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Black Faces, White Spaces Book Club: Week 1 Summary

This month, Shaver’s Creek is hosting a book club featuring Black Faces, White Spaces by Dr. Carolyn Finney, which focuses on the underrepresentation of African Americans in the outdoors. Every Thursday of this month, we will meet on Zoom to discuss our reactions and personal connection to the content of the book. Dr. Finney herself will join us for the last meeting for an intimate conversation with book club participants. If you are not able to join us for the book club meeting but would still like to be part of the conversation, a weekly summary of book club conversations will be posted on the blog for you to read. We would love for you to share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Week 1 Summary

In a predominantly white town, she slings her backpack over her shoulder, and gets off the bus.

She grabs his hand and pulls him, not toward the house, but toward the mountain.

When he looked down at their interlaced fingers, he was reminded of her desire to see the nesting bald eagles, with their white heads, white tails and brown body.

While reading this scenario, what image did you paint in your mind? Who were the characters; what did they look like? Our brains automatically fill in blanks based on our personal experience. This automatic process allows us to work efficiently rather than wasting time dwelling on details that are seemingly unimportant. But what is the cost of filling in details with our own biases without thinking twice about it?

This was a big focus of the discussion in the introductory session of our book club last week. While sharing what inspired the participants to join the conversation, there were a wide variety of answers presented. Some shared that they didn’t know much about the topic, or that there is always room to learn more. A few shared their personal accounts of feeling afraid when recreating in a public outdoor space. No matter the reason, it was obvious that the room filled with a variety of ages, genders, and races was excited to start this journey together.

One of our facilitators read the short story above line by line, giving the participants time between to take notice of the details that they were filling in automatically. At the end of the story, we were all shocked to hear how many different ways the same couple of sentences could be interpreted within a small group of people. When it became obvious that we were all envisioning a scene that was very close to our own reality, the attention quickly shifted to the cost of our subconscious. Again, what is the cost of filling in details with our biases?

A number of people in the group agreed that the cost is missed opportunity to learn and grow from stories that are different than our own. We feel safe in a narrative that we are used to, and sometimes it is a necessity to protect ourselves from stories outside of our own. However, if we feel safe enough to expand our mindset and choose to explore different perspectives than what we are used to, we will be rewarded with the ability to empathize, understand, and actively support those with a different story.

During our next session, we will be diving into the content on the Introduction and Chapters 1–3 of Black Faces, White Spaces. We would love for you to be a part of the conversation! If you are interested in joining the book club on Thursday nights at 7:00 p.m. (ET) via Zoom, please email me at ogs5011@psu.edu. Alternatively, read the book on your own or keep up with these weekly book club blogs and share your thoughts in the comment section below.