This is an invitation to take a risk, to spend a year reading the stories of Americans whose skin and lives might look pretty different from yours. People who might work, pray, love, and live differently from you. It’s an invitation to spend a year reading dangerously.
We know. We can imagine your doubt. Maybe even your scorn. We imagine you thinking:
Reading is dangerous? Really? Reading stories is the thing to do now? Really?
We get that. In light of all the dangers facing us as the US transitions to an administration closely counseled by a white supremacist, elected through a campaign in which racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and discrimination were not disqualifiers, the idea that reading is dangerous or even a worthwhile use of our time can seem naive or misguided or just flat-out wrong. The idea that reading will put any of us–especially the least vulnerable of us–in any kind of real danger risks minimizing the dangers that many are now facing. We know that the discomfort that might come from reading something that threatens to shake our world view or disrupt our comfort is nothing compared to that which comes from discrimination, harassment, assault, deportation, or imprisonment.
And yet, we think this is a project worth doing. Our title–The Year of Reading Dangerously–was inspired by the words of George Yancy in his essay “I Am a Dangerous Professor,” written in response to being placed on the Professor Watchlist:
“Well, if it is dangerous to teach my students to love their neighbors, to think and rethink constructively and ethically about who their neighbors are, and how they have been taught to see themselves as disconnected neoliberal subjects, then, yes, I am dangerous, and what I teach is dangerous.”
This is an invitation to be that kind of dangerous. Our objective is that those of us who participate will “think and rethink constructively and ethically” about our neighbors, for the purpose of learning how to love them better. While we don’t think there’s any real danger in that, we do want to acknowledge that within our project there is threat to comfort and several kinds of stability, especially if we are male or white or Christian or cis-gendered or heterosexual or non-disabled or middle-class.
This is an invitation to open yourself to that kind of danger by opening yourself to the stories of others, reading with a willingness to see where your story intersects with those of people who are different from you in some important way, reading with a willingness to be transformed. We know from our own experience of opening ourselves in this way that it’s not easy or comfortable. Sometimes it hurts. There is loss. Sometimes we wish we could go back to our old ways of seeing the world. Of seeing ourselves. But we don’t stay there for long, because as much as we can miss the comfort of our old ideas and ways of being, where we live now is a world that is richer than the one we knew. Paradoxically, seeing and acknowledging our differences from others and the forces that separate us has helped us see and understand in new ways how we are all connected. It has brought us new friends, community, and different kinds of comfort.
So, this is the invitation:
Let’s get dangerous together.
Let’s read together, willing to expand what we know and to enter into the experience of those whose lives may be different from ours. Let’s be willing to grow and change.
Let’s talk together, sharing what we understand, what we wonder about, what we see about where our experiences are the same and where they are different. Let’s think critically together about what creates our commonalities and our differences.
Let’s act together, figuring out what we can do together that will lift up and liberate all of us.
That last part–acting together–is crucial. The last thing we want to put out in the world is the idea that simply reading and talking with each other is enough to make necessary differences. Our actions don’t need to be ground-shaking or movement-making. But we do need to be willing to show up in the world in different ways than we have been, ways that make it a safer and more just place for all of us. You are being invited to enter into an experience that will help you figure out how to do that in ways that work for you.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
-Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist and activist