecue recipes from the NYT.

+ The quietest wireless headphones for working-from-home.

+ What to say when someone cries at work.

+ Whistles is one of my top-5 brands. This relaxed work dress explains why.

+ On Performing Gratitude (an important read).

+ Summer Plans: Swimsuit + Straw Hat + Baby Pool + Cocktail

+ Long Reads: Is New York City’s most corrupt official their head lifeguard?

In the original version of this post, I failed at being the kind of ally I want to be during this time of societal change.  I’ll keep working to do better.

I wanted to share the story of Viola Liuzzo because she was a brave and decent woman, murdered by the Klan, while an FBI agent watched, for having the audacity to fight for equal treatment and voting rights for black people.  She was then defamed by the FBI  because Hoover realized that having a white woman murdered could upend the parade of lies he was telling white America about the Civil Rights Movement, its black leaders, and the black people who fought for equality.

People like Rev. George Winston Lee, murdered in 1953 for being the first black man to register to vote in his county and for using his pulpit to encourage others to register as well.

Like Clyde Kennard, framed for a theft he didn’t commit so that the state of Mississippi could prevent him from integrating the University of Southern Mississippi.  He died in prison while serving his unjust sentence. (Spies of Mississippi is a documentary worth your time.)

Like Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered by the FBI because he was too good at bringing groups of people from different backgrounds together to fight shared oppression.

Like Claudette Colvin, who was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus months before Rosa Parks became a household name, but didn’t receive the recognition she deserved because she was young, pregnant, and unmarried, and the white Christian majority wouldn’t be able to sympathize with her.

Like Harry and Harriette Moore, killed for speaking up about equality, and the 74 others who Southern Poverty Law Center says were murdered by racially motivated violence only to be forgotten by history.

The stories of the dead are legion.  They are almost entirely black.  They are almost entirely without justice.  And the murder of a single white woman, while an interesting watershed moment, doesn’t change the injustice.  If you want to keep learning more of the history of the Movement and the black people who fought and died for it, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Facebook posts are worth a follow.

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Leave a Reply to Belle · cancel comment

    21 comments

  1. Annie says:

    Hi Abra, I would just like to comment on something as food for thought moving forward!

    You mention wanting to tell the story of Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman to die during the Civil Rights Movement. I get where you’re coming from in trying to show the bravery it takes to be a true ally. But your example and phrasing made me uncomfortable.

    For one thing, the story of how your dad instructed you to read a book about the Freedom Riders and then proceeded to only ask a question about how such a movement impacted white people feels like trying to co-opt a movement that, really, is about amplifying black voices and the bringing attention to the violences against black people. The only question your dad has is about how white people were affected by this movement, as if to insert white people into a narrative that’s really not about them. When he finds out the book doesn’t mention this woman, he says it’s “broken” and dismisses it, which also made me uncomfortable, as if the book didn’t have any other useful information whatsoever. He then proceeds to buy you another book that’s not missing “crucial information,” without ever discussing the valuable information the first book might have contained.

    I don’t point this out to point fingers at you or your father. Perhaps you both proceeded to have a difficult but necessary conversation about the Freedom Riders movement afterward. But the way you frame this story and leave out any such discussion around the amplification of black voices is concerning. It’s as if you’re saying that a book needs to include a white perspective in order to be valuable to you. One of the best ways to learn about the Black American experience is to listen to it without inserting the white perspective into the narrative.

    Bluntly put, the Civil Rights Movement is not about white people; it’s about the struggle of black people, and the violence against white people should not be the main takeaway from a discussion about it. This is not to discount the pain that Viola Liuzzo or her family experienced. But to mention her, while ignoring the many, many BIPOC who experienced pain and violence, feels like a crime of omission. You say she isn’t remembered the way others are, but you can’t even list the full names of those other people or even link to information about them. This implies that those other names don’t deserve equal recognition or weight.

    Again, I just wanted to point this out as food for thought moving forward.

    June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Kelsey Cadden says:

      Hi Annie,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to articulate the uncomfortable feel I had when reading the last word. I was to second everything you’ve said above.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Christine says:

      +1. I also felt a little weird about that anecdote, and you’ve hit the nail on the head in describing why, Annie. Thanks for taking the time to articulate this.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
      • Kim says:

        So I think Abra (and please correct me if I am misinterpreting this) was trying to point out that white people need to have real courage and be willing to risk their necks – that posting a square or reading Kendi isn’t enough when we are confronting a societal problem of this magnitude. I didn’t at all get the sense that she was trying to coopt the fight. (Though I agree her father’s question was not what our generation would consider the most pertinent one, as presented. But he did get her more than one book on Freedom Riders which is more than my folks did…)

        June 30, 2020/Reply
    • sunnyia says:

      Annie – thank you for initiating this conversation. And Abra – thank you for making this blog a place where readers can have these discussions. White Americans are increasingly unable to avoid the reality that systemic racism in the U.S. has resulted in a culture where most stories get told from a white perspective for a white audience – this is a great example of that. It’s a story about the Civil Rights Movement, but emphasizes the white perspective and the impact of the Movement on white people.

      The WaPo story says this explicitly: she’s a cute white mom! “Monsters could kill anyone!” In itself, the story of Viola Liuzzo IS inspirational. But, as Annie indicates, glorifying the white savior detracts (or at least, distracts) from the Black Americans who were the actual stars of the story. If history is written by the victors, then we need to do a better job of amplifying the voices of Black Americans and other people of color.

      Again, thanks Abra for creating a space for us to have these difficult conversations. (Next up: the polarizing promotion of puffy sleeves on this site.)

      June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Amelia says:

      Another +1 for this comment and all the responses above. Without discounting the sacrifice of Ms. Liuzzo and the pain her family endured, I did feel super uncomfortable when reading that story since the anecdote is so white-centered. I’m not going to rehash all the excellent constructive comments mentioned above, but will say I agree with them whole-heartedly.

      That being said, thank you, Abra, for continuing to make space for this type of conversation and including content that highlights POC points of view, such as the excellent “On Performing Gratitude” article. It was definitely triggering for me as a person of color, but also necessary reading.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
      • Belle says:

        I read that article and it really made me confront some of my own biases. I think the idea that people of color should be more grateful for opportunities is shockingly pervasive. I am so sorry if people have made you feel like your presence somewhere or the things you earned weren’t deserved because of your race. The idea that anyone should be grateful for lesser treatment (because they could be excluded in the alternative) is total horseshit, but as the article points out, it is present in so many interactions.

        June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Meghan says:

      +1 for Annie. Thanks for articulating why this made me feel uncomfortable. I, too, am guilty of focusing on the stories/histories of people who look like me (a white woman), but centering a white woman’s story of Civil Rights feels wrong and dismissive of Black voices and stories. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful commentary. Let’s all do better, together.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
    • TT says:

      ANNIE, thank you for articulating my discomfort with this part of Abra’s post. I agree with everything you said here.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
    • H says:

      +1 thank you for writing this out Annie

      June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Belle says:

      My Father wanted me to see myself in the movement, by seeing someone who looked like me. His concern, growing up in a majority white Western community that acted like civil rights was a problem that was fixed, was that I would see racism as other people’s struggle or only a problem in the South, a point he made many times. Like many people, I think he would teach the lesson differently now, because as you mentioned, we have done a terrible job of amplifying black voices. And I have inadvertently contributed to that now.

      I struggled with the phrasing on this post, and I came up short. My intention was not to insert a white perspective into the story of black struggle, but to illustrate that being an ally is not guaranteed to be comfortable or safe if you’re doing it right.

      Also, the part of Viola’s story I wanted to share (and did a poor job of) was that after her death, the government tried to destroy her with lies. Much like Fred Hampton was murdered by the government, Viola was killed while an FBI agent watched. And then her government tried to destroy her reputation and hurt her family because having a white woman killed was just too damaging to the dishonest narrative Hoover was selling. The more stories like Viola’s that get told, the more I hope people will start to ask if what the government is telling them now about riots and violence is real. I hear too many educated, decent people talking about violence in the cities like it discredits all that’s going on. I was hoping sharing Viola’s story would break down the myth that, if people just protested the “right” way, they’d get more done. Some people are just unwilling to accept that when you ask for real social change, it doesn’t matter how peaceful you are, they’ll hunt you down and shoot you twice in the head if they think for a minute it will stop the movement from progressing.

      I know that I will never understand this struggle in the same way black people and other people of color do, and that is my privilege. But I hope you know that it was not my intention to ignore others, particularly the myriad number of black people who were killed and who suffered. I did a poor job here while trying to do something good, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll just keep trying to do better.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
      • Erica says:

        Annie, Abra, and others: great example of productive, empathetic dialogue that can lead to growth and greater understanding. Bravo. The world needs more of this. Thanks for fostering this remote, yet supportive, community.

        July 1, 2020/Reply
        • J says:

          I just want to add my thanks for everyone here being able to have an honest discussion about this and for Abra for allowing it. It’s why I keep coming back to the site.

          July 1, 2020/Reply
          • Jo says:

            Agreed with all of the above – great comments, and thoughtful back-and-forth. I will add that I for one really enjoyed the articles, even if I simultaneously experienced the same unease that others articulated far better than I could have. I had never heard of Viola until watching Selma this past month and had been meaning to google her (by contrast, I had heard of most / maybe all of the other major characters in the movie, and definitely of the two male white pastors who were murdered).

            July 3, 2020/Reply
  2. Sherry says:

    Hi Abra – Thanks for sharing these reads! The “what to say to someone who’s crying at work” was really helpful and I love the empathy in those responses.

    I agree with what Annie mentioned below as food for thought; at the same time, as a brown woman whose childhood history was either whitewashed from school or focused on Indian politics, I also appreciate learning more about the Civil Rights Movement in general. Thanks for sharing a woman’s story who we haven’t heard. Hopefully with more focus and emphasis on “hidden figures”, the writing you share will continue to shed light on remarkable women like your readers!

    June 30, 2020/Reply
    • Kelly says:

      I’m really, REALLY hoping the “don’t cry at work” line is one of those things that goes away with the pandemic and never comes back.

      June 30, 2020/Reply
      • Belle says:

        If you didn’t need to turn off Zoom to pull yourself together sometimes, you wouldn’t be human.

        June 30, 2020/Reply
  3. anna c says:

    One of the reasons I keep coming back to your blog is for the thoughtful discussions that you allow. Others have said it more eloquently, so I won’t add more than saying that I also felt a bit uncomfortable with that story. HOWEVER, I really admire and appreciate your honesty and your willingness to admit “hey, maybe that wasn’t right. Maybe I could do better.” You take constructive criticism (and Annie’s comment was a beautifully written one) and aren’t afraid to own up to it. Learning in this time is uncomfortable, and most of us are also making missteps on the way to allyship, just maybe in less visible ways.

    July 1, 2020/Reply
  4. TheLOOP says:

    We all look for meaning in stories in which we find ourselves reflected. So it shouldn’t be surprising that a 9 year old White girl resonated with a story of a White mom who risked her life to be an ally – in a moment where allyship is in danger of becoming a performative exercise with blacked out profile photos and Insta quotes, it’s refreshing to read about a story that shows that allyship goes beyond book club commitments. I agree though that the comment about the book being broken because it didn’t feature one White story rubbed me wrong too but that’s not on a 9 year old girl. I also agree that sharing untold stories should NOT stop with this one story. *That* would indeed be focusing just on the White perspective. It would be great to hear more diverse stories. Someone I learned about recently was Dovey Johnson Roundtree: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1127882/4317218-day-18-dovey-johnson-roundtree

    July 1, 2020/Reply
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