I haven’t publicly commented very much about what is currently happening in the US. And while I am fully aware that, as a white woman, my silence is part of the problem, I wanted to take the time to listen to what black voices were saying. I know I will never understand, but I wanted to do my best, and I wanted to be supportive in a way that did not detract from the black voices that deserve to be heard. Because my voice is not one of them. But inside, I am outraged. I am heartbroken. I hate that this is happening, has been happening, and I am ashamed of my country. The black community deserves so much better than this. They deserve to NOT be murdered and watch the police get away with it. George Floyd deserved better. Black lives matter. PERIOD.
Why it’s Important + What It Means for Me
I have talked before about how I grew up in a predominantly white and very conservative community. Most people didn’t seem to really think twice about the undercurrent of racism, because that’s how we were raised. I’m ashamed to say that I was a part of that. And it took me until I was in my twenties to really be aware of the everyday racism around me. And even longer to learn how to speak up. But I am glad I did. I’m glad that I decided to try and educate myself on how to be a better human, on how to be anti-racist. I’m still learning. I will forever be learning, because I can always do better. We can always do better. We need to do better.
How I Grew + Changed
One thing that made a huge difference in my life, that has really helped me understand is reading. As small as that gesture is, I have been making a conscious effort to support authors of color and read books about their experiences. Black voices matter. Black stories matter. I want to listen. I want to learn. It is not their responsibility to teach us how to treat them. But it’s our responsibility to learn as much as we can and treat them as we would want to be treated. Like human beings. That should not be so difficult.
So, today, I thought I’d share some of the books that have helped me the most in working to understand what it means to be anti-racist, and some books that are on my reading list as I continue to learn. I included both nonfiction and fiction, so hopefully you can find that works for you.
Nonfiction I Loved and Have Learned From
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer questions about race for his son. About how black people are treated in America, and what those experiences are like. I can’t say it was anything new to me, and it probably isn’t to anyone who is paying attention, but consistently encountering black voices and black stories like the ones in this book is so important. Because next time you see someone being mistreated based on their race – even if it’s in a way that is “not a big deal” (ie the everyday discrimination black Americans face) – you will be better at actually noticing it and understanding that it is happening. And noticing it leads to saying something. Which leads to change. That’s why it’s important to be anti-racist.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I loved this book. I really do appreciate when something or someone makes me think about something I hadn’t considered, especially if I was wrong to not do so. This book did that. This book made me realize that black people do not owe anyone an explanation of race or racism. Their they are not obligated to teach us how to be anti-racist. That’s not their job. It’s our job to learn. This is our responsibility. It’s not that I believed otherwise before reading this book, but the fact that I hadn’t considered this is still part of the problem.
Fiction I Loved and Have Learned From
Kindred by Octavia Butler. I read this a few months ago, and I believe my first reaction was “why the hell did no one sit me down and force me to read Octavia Butler years ago?” Because this book was so, so good. It’s the first sci-fi book written by a black woman, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. I loved how it dealt with race and combined fantasy with a fictional slave memoir/historical fiction. If you haven’t read this, add it to your TBR right now. It’s one of those books that will pull you in so much, you won’t even realize you’re learning something new because the experience is so enjoyable.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I have read a few Toni Morrison books, but this is the one that’s stuck with me the longest. It’s about a young black girl who so badly wants blue eyes, because she wants to be treated like the little girls with blue eyes. And I think that is so powerful. Reading about a little girl who resents her own skin color was hard, because no little girl should be ashamed of how she looks. This book really made me think about that in terms of race, and how racism affects children in ways that are not okay. Children are not born being ashamed of their skin color or hating and fearing others because of how they look. That behavior is taught. And it needs to stop.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We all know The Hate U Give, and I’m sure you’re familiar with how relevant it is to the Black Lives Matter movement. This is just a really powerful book about pretty much exactly what is happening now. Because, sadly, this is not the first time a black person was unjustly killed by a police officer. And I think this book gives a lot of insight into how that one act ripples through a community. This book is hard to read, not just because it is about a senseless tragedy, but because it resonates so much with what is happening in our world. This isn’t just fiction. And I am so grateful to this book for both furthering my own learning about BLM and for providing an excellent resource for young readers.
American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This is another young adult book that tackles the Black Lives Matter movement. But what this one does differently is show the same police brutality from the perspective of two teens, one white and one black. And I think that is so important, because it brings attention to how so many white people react in ways that are harmful, even if that is not their intention. It’s a huge problem. And I love how this book addresses that for a young adult audience, because once white people understand that they might have prejudices they aren’t aware of, they can do something about it. It’s something I had to do (and am honestly still working on) and I love that young people today have this book to help them.
Contemporary Black Literature
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This is such a difficult book to read. It’s about a black man wrongfully accused of rape by a white woman who was assaulted by another black man, and the repercussions for him and his wife after he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. There is no possible happy ending to this story. This story feels rooted in reality, and it made me angry. Because sure, the white woman went through something terrible, but her racial profiling destroyed a family. It really shows how harmful any degree of racism is, and I think that’s an incredibly important lesson to learn.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I am still in awe of how beautiful this book is. It is epic in scale and just gorgeously written. But it also very effectively gives a glimpse into black history. Yaa Gyasi takes two sisters – one who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana and the other who is sold into slavery – and follows their descendants for there-hundred years. Each chapter details the experiences of a different generation in a different place – warfare in Ghana and slavery and oppression in America. This book left a huge impression on me, and I loved it.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a powerful look at the black immigrant experience in America (and Nigeria). I think Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brilliant at getting to the root of the problem and addressing it. Just take a minute to think about this quote from Americanah:
“The only reason you say that race is not an issue is because you wish it was not.”
Books I’m Planning on Reading Next
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. This was actually on my planned reading list for June already. I have always loved learning about history, but I also recognize that so much of history is whitewashed. And while I understand that it won’t make a huge difference in the world, I really want to fix that in my own head. I want to be more aware of all the sides of history, not just the one written by white men. I think I will forever be working to complete that gap in my education, but I truly believe it will be worthwhile and that it will help me better understand what is wrong in order to be more effective at working towards change. Also on my to-read list: Ibram X. Kendi new book, How to Be Anti-Racist.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. I know there is probably quite a bit lacking in the list of what I’ve already read. But one gap I do want to fill is how racism plays into America’s prison system. From what I’ve seen on the news (not just recently, but for years), injustice is a huge problem. And, while I see that, I don’t think I really understand much about it. I want to learn more so that maybe, I can do something. Even if that something is just changing someone else’s mind.
If you have any books you’d like to add to this list, please include them in the comments! Let’s use this space to share black authors or stories so we can all continue learning.
Here is a great list of mental health resources related to the George Floyd protests you can donate to. Please consider doing so if you can. And if you want to purchase any of these books (or any other books by black authors – now is the time to support them), here is a list of black-owned bookstores to purchase from. I donated to the Black Visions Collective this week, and intend on spending my entire book budget for the month supporting black authors and black-owned bookstores (just waiting for my next paycheck).
Note: I have made an effort to take into account what I have been learning from the black community in writing this post. I sincerely apologize if I have misstepped in any way. If anything I’ve written in this post is in any way offensive or wrong, please feel free to correct me (though I understand it is not your job or responsibility to do so). Thank you.