Normal Public Library

The Bookshelf: New Library Selections Address Modern Challenges, Historical Context

As local youth return to school, it may be the right time for a little adult homework, as well. The Normal Public Library's latest acquisitions offer a global perspective on the swirling issues that are shaping our society and the historical forces that have shaped our attitudes.

Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics reveals how the battle between feminists and their conservative challengers divided the nation as Democrats continued to support women's rights and Republicans cast themselves as the party of family values. Meanwhile, The Glass Universe offers a prequel of sorts to Hidden Figures' story of Space Age racial and feminist empowerment. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges — Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

Immigration has become a focal point for U.S. debate, community division, and growing alarm. In Latino Heartland, Sujey Vega addresses the politics of immigration, showing us how increasingly diverse towns can work toward embracing their complexity by focusing on one Hoosier community's experience. The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America tells the story of 18-year-old high school senior Isaias Ramos, who plays in a punk rock group called Los Psychosis and is so bright that when his school’s quiz bowl goes on local TV, he acts as captain. School counselors want him to apply to Harvard. But Isaias isn’t so sure. He's thinking about going to work painting houses with his parents, who crossed the Arizona desert illegally from Mexico.

The horrors and triumphs of America's racial history come alive in a trio of new non-fiction selections. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America revisits Forsyth County, Georgia, which at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African-American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they’d founded the county’s thriving black churches. Then, in September 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white “night riders” launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty offers another harrowing narrative: In 1957, Washington, a seventeen-year-old simply returning home after a double date, was swiftly arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The young man endured the horrors of a hellish prison system for thirteen years, a term that included various stints on death row fearing the "lightning" of the electric chair. Finally, The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution, focuses on the faces of protest and activism 50 years before Black Lives Matter became a cause. The book offers a reappraisal of the Panthers' history and legacy through portraits and interviews with surviving Panthers as well as illuminating essays by leading scholars.

The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt examines another aspect of American racism and social justice, through the eyes of the co-founder of the American Indian Movement. 

The LGBTQ community continues as well to wage its battle for equality, respect, and recognition. 2Brides 2Be: A Same-Sex Guide for the Modern Bride is designed to help couples navigate the world of lesbian wedding planning with humor and advice from wedding professional on everything from the logistics of walking down the aisle to wording the invites. Born Both: An Intersex Life covers more somber ground -- the turbulent but ultimately triumphant life of Hida Viloria, who was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that her body "looked different." She felt "scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls," until at 26, she began to connect with the intersex community.

Listening to Our Ancestors Explores Tragic Hidden History

An Illinois State University professor hopes to raise racial sensitivity by raising awareness of the “missing link in the history of slavery” that began before imprisoned Africans even arrived on American shores and has affected African-Americans many generations later.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, where Africans languished while awaiting shipment to the Americas.

The slave dungeon.

The slave dungeon.

According to Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum, the upcoming local presentation Why Do Black Lives Matter? Listening to Our Ancestors explores “the journey that people of African descent took to get here,” focusing on the African “slave dungeons” where men and women were held following their capture and sale to American “owners.” Aduonum extensively researched the experiences of African women who were enslaved at Elmina Castle on the coast of Ghana, and her program reportedly will attempt “to connect the dots from pre-slavery to Black Lives Matter Movement.”

The evening program will include a historical powerpoint, a musical dance drama featuring Bloomington-Normal community members, and a community “talk back and civic dialogue.” Aduonum will present the program from 7 to 8:45 p.m. June 29 and 30 in the Normal Public Library Community Room and July 5 and 12 in the Bloomington Public Library Community Room, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Often, individuals were kept in cages for months until slave ships could be filled for passage from Ghana across the Atlantic, and African women faced the same kind of sexual victimization they would experience with U.S. slave owners, Aduonum said.

She believes many of those who fail to understand or appreciate the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement fail to grasp the true depth of “the historical violation of black bodies.” As horrifying as some film treatments of slavery have been, Hollywood has effectively “whitewashed” its tragic, deep-rooted human dimensions, the ethnomusicologist and doctor of philosophy argues.

“What we hear about or see on TV is slaves working on the plantation,” Aduonum related. “We never talk about how they got here. My argument is that once they were captured and sold, it was in these places where they became slaves. It was there where they were controlled and starved or left to die in isolation cells. This was where their psyche was shaped – where they lost their community, their collective identity. Once you are branded, you are a commodity – your identity, your name, everything was stripped away.

“What this also shows us is that the violation of black bodies didn’t just start with the Black Lives Matter movement – it started a long time ago. I’m trying to make a connection between what is going on now and what was going on before. This racism actually started in these dungeons, because it was here where the idea of white superiority and black inferiority started – the objectification of black bodies started here.”

She characterizes the trauma and “anguish” slavery has inflicted on many modern African-Americans as “post-slavery traumatic syndrome,” comparable to general post-traumatic stress disorder but on a genetically ingrained “cell memory” level. Except, however, that “people who have gone through a traumatic situation often get counseling” – an option unavailable to those abruptly freed in the 1860s, some after nearly a lifetime of slavery.

Aduonum began researching the slave dungeons in 2009, during a university sabbatical, developing the script for the play Walking With My Ancestors in 2014 based on her interviews and journey to slave “spaces.” “I stood in this cell and tried to imagine what life must have been for these people who had no voice,” she recalled. “In my script, the spaces are also talking.”

Following its debut in November 2014, the program traveled to Washington last June and was presented last fall as part of ISU Homecoming. Aduonum cited “really intense dialogue” particularly in D.C., and noted ISU students were “outraged” by the lack of public attention given the slave dungeons – a historical aspect they felt was necessary for individuals to truly shape “informed decisions about racism.”

“We always assume that black people are complaining about nothing,” she suggested. “We just don’t know.”

The Bookshelf: Sociopolitics, Sex, and Religion

In tough social, political, and interpersonal times, where do you go? How about the library?

The Normal Public Library's latest nonfiction acquisitions offer in-depth perspectives on the religious conflicts that continue to reverberate in the post-9/11 world, the racial dynamics that spark heated debate and dialogue in our cities, and the gender politics that influence individual rights and opportunities.

Here's a sampling:

Not In God's Name: In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome. But through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Why Be Jewish?: Completed in December 2013, just weeks before he passed away, WHY BE JEWISH? expresses Edgar Bronfman's awe, respect, and deep love for his faith and heritage. Bronfman walks readers through the major tenets and ideas in Jewish life, fleshing out their meaning and offering proof texts from the Jewish tradition gleaned over his many years of study with some of the greatest teachers in the Jewish world. Bronfman shares In WHY BE JEWISH? insights gleaned from his own personal journey and makes a compelling case for the meaning and transcendence of a secular Judaism that is still steeped in deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts, and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.

We Too Sing America: Many of us can recall the targeting of South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh people in the wake of 9/11. We may be less aware, however, of the ongoing racism directed against these groups in the past decade and a half. In We Too Sing America, nationally renowned activist Deepa Iyer catalogs recent racial flashpoints, from the 2012 massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to the violent opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Author Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance.

The Long Emancipation: Perhaps no event in American history arouses more impassioned debate than the abolition of slavery. Answers to basic questions about who ended slavery, how, and why remain fiercely contested more than a century and a half after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In The Long Emancipation, Ira Berlin draws upon decades of study to offer a framework for understanding slavery’s demise in the United States. Freedom was not achieved in a moment, and emancipation was not an occasion but a near-century-long process—a shifting but persistent struggle that involved thousands of men and women. Berlin teases out the distinct characteristics of emancipation, weaving them into a larger narrative of the meaning of American freedom. The most important factor was the will to survive and the enduring resistance of enslaved black people themselves. In striving for emancipation, they were also the first to raise the crucial question of their future status. If they were no longer slaves, what would they be?

The Black Presidency: A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes? Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage. 

Negroland: At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac — here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of author Margo Jefferson’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.

Show Me A Hero: Not in my backyard -- that's the refrain commonly invoked by property owners who oppose unwanted development. Such words assume a special ferocity when the development in question is public housing. Lisa Belkin penetrates the prejudices, myths, and heated emotions stirred by the most recent trend in public housing as she re-creates a landmark case in riveting detail, showing how a proposal to build scattered-site public housing in middle-class neighborhoods nearly destroyed an entire city and forever changed the lives of many of its citizens.

Trans Portraits: A fascinating collective memoir of the lives and experiences of 34 transgender people, in their own voices.

The Gay Revolution: The sweeping story of the modern struggle for gay, lesbian, and trans rights—from the 1950s to the present—based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, legal activists, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day. The fight for gay, lesbian, and trans civil rights—the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats, and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers—is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. Based on rigorous research and more than 150 interviews, The Gay Revolution tells this unfinished story not through dry facts but through dramatic accounts of passionate struggles, with all the sweep, depth, and intricacies only award-winning activist, scholar, and novelist like Lillian Faderman can evoke. The Gay Revolution begins in the 1950s, when law classified gays and lesbians as criminals, the psychiatric profession saw them as mentally ill, the churches saw them as sinners, and society victimized them with irrational hatred. Against this dark backdrop, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality.

The Only Woman in the Room: In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women, even today, achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. A successful fiction writer, Pollack had grown up in the 1960s and ’70s dreaming of a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. Denied the chance to take advanced courses in science and math, she nonetheless made her way to Yale. There, despite finding herself far behind the men in her classes, she went on to graduate summa cum laude, with honors, as one of the university’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, starved for encouragement, she abandoned her ambition to become a physicist. Years later, spurred by the suggestion that innate differences in scientific and mathematical aptitude might account for the dearth of tenured female faculty at Summer’s institution, Pollack thought back on her own experiences and wondered what, if anything, had changed in the intervening decades. Based on six years interviewing her former teachers and classmates, as well as dozens of other women who had dropped out before completing their degrees in science or found their careers less rewarding than they had hoped, The Only Woman in the Room is a bracingly honest, no-holds-barred examination of the social, interpersonal, and institutional barriers confronting women—and minorities—in the STEM fields.

Everyday Sexism: The Everyday Sexism Project was founded by writer and activist Laura Bates in April 2012. It began life as a website where people could share their experiences of daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape. The Project became a viral sensation, attracting international press attention from The New York Times to French Glamour, Grazia South Africa, to the Times of India and support from celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Amanda Palmer, Mara Wilson, Ashley Judd, James Corden, Simon Pegg, and many others. The project has now collected over 100,000 testimonies from people around the world and launched new branches in 25 countries worldwide. The project has been credited with helping to spark a new wave of feminism.



Black Lives Matter Panel a Humanist Examination

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

A “Humanist” is a person who has a strong interest in the welfare of others. The Bloomington Normal Humanists believe in taking responsibility for themselves and working for the well- being of others. They thoughtfully reflect on issues that confront our culture today and want to take action that benefits the community.

This mindset is the driving force behind the Black Lives Matter panel discussion on Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in the Normal Public Library. This event will give our predominantly white community an opportunity to hear the perspectives of panelists which include four African-Americans and one Caucasian woman raising African-American children about what life is like for them as a residents of this community.

The audience will hear their stories and get a snapshot of what they experience while shopping, raising children, working, and accessing services in Bloomington-Normal. A question and answer session will also provide audience members the opportunity to clarify and/or learn more about what they hear.

Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement started by community activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opel Tometi. After the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin, these women were searching for a way to respond to what they viewed as the “devaluation of black lives.”

The movement has grown as the nation has witnessed the deaths of people like Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Laquon McDonald. Although those deaths occurred to people outside our community, the Humanists group has grappled with the impact these events have had on communities across the nation and our society as a whole. First Christian Church, The League of Women Voters, Not In Our Town, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal, and the YWCA McLean County are co-sponsoring this event.

The Humanists’ group hopes that this panel presentation will give our community an opportunity to listen compassionately and to raise awareness. While other communities often react after a tragedy or negative event has occurred, this panel is a proactive attempt to break down barriers and listen to our neighbors. An old Indian proverb says, “Never judge a man until you walk in his moccasins.” Hopefully the panelists will be able to help the attendees “walk in their shoes,” if even for a short time.

Black Life That Matters To Illuminate #BlackLivesMatter issues

The hashtag/concept #BlackLivesMatter was created in 2012 after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killer, Florida armed suburban patrol volunteer George Zimmerman, was acquitted.

It since has fostered both a rallying cry for racial justice and a degree of social backlash. Twin Citians will join at 7 p.m. April 26 to try to clarify what #BlackLivesMatter means and how it impacts the community.

Diversity Trainer Art Taylor will moderate "Black Life That Matters" in the Normal Public Library Community Room. The panel discussion is co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal, YWCA McLean County, The League of Women Voters, Bloomington First Christian Church, and Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal.

The public event is presented by the B-N Humanist Group. 

League of Women Voters to Explore 'Hidden McLean County'

The League of Women Voters of McLean County will attempt to uncover the facts regarding two critical segments of "hidden McLean County" -- very low-income families that need early childhood services, and victims of domestic violence -- during a Tuesday, January 26 program at the Normal Public Library Community Room.

Members of the 7 p.m. panel discussion will include Jaylene Taubert, Parent Family and Community Engagement Manager for Heartland Head Start; and Senna Adjabeng, director of MCCA's Countering Domestic Violence and Mayors Manor programs.

The program is free to the public. 


The Bookshelf: Rights, Rites, Race, and Roles

The Normal Public Library continues to replenish its storehouse of cross-cultural reading, offering insights into the peoples who make up the U.S., the forces that drive them, and the issues that challenge all of us trying to live under a single flag.

The latest new non-fiction offerings look at the history of culture and conflict, the role of technology in both exposing hate and bullying those online, the roots and rituals of a key holiday, and the rights of immigrants, women, and tenants. Included are:

Considering Hate -- Over the centuries, American society has been plagued by brutality fueled by disregard for the humanity of others: systemic violence against Native peoples, black people, and immigrants. More recent examples include the Steubenville rape case and the murders of Matthew Shepard, Jennifer Daugherty, Marcelo Lucero, and Trayvon Martin. Most Americans see such acts as driven by hate. But is this right? Longtime activists and political theorists Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski boldly assert that American society’s reliance on the framework of hate to explain these acts is wrongheaded, misleading, and ultimately harmful.

Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress. In this follow-up to the award-winning classic Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang brings fresh energy, style, and sweep to the essential American story.

A War for the Soul of America illuminates the most contentious issues of the last half of the twentieth century. In lively, elegant prose, Andrew Hartman explains how and why the consensus that appeared to permeate the nation following World War II frayed and fractured so dramatically in the 1960s. With keen insight and analysis, he shows that the Culture Wars were not marginal distractions from the main issues of the day. Rather, they were profound struggles over the very foundation of what it meant to be an American.

Detained and Deported takes an intimate look at the people ensnared by the U.S. immigrant detention and deportation system, the largest in the world. Author Margaret Reagan examines how increasingly draconian detention and deportation policies have broadened police powers, while enriching a private prison industry whose profits are derived from human suffering, and documents the rise of resistance, profiling activists and young immigrant “Dreamers” who are fighting for the rights of the undocumented.

U.S. Immigration Made Easy meanwhile helps prospective immigrants navigate a complex legal system. Every Tenant's Legal Guide elaborates the rights and expectations of those trying to find housing in a potentially discriminatory environment.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job. Ronson reviews modern cyberbullying and use of the social media as a "social control."

Hannukah In America: In New Orleans, Hanukkah means decorating your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. Latkes in Texas are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. Children in Cincinnati sing Hanukkah songs and eat oranges and ice cream. While each tradition springs from its own unique set of cultural references, what ties them together is that they all celebrate a holiday that is different in America than it is any place else. For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration.

On Your Case: Television legal analyst and attorney Lisa Green offers something new: a witty, direct and empowering legal guide for women, filled with accessible information they can employ to understand and respond to common legal issues throughout their lives, from dating, marriage, and kids to jobs, retirement, aging parents, and wills.

Financial Aid for Asian Americans and Financial Aid for Hispanic Americans outline a wide range of options for minority families looking to fund higher education.