Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Emily. I am a white, cisgender, middle class gal from St. Louis, MO and I love pasta, podcasts, and sleeping. I am going to be an English teacher (fingers crossed I’ve got a job by the time this is published!). I am a dog person. I do not like the sound of sandpaper on wood.
For those that don't know, how would you explain your Instagram page 'Books Fight Back?
Essentially, @booksfightback is where I post about the books I’ve read. I try to focus on my nonfiction reads, which are all centered around social justice (usually race, sex, or class). I also sometimes post fiction books written by and about minoritized folx. Other times I’ll post tweets or quotes that are also related to equity. I love talking to others through this page, and I hope it inspires people to educate themselves, and then hold themselves accountable with action.
How important do you think education has been for you and how important is its impact on our social climate?
I have always been good at school; I’m a good test-taker, I love to write papers, and even classes that I hated, such as math, were still relatively simple for me. I also grew up in a fairly affluent neighborhood with two parents who hold masters degrees and a doctorate. So I took my education for granted: it was assumed I’d excel and navigate those spaces with ease. Schools have been the place where I flourish. I love to learn. I am a huge nerd; I love the feeling of reading something new and letting my mind grow. I see my entire life as a sort of education, which is ongoing and sometimes difficult and sometimes beautiful but always providing chances for reflection, growth, and perhaps change.
The second half of this question is difficult to answer. On the one hand, as an educator I wholeheartedly believe that education is one of our most fruitful opportunities for equity and social justice work. All children go to schools of some sort. On top of that, research has shown time and again that adolescents are performing the mental gymnastics of deciding their world views on things like race, gender, politics, citizenship, etc. These beliefs are likely to be cemented and polarized as they grow older. So teachers are in some ways perfectly positioned––not to tell students what to believe, but to teach students to be critically literate thinkers, compassionate, and aware.
On the other hand, however, our current educational structure is rife with racism. It is evident in standards, curriculum, testing, tracking, classroom management practices, discipline rates, districting, and more. I am aware that I am entering a profession that has done major harm to minoritized folx, and continues to do so. For this reason, perhaps education is also important because of the negative effects it can and does have on Black people, people of color, and working class folx. But while I am often daunted by the magnitude of the work I do, I also feel honored to know I’m entering a profession with a long history of liberatory work and I am proud to join those ranks.
How do you think the platform of social media has changed the scape of communication and bringing attention to these vital topics?
I am by no means an expert on this and a lot of these thoughts will be half-baked. I love how social media (Instagram in particular) has allowed me to build community with so many incredible educators, speakers, activists, advocates. I like how it can make learning and organizing and news more accessible to so many people. But I also have some serious bones to pick with it. I hate how algorithms prioritize whiteness and can make spectacles of pain. I hate how social media allows anyone to step onto a soap box and act as if they are an expert on any particular topic. I hate how having a large amount of followers validates, to some extent, anything harmful you may say. I also hate how social media allows advocates to easily slip into theorizing without any actual practice. I see it in so many people who are upheld as icons of activism and I am indebted to Walela Nehanda (@itswalela) for teaching me otherwise. I myself have fallen into this trap and am working on putting my learning into practice.
What was the first book you shared on Books Fight Back?
The first book I shared also happens to still be one of my favorites! It’s Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s written as a long-form letter to his son, part memoir and part reflection on the meanings, feelings, symbolisms, and realities of Blackness in America. I recommend it to everyone.
What inspired you to reach out and document these books and start engaging in a conversation surrounding them?
I started this account because I didn’t like how the book pictures looked on my personal page. Since then it’s grown slowly but surely into something wonderful. I wanted people to see the books I’m reading and be inspired to read them themselves. I wanted to make some of what I’m learning accessible to those who don’t have the time to read like I do.
What would be your top ten picks for our readers?
This question is so so hard! So here are eleven, in no particular order: We Got This.: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor; Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum; What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy by Robin DiAngelo; Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie; You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano; Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour by Maria Mies; Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks; Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Robert; and Man Up: Boys, Men, and Breaking the Male Rules by Rebecca Asher.
You can keep up to date with Emily’s reading picks on her account @booksfightback
All photographs by Emily @booksfightback.
Interview by Saffron Lily