Books to Watch | February 16, 2021
February 16, 2021
This week, our choices are:
Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction to Activism and Action by Sophie Williams, Amistad
Instagram is undoubtedly my favorite social media platform. It highlights the collective power of visual and written language working together, which is, personally, the best method for my own communication and comprehension. And while there are a lot of fake accounts, misleading information, and otherwise trashy posts on Instagram, it's heartening to see people utilizing the free, easy-to-use platform for the betterment of our world. Sophie Williams (@officialmillennialblack) really understands and practices the balance between pleasant visuals and to-the-point text that, together, educate and inform on heavy and complicated topics.
As helpful as scrolling through her Instagram page can be for someone looking to be an ally, her new book, Anti-Racist Ally, is a pocket-sized guide might be an even better place to start. Chapter by chapter, you get a helpful overview of many of the overlapping issues that are holding back equality as well as accessible definitions for things that are essential you acknowledge and understand like "emotional labor," "tone policing," and "redlining." This is the book for those who don't know where or how to start in their journey to advocating for and supporting marginalized groups. As Williams defines in Chapter 5, common thoughts that are considered allyship anxieties include: "This isn't my fight," "I don't want to make this all about me," "I don't have enough of a voice to make change," "I don't want to alienate my community," "I feel like it's not the right time," and "Racism will die out in a generation." She responds to these relatable ideas in less than ten sentences each and quickly helps you begin to realize your own, individual power in making our communities stronger.
[H]owever small we think our voices are, there are always people listening.
Our social media feeds need to be filled up with content from more people like Sophie Williams and so do our bookshelves! For further reading, Williams provides a solid list of books for adults "to keep learning, growing, and challenging yourself" including Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, a book shortlisted in the 2020 Porchlight Business Book Awards. (GMC)
CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans by Henry T. Greely, MIT Press
Last week I reviewed Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert, which revolves around the 21st century's sci-fi-esque solutions to climate change, one of which was gene editing to, ultimately, decrease populations of an invasive and poisonous toad species. This technology called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is relatively new, and reading Kolbert's book was the first time I really understood the power of gene-editing beyond changing someone's eye color. Only a week later, and my new fascination with gene-editing finds a new outlet in CRISPR People by Henry T. Greely.
From editing poisonous toad genes to human baby genes, that's quite a leap in complexity as well as morality.
It's immediately clear what a shock human gene editing was to, not just the scientific world, but to humankind when Greely sets the scene, down to the exact day and time, for the moment he and the rest of the world found out about the "CRISPR babies" created in China by Dr. He Jiankui. The embryos had been genetically modified so that the gene called CCR5 would not function and thus not allow HIV to infect their other cells. However, only one year later, Dr. He was sentenced to 3 years of prison for the very unsettling and unethical ways he conducted his experiments: his consent forms for the patients were inadequate and deceptive, the approval documents were forged, and what He actually did in his experiments is still unclear due to He and his colleague's bias and dishonesty.
Greely rightly remains extremely skeptical of human gene editing throughout the book, even when he moves away from He's experiment into breaking down what germline genome editing is and the legal status of its use . While it's a tragedy that a scientist was so reckless with his work, Greely has an important takeaway for Science from the He experiment:
Science does not have a president, prime minister, or pope. But Science does have leaders, individual and institutional, and those leaders have some influence over public perceptions. Leaders reacted---but their reactions were insufficient. Although Science is beginning to deal better, in some respects, with the consequences of He's experiments, its leaders still badly need to do better.
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates, Knopf
Bill Gates has become a controversial figure. On one side, people worry that he has been allowed to amass so much individual wealth, and are concerned that even his prodigious philanthropic efforts only further concentrate his power and influence (at the expense of public investment through taxes on billionaires like him and public policy made by our public representatives). On the other side, people worry that he invented the coronavirus so that he can implant trackable microchips in all of us. Potato, tomato.
One thing that I know is true about him is that he is a voracious reader and a committed humanitarian, and I have to respect that. He wants to get to the bottom of every problem we face, understands science and technology and how to deploy it in the world, and is willing to put his money where the research is. And he is investing a lot of it in addressing the biggest challenge humanity faces: climate change.
He admits that he—as a wealthy technologist with a large carbon footprint—is an imperfect messenger on the issue, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to solving our biggest problems (he also explains his considerable efforts and expenses to offset his own impact, which may ease your mind a little in listening to his argument). Climate change is an existential issue, and we need all hands on deck to solve it. New technology isn’t the only answer, but it is certainly a part of the answer, and because he thinks more like an engineer than a politician, he has worked hard to understand the full scope and politics of problem, so the plan he proposes is based on advice from experts in fields ranging from macroeconomic finance to grassroots activism and everything in between. All of this makes his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, comprehensive and well worth reading, regardless of what you think about him personally. (DJJS)
Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life by Joann S. Lublin, Harper Business
When we were discussing what we wanted to cover this week, Gabbi expressed amusement and annoyance at the title Power Moms, asking if there is such a thing as a “Power Dad,” or if it is just assumed all dads are power dads. It is a great point (and the answer is obviously yes—we’re all power dads), and an unfortunate reality that pervades our professional and personal lives. It is sad that there is still such a disparity, that no one asks a powerful man with children how he balances it all as they will inevitably ask every powerful woman with children. But expectations haven’t changed enough over the past two generations, the only two in which women have even had a place at the table in the executive suites of business. Their numbers are still too small, the double standards remain glaring and firmly entrenched, and we have much further to go.
Joann Lublin’s previous book, Earning It, was one of my favorite releases of 2016, so I dove into this one and quickly found what I loved in her previous work—exquisite research and writing on a pioneering group of women (“eighty-six executive mothers across industries,” plus her own experience as a news editor at the Wall Street Journal, to be precise). It is, of course, of great use to professional women, but it also has lessons for us working dads (whether we are truly power dads or not), and is itself a history lesson of two trailblazing generations who have made their way into a traditionally male dominated world so that those who follow have that choice available to them—even if they don’t always choose to exercise it. It is also a reminder of how much work we have to do as a society to make the situation at work better for us all, offering some practical guidance for how we get there as a society. (DJJS)
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee, One World
Heather McGhee poured herself into economic policy research and advocacy at Demos, eventually becoming president of the entire organization. In advocating for the American middle class and policies that pulled more people up into it, she knew she was doing work that would help disproportionately disadvantaged communities of color, in turn. But she eventually found herself confronting a problem that she did not foresee, one that went beyond sound public policy and even undermined it. It wasn’t individual racism or personal racial animus, per se; as a black woman she knew she would face that. It was a narrative, a belief in a zero-sum paradigm, a conception of the world that if one group of people makes progress, it comes at the expense of others. She asked herself:
Was it possible that even when we didn’t bring up race, it didn’t matter? That racism could strengthen the hand that beat us, even when we were advocating for policies that would help all Americans—including white people?
The answer, she came to firmly believe, is yes. And it is that conception of the world that she believes causes so many white people to vote against their own economic interests. So she set out across the country to learn more about it, to study public opinion and the psychology behind it. She was still focused on the same issues of economic inequality and progress but began to work more on how to change the narrative, to tell a new story, to convince people that we don’t live in a zero-sum world, but that there is, in fact, power in our diversity and a dividend in solidarity with one another. The Sum of Us helps us see how the choice between those two visions and narratives is at the heart of the choices we have made and have to make about our economic future, and will do a lot in determining the future of our country. (DJJS)