Librarians are debating how to handle the Dr. Seuss controversy – but the books will stay on the shelves for now

Dr Seuss picture
John Simpson, project director of exhibitions for The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, paints a mural based on artwork in the Dr. Seuss book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”

Bookstores will soon be without six Dr. Seuss titles found to be offensive, but library borrowers will still be able to find them on their shelves.

On Tuesday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the author’s estate, said it would cease publication of six books found to have racially insensitive imagery.

For libraries, the removal of offensive books is a complex issue. Leaving books on the shelves may lead to backlash, but pulling them could be seen as a form of censorship.

“Libraries across the country are having conversations around how to balance our core values of intellectual freedom, with the harmful stereotypes depicted in many children’s classics,” said Olivia Gallegos, communications manager at the Denver Public Library.

At the New York Public Library, the six Dr. Seuss titles are expected to be available until they’re too worn out to be borrowed. When that happens, the library won’t be able to replace them with new versions, so they won’t be replaced.

“In the meantime, librarians, who care deeply about serving their communities and ensuring accurate and diverse representation in our collections – especially children’s books – will certainly strongly consider this information when planning storytimes, displays, and recommendations,” said Angela Montefinise, NYPL senior director of communications.

The American Library Association, which has a Bill of Rights and Code of Ethics for US libraries, offers guidelines for librarians. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s ‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said she can’t speculate on how each individual library will handle the books, since US public libraries are mostly controlled by local governments.

“But an author’s or publisher’s decision to stop publishing a book should not be grounds alone for removing a book from a library’s collection,” Caldwell-Stone said.

She recommended librarians seek out ALA guidelines on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and other topics.

Insider this week asked librarians around the country for their thoughts about the six books. Some said the books presented an opportunity for parents to broach difficult conversations with readers of all ages. With the help of a librarian and the right context, they could be powerful tools for combating systematic racism, the librarians said.

The Denver Public library didn’t have plans to pull any Dr. Seuss books from its collection. Like most libraries, DPL makes removal decisions based on whether books are in demand, have up-to-date information, and are in good condition, said Gallegos.

At the Los Angeles Public Library, librarians encourage parents and guardians to help their young ones select books, said a library spokesperson.

“Our collection includes the six Dr. Seuss titles that will be discontinued by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. We recognize the challenges this presents, and our goal is to promote critical thinking and evaluation of literature among patrons of all ages,” said Peter Persic, director of public relations and marketing.

None of the librarians contacted by Insider said they would remove the books from the shelves, at least for the time being.

“Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship so while we do not showcase books with outdated or offensive viewpoints, we do not remove them either, using them instead as a springboard for conversations about healing and moving forward,” said a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library.

But the DC Public Library said it will conduct an internal review. It will also consult with peer libraries and library associations to decide what to do with the six books, said George Williams, media relations manager.

“Library materials may be removed from the collection when the material is no longer timely, accurate, or relevant,” Williams said. “We also recognize that sometimes a title in the collection may need to be reconsidered or moved to another location for research or consultation.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Librarians are debating how to handle the Dr. Seuss furore – but say the books will stay on the shelves for now

Dr. Seuss Book If I Ran a Zoo Out of Print.JPG
A copy of the children’s book “If I Ran The Zoo” by author Dr. Seuss, which the publisher said will no longer be published.

Bookstores will soon be without six Dr. Seuss titles found to be offensive, but library borrowers will still be able to find them on their shelves. 

On Tuesday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the author’s estate, said it would cease publication of six books found to have racially insensitive imagery.

For libraries, the removal of offensive books is a complex issue. Leaving books on the shelves may lead to backlash, but pulling them could be seen as a form of censorship. 

“Libraries across the country are having conversations around how to balance our core values of intellectual freedom, with the harmful stereotypes depicted in many children’s classics,” said Olivia Gallegos, communications manager at the Denver Public Library. 

At the New York Public Library, the six Dr. Seuss titles are expected to be available until they’re too worn out to be borrowed. When that happens, the library won’t be able to replace them with new versions, so they won’t be replaced. 

“In the meantime, librarians, who care deeply about serving their communities and ensuring accurate and diverse representation in our collections – especially children’s books – will certainly strongly consider this information when planning storytimes, displays, and recommendations,” said Angela Montefinise, NYPL senior director of communications.

The American Libraries Association, which has a Bill of Rights and Code of Ethics for US libraries, offers guidelines for librarians. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, ALA director, said she can’t speculate on how each individual library will handle the books, since US public libraries are mostly controlled by local governments. 

“But an author’s or publisher’s decision to stop publishing a book should not be grounds alone for removing a book from a library’s collection,” Caldwell-Stone said.

She recommended librarians seek out ALA guidelines on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and other topics. 

Insider this week asked librarians around the country for their thoughts about the six books. Some said the books presented an opportunity for parents to broach difficult conversations with readers of all ages. With the help of a librarian and the right context, they could be powerful tools for combating systematic racism, the librarians said. 

The Denver Public library didn’t have plans to pull any Dr. Seuss books from its collection. Like most libraries, DPL makes removal decisions based on whether books are in demand, have up-to-date information, and are in good condition, said Gallegos. 

At the Los Angeles Public Library, librarians encourage parents and guardians to help their young ones select books, said a library spokesperson.

“Our collection includes the six Dr. Seuss titles that will be discontinued by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. We recognize the challenges this presents, and our goal is to promote critical thinking and evaluation of literature among patrons of all ages,” said Peter Persic, director of public relations and marketing. 

None of the librarians contacted by Insider said they would remove the books from the shelves, at least for the time being. 

“Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship so while we do not showcase books with outdated or offensive viewpoints, we do not remove them either, using them instead as a springboard for conversations about healing and moving forward,” said a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library. 

But the DC Public Library said it will conduct an internal review. It will also consult with peer libraries and library associations to decide what to do with the six books, said George Williams, media relations manager.  

“Library materials may be removed from the collection when the material is no longer timely, accurate, or relevant,” Williams said. “We also recognize that sometimes a title in the collection may need to be reconsidered or moved to another location for research or consultation.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

How much Did Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr.’s claims of ‘cancel culture’ help drive sales of Dr. Seuss books? Insider takes a closer look.

Dr. Seuss Statue in the Sun.JPG
A statue of author Theodor Seuss Geisel in the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.

  • Many Dr. Seuss books topped bestsellers list this week, but what drove the sales? 
  • Republicans including Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. said “cancel culture” had come for Dr. Seuss.
  • Telegram users implied they’d bought the titles because of the controversy. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Back in 1984, when he was 43 books into his career, Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, told a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune that most of his stories didn’t have serious messages, but were rather “just plain pleasant tommyrot.” 

The newspaper described the author at home in La Jolla, California. He was leaning back in his desk chair, discussing whether his newest book, “The Butter Battle Book,” was a “children’s books for adults or an adult book for children.”

“There are so many leaders who think in a childlike manner, I thought it wouldn’t make any difference if it was a children’s book or not,” Geisel said. 

Dr. Seuss’s books have meant a lot to both children and adults in the eight decades since he published his first one. Perhaps that’s why, this past week, they became a focal point in an ongoing conversation about so-called cancel culture.

Political commentators on the right, including Donald Trump Jr. and Senator Ted Cruz, jumped to the defense of Dr. Seuss as six of his books were pulled because of offensive or racist imagery. Trump said the move was a clear sign that the “woke mob” had come for the author, who died in 1991.

“I literally know ‘The Cat in the Hat’ by heart without the book there because I read it so many times to my children,” Trump said on Fox News. He added: “These things are not racist.”

Trump Jr and others placed the blame on their political opponents, liberal lawmakers, and the media. On Twitter, Rep. Matt Gaetz said: “At what point does our society reach cancel culture herd immunity?” 

But the decision to stop publishing the six books came from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the author’s estate, a fact that seemed to get lost in the conversation over so-called cancel culture. The call, you might say, was coming from inside the house. 

Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it sought to further the author’s mission of “hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship,” according to a statement released Tuesday.

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company said. 

The six books removed from its catalog were: ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,’ ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ ‘McElligot’s Pool,’ ‘On Beyond Zebra!,’ ‘Scrambled Eggs Super!,’ and ‘The Cat’s Quizzer.’

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said. 

According to researchers, Geisel also published hundreds of racist cartoons and drawings during his career. 

Dr. Seuss Book If I Ran a Zoo Out of Print.JPG
A copy of the children’s book “If I Ran The Zoo” by author Dr. Seuss, which the publisher said will no longer be published, is seen in this photo illustration taken in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., March 2, 2021.

By late afternoon on Friday, about half the books on Amazon’s bestseller list were either Dr. Seuss originals or spinoffs by other writers.

On Thursday, eBay told The Wall Street Journal it was scrubbing its site of the six pulled books. Late Friday, however, some of the pulled books could still be found for sale.

A copy of “The Cat’s Quizzer” listed on eBay had more than 50 bids, putting its price well about $200. Several copies of “Mulberry Street” were listed at about $150, plus shipping. 

President Joe Biden this week left Dr. Seuss books off his reading list for Read Across America Day. The fact-checking site PolitiFact said Biden’s decision wasn’t connected to the decision made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The shift had been years in the making, it added. 

When asked about the omission at the White House, Jen Psaki, press secretary, said: “And as we celebrate the love of reading and uplift diverse and representative authors, it is especially important that we ensure all children can see themselves represented and celebrated in the books that they read.” 

On Twitter, Cruz posted a screenshot of Amazon’s bestseller list full of Dr. Seuss titles, adding: “Could Biden try to ban my book next?”

 

Last week, Ann Coulter, the political commentator and author, focused her attention on “The Butter Battle Book,” and called for it to be removed from shelves. 

“If Dr. Seuss’s estate is going to pull any of his books, it should be the embarrassing one suggesting that the difference between the USSR and U.S.A was just that we buttered our bread on different sides – published in 1984, as Reagan was winning the Cold War,” Coulter wrote on Twitter.

Back in 1984, when Geisel had just finished “The Butter Battle Book,” he told the Tribune reporter that the book was one of his only books to make a political statement. He was against the one-upmanship that had made Americans fear all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

“It is a departure, but I figure in all kids’ books, even the nonsense, the author is saying something,” Geisel said at the time. “And he might as well say something important once in awhile.”

So, all in all, the backlash over the company’s decision did seem to be behind a retail buying frenzy that sent Dr. Seuss books to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers charts, particularly as on Telegram, some members of alt-right groups implied they’d ordered Dr. Seuss books because of the controversy, according to screenshots seen by Insider. 

It should be noted, though, that the books that led sales – “The Cat in the Hat,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” and “Green Eggs and Ham” – weren’t the ones that had been pulled by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

eBay is removing listings for the Dr. Seuss books that the author’s estate pulled due to their racist imagery

Dr. Seuss
  • eBay told The Wall Street Journal that it was scrubbing its site of six Dr. Seuss books the author’s estate pulled this week.
  • The books contained racist imagery, but the decision to pull them has sparked a right-wing backlash.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Online auction site eBay told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that it was “sweeping [its] marketplace” to prevent the resale of Dr. Seuss books that the author’s estate announced it would no longer publish or licence due to racist depictions of non-white characters. 

The books in question are “The Cat’s Quizzer,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,”Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “On Beyond Zebra!”.

The estate of the late cartoonist pulled the six volumes from licensing and publishing deals on Tuesday. Random House Children’s Books will continue to publish his more well-known classics like “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham.” 

On Tuesday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which manages the catalog of Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, told Insider’s Rachel E. Greenspan in a statement that ‘”Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.” 

Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ announcement of the decision spurred right-wing backlash decrying “cancel culture.” As Insider reported, after Glenn Beck, Donald Trump Jr., and Ted Cruz publicly denounced the decision, sales of the books went up. Forbes reported that second-hand copies of the books shot up in price, and several of Dr. Seuss’ other books climbed the bestseller charts on Amazon.  

A spokesperson for eBay did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider

11 must-read books if you want to better understand the experiences of Asian-Americans

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Books about the Asian American Experience 4x3
  • Asian-Americans make up one of the most diverse racial groups in America – but can share similar experiences with racism and xenophobia.
  • Literature can help foster a better understanding of underrepresented groups, examining everything from harmful Hollywood stereotypes to the challenges of immigration. 
  • We compiled a list of books, ranging from fiction to memoirs, that paint a portrait of the Asian-American identity and experience.

Asian-Americans make up one of the most diverse and rapidly growing racial groups in the nation. Ever since the beginning of Asian migration to the US began with Chinese immigrants in the 1800s, Asian-Americans have consistently shown that we are a force of cultural, artistic, and political power. 

Crucially, we are not a monolith, with over 40 countries in Asia, countless cultures, and a record amount of socioeconomic diversity between us. But the xenophobia and racism that Asian-Americans of all backgrounds have faced in this country remain a uniting thread, especially recently, as hate crimes against Asian-Americans have skyrocketed

Literature plays a crucial role in the empowerment and understanding of underrepresented groups. We compiled a list of books – ranging from fiction and graphic novels to essay collections and memoirs – that each paint a portrait of the Asian-American experience. Each one, whether harrowing or funny, modern or classic, conventional or experimental, is part of a centuries-old, distinctly American literary tradition that is especially important right now.

11 books that delve into the Asian-American identity and experience: 

“Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu

interior chinatown by charles yu

This experimental novel, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, is written in the form of a screenplay. It centers on Willis Wu, who acts on a police procedural called “Black and White” and is chasing his dream role of “Kung Fu Guy.” However, he must first work his way up through a series of roles, including “Generic Asian Man” and “Background Oriental Making a Weird Face.”

It’s a satire of racist Hollywood tropes, containing deeply profound commentary about what it means to exist in a world that sees you as a caricature. Yu, who previously worked as a corporate lawyer and writer on HBO’s “Westworld,” takes the racism of the entertainment industry and holds it up to the real-life pain, joy, and disillusionment that define the Asian-American experience.

by Charles Yu (button)
“Sour Heart” by Jenny Zhang

sour heart by jenny zhang

“Sour Heart” is a collection of bildungsroman (coming of age) stories told from the point of view of various nameless young daughters of poor Chinese immigrants, mostly taking place in New York City. Zhang’s raw perspective on the immigrant experience is one that you’re not likely to find anywhere else.

Her imagery is often aggressively frank, coarse, and seething with unfettered emotion — to me, it illuminates the dual ugliness and beauty present in many immigrant parent-child relationships. Her young narrators go through sexual exploration, self-discovery, and survival, all while trying to navigate close family ties. This book shows the power of fiction to illuminate the underbelly of everything, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a different side of the Asian-American coming-of-age narrative.

by Jenny Zhang (button)
“From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement” by Paula Yoo

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

It’s not widely known, but the Asian experience in America has been marked by horrific physical violence since we first arrived in this country, from mass lynchings to day-to-day hate crimes.

The 1982 murder of 27-year-old Vincent Chin was considered a turning point in both Asian-American civil rights history and the journey towards criminalizing hate crimes in the US. He was celebrating his bachelor party when two white autoworkers beat him to death. They were initially only required to serve no jail time — just three years’ probation and a $3,000 fine. But Asian-American activists lobbied to argue that it was a racial crime, and the men eventually received federal charges. 

Vincent’s road to justice parallels that of many victims of anti-Asian violence today. Yoo’s book is written for young adults, but it’s an important read for all those looking to know more about AAPI history.

by Paula Yoo (button)
“America is In The Heart” by Carlos Bulosan

america is in the heart by carlos bulosan

This Filipino-American memoir — and the oldest book on this list — recounts the life of author Carlos Bulosan, who immigrated from the Philippines to the United States in 1930. It’s remarkable in the fact that it provides a critical perspective of working-class Asian-Americans at the early stages of Asian immigration to the United States.

Most Asian immigrants to the US had to face a number of race and class struggles compounded together, which is a lens that sometimes gets lost in modern-day discourse. This autobiography has evolved over the years into a classic activist text, making its inclusion in any discussion of the Asian-American experience especially crucial. 

by Carlos Bulosan (button)
“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

pachinko

While very little of this novel actually takes place in the present day, let alone in America, it’s a sprawling book that follows four generations of a Korean family and shows how trauma accumulates over time. From immigrating to Japan to eventually going to the US, the family’s story is marked with heavy sacrifice, both emotional and physical, as everyone struggles to survive and stay together. 

It’s clear that Lee understands a crucial fact about the Asian-American, more specifically, and the Korean-American experience: that one way or another, the emotional burdens of our ancestors often become our own. The immigrant story of survival is crucial to understanding much of the Asian-American experience today, and Lee explores that with a stark, touching lens. 

by Min Jin Lee (button)
“The Gangster We Are All Looking For” by lê thị diễm thúy

the gangster we are all looking for

This semi-autobiographical novel, written by post-colonialist writer and performance artist Lê Thị Diễm Thúy, tells the story of a young girl who flees Vietnam and moves to San Diego with her family in 1978. She tries to assimilate to American culture while also trying to survive the trauma of losing her brother in Vietnam and navigating her parents’ violent relationship. 

Asian-Americans are often subject to the “model minority” stereotype of being privileged and wealthy, approximate to whiteness in their ability to assimilate. However, the model minority myth fails to take into account those of us whose experiences are defined by the violent trauma of migration and colonization that in turn mars our experiences in the US. lê thị diễm thúy’s novel captures the psychic pain of those experiences — and is an important read for those seeking to understand the Vietnamese-American story.

by lê thị diễm thúy (button)
“Minor Feelings” by Cathy Park Hong

minor feelings by cathy park hong

Reading this collection of essays felt like scratching an itch that I didn’t know I had. Hong’s voice is a resounding one in the world of Asian-American creative nonfiction, one that seeks to break out of the mold completely and resists the categorization of Asian-American authorship altogether as it relates to the fetishization of otherness and trauma.

Her writing, at times rageful and at times deadly calm, comes through as one of the few to take on Asian-Americans as a collective group. Most importantly, she recognizes that the future of Asian-American activism is reclaiming the revolutionary roots of the “Asian-American” grouping, which was created in solidarity with Black activists during the Civil Rights era. If you’re looking for a modern-day manifesto for the Asian-American soul, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

by Cathy Park Hong (button)
“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

american born chinese by gene luen yang

“American Born Chinese” is a graphic novel that will change your view on graphic novels. Gene Luen Yang takes the comic form and uses it to tell a heartfelt story about growing up Chinese-American. Reading this book in middle school was an eye-opening experience because I had never seen a comic that represented me, let alone my identity struggles.

The characters include The Monkey King (based on a traditional Chinese folk tale), a young Chinese kid facing bullying from his white classmates, and Chin-Kee, a racist stereotype personified as the Chinese cousin of a white boy. All the character’s stories become woven together by the end, making it an amazing feat of storytelling that hits you right in the chest.

by Gene Luen Yang (button)
“Native Speaker” by Chang-Rae Lee

native speaker by chang-rae lee

This was one of the first novels I ever read that featured an Asian-American protagonist, and ever since then, it’s always been on my list for most powerful novels about the Asian-American experience.

It’s about a Korean-American man named Henry Park who has to spy on a Korean-American politician. Along the way, he struggles to keep his marriage together after a devastating tragedy and attempts to reconcile his own identity as a Korean-American person living in a world full of espionage and betrayal. It’s subtle and understated while wrestling with so many themes integral to the Asian-American consciousness, like the conflict of wanting to assimilate into a society that shows you again and again that it only sees you as a foreign threat.

by Chang-Rae Lee (button)
“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

interpreter of maladies by jhumpa lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut work contains nine short stories that explore different facets of the Indian-American experience. The characters range from a young Indian-American couple mourning a terrible loss, to a mentally troubled young woman in India, to a young white boy who stays with an Indian university professor’s wife after school.

“Interpreter of Maladies” is a book that I turn to when I need to be comforted and transported by prose; the stories are all so skillfully written, with a compassionate and inventive eye for unique perspectives. 

by Jhumpa Lahiri (button)
“Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki

baseball saved us

In this picture book, Shorty, a young Japanese-American boy whose family has been interned by the American government during World War II, turns to baseball to escape the harsh reality of his situation.  

The internment of Japanese-Americans has sparked a literary tradition of picture books that tell the fictional — and sometimes real — stories of children in these camps. This book, with its somber art style and touching story, is an amazing testament to how poignantly children’s books can convey stories of injustice. 

Most importantly, it’s a vital educational tool for those who want their children to learn about the American tradition of ostracizing and dehumanizing entire communities of people, and the longstanding racism and xenophobia that inspire these events.

by Ken Mochizuki (button)

Read the original article on Business Insider

2 long-time Amazon insiders wrote a book on how the company runs – here are the best anecdotes and quotes

Jeff Bezos
Amazon has many unique corporate practices, like 20 minutes of silence at the beginning of every important meeting.

  • Kevin J. Delaney is the founder of Reset Work, a newsletter about work and leadership in the pandemic era and beyond.
  • This post is part of Reset Work’s weekly business book briefing, republished with permission.
  • In it, Delaney breaks down “Working Backwards,” a new book from Amazon alums Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Much of the coverage of Jeff Bezos’s recent announcement that he plans to cede the CEO role at Amazon noted the retailer’s idiosyncratic corporate practices. Perhaps most famous of them is the fact that important meetings at Amazon begin with 20 minutes of silence. During that time, executives quietly read six-page narrative memos presenting the matter to be discussed. 

Two Amazon alums, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, just published a book called “Working Backwards” that walks in detail through how the company arrived at such singular practices. It offers advice on how you might adopt them at your own workplace (assuming, for example, you and your colleagues are game to spend long stretches reading in each other’s company.)   

The book’s name comes from Amazon’s product development process, which involves working backwards from the desired customer experience to decide what to build. 

Bryar worked at Amazon for 12 years as an executive, including two where he was Bezos’s technical advisor, effectively his chief of staff. (Bryar was preceded in that role by Andy Jassy, the incoming CEO.) Carr was at Amazon for 15 years and played a lead role in its digital media businesses, including Prime Video and Amazon Music. 

At the core of Amazon’s approach are 14 leadership principles, first codified in 2005 as 10 principles. They start with “customer obsession” and taking ownership but also include quirky statements such as “leaders are right a lot” and “leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume.” (That’s part of a principle about being self-critical.) Amazon job interviews are structured to probe whether the candidates demonstrate aptitude for each of the principles. You can read the full list on Amazon’s website. 

Bryar and Carr cite a saying repeated at Amazon: “Good intentions don’t work. Mechanisms do.” (p. 17) The company has tried to systematize its practices – or mechanisms – amid its rapid growth. Here are some of the more interesting ones: 

  • The six-page memo. The company in 2004 banned PowerPoint, which until then had been the default for its managers. The reasoning was that six-page narrative memos were much better at conveying the nuances of a business than bullet-pointed slides, and that preparing the memos was valuable for forcing teams to refine their ideas. Amazon executives spend the first part of the meetings reading the memos, so everyone is focused on the matter and discussions pick up from there. Bryar and Carr include an example memo (p. 84) and suggestions for how to approach them. They relate that Bezos, among the most engrossed readers of the memos, said that he reads them assuming each sentence wrong until he can prove otherwise.
  • Product design by press release. Often before they commit to building new products or services, Amazon managers write fake press releases describing them. The idea – central to the “working backwards” approach – is to clarify what the benefit to the customer will be, and magnify the focus on what will differentiate this product from anything else. The short press releases are followed by FAQ sections, which aim to address some of the most pointed questions facing the project. They write the press releases so early in coming up with an idea that most of the new products in the releases are never pursued. 
  • “Bar raisers” for hiring. Specially trained Amazon employees participate in the hiring process as “bar raisers,” providing a dispassionate view on whether the desired candidate is right for the company and wielding a (rarely exercised) veto over the final decision. The idea is to counterbalance many managers’ tendency to want to hire quickly so not to fall behind, and to ensure the process is thorough and structured properly. Bryar and Carr detail the structure, which includes assigning members of the hiring committee specific company principles to probe the candidate on, and written interview reports they’re required to complete. 
  • A focus on “controllable input metrics.” Managers traditionally focus on the output metrics of a company, like revenue and profit. But Amazon believes that managers should focus at least as much on the metrics for inputs they directly control – such as product selection, price, or convenience – that ultimately have the greatest impact on the outputs. Bryar and Carr spend a lot of time on how Amazon leadership uses such data, and acknowledge that there’s a lot of trial and error involved in determining the right input metrics to track.
  • Vesting responsibility and control in a single project leader. The authors write that Bezos has been obsessed as the company has grown with minimizing the coordination and communication required of teams for them to move forward with a project, and ensuring that someone is totally focused on its success. One part of the approach was to have “two-pizza” teams – groups of 10 or fewer employees (the number that could be fed by two pizzas) with responsibility for specific product initiatives. That evolved over time into what it calls a “separable, single-threaded team” which has relative autonomy and works only on the specific feature. Amazon’s approach is similar to how Apple has a “directly responsible individual” charged with making sure a project gets done.

To be sure…

  • This book is very careful to not veer into anything sharply critical, and completely omits any discussion of controversial topics like Amazon’s labor practices. As I was reading the section about how great its hiring process is, I kept thinking back to all of the stories about executive mis-hires in Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store” that weren’t acknowledged here. (Stone has another book on Bezos and Amazon due out in May, which will surely be more critical than “Working Backwards.”) 
  • The authors left Amazon in 2010 and 2014. They note in places that what they’re writing is based on conversations with other executives there since then. But presumably some of the practices described in the book have changed, or will eventually. Which makes this less of a static rule book, and more of a menu of ideas you could try in your own organization. 
  • The second section of the book describes how Amazon’s practices and leadership principles applied in the creation of the Kindle, Amazon Prime, Prime Video, and Amazon Web Services. As recounted, a lot of that history is familiar, and adds little to the understanding of the practices detailed in the first half. You could read just up to page 151 and take away most of the lessons of the book. For those wanting an even quicker read, Bryar and Carr nicely summarize the takeaways from the book in a two-page section beginning on page 261.

Memorable anecdotes and trivia:

  • Bezos always wanted the company to underpromise and overdeliver in order to exceed customer expectations. Early on, the company said on its site that it was shipping books by first-class mail, when in fact it was generally sending shipments by faster priority mail and then telling customers in confirmation emails that they had gotten a complimentary upgrade. (p. 9)
  • Amazon once had an elaborate system it called New Project Initiatives used to prioritize what teams hoped to pursue every quarter. The process was onerous and too frequently disheartening, as a faceless process effectively killed off some of the best ideas. (p. 61)
  • In early 2004, Bezos and Bryar on a business flight read an essay titled “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within,” by information visualization specialist Edward Tufte, which crystallized their thinking about the need to ditch PowerPoint. “From now on your presentation software is Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint. Get used to it,” Tufte advised. (p. 81)
  • Every two years, corporate executives including Bezos had to spend a few days as a customer-service agent. One day while Bezos was shadowing an agent, she took a call from a customer whose furniture had arrived damaged and knew which item it was because there had been recurring issues. That led Bezos, inspired by the Toyota idea of an Andon Cord, to add big red buttons to agents’ product screens that would let them freeze the sale of any item until a problem was resolved. (p. 146)
  • Prior to the launch of the Kindle, Carr didn’t think Amazon should make its own e-reader hardware, because of the expense and its lack of experience doing so. But his boss used the press release technique, and said that the company needed to build or buy the hardware expertise required to make a reading device that was tightly integrated with its e-book store. (p. 178)
  • Bezos sent senior Amazon executives an email in mid-October 2004 saying that the company needed to build and launch a shipping membership program by the end of the year. He gave the executives just 11 weeks during its busiest sales season to develop what would become Amazon Prime, announced only slightly behind his desired timeline in February 2005. (p. 188)

Choice quotes:

  • “Our culture is four things: customer obsession instead of competitor obsession; willingness to think long term, with a longer investment horizon than most of our peers; eagerness to invent, which of course goes hand in hand with failure; and then, finally, taking professional pride in operational excellence.” – Bezos (p. x)
  • “In a period of torrid headcount growth, founders and early employees often feel that they’re losing control of the company – it has become something different than what they set out to create. Looking back, they realize that the root cause of the problem can be traced to an ill-defined or absent hiring process. They were hiring scores of people who would change the company culture rather than those who would embody, reinforce, and add to it.” (p. 32)
  • “I heard [Bezos] say many times that if we wanted Amazon to be a place where builders can build, we needed to eliminate communication, not encourage it… Jeff’s vision was that we needed to focus on loosely coupled interaction via machines through well-defined APIs rather than via humans through emails and meetings.” (p. 61) 
  • “The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody’s part-time job.”- Amazon executive Dave Limp (p. 75)
  • “Be stubborn on the vision but flexible on the details.” (p. 78)
  • “We had freed ourselves of the quantitative demands of Excel, the visual seduction of PowerPoint, and the distracting effect of personal performance. The idea had to be in the writing.” (p. 104)

The bottom line is that “Working Backwards” is a thought-provoking read if you’re looking for ideas for how to work differently or improve how your team or your organization operate. For me, it was like reading Ray Dalio’s “Principles” – you might disagree with some portion of the authors’ views, but you can constructively engage with them. And it’s a book from which you can take away useful practices – like six-page memos, bar raisers, or fake press releases – even if you only read half of it. 

All page numbers referenced above are for the hardcover edition.

Kevin J. Delaney is cofounder of Reset Work, a newsletter about managing yourself, your team, and your business in this moment and beyond. He was formerly a senior editor at The New York Times, founding editor in chief of Quartz, and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Online. Sign up for Reset Work’s free newsletter.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Are novelists already writing about the Covid era? An author investigates

JD People w Masks
People wear face mask in New York, Feb. 25, 2021.

  • The novelist Julia Dahl asked fellow writers how they are taking on, or steering clear of, the coronavirus. 
  • “We need to chronicle this,” said Jodi Picoult, who has multiple projects related to Covid. 
  • Others said they weren’t ready to process the pandemic, or they’re waiting to see what comes next.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Last month, I turned in the copy edits for my fourth novel. The next week, when I opened up the rough outline for my fifth, I was confronted with this question: does Covid-19 exist in the new book I’m writing? 

I dashed off a Tweet.

 

Most said they were steering clear. Author Kate Reed Petty, whose debut novel “True Story” received rave reviews, admitted: “I’m not ready to process it.” Laura McHugh, author of the award-winning “The Weight of Blood,” and “What’s Done in Darkness,” said she’s “completely ignoring it,” though for a slightly different reason.

“I don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be when this book comes out,” McHugh said of the manuscript she recently started. “I’d rather leave it out than get it wrong.” 

But some writers are diving in. I reached out to Jodi Picoult, the best-selling author who is known for mining social issues from school shootings to abortion to white supremacy, and she told me she’s working on two Covid-related projects.

“I feel as a writer it is up to us in the arts to really put into words what this has all meant, much like novelists were able to do that for 9/11, eventually,” Picoult wrote in an email. 

To that end, Picoult – who is also a librettist – is in production for “Breathe,” an original musical she co-wrote with Tim McDonald, about how the pandemic impacts five different couples. 

And though the novel she began co-writing with Jenny Boylan in April 2020 takes place pre-Covid, Picoult said she’s figured out a way to tell the story of the pandemic in the novel she’s just begun. 

“We need to chronicle this,” insisted Picoult. “We’ve already forgotten things we said and thought in March 2020.” Picoult said she is in the process of interviewing patients (42 as of last week) who survived ventilation from the disease. (Obviously, the woman doesn’t sleep.) 

JD jodi picoult
Author Jodi Picoult reads from her book “Between the Lines” at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2012.

Novelist Teddy Wayne, whose most recent novel “Apartment” was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, was also inspired by Covid, but in a very different way.

“I think my approach for anything that’s so monumental is that it’s more interesting to me to write about almost the mirror image of the thing rather than the thing itself,” he said.

The approach has worked for him in the past: Wayne’s first novel, “Kapitoil,” seems – from the description to the themes to the cover art – like a 9/11 novel, but actually takes place pre-2001. His way of writing about that seminal event was, he says, “not to write about it but around it.”

He’s taking a similarly indirect approach to writing about the era of Covid. Wayne was exposed to the virus in December and spent a week quarantining from his family. It was during this time alone that he looked through a file of ideas, saw something that had parallels to the pandemic, and started writing.

“Had there not been a pandemic going on, I’m not sure the idea would have appealed to me,” he said.

“LET TRAGEDY COOL”

On March 17, 2020 – not even a week after lockdowns began across the country — Sloane Crosby published an essay in the New York Times Book Review titled, “Someday, We’ll Look Back on All of This and Write a Novel.”  

“The nature of tragedy,” she wrote, “is that it takes more than it gives, but it’s also produced some of our most iconic literature.” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Plague,” “Don Quixote,” among them. But, she warned: “From an artistic standpoint, it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it in everyone’s faces.”

Which brings us to the issue of publishing. Even established novelists have to sell the idea of their book to an editor; how many will green-light Covid novels? 

Zachary Wagman, Vice President and Editorial Director of Flatiron Books, has an open mind. 

“It’s up to the novelist to find an artful way to deal with it,” said Wagman, who pointed out that a thriller set during lockdown, or amid the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer could be really interesting. 

But he admits that striking the right tone will be tricky.

“No one [in publishing] wants to think they’re profiting off this slow-moving tragedy,” said Wagman. Like Wayne, Wagman wondered if, perhaps, “the better way is to sniff around the edges.”

And what about the reader? Many of us pick up a novel for entertainment or escape, but some of us are looking for a kind of understanding we can’t get from news. As Albert Camus, author of “The Plague,” put it: “Fiction is a lie through which we tell the truth.” 

northwell health
are prioritizing staff who work with COVID-19 patients and those most at risk of potential exposure.

Obviously, there are millions of truths and millions of stories to this pandemic, but how many are worth spending years writing? How many are important enough, insightful enough, to be bound and distributed? 

Teddy Wayne, who, like me, has been mostly holed up at home since March of last year, put it this way: “It’s not my story to tell.” His comment got me thinking: I wonder if the pandemic stories that will be the most illuminating are percolating inside people who are currently too worn out by the reality of the situation to get creative. I’m thinking about a restaurant novel – like Stewart O’Nan’s “Last Night at the Lobster” – but set in March 2020 – or the story of a grocery clerk thrust into the politics of masking in the middle of a presidential election. 

Maybe S.A. Cosby, author of the critically acclaimed “Blacktop Wasteland,” will use his experience as a former mortuary assistant to imagine the emotional truth inside the headlines about Los Angeles relaxing air quality rules to allow crematories to dispose of all the bodies that were piling up.

I asked Cosby what he thought of the idea and he was blunt: “It’s too raw.”

“I think I’m going to set my next book before the pandemic, if only because living through it has been so difficult that I’m just not mentally ready to deal with it in my work,” said Cosby, who told me he lost his uncle and five friends to the disease. “I will address it eventually, but hopefully by the time I do we will see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.”

I don’t aspire to write The Great Covid Novel, but as someone who writes about crime and justice (my first three books are murder mysteries and my next is a thriller), I spend a lot of time thinking about how people respond to stress. The mass unemployment, pervasive fear, and half-a-million dead Americans this past year have brought us an incalculable dose of stress. 

Should my next novel explore a character whose job loss becomes a catalyst for criminal activity? Or a family forced back into the same house during lockdown? The more I think about it, the less appealing it becomes, and the more Wayne’s words ring true.

That said, I try to mine the “now” in my work; is avoiding this past year a cop out? I asked my agent if she had an opinion on the subject and she put my mind at ease a bit: “I don’t think we’re done telling stories about life before March 2020.”

I’ve got a couple ideas.

Julia Dahl is the author of four novels and teaches journalism at NYU.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A cofounder who sold his company for nearly $20 million on how to make investors feel like their input matters so they take a chance on you

woman presenting
Ask for feedback and demonstrate how this feedback has been incorporated into the development process.

Years ago, I came across a designer named Michelle who was incredibly in demand within her company. People would fight to have her on their team. I later discovered that while people liked Michelle’s creativity, they loved her process even more.

After sharing a set of design options, Michelle always gathered input from the room. Then, in a follow-up meeting, she would go down the checklist of feedback, item by item, and show how she had incorporated their thoughts into the newest design. Or, if she had decided not to use the feedback, she would share her reasons why. People didn’t always agree with Michelle, but they always felt heard. Their input mattered, and they felt like insiders in her process.

Recently, June Cohen said something that really made Michelle’s story click. Cohen, the former head of media for TED and current CEO of WaitWhat, explained that in order to chart a truly epic career, “You need to make everyone you enlist a hero, not just in your story, but in their own.” In the “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy enlists the help of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion – by making them the hero of their own stories. Cohen says, “If the Scarecrow didn’t have a chance of getting a brain, if the Tin Man couldn’t get a heart – they wouldn’t have braved those attacks from flying monkeys!”

BACKABLE.Gupta
Backable.

To feel like heroes, we need to know that what we said and what we did made an impact. Penelope Burk is a renowned fundraising researcher who showed the difference it makes when we truly feel that way. More than twenty years ago, Burk noticed that nonprofit leaders were spending the majority of their time and resources recruiting new donors instead of keeping the ones they already had. As a result, nearly 70% of an average charity’s backers would never give again, and nonprofit leaders would constantly be rebuilding their donor bases from scratch.

“It didn’t make any sense,” Burk told me. So she decided to study what would happen if a charity spent real time and effort cultivating existing donor relationships. In her experiment, Burk isolated a set of people who had given to a national health charity.

If you were a part of this test group, you received a personal phone call from a member of the board of directors. During this call, you were not asked for more money. This was a critical point – the call wasn’t being used to sell you again, but rather to express sincere gratitude. You received a heartfelt thank you for your support, and you learned how your contribution was making a difference. After those phone calls were placed, Burk waited to see which donors stuck around.

What she found was astounding. Two years later, 70% of the people who had received the phone call from a board member were still giving to the organization, compared to just 18% of those who hadn’t. To top it off, donors who remained were now giving 42% more than they had at the start.

When Burk shared those results with me, I asked her how one simple phone call could make such a huge difference. She answered my question, in part, by reading a thank-you letter she happened to have sitting on her desk. It was written from one community organizer to another, and the first paragraph began: “We know it’s often your role to do the work of making donors and volunteers feel like heroes . . . and they no doubt are.”

Helping people understand their impact isn’t a business concept, it’s a human concept. We all want to feel as though what we said and what we did mattered. If you’re a backer, that can be as simple as knowing your input was heard   and utilized – whether that’s for a mission, a strategy, or a product.

I got my first glimpse of this in politics. In high school, I knocked on doors for a local politician named John Dingell, and I still remember the annoyed looks on people’s faces when I’d ring their doorbell on a Sunday afternoon. By the tail end of the campaign, people’s irritation grew because their homes had been visited multiple times by campaign workers who had handed them the same piece of literature. “If you give me one more of these pamphlets, I’m voting for the other guy,” said one suburban dad.

A decade later, when I was canvassing for another candidate, smartphones had changed everything. Before knocking on a door, I could pull up an app and know the issues that mattered most to that voter because we had taken notes the last time we visited the home. I would say something like “From the last time we chatted, I know you care deeply about K-through-12 education. Can I give you an update on some of the progress we’re making on that front?” As a result, there were fewer door slams and more quality conversations. Voters felt like they were being listened to – that what they said mattered.

We don’t typically win people over in one conversation, but through a series of interactions that builds trust and confidence. Even if the last conversation went poorly, you can use the next one to show them how they influenced your work. This type of follow-up is so powerful that it can often change a backer’s response from no to yes.

Brian Wood is an innovation strategist at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is part of the US Department of Defense. He explained to me, in layman’s terms, an internal project he created called Conduit, which used artificial intelligence to help the agency make better decisions more efficiently. But when he pitched decision makers at the Pentagon, they rejected the idea, expressing a laundry list of concerns.

Instead of getting defensive, Wood listened carefully to the feedback. He took detailed notes and created a checklist of things he’d need to address before he returned. Then, weeks later, he scheduled a follow-up meeting.

Suneel Gupta.1.JPG
Suneel Gupta.

Just as Michelle the designer had done at a high-tech company, Wood walked Pentagon officials through a modified version of his prototype, showing them exactly how their feedback had been incorporated. When Wood finished his demo, he saw a room full of surprised faces. When he asked if everything was okay, one of the officers cleared his throat and said, “Everything’s fine. It’s just . . . no one ever comes back.”

Unlike Wood, I never thought to go back to the investors who said no to Rise. That is, until I met an old friend from law school for coffee. Andy patiently listened to me complain about how everyone was passing on my idea. When I was finished, he leaned back in his chair a bit and looked off into the distance for a moment. Then he asked a one-word question: “Why?”

“Why what?” I asked.

“Why did they pass?” he said.

“Because they didn’t like the idea,” I said, feeling a slight irritation.

“Yes, but why? Why didn’t they like the idea?” he pressed.

At that moment, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really asked investors who passed why they had passed. Typically, I had received a short email saying something like “Sorry. It’s just not the right fit for us.” But I hadn’t followed up and probed further into why.

Later that day, I took Andy’s advice and reached out to all the investors who had passed on Rise and asked them what it would have taken for them to say yes. A few of them responded with their version of “Nothing. Just not the right fit for us.” But others responded with substantive notes, offering feedback such as “We would have liked to have seen more numbers around retention” or “We’d like to see the engineering team built out a little more so we know you can build a strong consumer product.”

Without asking the question, I never would have received the feedback. And now that I had a clear direction, I knew how to adjust our road map to focus on customer retention and engage a recruiter to help us find engineering talent. About a month later, I emailed those same investors and asked if they’d be willing to take a quick follow-up meeting. I began each of those meetings by restating the concerns they shared and, as soon as that happened, I could feel the room relax. They knew in that moment that I wasn’t going to waste their time regurgitating the exact same pitch. 

Then, like Brian Wood inside the Pentagon and Michelle inside her design room, I showed how I had modified our approach using their input and the results we had so far. The new pitch didn’t always work, but two venture capitalists who had previously told me no became early investors in Rise.

Excerpted from BACKABLE by Suneel Gupta. Copyright © 2021 by Suneel Gupta. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.

Suneel Gupta is the cofounder of Rise and teaches Innovation on faculty at Harvard University. Using the 7 steps inside this book, Suneel went from being the face of failure for the New York Times to being the “New Face of Innovation” for the New York Stock Exchange. His ideas have been backed by firms like Greylock and Google Ventures, and he has invested in startups including Airbnb, Calm, and SpaceX.

Read the original article on Business Insider

22 books on race and white privilege that will show you what’s really happening in America right now

Thomonique Moore
Thomonique Moore is a 2016 graduate of Howard University, founder of Books&Shit book club, and an incoming Masters’ candidate at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.

  • Black History Month, like every other month, is a good time to educate yourself on anti-racism.
  • Anti-racism is actively rejecting racism and promoting equity of Black and brown people.
  • Black sociology, literary, and history scholars shared their top book recommendations on anti-racism. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Since the killing of George Floyd, many Americans continue to talk about how they can be an ally for Black people. And this Black History Month is an important time to continue that work. 

In this era, it’s not enough for allies to say they’re “not racist,” activists and leading scholars are saying. Instead, they have to actively adopt anti-racism, which is the set of beliefs and actions that oppose racism and promote the inclusion and equality of Black and brown people in society. 

One important way to learn about anti-racism is by reading. As Vulture aptly puts it, “The how could this happen meets the I told you so. They rendezvous at the anti-racist reading list.”

So which books should you read? Business Insider reached out to Black professors and scholars at institutions across the country to find out which books they recommend. We also included some popular books on anti-racism Americans are digitally reading at their libraries right now. 

This updated article was originally published in June 2020. 

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

So you want to talk about race

In this bestseller, Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo prompts people of all races to start having honest conversations about race, giving readers handy phrases and questions to start unpacking racism within their own social networks. She tackles subjects ranging from intersectionality to microaggressions, or subtly racist remarks or actions. 

Thomonique Moore, a 2016 graduate of Howard University, founder of online book club Books&Shit, which explores titles by authors of color, and an incoming master’s candidate at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, recommends everyone pick of this title. 

“This is a good book to help white people and non-black people of color answer often spoken and unspoken questions about race and racism,” Moore told Business Insider. 

Find it here>>

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

The new Jim Crow

In “The New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Jim Crow laws were state and local laws created in the late 1800s and early 1900s that enforced racial segregation and encouraged the disenfranchisement of black people in the US.  

“Michelle Alexander breaks down the historic ‘war on crime’ and how the explosive increase in the number US citizens incarcerated, namely black men, is just another trickier, evolved, version of slavery, and Jim Crow,” Moore said. 

Find it here>>

“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility

In this best-selling book, academic, lecturer, and author Robin Diangelo explores the defense mechanisms white people commonly employ when challenged on their assumptions about race. These counterproductive reactions, Diangelo explains, prevent white people from having much needed conversations to usher in progress. 

“White Fragility is a mirror and self-reflection guide, so to speak, for white people who are ready to face their privileges and finally have the tough and necessary conversations,” Moore said. 

Find it here>>

“Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

"Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States" by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

In this book, Bonilla-Silva makes a powerful argument against the idea that race doesn’t exist, or that being “colorblind” is an appropriate solution to racism. 

Crystal Fleming, associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University called this “one of the most important books on racism.” 

“In particular, Bonilla-Silva helps us understand how the rhetoric of colorblindness reinforces the racial status quo,” she told Business Insider. 

Find it here>> 

“Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage” by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin

"Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage" by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin

“Two-Faced Racism,” published in 2007, features more than 600 journal entries of racial events kept by white college students at 28 colleges in the US. It exposes how closely held racist beliefs are still very much a part of American culture. 

Fleming assigns this book to students taking her “Racism and Ethnic Relations” course at Stony Brook University. 

“Picca and Feagin analyze data from journal entries provided by white college students which reveals how racism works behind closed doors as well as in public and semi-public spaces,” Fleming said.

Find it here >>

“How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide” by Crystal Fleming

"How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide" by Crystal Fleming

In addition to recommending other authors, Fleming suggest a book she wrote on the topic of racism, which serves as a primer on the topics of racial oppression and white supremacy. 

“I wrote the book to help people understand the historical roots of white supremacy and to be able to draw connections between past and present racism. The last chapter includes 10 concrete steps that everyone can take to help dismantle systemic racism,” she told Business Insider. 

Find it here >>

“The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions” by Vilna Bashi Treitler

The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions

“The Ethnic Project” was written by Vilna Bashi Treitler, a sociology professor in the department of black students at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In this historical narrative work, Treitler examines the ethnic history of the US from the arrival of the English in North America to the present day. She shows how each group of immigrants from Irish to Chinese people negotiated their place in the pecking order of ethnic groups within in the country. 

“‘The Ethnic Project’ is incredibly useful for understanding the racial hierarchy in the United States,” Fleming said. 

Find it here>>

“Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach” by Tanya Golash Boza

Race and Racisms

“Race and Racisms” tackles critical topics including how and when the idea of race was created, how it developed, and how structural racism has created inequality. 

“This book is an excellent overview of systemic and institutionalized racism,” Fleming said.

Find it here>>

“Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations” by Joe Feagin

Racist America

Feagin incorporates more than 200 recent research studies and reports in his book, which illustrates the origins of racism in the US, and how it still pervades white culture today. 

Augustine Kposowa, professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, cites this book as an important read for anyone looking to be anti-racist. 

“Joe Feagin reveals just how racist whites are,” Kposowa said. “Feagin is white and he is privy to secret conversations that whites have in white networks that blacks can never join. In his book, he mentions stories, and what white people say in private, at dinner tables, in their circles about black people, leaving no stone untouched.”

Find it here>> 

“White Rage; the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide” by Carol Anderson

White Rage

“White Rage” explores how each time blacks in America have made progress, there has been strong white backlash. 

“The book is a critical reflection of why racism persists in the United States, including things that enrage white people about racial issues. In the book, it is evident that no matter what happens in America, including the most open outrages like police killings of blacks, whites never seem interested,” Kposowa said. 

Find it here>>

“Black Americans” by Alphonso Pinkney

Black Americans

This book, written by distinguished Afro-American sociologist and former long term chairman of the Department of Sociology at Hunter College Alphonso Pinkney, explores several facets of different black experiences in the US, including homicide as a public health problem and the prevalence of police brutality.

“Pinkney’s book is a comprehensive account of black life in America, and covers why in almost every sphere, blacks are forced to stay behind,” Kposowa said. 

Find it here>>

“Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” by Harriet Washington

Medical Apartheid

Maryann Erigha, assistant sociology professor at the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Georgia recommends this book written by Harriet Washington, which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. 

“Washington’s book provides a full context and comprehensive understanding of the history and present of medical experimentation and the mistreatment of Blacks in the medical industrial complex. She covers a wide range of areas, from academic pseudoscience to the medical atrocities committed by the government and armed forces, prisons, and private institutions,” she said. 

Find the book here>>

The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry by Maryann Erigha.

Hollywood Jim Crow

Erigha also recommended “The New Jim Crow” and “So You Want to Talk About Race?” In addition, she suggested her own book, which tackles how racist beliefs pervade American movies, a major export to countries across the globe. 

“My book highlights the ubiquity and implications of underlying beliefs about race and value, inferiority/superiority, profit/loss, desirability/undesirability, that are pervasive among whites in Hollywood and that influence their decision-making about what movies get made, for how much, and under what conditions,” she told Business Insider. 

Find it here>>

“Code of the Street” by Elijah Anderson

Code of the Street

In the “code of the street,” Yale professor Elijah Anderson, presents an explanation for high rates of violence among black teens in the US. Anderson explains how living in impoverished areas without access to economic opportunities, being separated from mainstream society, as well as persistent discrimination was linked with anti-social attitudes and and violent behavior in black teens. 

Mansa Bilal Mark King, associate professor of sociology at Morehouse College, told Business Insider it’s one of the most important books non-black people can read. 

“This is one of the best books for helping non-black people begin to understand that the adoption of a street persona is often a matter of everyday safety for black people who are not actually committed to a street ethos,” he said. 

Find it here>>

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon

The Wretched of the Earth

Author Frantz Fanon was a distinguished psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, a movement that fought for the rights French colonizers to be extended to native Algerians. In “The Wretched of the Earth,” Fanon captures the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation. 

“This book can be hard for most non-black Americans to read, and it can be even more difficult for them to see how it relates to African Americans, particularly those of us whose families survived American slavery and Jim and Jane Crow apartheid. That is exactly why people need to read it,” King said.

Find it here>>

“The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter Woodson

The Miseducation of the Negro

Carter Godwin Woodson was an American historian, author, journalist, and one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora. In this book, he argues that black people were being indoctrinated, rather than educated, in American schools, and that black Americans needed to educate themselves on the history of race and racism. 

“This book is almost a century old, and the fact that its basic critique remains a valid one should help readers to understand a key source of black American anger,” King said. “For many Black Americans, not getting a helpful education on Africa and her American Diaspora is part of the reason for educational disengagement.” 

Find it here>>

“UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. I by Joseph Ki-Zerbo and Vol. II” by G. Mokhtar

UNESCO General history of Africa

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put together comprehensive titles on the history of Africa and its people that are useful for any American of any color to read. 

These works “help the reader overcome the poor historical education that most Americans get when it comes to Africa,” King said.

Find the books here>>

“Black Wealth/White Wealth” by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro

Black Wealth, White Wealth

In “Black Wealth/White Wealth,” sociological researchers Oliver and Shapiro capture just how large the wealth gap is between black and white Americans.  

“This book helps people of all races begin to understand that it was white America that systematically chooses for us to have almost all black, low-income, ‘ghetto areas.’ Equally important, this imposed reality means that black children are born at a disadvantage, in the vast majority of cases, through no fault of their own,” King said. 

“me and white supremacy,” by Layla Saad

me and white supremacy

This was the most popular anti-racism book checked out digitally from the end of May through June, according to Overdrive.

In this hit title, Saad brings her unique perspective as an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman — who’s also a speaker and writer — to the forefront. Her book came after the hashtag she started #MeandWhiteSupremacy, where people shared their own experiences with racism, went viral. Saad’s book lists the common reasons why white people aren’t actively anti-racist, and includes concrete steps on how to be a better ally. 

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“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped

“Stamped,” a young adult nonfiction book, is another popular title among readers, according to Overdrive. In this book, Reynolds, renowned young-adult author, reimagines Kendi’s bestseller for a younger audience. The book explores how the history of racism is inextricably linked to the creation of the US. 

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“Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson

just mercy

In “Just Mercy,” Stevenson tells his incredible story of creating the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice to help those most desperate and in need, like the wrongly condemned. One of his first clients was Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to death for a murder he said he didn’t commit. The story of Stevenson’s fight for justice was turned into a major motion film. 

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“Thick,” by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Thick

In McMillan Cottom’s eyes, the personal is political, and she doesn’t shy away from talking about all of it. In eight treatises on beauty, media, money, race, and abuse, McMillan Cottom explores the ways American culture treats Black women. Roxanne Gay, writer, professor and author of the best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist calls this book “brilliant.” 

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9 memoirs that celebrate Black joy and help paint a fuller picture of the Black experience in America

arlan hamilton backstage capital
Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital Arlan Hamilton was one of the authors featured in Goodreads’ list of 96 books on Black joy.

  • The Black Lives Matter movement focuses on several serious topics like police reform and inequality.
  • But activists say that the movement should also highlight Black joy and success. 
  • Book review website Goodreads compiled a list of 96 books that celebrate Black joy. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Black History Month is an important time to educate yourself on the Black experience in America. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is raising awareness around several serious topics: police reform, over-incarceration, inequality in education, racism in the workplace, discrimination in the health system, to name a few.

But that’s only part of the story.

“The other part about Black Lives Matter that I think people miss is Black joy and Black liberation,” Genisha Metcalf, a 35-year-old mother of two and Black Lives Matter activist told Insider in August.

Book review website Goodreads recently compiled a list of 96 books on Black joy, which includes titles in fantasy, romance, science fiction, and essay collections. Here are nine memoirs by Black authors that highlight other sides of the Black experience.

This article was originally published in August 2020. 

“It’s About Damn Time,” by Arlan Hamilton

it's about damn time

Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital and one of the few queer Black women in venture capital, shares her story about how she went from living on food stamps to breaking into the boy’s club of Silicon Valley. Hamilton’s story challenges the conventional narrative of what it takes to become successful. 

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“Year of Yes,” by Shonda Rhimes

year of yes

American TV producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes is the force behind top hits like “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” In this bestseller, she shares her story of a one-year experiment when she said “Yes” to new opportunities and challenges. Her story is a call for people to get outside their comfort zone and try new things. 

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“The Light of the World,” by Elizabeth Alexander

light of the world

In “The Light of the World,” Pulitzer prize finalist and poet Elizabeth Alexander recounts the sudden death of her husband and her journey from grief to hope. Former First Lady Michelle Obama called the book “magnificent.” 

“Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of loss, which confers meaning to loss,” Alexander writes.

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“The Pretty One,” by Keah Brown

The Pretty One

Keah Brown, who has cerebral palsy, recounts her journey from self-hate to self-love in “The Pretty One.” Brown explains how she went from wanting to be “normal,” to accepting herself, and then celebrating her difference in creating the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute. 

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“Dressed in Dreams,” by Tanisha Ford

dressed in dreams

In “Dressed in Dreams,” Tashina Ford uses pieces of fashion to tell her coming-of-age story as a Black woman. Ford, a history professor at The City University of New York, explains how the personal is political with each fashion story: from how wearing the wrong color can lead to gang violence to the appropriation of Black culture in today’s society. 

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“More Than Enough,” by Elaine Welteroth

More Than Enough

Elaine Welteroth, editor in chief of Teen Vogue, tells her story of climbing the ranks in the world of media and fashion, sharing the valuable life lessons about race and gender she learned along the way. 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai says the book “is a guide for young people who want to find their voice, a crash course for those who want to challenge the status quo, and an adventure story for all of us.” 

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“Mind and Matter,” by John Urschel and Louisa Thomas

Mind and Matter

In this bestselling book, John Urschel tells his incredible story of how he pursued and obtained his PhD in mathematics at MIT while he was an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. His story talks about the importance of ignoring self-limiting doubt.

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“The Warner Boys,” by Ana and Curt Warner

The Warner Boys

Former NFL Seahawks star Curt Warner and his wife, Ana, took a step back from the public in the 1990s. Their two youngest sons, twins Austin and Christian, had been diagnosed with autism, which they decided to keep secret for years. In this memoir, the couple talks about going from self-isolation and fear to a place of peace and advocacy. 

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“Black Girls Rock!” by Beverly Bond

black girls rock!

In 2006, model and DJ Beverly Bond founded “Black Girls Rock!” an awards show that celebrates Black women in entertainment, entrepreneurship, and more. In this book, Bond recounts starting the awards show and presents a collection of essays from a mix of powerful Black women, including actress Kerry Washington, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and tennis champion Serena Williams. 

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