Inspiring Interviews

Reading Beyond Black History Month

Lori L. Tharps is a writer, author and educator whose work lands at the intersection of race and popular culture. She strives to use her words to broaden the conversation about race in America; to challenge racial stereotypes; to dismantle white supremacy; and to celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity whenever possible. Recently, we sat down with Lori to discuss the framing of Black History Month, personal responsibility and her book recommendations for re-learning American History through the lens of people of color.
February 2021
Amy:

Can you tell us a little bit more about what led you to blogging and podcasting, and why you've taken on the responsibility of educating others around race and racism?

Lori:

I started my blog, My American Meltingpot way back in 2006. Back then, I just wanted an outlet for all of my quirky story ideas that centered multiculturalism and diversity. I wanted to write about everything from my own multicultural family life – my husband is Spanish and I’m Black – to the trends I observed in America. Because the mainstream media wasn’t always interested in those types of stories, I decided to give myself the permission and the platform to write them anyway. I added the podcast to the mix in 2018 because I’m a journalist by profession and I simply wanted to try this new medium as a way to reach a new audience. And the reason I’ve spent more time recently, writing and speaking about race and racism, is because the 2016 election exposed the largesse of America’s race problem and I couldn’t sit back and wait for somebody else to solve the problem.

But starting in 2021, I’m doing something radically different with the podcast. When our new season launches on February 5, we’re going to be talking specifically about multicultural books. The name will be the same, but My American Meltingpot will now be a literary lovefest of multicultural stories. Books and writing are my true passion, and I actually think I can inspire people to question and ultimately move past their own racism by sharing stories that showcase multicultural connections. I still want to be an anti-racist activist, but I’m choosing to use celebration ­–of multicultural stories – as a form of protest.

Amy:

You have a really great episode called, "Decolonizing your Mind," that gives the audience important facts around American History and highlights the lack of knowledge of Black African history - that Black history doesn't begin at slavery. Can you talk more about the importance of including Black history prior to enslavement in the conversation around Black history?

Lori:

Of course. It’s a great question. Somebody really smart (sadly, I can’t remember who) once said that the way you dehumanize a people is by starting their story at chapter two. That’s what happened with Black people in this country. Instead of starting with chapter one, when African people were kings, queens, lawyers, doctors, mothers and fathers, teachers and artists, Black history in this country begins with, “the African slaves were brought to this country to labor in the fields.” They weren’t slaves. They were doctors and teachers, mothers and fathers who were enslaved by white people. We don’t talk about Black people’s resilience, brilliance, creativity and strength. We keep skipping chapter one.

The fact is, Black history is American history and should be incorporated into every single American history class from kindergarten through university courses. It’s not separate and shouldn’t be reserved for a single month of the year.

Amy:

You talk about the seven truth nuggets of Black/Indigenous/American history that are often whitewashed. Beyond just re-educating ourselves about colonial history, what other periods of time or accepted historical narratives do you think require a re-learning as it relates to Black history?

Lori:

All of them. American history, as most of us have been taught, has been written by the white men in power with a very real agenda of ignoring or erasing the contributions of non-white people. The movie Hidden Figures is a perfect example. Why is it that nobody knew about all of the Black women who were part of NASA in the 1960s? They were there, yet their contributions were left out of the history books. Thankfully those books exist and are easy to find and exciting to read.

"People should just assume that they need to go back and relearn all of American history but using the books written by people of color and other marginalized groups."

Amy:

During Black History Month, we tend to focus a lot on the civil rights era, but Black History and Black contributions are embedded in every sector of our society. How can we broaden our understanding of Black History?

Lori:

It’s really easy now because there is finally a global recognition that people want this information. You can literally just go to an online retailer like Amazon and search Black history books and find a huge amount of titles to choose from. Likewise, you can turn on Netflix and they actually now have a category called Black Lives Matter where you can watch movies, documentaries and other specials that will expose you to more of the Black experience. You can also listen to podcasts like The New York Times 1619 Project or The Nod. There really is no excuse in 2021 for not being able to educate yourself about Black history and the Black experience, even if you don’t have direct access to Black people in your life.

Amy:

While we know you have a large selection of great book recommendations in your blog, can you give our readers your top five books that can help them understand Black history from the perspective of people other than white males?

Lori:

Sure. I would be remiss not to mention my own book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, which is twenty years old this month! Happy Birthday book baby! Hair Story tells the story of Black Americans through their hair, from 15th century Africa to 21st century America.

Lori:

Four other options I recommend are:

1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

2. Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

3. Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

4. A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

The thing is, history can be told through many lenses. So, one book isn’t going to be enough. The suggestions I’ve given are just a starting point, but they’re all super interesting and will probably have you wanting to read even more!

Amy:

Since we are, after all, a pajama company, we love hearing about what people do in their pajamas!

What’s the one part of your nighttime routine you never skip?

Lori:

Reading before going to sleep.

Amy:

What’s always on your bedside table?

Lori:

A stack of books, my reading glasses and a pen, in case I get any good ideas for a new story.

Amy:

Night Owl or Early Riser?

Lori:

Night owl, although I aspire to be an early riser one day.

Amy:

What’s your favorite breakfast in bed?

Lori:

Honestly, the idea of eating breakfast in my own bed doesn’t sound like fun at all because all I can think about are the crumbs that would be all over my sheets.  Now, on the other hand, if I were in a hotel where I knew the sheets would be changed that same day, I’d go all out and have French toast, fresh berries and a side of bacon. And probably a mug of hot cocoa. P.S. I love your PJs!

Lori L. Tharps is a passionate writer whose work lands at the intersection of race and real life. Journalist, author, educator, speaker, Lori uses her words to broaden the conversation about race, culture and the human experience. She celebrates diversity, kicks rocks at racism, and has a story about Black hair for every occasion. You can keep up with Lori’s incredible journey and view her current work on her website, podcast, and Instagram.

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