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Black History Month Book Club: This is My America

The UWF Libraries and Office of Equity and Inclusion have partnered on a book club selection for Black History Month. Join us to discuss every Tuesday in February.

Before Reading

1. What does the title mean to you? Complete with as many associations as possible: My America is....

2. Research the term "Prison Industrial complex" and "Mass Incarceration". Who benefits from this system? Who suffers under it? Use the links below as starting points:

3. Review the Bill of Rights. Which protected freedom is most important to you? Why?

Discussion Questions Handout

During reading

1. When the sheriff refers to Jamal as "boy," Tracy reflects, “The word boy keeps running in my head. A bitter taste flushes in my mouth, the way that word drawls out like just another slur in coded language” (p. 70). What are the connotations of the word “boy”? What does Tracy mean when she says there is a “coded language”? 

2. After Angela’s murder, the school brings in grief counselors (p. 109). Compare public and private mourning in this book. Who is most likely to be publicly mourned, and why?

3. Reflect on the chapter title “Guilty . . . Until Proven Innocent.” Discuss if the presumption of innocent until proven guilty applies equally across race and class. In what ways do Black men experience interactions with the police that might differ by race and gender?

4. Tracy thinks, “I wish I could trust [the police] automatically, but I can’t. History has a way of latching on to you. Like touching a hot stove—you only need to do it once before you know better” (p. 269). Consider what it means to touch a hot stove. Who or what is responsible for Tracy’s trauma? How do other characters in the book cope with their own trauma?

5. Why does Richard Brighton yell “gun!”? (p. 360) Who had the benefit of the doubt in this scene? In what ways might the response have been different if Jamal and Angela switched roles in the story

After reading

1. Compare the experiences of Jackson Ridges, Daddy Greg, and Tracy’s father. How do their experiences living under the prison-industrial complex affect them and their families?

2. How does each member of the Beaumont family cope with James’s incarceration? How do these differences illustrate the effects of incarceration on families?

3. How do the characters differ in the ways they ‘work for justice’. Discuss the paths each character takes:

  • The Sheriff
  • Tracy
  • Beverly
  • Mrs. Evans
  • Steven

4. Within the world of the text, what role do generational belief systems play in upholding racist ideologies?

5. The book begins, "Time runs my life" (pg.3). How do details, writing style, and structure contribute to the reader's sense of time. How does time run Tracy's life and the lives of the other characters?

6. Consider the role of media in the book. How is it helpful or harmful? Whose interests does the media serve? What are examples of media responding differently when race, gender, or class are at play?

7. Reflect on mystery books you have read or crime shows you have watched. What motivates characters to solve the mystery? Discuss Tracy’s process for gathering evidence. Why is it risky? Why is it necessary?

8. The author chose not to have Jamal text his version of events to Tracy. Why does Johnson choose to omit Jamal’s story for most of the narrative?

9. Tracy says about Jamal, “He’s everything on the outside I wish to be” (p. 3). By the end of the book, does Tracy still believe this?

10. Tracy quotes Dr. King in one of her letters to Innocence X. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Do you agree with Dr. King’s vision? Is Johnson’s ending hopeful?

11. What effect do Tracy’s letters to Innocence X have on the text? How does the epistolary form enhance your reading and understanding of Tracy’s story?

12. What are some of the injustices in this text, how do they have a ripple effect on the other characters, and how can we as a society work to change these injustices?

13. How does johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?

14. What was your favorite part of the book? Which scene has stuck with you the most?

15. What was your least favorite?

16. What did you think of the writing? Are there any standout sentences?

17. Did reading the book impact your mood? If yes, how so?

18. What surprised you most about the book?

19. How did your opinion of the book change as you read it?

20. If you could ask the author anything, what would it be?

21. Are there lingering questions from the book you're still thinking about?