The following book review reflects my personal opinion. I have no connection with the publisher or author beyond book ownership and ongoing respect for their work and courage.
Whether you’re dedicated to social justice and staying informed or you’re a fan of fiction and rarely read any non-fiction, this is the one book I’d suggest you pick up for 2021: Radical Belonging: How to Survive + Thrive in an Unjust World (While Transforming It for the Better) by Lindo Bacon. With all we have been through in the US, from an insurrection to a pandemic, this book addresses very significant issues that I’m guessing many (most?) folks don’t think about often enough.
These social justice concerns, I understand, can feel huge and difficult to sit with because sometimes change feels as impossible as towing the Titanic with a rowboat. If we don’t take some time to understand the past and deal with our own issues on more than just a personal level, I’m worried we’ll never move forward to the more just, compassionate, and accepting society we could be. The best part: in addition to educating and inspiring, this book also provides ideas for action. (Aren’t you tired of living in re-action? I am!)
Though I purchased the book when it was released, and in spite of the perfect opening in Chapter 1, I had a difficult time diving in. My margin comments, not easy and OMG reflected the amount of info presented, some heartbreaking and infuriating (why has this continued so long?!). As a member of the Boomer generation, I remember believing as a girl that my generation would “fix” the world. In fact, I felt certain that by 2000 we would all live in mutual appreciation, respect, peace, and harmony. We didn’t quite hit the mark.
Distracted by survival as a young wife and then as a single mom, I read, made an effort to stay informed, wrote letters to elected officials, and supported the ERA. But the world moved quickly in a direction I had never imagined. Paying the rent and keeping my children fed took all my energy. Through a curtain of fatigue, I watched a storm of fear and hatred grow, ginned up by self-serving leaders through the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, I completely understand anyone who feels overwhelmed today by the issues we all face.
This book presents a variety of important social justice issues with clarity and enough personal stories to touch hearts. When I struggled to take a deeper dive into the book, I did a quick speed-read from cover-to-cover. The last few chapters uplifted me, so I returned to the beginning and started over, seeking to digest more. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I set the book down. Paused. In the end, the snapshot Dr Bacon provided convinced me we must work with whatever resources we have available to transform our communities and nation into a far more inclusive culture.
A lot of science shows up in the book, explained in easily understood terms. In fact, Chapters 1 through 7 walk the reader along some rocky roads, diving into challenges like the toll of living without feeling safe and connected (whether in our bodies or anywhere else). What I loved the most about this book were the last chapters, from “Connection is the Antidote” through “Beyond Self-Love.” These chapters and the additional materials in the appendices provide tools and powerful encouragement to move toward “Loving yourself as is. Loving yourself just because you’re enough. Loving your body because it’s your home. Self-love is a feeling, not an idea. It’s your birthright.” (p255) Amen to that.
In Radical Belonging, the author supports their discussion of topics like our culture, stress, trauma, fear, and shame with a “Notes”/reference section. They also include tools and exercises for moving into change-making: seeking connections, developing resilience, and coming together to create safe and inclusive spaces. As an elder, the “Manifesto for Body Liberation” helped me consider what body liberation might mean for me as well as for different populations and future generations.
Growing up in a community in which Spanish, Portuguese, and English flitted around like background music, it’s surprising that my cousins and I were forbidden to speak any language but English. Of course, we knew some words or phrases, but my great grandfather’s rule was that the youngest generation (now we’re the elders!) would only speak English so we didn’t develop tell-tale accents that made us stand out. The point, for that generation and in that binary world, was to blend in. As hard as we tried, though, even when my parents earned enough income to lift us from low-income to almost-middle-class, we did not blend in. Nobody ever suggested perhaps we were meant to stand out … or how much we could accomplish if we learned to stand together.
Radical Belonging issues that challenge of reaching beyond identified communities to stand together to lift one another. (So exciting! Imagine that!) Dr. Bacon explains the importance of systemic change beautifully: “In a society that stresses people out, individualized solutions can’t work. Given the existence of social injustice, suffering is going to happen disproportionately.”
I want to live in that world that I thought we would have crafted by 2000, a world in which we recognize extending social justice to all makes sense, lifts everyone, and creates such opportunities for future generations (think about not ever having to put energy into pretending to be someone other than your true self). I want that world for my adult children and my elementary school age grandsons who, some 200 years after my elders settled in the US, also face pressures to blend in. I want the unnecessary suffering to end.
**No matter what, get curious, even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable.
**Read this book! Even if you’re feeling quite well informed and confident, I still recommend Radical Belonging. It is more than worth the investment.
**Visit the author’s website.
Here’s to opening ourselves to learning, to connecting, and to doing the work to lovingly accept ourselves and other people as we are – in all our glorious diversity. May you be healthy, happy, strong, safe, connected, and courageous.
If you’ve already read the book, other books I’ve read recently that you might also appreciate: Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley and Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old by Kimberly Dark (with an afterword by Lindo Bacon).
If money is tight (I totally understand that!), check with local and online bookstores for a used copy, contact your local public library for the book or, if they don’t have it, ask if they’ll purchase a copy. This volume has so much information, I’m betting you’ll learn something new. The personal and heartfelt stories from the author about their life and challenges bring the facts into focus. If you’re not convinced, please visit the author’s website for more information![i]
Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii] If you are considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iii] to connect with someone who will be mindful of your best interests. Your tender heart deserves respect.
Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis
[iii] Connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ For help via text, consider the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.