In light of current events, I am ashamed that I have so much work to do to understand the history and prevalence of racism, both in this country and worldwide. I was blind to the injustice that was alive and surrounding so many members of our communities, and books are my first port of call to change this.
There seems to have been an influx of book lists and recommendations on social media recently. This is a positive thing, but it is only positive if people act upon these suggestions. Time and time again I have seen posts that remind people not to buy these books and then allow them to collect dust on their shelves. Equally, there is little point in buying one book, reading it, and then going back to your habits of reading predominantly white authors. Writers from the BAME community should have their work supported and enjoyed everywhere, and that means committing to reading a range of voices throughout your life, not just while Black Lives Matter is trending on Twitter.
I have compiled a list of five books by black authors that are a good place to start on the road to both educating yourself, and to changing your reading patters to allow for authors from marginalised groups. This list is by no means exhaustive, but everyone needs somewhere to start.
To understand slavery directly through fiction, this book is vital. It tells of a woman whose life has been shaped by a slave master Corregidora, the father to both her mother and her grandmother. It deals with the impact that slavery has on people in society today, and integrates into this the concepts of womanhood and love. For many readers embarking upon educating themselves about the history of slavery, it shows that even if slavery has ended, the psychological effects of it has not, and neither has its legacy on how society perceives and treats minority groups.
Nic Stone introduces us to an eleven year old boy who is embarking on a road trip with his grandma. It is the setting of this adventure that is important, as its backdrop is the American South and the history of segregation that defines it. Finding out about how boys just like him were treated, when black people were thought of being not worthy enough to share the same public areas and institutions as white people, the reader will learn a lot about the history of racism alongside this young boy.
I recently saw a tweet from Tayari Jones that said her books are not about racism, but that her characters are largely influenced by it. This really initiated my thinking on why we expect black authors to only want to write about discrimination and race; this in itself is unjust. Jones told the Irish times that “class and privilege are so important in black life”, but that this goes unnoticed. This third book reveals a concept, bigamy, and centres a narrative around this. It is not a book specifically about race, but is about a range of themes: family, class, friendship. Racial undertones gently undercut all of these, and the book is an important insight into the effects that race can have on these other important concepts, which authors from the BAME community also largely value in their range of works.
This is another book which focuses on sisters who live different lives. One sister lives in a southern town of America with her black daughter, the place where she grew up; the other lives with a white husband who knows nothing of her upbringing in a black community. This book questions what people do with their origins, do they embrace who they are, or is it easier to pretend that they are someone different? In trying to understand about how racism has shaped identities, this book by Brit Bennett is a helpful read.
This book consists of fourteen essays, written by “women and non-binary people of colour”. Non-fiction is an important tool to understanding the motivations behind activist groups and those trying to entice change. This particular work sees writers advising their younger selves on how they should negotiate the world, and how they should interpret their lives as they grow up. It gives authentic insight into what growing up in a marginalised group feels like, and in order to help promote change, I think that the level of compassion that learning about people’s experiences promotes is necessary.
Whether you pick up a non-fiction or a fiction book, allow it to educate you. That means entering into the narrative with an open mind, one where you can expect to feel slightly uncomfortable. It is okay to admit now that you are not educated enough in regards to racism, but it is only okay if you want to change that. If you have the motivation to improve your knowledge, then these books and books alike them can be a step to society initiating change, change for those who deserve equality and respect.
Words by Sophie Wilson
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash