When emotions are running high, honest dialogue can be difficult to achieve without offense being given or felt. In times like these the voices best heard are often the ones in literature and film. Thankfully there is a wealth of these available to us which address racial history, diversity, discrimination and tension in our country. If you are wanting to gain a deeper understanding of all that is happening in our country, as I am, here is a place to start:
A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry and inspired by Langston Hughes poem “Harlem.” It follows a portion of a Black family’s life as they seek a better life in Chicago after leaving the South in the 1950’s. Their struggle and disappointment and moments of hope become your own as you are drawn into the story.
Maya Angelou is one of my favorite poets and of her poetry, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” stops me in my tracks every time I read it. She is quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Her poetry takes the reader inside the struggle and for a brief moment you almost know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. “…for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in grade school and it was the book that brought the devastation of slavery alive to me. Despite the controversy that now swirls around this title, it is important to remember that this book was a pioneer of its times. It was written before the Civil War so it gives us an inside look at that time period. It was written by a woman, another significant detail since women’s voices in that era were rarely heard. I believe Harriet Beecher Stowe was a woman with an indomitable spirit who was not afraid to bring an end to despicable institution of slavery.
To Kill A Mockingbird brings us to our more recent past and reveals that the travesties of racism and prejudice were not left behind. This novel a written from a child’s perspective which almost makes the issues being discussed more compelling. Children are not racist or prejudiced by nature; it is taught. Following Scout’s thought process as she tried to understand these evils in her town we can see the tragedy all the more clearly.
I recently read Follow the Drinking Gourd to my young children. It was a gentle way to begin teaching them about slavery in our country. The illustrations are vibrant and the characters are authentic. My children asked questions like, “Why was she taken from her mother?” and “Why are the bad guys chasing them?” We were able to discuss as they processed their thoughts.
There are four films I would recommend for the thoughtful way they present the many dimensions to the struggle of slavery, racial discrimination and segregation. [These films are not meant for young viewers due to their graphic nature]
- 12 Years a Slave
- Hidden Figures
As a language arts teacher I have long felt that some of the best discussions are about literature and the arts. This venue of conversation prods the heart and mind to think in ways we hadn’t considered. What plays, poets, books and films would you add to the list?