What Do We Really Know?: Reflections on the Antiracist Book Festival


“I circled right…back to the questions that science does not ask, not because they aren’t important, but because science as a way of knowing is too narrow for the task.”

Throughout April my reading has challenged my “ways of knowing” and my implicit hierarchical biases to these ways of knowing.  The legacy of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization and the values of the enlightenment have all conspired to make me believe the only “true” way of knowing is through the scientific method and academic rigors created and maintained in the powerful and elite communities of this culture.  

In many ways, this remains so deeply indoctrinated in me that I struggle to even type up these sentences, yet over these last few years and more poignantly this last month as I consumed books for the 2022 Antiracist Book Fest and then attended a variety of sessions with a diverse set of author’s, the message has become loud, clear and inescapable that there are many ways of knowing and all ways of knowing bear value. It is in the integration of all ways of knowing that make for a complex, textured and interesting experience and knowledge of the world.  

The quote above comes from Robin Wall Kimmer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants pg. 44-45. I read this book for the second time in April and find it is anchoring me in my continued process to unlearn my internal hierarchy for “the ways of knowing.”  Though not a book specifically from the 2022 Antiracist Book Fest, Braiding Sweetgrass paralleled the values and the assertions of both the fiction and non-fiction I read for this year’s festival.

Throughout the Antiracist Book Fest sessions, there were a number of times that “ways of knowing” and the cultural judgment of that knowing were highlighted and critiqued as the only viable metric.  In On Black and Brown Girls the authors shared stories and testimonies to the wisdom black and brown girls offer to the world through their lived experience. Too often young girls and especially young girls of color have a lived experience that is simply not valued by those in authority or by society itself. As argued during this conversation, it is time to democratize knowledge and not only remember for ourselves but teach our young people that lived experience is a viable way of knowing.

During On Feminism the authors also discussed the dichotomy of knowing between academia and “the streets.” They critiqued how the academic world often claims the “creation” of feminism, when feminism is a embodied lived experience.  Feminism occurs when women help each other because they “know,” without details or clarity, that another woman needs a leg up, a recommendation, extra child care, and said need is met. The academy and the lived experience inform each other and live in relationship to each other, but the academic knowledge will never outrank the lived experience no matter how many books are written or read about feminism.  

In less specific ways the sessions On Indigenous Justice, On (Un)documented Truths and On 1619 also supported a shift in the value judgments around ”ways of knowing” and who has the power and the privilege of story.  Western white patriarchy has valued the narratives, scientific and academic knowledge of white men above and beyond all other knowledges and thus silenced, side-lined or outright eradicated the voice, knowledge, wisdom and lived experiences of all other cultures, genders and perspectives. It has been to the detriment to the whole and in reclaiming these stories and ways of knowing, in sharing the lived experiences of immigrants, indigenous peoples, and those who were enslaved by this country provide a liberation for all of us. In valuing all ways of knowing and working to integrate them within ourselves and society, we open our knowing, our understanding, our world to a fuller, richer and more honest way of being in relationship to our own spirits, each other and all of creation.

We have work to do as individuals and as a society to liberate our minds, institutions and systems of education that have indoctrinated a hierarchy of knowing and in so doing we can live into an expansion of collective imagination that offers new was of knowing and new ways of being.

Happy Reading!
Hannah