Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson #BookReview

“When you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.” –  Marya Hornbacher

What’s a book that’s made better by a book club?

A paperback copy of "Allegedly" by Tiffany D. Jackson sitting between an aloe vera plant and a cup of tea.

Photo Taken by @Introvert Interrupted
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This past week, I had the chance to participate in @thebookalert’s book club on Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson.

I was blown away by the depiction of mental illness and violence against children in the criminal justice system Jackson writes about. Sadly, Jackson’s depiction isn’t too far off the truth.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, as of December 2019, “on any given day, over 48,000 youth in the United States are confined in facilities away from home as a result of juvenile justice or criminal justice involvement” of this population, Black and Indian youth, especially girls, are overrepresented by these numbers.

Furthermore, “while 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black.” Likewise, “American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite compromising less than 1% of all youth nationally.”

As a future social worker, these numbers are horrifying.

Author, Tiffany D. Jackson

Jackson’s main character, Mary, is a child who fell through the cracks and is continuously punished for the mistakes adults around her made. And, this is something that frustrates me.

In America, individuals are given different choices when they are BIPOC that are lesser in nature than their White counterparts. From these choices, we have to make the “best” from the heap we’re given. In this book, Mary never really has a fighting chance. 

Her mother fails her. The adults around her fail her. But, most importantly, the child welfare and other protective system fails her. While this book is a work of fiction, it felt too real.

I’m so grateful to Femi and everyone else in the book club for being there to talk through this tomfoolery with. 😑

What to read next banner

Photo Credit: @IntrovertInterrupted

If you’re a lover of thrillers and smart depictions of those who are labeled as “criminals,” Jackson’s novel is one you’re going to want to add to your TBR List.

Other books you may enjoy from this genre and that share similar topics are Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon.

Myers book is one I read in the 5th grade for my English class, and like Jackson’s book, it is a story that you have to be mentally prepared for before you attempt to read it even though it’s labeled as a “young adult” book. 

Monster follows Steve, a teenage amateur filmmaker, as he stands on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Told in the form of a screenplay, Myers’ story is a realistic and raw depiction of a Black boy’s struggle to retain his innocence as he’s thrust into manhood in a literal “trial by fire.” 

If you’re an avid Netflix watcher, the film adaption is now available to watch.

Monster (2021) Netflix Trailer

Upstate, on the other hand, is a realistic look at how one’s family and partners deal with their long-term incarceration. Buckhanon tells the story of Antonio, a seventeen-year-old that is incarcerated for a shocking crime, and his high school sweetheart, Natasha, who is a sixteen-year-old with a bright future. 

Faced with getting through a ten-year prison sentence, Antonio and Natasha believe their love can stand the test of time. While Upstate isn’t as jarring to read as Jackson’s book, readers will still be able to relate to these young lovers and their families as they spend a decade growing together and separate. If you’re an audiobook lover, Chadwick Boseman voices Antonio’s parts.

The scam of Anti-Racism: A #BookReview of Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

Book Cover, Stamped From the Beginning bay Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

“People can cry much easier than they can change.” ― James Baldwin

What was the last over-hyped book that left you feeling unsatisfied?

I finished Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi last week for my African-American Literature course and felt as if Auntie ‘Retha had taken up residence in my body.

While it is clear that Kendi put a lot of work into this book, it was very much a “beautiful gowns” type of text for me…or rather “beautiful sources.”

From the offset, it is jarringly clear that this book was written pre-2016 Election when many folks believed they were living in a “post-racial” world and were congratulating themselves for having elected a Black man for president. This sentiment of us being “post-racism” props up Kendi’s book’s thesis that “everyone’s a little bit racist, so no one should really be allowed to call another person out. We’re all equal in ALL ways.” #Paraphrase 

And, this is where Kendi lost me.

To be fair, Kendi direct quote about Anti-racism is:

“Anyone can believe both racist and antiracist ideas…[and] to think as an antiracist: [is] to think there is nothing wrong with Black people, to think that racial groups are equal.”

Author, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

The latter part of this is a beautiful sentiment, but that first part brings us into a sticky territory that teeters very close to absolving racist from the harm they’ve inflicted.

Racism requires power to go along with a person’s prejudicial attitude. Thus, while non-Black people and even Black people hold prejudices/bias and anti-Black sentiments, they do not hold the power that has been built into all American systems to bar other BIPOC people from being active participants. Ditto for this idea that “reverse” racism exists.

White people’s racism gives you 400+ years of oppression.

It gives you Tulsa and Rosewood.

It gives you the Klan/a corrupt police force, the “school-to-prison” pipeline…

a “not guilty” verdict in the Breonna Taylor case…etc.

A non-Black POC or indigenous person showing anti-Black sentiments hurts my feelings and leaves me baffled. But, it is rare that any of these groups have the power to inflict the level of harm and injustices that I experience at the hands of White people. This isn’t to say that these groups don’t need to dismantle and unlearn their behaviors.

However, the presentation of facts in Kendi’s books makes it seem as if the collective onus is on ALL of us when this work is a top-down process where the colonizer and those in power have to dismantle whole systems to truly bring us “equal.” This contrast to the BIPOC community, who could unlearn every bit of their biases and anti-Black sentiments and still be left without access to participating fully in American systems. This fact contributes to us trying to create hierarchies that would give us some semblance of “power” over each other.

Yet, Kendi’s book repeatedly ignores this fact when analyzing Black historical figures. The narrative he creates does not do enough to dismantle the notion behind “why” these individuals held these racist beliefs. And, even though I, as a #wellreadblackgirl could recognize the “why” behind these Black historical figures’ self-hating beliefs, I worried about the average reader identifying these same reasons when trying to dismantle their racism. 

Add to this Kendi’s erasure of Black female scholars and their contributions to each era he spoke of the outside of him using them to prop up the idea that we’ve contributed to the “hatred” and “degradation” of Black men, and you can see why I wasn’t impressed by this book.

I feel as if Kendi’s is too ambitious in the timeline he tries to cover. Yet, I understand why it is beloved by all the #AntiracistBookClubs and why Kendi has become the darling of White America as they strive to become “Anti-Racist™️”. I would just say that there are other books that express the ideas presented in this book more precisely and in a more balanced way.

Interview With Athena Dixon, Author of The Incredible Shrinking Woman [Giveaway]

A: Thank you for your time, Ms. Dixon! I got a chance to read your essay collection, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and your poetry collection, No God In This Room, last month, and both pieces really resonated with me!

What was the process like writing and getting The Incredible Shrinking Woman published? Did you find your experience with an independent press different than working with a larger publisher?

AD: The manuscript started as a series of individual essays in 2012. I was going through a pretty rough breakup and I found poetry wasn’t giving me the space I needed to express everything I was feeling. I began writing personal essays as a remedy. In 2016, I attended a creative non-fiction conference and started toying with the idea of pulling together a book. I threw together every essay I’d written over that four-year span and started trying to make sense of it. It didn’t go too well and I went back and forth in adding and subtracting pieces from it. I continued to write and publish work from time to time and in late 2019 I thought I’d come up with a decent manuscript. I researched presses I thought would be a good home for the book and came up with a list of four. I did not pursue publishing with a larger press at all. Fortunately for me, Split/Lip was on my first-choice list and wanted to give the book home. 

Working with an independent press has been great! From the very beginning I’ve felt that they were not only interested in the book, but also me as a person. Writing personal essays can be a very scary thing and having a group of people working on your project who respect that is a gift. Being with an indie press allowed me to have a stronger voice in the kinds of edits I was willing or unwilling to accept. I also had amazing freedom in deciding on my cover design, promo events, and blurbs. It felt more like a collaboration than someone doing me a favor by publishing my work. 

Book Cover of The Incredible Shrinking Woman by Athena Dixon

A: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were writing The Incredible Shrinking Woman

AD: I generally consider myself my first audience and from there I hope to find a connection with people who’ve had similar experiences. I hope that I am writing for people who feel on the fringes or invisible—kinda like background music. Those people who help make the world go ‘round but aren’t necessarily the ones in the spotlight. I think it is important to craft stories for audiences who are dynamic and interesting in ways that may not always get attention. There is a world of people who feel as if they don’t have a voice and I hope that in my exploration of my own invisibility and shrinking I am helping them be seen and heard as well.  

A: In a virtual craft chat with The Writer’s Center, you mentioned “wanting to be seen and then being afraid when you [were] seen [and] working through what you’re asking people to see.” Did this sentiment play into naming your essay collection The Incredible Shrinking Woman?

AD: The collection had several names, but this one seemed to fit the best once the final slate of essays was solidified. When I began writing, I thought I was writing about something completely different, but as the manuscript progressed it seemed more and more, I was writing about ideas of shrinking and invisibility. I’d never considered just how much time I’d spent trying to fit into boxes and roles that never seemed to contain all I believe I am. But I also had to confront what it means to be seen. Asking for it and actually having it are worlds different. There’s a bit of a play on words with the title, too. There is the active shrinking that takes place, but there are also elements of a sideshow or exposure in the use of the word incredible. 

Virtual Craft Chat with Athena Dixon

A: My favorite essay in your collection is “Reader’s Insert.” In the piece, you say:

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve slipped myself into roles that don’t quite fit, roles that aren’t quite real…I’ve always felt invisible, so accurately telling the story of me starts with a disappearing act. 

Invisible. It’s a word that has gotten blowback from friends and family in ways I never expected. I suppose they think they see me. But I don’t think anyone really does. At least in terms of a whole person, that is.”

This quote resonated with me because, as a Black woman, there seems to be a substantial gap between the expectations placed on us individually and as a group versus the actual empathy that is offered to us as human beings. Instead, we seem to be rendered as invisible or treated as pieces of a whole. Did your perception or definition of yourself change as you wrote this collection of essays and came into your voice as a writer?

AD: My greatest fear putting the collection in the world was being exposed and judged. I thought people would see me as weak or damaged in some way, but I found that I grew more confident personally and creatively as the collection took shape. I think it is partially because I was able to let go of some experiences that had been weighing me down and also realizing there are dynamic parts of me I should share with the world despite my fears.  As well, by examining some of the issues in the collection, I was able to see parts of myself I couldn’t while I was in the thick of it. I learned I am much stronger than I knew and that I have so much to offer to not only myself but also the world. I think writing the book helped me unlock portions of myself I’d hidden away in order to fit what I thought the world wanted to see of me. 

A: Your essay, “Native Tongue,” was another favorite for me. One of the things I loved about your essays is the way that you give voice to those Black girls who aren’t labeled as being “conventionally Black” in the way you described your cousins as being with their “Salt N’ Pepa hairstyles” or even your best friend, Greta.  Why was it important for you to tell this particular story of coming into your Blackness in “Native Tongue?”

AD: It was important for me because I think sometimes there’s an idea that if you are born into a particular background you settle in smoothly. For me, I always felt loved and cared for, but I struggled to find where I fit within the confines of the culture around me. I so badly wanted to be like my cousins and my parents, but I never considered the idea there were other avenues that were tailored to me. And I think it was important to recognize and acknowledge my own narrow view of what I thought Blackness entailed. 

A: There’s a line in “Vagina, Slightly Used,” where you say:

 “It’s because I’d felt so invisible my entire existence that I gathered greedily what was laid out before me. I’ve always felt like my being deemed desirable by a man was a fluke.” 

In the same way you give voice to the “non-conventional” Black girls, you represent for women who are believed to take up too much space physically with their bodies and those Black women who are denying themselves a “fairytale ending” because the world said we can’t/don’t deserve one. 

Currently, soundbites of “image consultants,” like Kevin Samuels, and celebrities, like B. Simone, are going viral for shaming Black women for daring to believing we deserve a happy ending. Do you feel as if there is starting to be a movement to commodify the inherent “shame” that Black women, like yourself and I, are fed throughout our lives by mass media and brands?

AD: I do. I think people are so intent on solidifying their own importance, and pockets, that they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of others in order to do so. I think it’s easy to prey on people’s insecurities while setting impossible standards they can never achieve because the goal posts always move. There is a part of me that feels some of this is a backlash to the “less desirable” women starting to gain confidence or ignoring what society thinks they should be. The shameful part of it is when other Black people, who know discrimination and harm first hand, take part in it denigrating their own people for the sake of profit and popularity.  

A: The Incredible Shrinking Woman is raw and has so many visceral moments that left me, as a reader, swept up emotionally in your words because of their authenticity and how true they rang in my lived experience as a Black woman. How were you able to draw on so many powerful emotions as a writer, and not become bogged down by them long enough to get your thoughts onto the paper?

AD: I was able to do that in some instances, but there were a few times that I got lost. I couldn’t read “Liturgy” without crying for about a year after I wrote it. Part of that was because I hadn’t really dealt with that grief. Fortunately, I’d processed, or started to process, most of the other topics I covered in the book. I look at my subjects as a bruise. If I can touch it and there is only an ache then I feel safe writing about it. If there is marked pain, then I know that I am not ready to fully explore that topic for public consumption. 

A: Music is heavily attached to your writing with your father being a DJ. What’s on your playlist now?

AD: I have a playlist for everything, but there are few things I have on repeat right now. “Everything I Wanted” by Nuq, “Moment” by Victoria Monet, “Good & Plenty” by Alex Isley, “I Mean It” by PJ, “Vibe” by Cookie Kawaii, and “Whoa (Remix)” by Snoh Aalegra feat Pharell Williams. I’ve also been using “Whatever Lola Wants” by Sarah Vaughn and “All Blues” by Miles Davis to craft a few pieces on my plate at the moment. 

A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?

AD: My absolute favorite book is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I think it’s the perfect blend of storytelling and language. I come back to it often. I count is as the first time I read a piece of prose that made me understand there was no shame or fear in using your voice and dialect exactly as it was and that while language has rules that doesn’t mean how you craft it makes it any less valid. It was also the first book that overwhelmed at first, but I came back to and loved. I also find a of inspiration in Sonic Memories by Cija Jefferson, How to Sit by Tyrese Coleman, Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, and anything by Kiese Laymon. Each of them has a way of making life beautifully elevated without being inaccessible. 

A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?

AD: I would say write for yourself before anyone else. If there is no heart or passion behind what you are writing your audience can tell. If you don’t like what you are writing why would your readers? 

A: Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Dixon! I can’t wait to read more of your work!

Athena Dixon’s Bio

Author, Athena Dixon

Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Athena Dixon is a poet, essayist, and editor. She is the author of The Incredible Shrinking Woman (Split/Lip Press 2020) and No God In This Room  (Argus House Press 2018). Her work also appears in The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic (Haymarket Books).

Athena’s work has appeared in various publications both online and in print. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2016, 2017), a Best of the Net nominee (2017), a Callaloo fellow (Oxford 2017), a V.O.N.A. fellow (2018), and a Tin House Workshop attendee (Winter 2019).  Athena is a member of the Moving Forewards Memoir Writers Collective. Additionally, she has presented at AWP (2013, 2020), HippoCamp (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and The Muse and the Marketplace (2019) among other panels and conferences.

She is Founder of Linden Avenue Literary Journal (2012-2021). Athena is the co-host of the New Books in Poetry Podcast via the New Books Network.

She writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia.

To win a copy of The Incredible Shrinking Woman, follow my blog via email or WordPress reader, and comment below your favorite poet or author you’ve been moved by. Extra entry for following me on Instagram @IntrovertInterrupted and share a screenshot of this post in your IG stories every 24-hours and tag me. The giveaway is open internationally!

Come On In, America is Waiting!: The Immigrant & America, A #BookReview #BlogTour

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” 
― Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2018, there are roughly more than 44.7 immigrants residing in the United States to date. Immigrants make up 13.7% of the American population and have helped build up every imaginable industry in America from the government (e.g., Can you say, “Founding Fathers?”) to technology and science, to our food industry.

Yet, this group is frequently under attack and lauded as “leeches” on American resources even while they are recruited to keep America running smoothly by doing tasks that others won’t or can’t do. This is often done for little to no pay. With the current administration’s smear campaign against immigration, it’s refreshing to read stories by authors with firsthand experience of the true labor that goes into immigrating in the anthology, Come On In.

The anthology was edited by Adi Alsaid and is comprised of fourteen authors who hail from a variety of global backgrounds ranging from Fiji to Ecuador. I loved this anthology because each author shows that it takes courage and tenacity to leave the world you once knew behind to embrace a new life.

Likewise, each author has their own unique voice and tells their story from different vantage points of immigrating to America. For instance, some writers speak of the pain that comes with confronting TSA when you arrive in America and ICE if you are unfortunate enough to be deported. Other authors in the anthology tell of being told that they’re moving, but their older siblings are being left behind because they weren’t approved for a visa. Still, in other stories, the author presents first-generation American born children who struggle with building an identity in-between the proverbial hyphen of their parents’ native land and the American country they grew up in.

All these stories that Alsaid has edited together show that the immigrant experience, like everything else, cannot be told in a single story. Even within the same family, the story and one’s outlook on being an immigrant can vary.

This anthology is an excellent initial resource for anyone who has questions about what it is like for people who make the journey to leave their homelands and move to a new country. The stories in this collection will force readers to face their assumptions about who immigrants are.

If you go into this collection with an open mind, the stories will force you to look deeper into the question of why people choose to leave their homes, and if there even is a choice for some people. Likewise, for readers who love good storytelling, this anthology is perfect because of the nuanced viewpoints presented in the collection.

Thank you to Hear Our Voices Book Tours for granting me an e-galley of this anthology and allowing me to be a part of the promo tour! Check their site for more stops on the tour!