Culture Club: A Month of Introspection and Self-Education on Racial Justice

Welcome to The Growler’s Culture Club, where the editors share the best of what they’ve been listening to, reading, and watching. 

Over the past few weeks, each of us at The Growler has been working to better educate ourselves about the issue of systemic racism, thinking critically and deeply on our roles in the fight for true, lasting change. Here, we offer up some articles, books, podcasts, and music—new and old—that have stuck with us. The fight is a long one, and many of us just fully realized the scope of it—hopefully, something here can be useful to you or someone you know in the process.

“A Decade of Watching Black People Die” and “Why Now, White People?” Code Switch

Frankly, I’m embarrassed it’s taken me this long to add Code Switch to my podcast rotation. This podcast has been having the essential conversations on race in America that white Americans like myself need to be listening to and internalizing. Two recent episodes have centered around the same incisive question: why has it taken this long for white Americans to speak out on the problem of police brutality in communities of color? “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” dives into why a decade’s worth of video evidence has failed to incite the majority of Americans to action, and what emotional and psychological toll these videos have had on Black Americans. In “Why Now, White People,” the hosts directly ask white people why this moment has inspired them to act when other deaths, like those of Eric Garner and Philando Castile, did not. The responses are varied, but they also raise an important question: how long and to what lengths are white people willing to sustain their demands for change?  –Brian Kaufenberg, Editor-in-Chief

The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

I first encountered “The Case for Reparations” in a Contemporary African American Literature course in the spring of 2016. At the time, I found it eloquent, illuminating, and uncomfortable. Subsequent second and third readings have only deepened my respect for decorated American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and my conviction that now is a crucial time to seek out the voices of BIPOC. From a thorough explanation of redlining—a racist phenomenon that shaped the neighborhoods the Twin Cities—to the shady practice of selling homes “on contract”, to wrestling with the unwieldy (and often taboo) idea of offering Black Americans reparations for slavery, Coates shares his research, observation, and critical thought.  –Caroline Carlson, Editorial Intern

Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

Written nearly 70 years ago, “Invisible Man” is one of those rare novels that (sadly, in this case) seems stubbornly impervious to obsolescence. With elements including deadly police, demonstrations and rioting, systematic racism, and lack of access to higher education, “Invisible Man” couldn’t possibly feel more relevant. Better still: It’s a gripping, poetic story, told with elegant and searing language. It’s tragic, it’s incendiary, it’s a hell of a read, and it belongs in the mix with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing” among great works of art worth revisiting during our country’s current struggle.  –James Norton, Food Editor

Space & Time” by Astralblak

Simply put, no group in the Minneapolis music scene brings more flavor to the table than the mighty Astralblak. Formerly known as ZULUZULUU, the quartet of multi-talented musicians and producers specialize in a heady roux of hip-hop and Afrofuturist funk that defiantly shreds genre conventions. The group’s most recent EP “Space & Time” proudly weaves a riot of musical ancestries—from squelching Bootsy basslines to high-stepping Controversy funk, cooled out Slum Village beats and the righteous, intellectual jazz of Gil Scott Heron. Centering all of this are the steely, regal rhymes of Greg Grease and the honey-sweet singing of MMYYKK, their voices entwining in familial uplift, intoning brief moments of Black joy that feel so utterly necessary as their native community of South Minneapolis twists in grief.  –Zach McCormick, Social Media Coordinator

The Birth of American Music” 1619

As someone who’s listened to and benefited from a lot of music created by Black artists over the years, I’ve been doing some heavy reflecting on how American music—and American pop culture, in a larger sense—has historically co-opted the work and culture of Black people since its beginnings. The New York Times released the podcast “1619” last year that, in just five episodes, taught me more than I ever learned in primary school about our country’s dark history of racism. One episode that stuck with me is “The Birth of American Music,” which looks at how American pop culture was forged. Guest host Wesley Morris dives into the gnarled roots of the entertainment industry, which has always benefited and taken from the pain and suffering that birthed Black music in the U.S. “I know there is something irresistible, and ultimately inevitable, about Black music being a part of American popular music,” he says. “But it also reminds me that there’s a history to this—a very painful history.”  –Lauren Sauer, Associate Editor

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality 

Shocking, disquieting, and yet hopeful in its vision of a more just future, “True Justice” gives us an intimate look at the work that attorney Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative is doing to overturn wrongful convictions of Black Americans and fight against the death penalty in an effort to end racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. The documentary effectively draws a powerful throughline from American slavery to the murders of Black Americans by lynching to the mass incarceration of Black Americans today, to poignantly make the case that Americans, specifically white people, need to confront the legacy of injustice and inequality sown by institutions built on racist foundations if we are to find reconciliation and more just path forward.  –BK

The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

At the risk of being branded a “Coates devotee” (And so what if it’s true? I can think of many worse labels), anyone looking for an obsessively researched, lyrically written and forcefully germane read should pick up a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest work and first novel, “The Water Dancer.” Following one previous foray into fiction writing, the “Black Panther” comic series, Coates channels the full weight of his journalistic Civil War research into a captivating slave narrative. Using elements of fantasy that read like metaphors rather than plot devices, Coates treats with collective memory, cultural trauma, frustrated dreams, and the incredibly complex and disquieting nature of human motives, all while bringing his readers aboard what is ultimately revealed to be a segment of the Underground Railroad.  –CC

Have recommendations for us? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected]