Book Club Discussion: “Strangers from a Different Shore” by Ronald Takaki

Members of the California State PTA Board of Managers have been reading books that give us a deeper understanding of the effects of racial prejudice on our minority populations. We have read eight books including The New Jim Crow, The Color of Law, How to Be An Antiracist, and White Fragility, among others. These books all dealt with the experiences of African Americans in the US. We decide to broaden our scope to other minority groups impacted by racism in America. The most recent book we read was titled Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki.

Strangers from a Different Shore is the story of Asian immigration to the U.S.

When Chinese began to immigrate to the U.S. it was because we needed them as laborers. They built the Central Pacific Railroad line, worked in mines digging gold and ore out of the ground, and tilled the fields.

But many Americans saw them as competitors for jobs. Thus, they were denigrated and described as heathen, morally inferior, savage, childlike and lustful.

They came to America for a dream – the dream of a better life. What they found was bigotry and racial discrimination. They were seen as different and inferior; they were strangers, strangers from a different shore. They were different from the European immigrants that Americans were used to. They could not blend in like European immigrants could. The shape of their eyes and the complexion of their skin immediately identified them as different. The individual could not remake himself by shedding his past, language, custom and dress.

For survival and protection, they banded together, thus reinforcing claims that they could not be assimilated, and therefore, could not be Americans.

Eventually other Asian groups immigrated to America. They were not all Chinese, even though many accused them of being so. There were Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Asian Indians. All experienced hostility and racial prejudice.

Laws were enacted prohibiting Asians from becoming U.S. Citizens:

  • The 1790 Naturalization Act, which restricted naturalized citizenship to whites.
  • In 1882 Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Law.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 included the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act. It was a law that prevented immigration from Asia.
  • The Gentlemen’s Agreement (1907) was a series of informal arrangements in which Japan agreed not to issue passports to emigrants to the U.S.

From 1790-1952, Asian immigrants have been defined as racially ineligible for citizenship and subject to severe immigration restrictions. Stereotyped as a “yellow peril” invasion consisting of slavish “coolie” labor competition.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and China declared war on Japan and the two countries became allies. President Roosevelt commented, “By the repeal of the Chinese exclusion laws, we can correct a historic mistake and silence the distorted Japanese propaganda.” Japan had been appealing to Asia to unite in a race war against white America – condemning the U.S. for its discriminating laws and the segregation of Chinese into ghettos.

During World War II, America could not oppose the racist ideology of Nazism while practicing racial discrimination at home, and therefore laws began to change. But guarantees of equal protection under the law had little effect on what happened in society. Asians were often persecuted not for their vices, but for their virtues (hard working, devotion to family, stressing the importance of education.)

Asian immigrants endured discrimination that still resounds years later. Many Asian Americans suffer inequality and feel as though their roles in U.S. history have been overlooked.

Our book group readings on current and historical racial discrimination have inspired our legislation advocates to select legislation that seeks to address some of these wrongs. California State PTA has taken support positions on the following bills:

  • SB 693 (Stern) – This bill would establish the Governor’s Council on Genocide and Holocaust Education to establish best practices for education on genocide, including the Holocaust.
  • AB 57 (Gabriel) – This bill would require a basic course for law enforcement on the topic of hate crimes.
  • AB 101 (Medina) – This bill adds a one-semester course in ethnic studies to graduation requirements commencing 2029–30. The bill would also require schools to offer an ethnic studies course commencing with the 2025–26 school year.
  • SB 17 (Pan) – This bill would establish an Office of Racial Equity tasked with coordinating, analyzing, developing, evaluating, and recommending strategies for advancing racial equity across state agencies.

We encourage our PTA members and all parents to educate themselves regarding issues of racial discrimination. We hope that by educating ourselves on these issues we can become more understanding of the issues facing many in our country today.

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Book Club Discussion: “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo

Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club.

Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. In this book DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

The primary goal for white people working to understand racism is not to learn how racism impacts people of color. The primary goal is to recognize how the system of racism shapes our lives, how we uphold that system, and how we might interrupt it.

Definitions:

Prejudice is prejudgment about another person based on the social groups to which that person belongs.

Discrimination is action based on prejudice.

When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intention or self-image of individual actors. Racism is a structure, not an event.

Questions for Discussion:

1. “We are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people, rather than as a complex, interconnected system.”
“Only bad people who intended to hurt others because of race could ever do so….any suggestion that we are complicit in racism is a kind of unwelcome and insulting shock to the system.”

“Our simplistic definition of racism – as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals – engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete.”

“Racism goes beyond individual intentions to collective group patterns.”

“If I understand racism as a system into which I was socialized, I can receive feedback on my problematic racial patterns as a helpful way to support my learning and growth.”

How can we use this definition of racism as a systemic structure, and not acts of individuals to create awareness and acknowledgement that racism exists and how we might work to interrupt it?

2. DiAngelo suggests that one of the most effective barriers to talking about racism with white people is the good/bad binary. How have you seen this binary underlying common white responses to charges of racism? How might you respond when the binary surfaces in discussions about racism?

3. “Most of us can acknowledge that we do feel some unease around certain groups of people, if only a heightened sense of self-consciousness. But this feeling doesn’t come naturally. Our unease comes from living separate from a group of people while simultaneously absorbing incomplete or erroneous information about them.”

What can be done to change this?

4. “While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.”

“To understand race relations today, we must push against our conditioning and grapple with how and why racial group membership matters.”

How do you see these statements applying to PTA?

5. If we accept that racism is always operating, the question becomes not “Is racism taking place?” but rather “How is racism taking place in this specific context?” How does awareness of that change how we think about our lives and our actions?”

6. “Individualism claims that there are no intrinsic barriers to individual success and that failure is not a consequence of social structures but comes from individual character.”

Does this perception play into societies misunderstandings about affirmative action and why affirmative action programs haven’t changed our racial outcomes? How can we work as individuals or as PTA to change this world view?

7. “The metaphor of the United States as the great melting pot, in which immigrants from around the world came together and melt into one unified society through the process of assimilation, is a cherished idea. Once new immigrants learn English and adapt to American culture and customs, they become Americans. In reality, only European immigrants were allowed to melt. regardless of their ethnic identities, these immigrants were perceived to be white and thus could belong.”

Why is the idea that the U.S. is a “melting pot” problematic?

8. Anti-blackness – the ultimate racial “other”!

  • Kidnapping & 300 years of enslavement
  • Torture rape and brutality
  • Medical Experimentation
  • Share cropping
  • Bans against testifying against whites
  • Mandatory segregation
  • Bans on black jury service & voting
  • Lynching and mob violence
  • Imprisoning people for unpaid work
  • Bans on interracial marriage
  • Redlining
  • Employment discrimination
  • Educational discrimination
  • Biased laws and policing practices
  • White Flight
  • Subprime mortgages
  • Mass incarceration
  • School to prison pipeline
  • Disproportionate special ed referrals and punishments
  • Testing, tracking, school funding
  • Biased media representation

It’s a system, not an event

The concept of anti-Blackness pushes back against the idea that all ethnic minorities have the same lived experiences and can be shoved under a singular umbrella” Simply put: All People of Color (POC) do not face the same gravity of harm. The sooner we recognize the extreme barriers facing Black POC, the sooner we can address the anti-Black narrative and policies that are disproportionately killing them.

Thoughts on this? Were times tough for your immigrant ancestors? If so, in what ways does DiAngelo say this is still not the same as being Black in the U.S.?

9. As I move through my daily life, my race is unremarkable. My presence is not questioned. I belong. Try to identify at least 3 ways white racial belonging has been conveyed to you in the last week.

Once we have been made conscious of what has always been all around us – the consistent reinforcement of white superiority/privilege – what are the options you can generate in your life to challenge and dismantle this historical and dominant view system?

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Book Club Discussion: “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein

Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club. 

Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book The Color of Law, by historian Richard Rothstein. In The Color of Law, Rothstein lays out the history of de jure segregation. Laws and policies were enacted and enforced at the local, state and federal level that promoted discriminatory housing practices. The result of these laws and policies not only created the segregated communities we now have, they are a primary cause of the wealth gap we see today between whites and African Americans in the United States as whites were able to take advantage of wealth building in homes whose value has soared over the decades. Rothstein argues that racial segregation is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it.

Discussion Questions:*

    1. What surprised you as you read The Color of Law? Was this history known to you?  
    2. What do you know about your own community and your local zoning policies during the 20th century? How segregated or integrated is your community? What would it look like if your community were required to have its “fair share” of middle-class, minority and low- and moderate-income housing?
    3. Textbooks typically used in middle and high schools don’t describe government’s role in creating residential racial segregation.  Rothstein writes, “If young people are not taught an accurate account of how we came to be segregated, their generation will have little chance of doing a better job of desegregating than the previous ones.”  What can each of us do in our own communities to change how this history is taught in our schools?
    4. Chapter 8 example: How did you feel about the several cases where people tried to do the right thing and failed because of the way the system of laws and policies and pressure worked to keep racial segregation? How did reading about this history of racial segregation make you feel?
    5. The impact of government-sponsored segregation has had tragic consequences and impacted generation wealth for African Americans.  Some think that the government should concentrate on improving conditions in low-income communities, not try to help their residents move to middle-class areas. They say that easing the movement of minority and low-income families to predominantly white neighborhoods will meet much resistance. Yet others say that low-income communities have too little political influence to ensure follow-through in attempts to improve conditions in segregated minority neighborhoods. What are your thoughts? Can we fulfill our ideals as a democratic society if it is only more equal but not integrated?
    6. Difficulty of Undoing Residential Segregation
      – The multigenerational nature of economic mobility
      – The substantial appreciation of homes created a large racial wealth gap
      – The substantial appreciation of homes means homes are now unaffordable to many African-Americans
      – The mortgage interest deduction increased subsidies to higher-income suburban owners
      Should we and how can we remedy residential segregation?  What are your ideas for making change?
    7. We typically expect to understand two sides of a story.  Is there anything missing from The Color of Law that might modify its argument?
    8. After reading The Color of Law, a young African-American high school graduate sent an e-mail to the author:
      “As I was growing up, I looked at the racial segregation and accepted it as how it has always been and will be; I equated white neighborhoods with affluence and black neighborhoods with poverty. I didn’t think about the major role the government had in hindering the equity accumulation of African-Americans. I think I ingrained this inferiority complex and that is why I did not excel in school as much as I could have.”
      What is your reaction?

* In our one hour and forty-five minute session we were not able to get through all eight questions.  

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Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Book Club Suggested Reading List

Book clubs can provide PTA leaders and families in your community a chance to have discussions on important issues. The California State PTA Legislation Team wanted to further their understanding around the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice so they began a monthly book club. In the new year we will be sharing with you their discussion questions and resources for each book here on the blog. We hope this will inspire you to make 2021 a year of learning, collaboration and growth in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

The team’s first task was to create a list of books, then they set to work reading them. Every month they come together to discuss one of these selections:

  • How To Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram Kendi
  • The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Eve Ewing
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson
  • My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem
  • We Gon Be Alright, Jeff Chang
  • A More Beautiful and Terrible History, Jeanne Theoharis
  • We Want to Do More than Survive, Bettina Love
  • Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan Metzl
  • Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Caste, Isabel Wilkerson

Some general notes about the book club:

  • We meet once a month via Zoom to discuss the books.
  • The book club is optional for our team, but we found that most wanted to participate.
  • After two books we realized that this discussion should be larger, so we invited the entire California State PTA Board of Managers to join us.
  • Our format for the hour-and-a-half* book study is:
    • Welcome and short book summary: 5 minutes
    • Housekeeping: 5 minutes
    • Questions and thoughts: 75 minutes
    • Wrap up and introduction of the next book: 5 minutes
  • We have found many resources online, including videos from the authors that help to ground our discussions
  • As part of our housekeeping conversation we discuss the technical aspects of holding a discussion on Zoom, but we also share how these conversations may be challenging and while we might not agree, but we need to remain respectful.
  • We do not record these sessions — attendees need to be present to participate.

* Our discussions have been so good that we have gone over time, but we make sure that the bulk of the discussion is done in the time allotted.

Sample of our housekeeping language:

Raise your hand (either using the Zoom “hand” icon or your actual hand) if you want to speak and watch the chat box for the order of speakers whose hands I have seen raised. If I miss you, keep your hand up. I encourage everyone to get a chance to speak, so it is possible that if you have spoken a few times, I may skip over you to give others a chance to say something!

Before we begin the book discussion, I want to say that this topic and many of the topics that the Leg Team is reading about in our book club are hard, difficult and emotionally charged issues. We are discussing issues that we may not all feel the same way about. California State PTA has more liberal leaning members and more conservative leaning members….and that is the beauty of our organization. So many people from different perspectives and beliefs, coming together for the good of children and families. So, I want us to be cognizant of that in our conversation today. Please let’s make sure that we respect, listen and value each other’s thoughts and feelings on this topic and keep the conversation thoughtful, honest and civil. While the nation may be struggling to communicate on troubling issues, I truly believe that PTA can rise above that and we will be able to have a meaningful conversation. So let’s get started.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. In January we will be sharing with you our resources and discussion questions for this book.