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December 2021 Educator|Resource of the Month

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The Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice Educator|Resource is a monthly feature that highlights curricular resources and social work educators who address diversity and justice.
What Does Teaching From an Antiracist Perspectctive Look Like? A new series by the CSWE Diversity Center

The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature 

To learn to practice antiracist social work, students need the opportunity to get to know their prospective clients beyond their problems. When all we know about clients—whether individuals or communities—is the immediate circumstances of their problems (they’re incarcerated, they’re refugees, they’re poor), there may be little to admire or to hold in high regard. If, as research shows, our perceptions of people are key in determining racially motivated attitudes and actions, let’s broaden and deepen students’ field of vision. We need to expose students to people’s whole stories in their own words, through readings and other multimedia sources that present in-depth views of their lived experiences—their wisdom, their ideas, their magnificence. Studies show that doing so expands empathy and critical thinking, human qualities that disrupt racism. In this semester’s-end issue of our series What Does Teaching From an Antiracist Perspective Look Like?, we get an intimate view of the wisdom, ideas, and magnificence of Black life in a beautiful new book titled Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature by Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin. See two video interviews with the author, including a 20-minute book reading, and two book reviews.

   The Book

Farah Jasmine Griffin has taken to her heart the phrase ‘read until you understand,’ a line her father, who died when she was nine, wrote in a note to her. She has made it central to this book about love of the majestic power of words and love of the magnificence of Black life.” In Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature, she “shares a lifetime of discoveries: the ideas that inspired the stunning oratory of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, the soulful music of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, the daring literature of Phillis Wheatley and Toni Morrison, the inventive artistry of Romare Bearden, and many more.” Griffin explores “these works through such themes as justice, rage, self-determination, beauty, joy, and mercy.” [Source: A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year in Nonfiction]

About the Author and Video Interviews

Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin is chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. She has published widely on issues of race and gender, feminism, jazz, and cultural politics. In these interviews she talks about and reads from her book, reflects on Black literature, and conveys her approach to teaching.

          Town Hall Seattle (57:13; the interview starts at 7:00)            Harvard Book Store (59:00)

Book Reviews

          The Washington Post 
          “In Read Until You Understand, Farah Jasmin Griffin reconsiders her life, family and country through literature.”           The New York Times
          “Read Until You Understand is more about ideas and ideals than it is about one person’s life.”  


For more book ideas, visit the Diversity Center Library, and for the up-to-date list of curated books email Diversity Center Director Dr. Yolanda C. Padilla at [email protected]. For more on using literature in the social work classroom, see the Educator|Resources Launch of the Center Library on Diversity and Justice and Social Justice 101: Teaching Empathy and Critical Thinking Using Books With Powerful Messages on Social Justice.   

The views expressed in the Educator|Resource are those of the educator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Social Work Education.

 Contact Dr. Yolanda Padilla, CSWE Diversity Center Director, at [email protected].