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Using Literature & the Arts to Promote Social Justice

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

Today on the Lean to the Left podcast I’m with Ciahnan Darrell, author of the new book, Blood at the Root, to discuss the role literature and the arts can play in promoting social justice.

According to Justin Gifford, associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Blood at the Root “is a sharp-witted social satire that takes unflinching aim at race and class privilege in contemporary America.”

On the show, Ciahnan explains that "Blood at the Root" is about the son of a billionnaire, who upon learning of the the country's racial history, offers himself as a sacrifice of atonement for America's racial sins. He is marched through the streets of New York, chained to scaffolding and beaten for three days.

"I very much think that racism is much more used to manufacturing it than it is originating it. Look at the way we eat. There's a Mexican place in practically every corner now. So the objection to Latino or Latina immigrants can't be that stalwart in principle. There's a Chinese food place and, I'm not saying that the existence of those things means that everything's okay, or that these people are getting better representation, but they are, or elements of their culture are being assimilated with the larger culture and someone who's willing to go down, pick up a burrito and then curse out Javier or whatever is a hypocrite. Not the principled racism is any better than unprincipled racism, but at the same point get over yourself."

"Part of the problem," he says, "has been that diversity has been shoved aside. It's important for artists also writers and other type of artists to ask questions and, not questions that have easy answers, but questions that demand that you spend time with the question that you consider it from various angles. Because I think that's where true learning and true change comes when the constant rubbing up against images that you haven't seen, the constant thoughts that are different from what you've had, eventually they're going to start to change your shape, some kind of new outlook. I don't think it's going to be overnight, and I don't think it's going to be this sort of epiphany bomb. But I do think that bit by bit through the questions we asked, through the images we raised, that authors can contribute to the recognition of possibilities that maybe weren't understood or seen before."

An award-winning author, and scholar, Ciahnan’s first book was the award-winning “A Lifetime of Men.” His short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, most recently in The Columbia Review, Gone Lawn, and The Legendary. His story 'What Remains' was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Rum Punch Press.

Ciahnan holds Masters degrees from the University of Chicago and Stony Brook University, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University at Buffalo.

Both his creative work and his scholarly research explore systemic inequality and the ways in which discourse on race and gender shape the horizons of individual and social life.

These are important topics, especially timely as the debate over Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other racist issues continue. In fact, last November we presented a podcast interview with Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennis, founder of 365 Diversity, and an activist, sociologist and criminologist, who's career is focused on helping businesses and organizations overcome disparities and improve diversity.

Here are Questions We Asked Ciahnan Darrell:

Bob: To get started, Ciahnan, tell us about Blood at the Root. What’s it about and what’s its message? And where did that title come from?

Bob: As a white male, what gives you the right – the authority – to write about issues of race and gender? And why do you feel it is important to do so?

Bob In the atmosphere in which live today, with so much division, and yes, ethnic and racial hatred, what role can we, as authors, play in helping to ease these tensions and improve understanding among those with differing views regarding these subjects.

Bob: To me, one of the most important issues that we face today is the growing diversity of our country, which I believe is at the root of much of the division we face. Your thoughts about that…

Bob: The nation is becoming increasingly diverse, in terms of ethnicity, as we speak. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the White non-Hispanic population stood at 57.8 percent, a decline of six percent since 2010. That, we know, continues and projections are that soon the White non-Hispanic population will be in the minority. Is this one reason why we see so much hatred and defensiveness from the MAGA crowd and the likes of the Proud Boys?

Bob: An important finding in the census is the increased diversity in the younger population. In 2019, for the first time, more than half of the those under 16 identified as a racial or ethnic minority. What are some of the political and cultural implications of that?

Bob: As an author and scholar who’s work centers around fairness and equality, what’s your view of the way Donald Trump and his followers have attempted to weaponize fear to pave the road to power?

Bob: Your first book, A Lifetime of Men…tell us about that book.

Bob: And your short stories…let’s hear about them.

Bob: Thanks, Ciahnan, for being with us on our podcasts.

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