“Because We’ve Read”: How Hoda Katebi’s Viral Interview Sparked A Global Reading Movement

When a controversial local TV interview went viral (with 10 million views and counting) Iranian-American political fashion blogger Hoda Katebi received a ton of attention, both good and bad. Katebi used it to start a virtual book club #BecauseWeveRead, which kicked off in April.

Who is Hoda Katebi?

In Febraury, Katebi went on air on the local Chicago network WGN-TV to discuss her new book Tehran Streetstyle, her fashion website JooJoo Azad and her design collective for immigrants in Chicago. The interview dipped into uncharted waters when host Larry Potash asked Katebi, who is also Muslim and wears a headscarf, about the Iranian Revolution, nuclear weapons and the perception that Iran could not be trusted. Katebi – a University of Chicago graduate who studied the intersections of Middle Eastern politics, fashion, and resistance – seemed taken aback, but responded by explaining her take on the American “legacy of imperialism and colonisation in the Middle East”. The other host Robin Baumgarten then said to Katebi: “A lot of Americans might take offense to that. You’re an American, you don’t sound like an American when you say [that]. You know what I mean?” Katebi replied, “That’s because I’ve read.” And the internet went viral, sparking online conversations about the double-standards and microaggressions Muslim women face in the US.

Katebi said in the interview that it’s important to “look beyond these simple narratives that we’re told, whether it’s about Muslim women or the legacy of the country knowing that this country was literally built on the backs of Black slaves and after the genocide of indigenous people.”

What is the Radical Reading Club?

Since the fateful interview, Katebi said on her blog that she’d been flooded with questions about what she read/s. She didn’t think it would be fair if she just responded with a list of dense, complicated, and inaccessible books that she had the privilege of reading and discussing with friends, in classrooms, and community spaces, Katebi said. Instead, Katebi decided that JooJoo Azad would host a virtual, radical reading club under the hashtag #BecauseWeveRead. The book club launched in April and is now in it’s second month.

“Rather than just publishing a reading list, I wanted to help guide the conversation, serve as a resource for conversation and critical thinking, and have conversations that would make the books easier to understand and more engaging with people from varied perspectives from around the world,” she said.

With this book club, Katebi wants to raise collective awareness and understanding of politics, race, gender, class, religion, culture, history, colonialism, etc in ways that disrupt normative narratives; to uplift and celebrate stories of those whose identities are marginalised and are systematically silenced; to allow us to think differently about ourselves and the world.

How does the book club work?

On the first week of every month, JooJoo Azad announces a new book on the website and social media. It will include complementary information and resources to enrich the reading, and allow people who don’t like reading (or don’t have the capacity or ability to read a particular level of English) or have already read the book to still engage in the conversation. April’s book was Assata Shakur’s autobiography Assata: An Autobiography, and this month’s book is Frantz Fanon’s Black Skins White Masks.

“There is nothing radical about a book club that is inaccessible,” Katebi said. Addressing accessibility, JooJoo Azad will host giveaways on social media for several copies of the book and send copies to community organisations with financial need, and save copies for those who request a free copy due to financial constraints. It will also try to work with publishers to share a digital version of the book, and collaborate with book publishers and bookstores worldwide to provide discounts on each month’s book.

At the end of each month, Katebi will have a discussion on Instagram live with a different guest (last month was Black, queer, femme artist and educator Benji Hart) so that readers can join in on the conversation. Readers can also follow conversations under the hashtag #BecauseWeveRead across social media platforms.

Katebi also encourages readers across the world to meet-up and discuss the book together. To help facilitate it, JooJoo Azad is teaming up with friends in cities around the world to host monthly discussion groups or events related to the theme of the book. A list of the locations will be updated at the beginning of each month on the website when the new book is announced. So far, there are discussion groups in various countries including Nigeria, Turkey, Iran and in various cities in the US.

Featured image via Instagram