Given the current state of the world, it is more important than ever that we are united as human beings. Divisive issues should serve to remind us that we have much more in common than things that divide us. In standing with out black community, each of our bloggers and editors selected a novel they loved by black, indigenous, or POC authors. We hope this list serves as a reminder to spread love to your fellow man, and adds some new reading material from a wide variety of voices in our community!
Editor-In-Chief Mackenzie King
Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, is about a family who lives in the South Side of Chicago as they await the arrival of a life insurance check. It explores how each family member copes with their disillusionment of the American Dream while, at the same time, trying to improve their lives. The play helps to understand the limited opportunities that this family has and how the world around them is intent on keeping it that way. It is a powerful story, and very well written and illuminating. The characters are complex and their motivations are each different and shaped by how they have been treated by a systemically racist society up to this point. It is painful to read at times—and that makes it all the more important to do so.
Communications Coordinator Roxanne Bingham
Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a black girl who lives in a predominantly white school. At a young age, she has to learn to navigate the two different worlds. She has always felt out of place in her school and knows she isn’t treated like everyone else. Her life is turned upside down when her childhood friend, Khalil, gets shot by a police officer at a party. This events causes her to re-think what she knows about the people in her life, and she realizes that her white friends don’t understand what she is forced to experience. When she goes to talk to the police, they are more concerned with Khalil’s character than with the events that took place. Starr is faced with a great injustice that should never have been present in society. She chases justice for her friend and learns the importance of a single voice.
This novel is extremely important as it mirrors current events and issues present in our society. A lot of districts have banned this book based on its language and graphic content, so it is important that people—especially students—have access to it. The message it conveys is very much applicable to current society, and everyone should hear it.
Managing Editor Jade Stanton
Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea is set in 2002, following the events of 9/11, and tells the story of Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl navigating high school. In addition to the typical struggles high-schoolers face, Shirin is regularly subjected to xenophobia, judgement, and stereotyping. Overwhelmed by these ever-present reminders of the dark side of humanity, Shirin has learned to build walls and block out the constant stream of negative attention she receives. Everything changes, though, when she meets Ocean—her lab partner who, impossibly, seems genuinely interested in getting to know her for who she really is. Shirin is caught trying to mix two seemingly irreconcilable worlds and worries about subjecting Ocean to the horrors she witnesses daily. Mafi’s semi-autobiographical novel sheds light on an often ignored perspective and paints in saddening detail the racism present in our world today.
Staff Writer Sharon Enck
Set in the deep South, The Color Purple by Alice Walker centers around a young black girl named Celie. Born into segregation, poverty, and extreme abuse, the story follows Celie in her quest to rejoin her sister, Nettie, escape the bonds of a dehumanizing marriage, and find herself. As uplifting as it is graphic in its description of Celie’s horrors, The Color Purple is an important piece of fiction. It was the first book, outside of school, that introduced me to the atrocities of being black in America. Its graphic descriptions of the mental and physical abuse, and the humiliation that Celie endured were jarring. At the time, I could have never imagined that kind of pain and suffering, and it opened my young eyes to the obstacles that people of color deal with every single day.
Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal
Roma Tearne’s Brixton Beach is about nine-year-old Alice Fonseka, daughter of a Tamil father and Singhalese mother, who moves to Britain from Sri Lanka, the picturesque island that is fast being engulfed by the fires of a civil war in the ’70s. She leaves behind her mother’s family and her childhood friends, memories of the deep blue ocean imprinted on her mind forever. Exposed to racial violence from a young age thanks to the growing rift between the Tamil and Singhalese communities in Sri Lanka at the time, Alice faces a new form of hatred on the ship to England when she’s called a savage for wanting to eat with her hands. Alice’s mother fails to adjust to her strange new life in Britain, and it takes a toll on her marriage. As with most first-generation immigrant children, Alice Fonseka has to strive to find her racial identity, a struggle that is reflected later in her work as an artist and sculptor. She draws from the vivid memories of her childhood, picking rocks and shells on the beach beside her grandparents’ house. Brixton Beach is a saga of a family that was torn apart by civil unrest and migration. It paints the image of all the feelings that generations of immigrants have felt, and of how far social acceptance of people of color has progressed over the turn of the century.
Following the horrific death of George Floyd, many of us are wondering what we can do to help. From protesting to signing petitions, and from contacting our representatives to donating, there are a lot of things that we can do to dismantle racism in our communities. Another essential thing that we can do from home is to educate ourselves—we can learn about the systemic racism and structures of oppression, and we can address our own privileges and complicity. There are many, many resources on this topic, so it can seem overwhelming, but these nine books are a place to start.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”—Zora Neale Hurston. Though Hurston is typically known for her fiction, this work of nonfiction is equally brilliant. She interviewed the last person alive who had been transported from Africa along the Middle Passage and sold into slavery. This work illustrates the tragedy of slavery as well as its lifelong impact and its lasting legacy. The story is both incredible and immensely impactful and is crucial for understanding America’s abhorrent past.
How to be an Antiracist—Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi brilliantly weaves together his own personal experiences with history, morality, science, and so much more in this book. He guides the reader to a deeper understanding of racism and its consequences, and leads them through a series of anti-racist ideas. It also provides the information about how to go beyond simply learning about racism and towards eliminating systemic racism in our society. It is a must-read book when it comes to anti-racism.
Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race—Derald Wing Sue. This book in particular is about how to handle racism in day-to-day life. The author delineates how to have difficult and meaningful conversations about race. He insists that we need to drive through the resistance facing these conversations because remaining silent is being complicit. Derald Wing Sue gives realistic examples and his advice will stick with the reader and aid them in helping to produce an anti-racist society.
A Black Women’s History of the United States—Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. Just as the history of black people is glossed over, the history of black women in particular is often outright ignored. This wonderful book centers on the stories of black women and their successes, despite their existing in a racist and patriarchal culture. Berry and Gross tell the history of many different types of women, from slaves to artists and activists. The authors present a complex and nuanced portrait, full of richness and detail. Understanding the history of oppression of black women will help create a fuller picture of the scope of racism in the U.S.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide—Carol Anderson. Following the 2014 riots in Ferguson as a result of Michael Brown’s death, many were critiquing the outpour of “black rage.” This is what inspired this book, in which Anderson responds to the idea of “black rage,” posing instead the idea of “white rage”—the response to major advances in civil rights, which frequently results in violence, backlash, and attempts to repeal the progress towards equality. Anderson examines important events in history to illustrate this concept, and it is particularly timely during this new time of protest after the death of George Floyd.
Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism—bell hooks. Of course, this list would not be sufficient without anything by bell hooks on it. The author examines the intersections of race, gender, and class in this critical piece of feminist history. In particular, it examines the effects of racism and sexism on black women in contrast to white society. Additionally, hooks examines how feminism has ignored BIPOC women and women of lower socioeconomic statuses and the effects of doing so. Ain’t I a Woman? is critically acclaimed and necessary to read.
The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther—Jeffrey Haas. This book is about the murder of a young, prominent leader within the Black Panthers. The lengths that the FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover, and the Police Department went in order to obscure how they murdered Hampton and to portray the Black Panthers as violent extremists is horrifying. This assassination was wildly influential in shaping how we view protests to this day, so reading this book will help to combat our unconscious assumptions.
Black Marxism: The Making of a Black Radical Tradition—Cedric J. Robinson. In this work, Robinson criticizes the inadequacies of the Marxist lens in understanding the history of black people. He also analyzes the development of black radicalism through lenses that are more appropriate, because they better take into account cultural and historical contexts. It is more academic than some of the other books on this list, but it is equally important.
The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics—George Lipsitz. This book addresses the history of the category of whiteness and its cultural significance. He discusses how whiteness has been used to ensure dominance—both socially and economically—as well as how our society encourages people to invest in whiteness in order to maintain their status. Though it was originally written over 20 years ago, Lipsitz has updated it to include more recent statistics and topics, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to Trayvon Martin. He also includes his potent analyses of domestic terrorism and ethnonationalism and their causes, making it just as relevant today as it was in 1998.