Shared Reading Against Racism – How can we use Shared Reading to open up a conversation on racism?
What part can The Reader play to end racism in the world, in a way that is authentic and meaningful? Geetha Rabindrakumar, Director of Impact at The Reader, considers how we can use Shared Reading to open up a conversation on racism.
As part of Culture Liverpool’s city-wide Liverpool Against Racism festival (23-30 April) The Reader is offering the chance for members of the public to try using Shared Reading - reading literature to talk and think together about racism.
How can we use Shared Reading to open up a conversation on racism?
We have started to think about answering this question at The Reader by doing what we do – Shared Reading. In Shared Reading, we read together in groups, slowly. We started new groups with a focus on black literature as part of this work. Through the characters, stories and poems we read and discuss, we take part in open conversations and explore awareness of ourselves and each other, and find a shared language for our feelings, experiences and questions connected to race that are nuanced and often difficult.
What happens is different for each person, but often the feelings of people who are not us, and don’t share our specific experience, may come into the light. And perhaps feelings and experiences of our own are illuminated in new ways.
We called this project “Just Us” after the title of Claudia Rankine’s book of poems and essays which challenges us to enter into conversation with each other and find a way through divisions and silences that lie between those of us with different experiences of race.
Using literature to have the conversations that matter
The responses to the literature have been deeply felt – cathartic for some with experience of racism, and opening new viewpoints for many of us. In the words of one reader, our Just Us work has ‘helped me to be aware of emotions that would otherwise stay unconscious. And it´s not only emotions but actions, habits, ways of living.’
Another said, ‘as a lifelong reader, I realised I had read virtually nothing of black literature. That was a shock and something I now work hard to counter.’
We are deeply grateful to the group of Reader volunteers who are people of colour who have read and thought together with us as part of this work, reading Native Son, Richard Wright’s novel about the impact of systemic racism in society on one black man in 1940s Chicago, Bigger Thomas, and his struggle to exist on his own terms.
There’s a collective feeling at The Reader that we’ve opened up a difficult and important new area of work. We are keen to develop our reading, feeling and understanding of much more diverse literature, and its potential for human meaning-making in the years ahead.
Sparking connection and change
As Claudia Rankine says in the poem ‘What Does It Mean To Want’, from Just Us, it is not enough to talk if, ‘in the clarity of consciousness…nothing changes’.
We know that Shared Reading creates a trust that enables difficult conversations, free of judgement, where people are open to understanding experience beyond their own, but where we can also see our common humanity. We believe that by connecting with each other, using the shining light of great writing to build ‘clarity of consciousness’ and with what literature can shine a light on, that we can feel and think differently, and so change ourselves and our world.
How you can get involved
Join us and find out more at the Liverpool Against Racism festival, where we will be running Shared Reading sessions and discussing this work. Everyone joining us will receive a mini anthology drawn from the literature we have read together.
For full details of the Liverpool Against Racism conference on Tuesday 26 April, visit https://www.cultureliverpool.co.uk/lar-conference/
Meet us at our home, for a morning or afternoon with lunch included at the Mansion House in Calderstones Park - Wednesday 27 April
Can’t make it in person? Join us online Thursday 28 April, 6.30pm
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