How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community mixes anthropology and social justice activism to encourage the reader to examine what they really want their “community” to look like. Author Mia Birdsong shares stories from her network/community and from the many people she’s met through her work that highlight the many ways that people can experience family, intimate relationships, and any type of community you could need to get through this thing called life. The prevailing theme is pushing away the American Dream — which centers success on individualism — and embracing other people to be bigger players in our lives. If you’ve felt a disconnect and long to strengthen existing relationships or create new ones, this is an absolute read to learn of a multitude of ways people are living their lives that deviate from the American norm.
This is the paragraph I am utilizing to gush: I am pretty obsessed with this book. In a time of girl bossing and saturation of self care, it was incredibly refreshing to read about ways to build intentional deep connection. Especially as a straight white woman, it was enlightening to read stories from predominantly queer women and non-binary people of color. Even beyond that, the entire concept of building strong community in order to support people during their lows, along with the concept that true safety is one’s needs being met, are essentially my political beliefs, so this book is really a personal manifesto on all fronts for me.
Even as a book that highlighted stories of people who were negatively impacted by various systems in this country, the message was an overall positive one, mostly because it is a book that proposes changes that circumvent unfair systems. Much of the book is about people who created the lives they needed in order to survive because the resources weren’t being given to them. The first chapter talks directly about how the American Dream and nuclear family doesn’t necessarily fit all of our needs, and trying to live up to that ideal is further disconnecting us. In the epilogue, Birdsong opines about the tough time this country saw during the Trump Administration and how easy it is to be bitter. And this was written before COVID! But she ends the thought with something I’ve thought many times as well, “And yet I ultimately always circle back to hope, because shit, what else is there? If we give up, we definitely lose. Trying is the only option.”
The book at times feels a little disjointed, like a compilation of vignettes under a chapter title rather than an arced narrative. I didn’t always get something out of all of the stories, but it was good to be exposed to stories from so many backgrounds and situations. I loved the book as a whole so much that it clearly didn’t annoy me that much, I just lost track of the chapter topic a few times because I wasn’t entirely sure what a story was about thematically.
Again, I cannot recommend this book enough. Buy it to support a Black female author. Buy it from a local bookstore to help the local economy (that’s where I got mine!). Or ask your library to get it so then more people can access it and read it. Seriously I need my fellow lefty intersectional feminists who already suspected that individualism was a crock to read this immediately. The rest of this review would turn into me quoting the book incessantly so I hope I have enticed you enough.