Reprinted from Candid Learning.
As a social sector librarian at Candid, I’ve missed interacting with the visitors in our New York library since it’s been closed. It makes me sad to think of the shelves of unused books sitting in the darkened library space. On the other hand, the past months have allowed us to focus on our growing eBook and audiobook collection. This free public collection contains many titles on nonprofit management, fundraising, philanthropy, and related topics. What you may not know, though, is that we’ve curated a large collection of books on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Thanks to a generous grant from Borealis Philanthropy, we now have about 75 unique DEI titles in our collection. We have tried to encompass a wide spectrum of DEI across the collection. This collection enriches our understanding of the nonprofit and philanthropic landscape and helps us live up to Candid’s value of being inclusive. Whether or not you work in the areas these books address, reading them gives historical and societal context to the work we do—the communities we work with and the structures we try to improve. I’ve chosen three DEI titles I’d like to highlight:
#1: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
Originally published 10 years ago, this book sadly remains relevant today. Alexander’s central thesis asserts that mass incarceration is the United States’ newest system of racial control. Backed by copious statistics and studies, each chapter methodically lays bare the overwhelming biases inherent in each step of people of color’s ensnarement in the criminal justice system. Alexander focuses on the abuses taking place specifically against Black men in the name of this country’s never-ending War on Drugs. According to Alexander, this war “has effectively shredded portions of the U.S. Constitution—eliminating Fourth Amendment protections once deemed inviolate, and it has militarized policing practices in inner cities across America” (p. 220). This has led to “police regularly stop[ping] and search[ing] people for no reason whatsoever,” with “penalties for many crimes [being] so severe that innocent people plead guilty, accepting plea bargains to avoid harsh mandatory sentences” (p. 58). Even if Black men avoid prison time, they continue to be controlled by probation and parole. Labeled as felons, these nonviolent drug offenders become ineligible for public assistance, public housing, or student loans. In many cases, their voting rights are stripped, and finding employment becomes extremely difficult. Alexander argues that mass incarceration has created a racial undercaste of Black men with no way to escape from this system of control.
The 10-year anniversary edition of the book contains a new foreword in which Alexander reflects on the changes that have taken place since she first wrote it. Alexander argues that we have moved from the nominally “color-blind” Obama years toward open racism and discrimination. Although mandatory-minimum laws have been improved and the number of incarcerated people has decreased, these changes result from the burdensome cost of mass incarceration rather than any moral change of heart. And, although the number of incarcerated people has decreased, there has been a vast and disturbing number of immigrant deportations under recent administrations. Although movements like Black Lives Matter give hope, Alexander concludes that breaking the cycle of successive forms of racial control in the United States requires significant structural change and upheaval.
If you’d like to learn more about mass incarceration and its disproportionate effect on people of color and Black people specifically, we’ve collected more than 450 reports on prison and judicial reform on IssueLab, such as Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020. On Candid’s racial equity funding page, you’ll also find DEI trainings. Finally, our 2021 Boys and Men of Color Executive Director’s Collaboration Circle starts in February.
#2: America for Americans, by Erika Lee
In this comprehensive look at the history of xenophobia in the United States, Lee shows how xenophobia has always been more about racism than foreign policy or economic concerns. Lee draws uncomfortable parallels between discriminatory and exclusionary actions that took place against various racial and ethnic groups one, two, or three centuries ago and what is happening in our country today. We may like to think that something like the Chinese Exclusion Act or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II would never happen in today’s America, but one only needs to look at some of the exclusionary policies enacted under recent administrations to see that in some ways, not much has changed.
In her history, Lee shows how, with the rise of nativism in the 19th century, white Americans tried to excuse Native American removal and discrimination by claiming that white Europeans were the real “native” Americans. The pseudosciences of phrenology and physiognomy were used to “prove” various groups’ intellectual, physical, and moral inferiority and to justify their exclusion.
As Alexander discusses in The New Jim Crow, xenophobes and racists have often used code words such as national security or law and order, rather than openly derogatory language, to keep out or discriminate against immigrants and people of color. And time and time again, politicians have preyed on working class white Americans’ economic fears, convincing them to abandon alliances with other oppressed groups and instead scapegoat immigrants and people of color as the enemy.
To learn more about how immigration and xenophobia are still affecting our country, start by digging into the nearly 900 reports we’ve collected on immigration, such as A Profile of Immigrants from Travel Ban-Affected Countries in the United States from the Institute for Immigration Research. You can also check out articles and interviews on xenophobia and immigration issues in the United States.
#3: Disability Visibility, edited by Alice Wong
Disability rights activist Alice Wong has put together a wide-ranging collection of contemporary pieces by people with disabilities. With essays, blog posts, speeches, interviews, and more, the collection vibrantly illustrates the joy, the struggle, and the complexities of living with a disability. In “Radical Visibility: A Disabled Queer Clothing Reform Movement Manifesto,” Sky Cubacub discusses the importance of accessible, expressive fashion for people with disabilities, especially queer people with disabilities. In “Incontinence Is a Public Health Issue—and We Need to Talk About It,” Mari Ramsawakh describes the frustration of living in a society that refuses to acknowledge an issue that is a fact of life for people of all ages. In “To Survive Climate Catastrophe, Look to Queer and Disabled Folks,” Patty Berne posits that queer and disabled people may be uniquely qualified to lead the movement for climate justice, as they have been forced to adapt and creatively problem-solve in a society not built for them. These pieces and the others that accompany them paint a rich portrait of life for people with disabilities.
At Candid, we strive to include people with disabilities in all our activities, although there is always more work to do. Many of our recordings of recent webinars have open captions to facilitate access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As part of our event series on DEI in the social sector, we were fortunate enough to present the webinar “Including People with Disabilities in Nonprofits and Foundations,” led by members of RespectAbility. We have also collected nearly 250 reports on the topic of disabilities in IssueLab.
Although I hope to get back to seeing patrons in person at our New York library soon, working on expanding our digital collection has been rewarding. Developing the DEI collection has given us a chance to highlight the vast body of literature on this topic, strengthen our commitment to these values, and consider how we still need to improve.