By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown & Uptown News
Auhmad Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other names we learned in the last month join a long list of Black people whose lives were unfairly cut short, in many cases by the police.
In the face of this injustice, it is not enough to be “not racist.” We must strive to be anti-racist — a conscious and continued effort to oppose the racism inherent in our society and ourselves. The term “anti-racist” was coined by Dr. Ibram X Kendi, the leading intellectual on race in the U.S.
The recent police killings and protests have laid bare the structural inequalities and discrimination Black Americans face daily in this nation. While none of these issues are new, social media is filled with non-Black people discussing how they had not realized the extent of the violence inflicted on Black people today. For those who are new to this fight, here is a list of nonfiction books, memoirs, fiction novels and poetry collections that can help people learn about the lived experiences of Black people and the racism they face.
These books were all published within the last five years so many classics are missing. including those written by Angela Davis, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, many of the books use the more recent “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander as a source.
‘Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America’ by Ibram X Kendi
All of Ibram X Kendi’s books deserve to be on an anti-racist reading list, but this 2017 National Book Award winner is particularly compelling. This comprehensive book follows the trajectory of how racist ideas were created, spread and rooted in American society. Often, these ideas become the justification of policies that enslaved, segregated and discriminated against Black people.
For younger audiences, versions of Kendi’s later book “How to Be an Anti-racist” are available, including “Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You” and “Antiracist Baby.”
‘I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness’ by Austin Channing Brown
In this accessible and fast-read, Austin Channing Brown lays out how many institutions, including schools, universities and workplaces, often claim to value diversity but fall short in action. Channing Brown explains how and why racial justice efforts in white spaces fail in a series of detailed stories from her own journey of self-worth.
‘Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America’ by Michael Eric Dyson
This deeply personal call for change from Michael Eric Dyson is a short and emotional non-fiction book written with compassion. He urges people to face the ugly truths about America, including how Black grievance has been dismissed and ignored.
‘Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower’ by Brittney Cooper
Brittney Cooper delves into the topic of how the “Angry Black Woman” is a stereotype weaponized to silence Black women. She delves into issues particular to Black women using a writing style that combines her academic background colored with personal anecdotes.
‘Heavy: An American Memoir’ by Kiese Laymon
Essayist Kiese Laymon depicts the weight of secrets and lies while growing up as a Black boy in a Black family in a nation facing moral collapse. Brilliant and evocative, Laymon explores his experiences of childhood sexual violence, anorexia, fatness, sex, writing and gambling as well as his relationships with his mother and grandmother. Laymon is excellent at making the personal relevant to societal issues. “Heavy” depicts emotions from joy to shame but always with an unflinching bravery.
Novels build compassion and empathy. They can delve into difficult topics without coming across as a dry list of facts. Each of these books, some historical fiction and some modern, can help readers better understand the trauma of racism.
‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones
On its face, the book is about a love triangle that emerges after the husband in the story, Roy, is wrongfully accused of a crime. With vivid writing, Tayari Jones shows the excruciating process of relationships deteriorating because of the carceral state.
‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi
“Homegoing” follows the descendants of two daughters to an Asante woman, one who was sold into slavery in the U.S. and another who stayed on the continent. The dual histories of Black people in America and a colonized Ghana are traced through the generations in the family. The dark histories and generational trauma make the tale gripping and illuminating.
‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid
This book opens with a young Black woman being accused of kidnapping the white child she is babysitting at a grocery store. After this incident, Emira Tucker must suffer through the good intentions of the White people around her. Her new boyfriend and wealthy employer’s connection may undo them all in this book about race and privilege.
‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas
This young adult novel follows Starr after she witnesses the police murder a childhood friend. She is torn between the wealthy white private school she attends and the needs of her neighborhood. Delving into police misconduct, viral videos, protests and looting, the book is more timely than ever.
‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead
It is difficult to decide whether “Underground Railroad” or “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead is a more urgently needed book. Both are thoughtful and suspenseful historical fiction novels, although “Underground Railroad” also has an added element of magical realism. “The Nickel Boys” is based on the true story of a reform school in Florida filled with unimaginable horrors that Whitehead makes imaginable. The real life Dozier School was only closed in 2011. Its recency reminds readers that abuses of the past are not actually distant at all.
‘1919: Poems’ by Eve L. Ewing
The talented comic book writer, educator, researcher, podcast host, poet and author Eve L. Ewing is behind this collection of poems delving into the 1919 race riots in Chicago. While researching her book “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” about structural racism in the education system, she came across a document put together about the daily lives of Black people leading up to the race riot that was meant to illuminate what caused the unrest so it could be prevented in the future. The report was only a small part of her nonfiction book but Ewing utilized it in her next project, a book of poems entitled “1919.” Each poem in the collection takes a small paragraph from that report and in beautiful, textured language reimagines Black Chicagoan life in and around the race riots.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.