Social Justice Book Club: Men We Reaped -- Midway Discussion

So we're halfway through Men We Reaped, and (as suspected) this is some powerfully heavy reading. But important, intriguing, and so far exceptionally compelling--I read this section in just about one sitting (and only partially because I was so far behind in my own schedule...). I'm particularly interested in Ward's decision to move forward and backwards in time, depending on the subject of each chapter, and I'm eagerly anticipating the moment when these two timelines intersect (which, based on her introduction to the book, I expect to coincide with her account of her brother's death). Some things to consider in discussing this book at the halfway-ish point:

1) In the very first pages of her book, Ward calls this her "rotten fucking story." Did this change how you approached the chapters to come in any way?

I can say that for me, this framing of her story really braced me for what was to come. I expected the stories of Men We Reaped to be heavy and to be hard and to be burdensome, as I knew the subject going in, but this opening made me realize that in addition to all of those things, these stories are deeply, deeply personal to Ward.

2) When she lists the names and dates of the black men in her life who died in the four years between 2000 and 2004, Ward writes, "That's a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it's a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time." She then goes on to wonder "why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief. I decide this is not right, that I must give voice to this story." I've read a lot about voice and the importance of voice lately, so I'm curious what others think of the importance of voicing the horrors of this story, these losses.

Is it a cop out to not answer my own questions? For me, and seemingly for Ward, writing is a way to work through my own thoughts, beliefs, biases, expectations, and understandings; I expect that much of the writing here is Ward's own working through what she has experienced, which she states she hopes will help her to better understand this "epidemic." I also appreciate how difficult speaking up and speaking out can be, while simultaneously recognizing the importance of owning one's voice. If anything, I respect Ward's bravery and honesty in her writing, and her willingness to be vulnerable on the page in a way that makes these stories and these realities all the more impactful for me, a distanced (East-Coast, white, privileged) reader.

3) What do you make of the two timelines in Men We Reaped? To what effect do you anticipate--or perhaps hope?--Ward will use these inverse chronologies?

I've yet to read a memoir that follows this structure, so color me intrigued. It's reminiscent of the old Off-Broadway play, The Last Five Years, in many ways, and I'm hopeful that the intersection of the two timelines will give us as readers the full context of the place and time in which the deaths particular to Ward's experience begin, while also allowing us to see them as part of a pattern, rather than a series of random happenstances.

4) The idea of gender is woven throughout Ward's memoir, but particularly in reflecting the unique freedoms--and risk of lack of freedoms--of the black men in her life (as compared to the black women in her life, herself included). How do the men and women in Ward's stories subscribe to (or not) these gender expectations, and how do you think that influences their experiences?

I was really struck by Ward's analysis of her father's--and other mens'--infidelities as a way of exerting power and freedom in a world that afforded him neither. Most impressively, Ward's exploration of her father's failure to remain true to his wife never feels explained away or excused, but rather simply accepted as what it is--not least of which, as a motivating factor in the hardening and sharpening of the women in Ward's family. And though Ward's brother was raised decades before police brutality and murders became horrifically common headlines, the fact that her brother was held to a different standard, in large part due to his parents' fear for his safety and his life, rang all too true. One of the things that moved this book higher to the top of my must-read list was a mention of Ward's work in tandem with Between the World and Me, which admittedly takes a particularly male view of what it is to live as a black male in the United States today. As such, I'm all the more appreciative of the fact that Ward's memoir speaks to the experience of black women in the wake of black male deaths.

5) Ward frames her story with a hope: "I'll understand a bit better why this epidemic happened, about how the history of racism and economic inequality and lapsed public and personal responsibility festered and turned sour and spread here." Based on the first several chapters, do you think her exploration of these deaths will get her where she hopes to go? Or are these kinds of events impossible to ever truly understand?

I am totally and completely undecided on this one myself, but I remain hopeful that Ward's writing will bring her--and therefore us, as readers--along to some understanding, even if it be a harsh or cruel one.


So let's chat: What are ya'll thinking of this book so far? What do you make of Ward's style and approach to her topic? What are you anticipating in the second half of the book?


If you'd like to share answers and thoughts on your own blog, website, etc., feel free to link up here so others can see your discussions! Or comment below and we'll get chatting.


As a reminder, I'm always taking input and suggestions to strengthen and improve the club moving forward! That includes submitting discussion questions at any point throughout a reading, so if you've got something you'd like to see discussed, shoot me an email at ofabookworm AT gmail DOT com or comment below!

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