British author Malorie Blackman once said, “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” Racism dehumanizes people and flattens them into a handful of stereotypes. One way that communities have fought against it has been through stories.
COVID-19 and the rise of anti-Asian racism gave our Asian community a taste of the fear of being attacked for our appearance. But this is a fear the Black community has lived with long before the pandemic at a scale much worse. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Trayvon Martin. Rodney King. The list of names goes on.
Here are some books that I have read by Black authors that may grant you a new perspective and understanding on race from a community outside of your own. They cover a range of genres and topics because life is more than a sum of difficulties. It isn’t an honest picture to just read books about Black trauma; we must also read books that celebrate joy, friendship, and love.
In support of the #BlackoutBestsellerList campaign, we challenge you to buy two books by Black authors from now to June 20 to amplify Black voices and push them right to the top of bestseller lists.
HOMEGOING, YAA GYASI
This collection of short stories traces the bloodline from two half sisters separated by slavery. One sister’s lineage grows up in Ghana while another grows up in America. Starting in the 18th century and going eight generations down, Gyasi efficiently gives readers glimpses of African American history as well as Ghanian history.
Here is Gyasi speaking on how working through her Ghanian American identity led to the book.
KINDRED, OCTAVIA BUTLER
What happens if you have to save your ancestor? One day, Dana, a Black woman living in the 1970’s, suddenly time travels to a Maryland plantation in the 19th century. She was summoned to save the son of the plantation owner, who she later learns is one of her ancestors. Dana continues to zip between the time periods and as the stakes rise in ensuring her future existence, life on the plantation becomes increasingly dangerous. By using science fiction, Butler changes how readers think of slavery and its legacy.
CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, TOMI ADEYAMI
This groundbreaking book introduces readers to a lush world of magic inspired by African mythology. Magic used to thrive in Orisha, until the monarchy ruthlessly wipes out most of the magician, or maji, community. The remaining maji live as second class citizens. Main character Zelie, one of the few maji left, teams up with unexpected allies to bring magic back. But this is more than just an adventure book; as Adeyami states, it’s an allegory of the Black experience.
Here’s a clip of her on Jimmy Fallon speaking about the inspiration and heart behind the book.
SLAY, BRITTNEY MORRIS
What is a safe space? Kiera, a high school student, creates a SLAY, a virtual reality world for Black gamers that celebrates Black culture and diaspora. When a player is killed over a dispute in the game, the game suddenly becomes labeled by the media as an exclusive space that breeds violence. Worse, a troll in the game threatens to sue SLAY for being anti-white. Kiera and her friends fight to keep the game alive.
IN TODAY’S DAY AND AGE
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, NICHOLA YOON
This dreamy romance book doesn’t shy away from the realities of interracial dating, specifically between a Jamaican American girl and a Korean American boy. Natasha is hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel wants to run away from the life his parents chose for him. The book describes the span of a day when their paths cross. It juggles multiple perspectives and weaves a story that shows the factors of falling in love and the context of it.
THE HATE U GIVE, ANGIE THOMAS
Lauded as a clear voice on police brutality, turned into a movie, and regularly banned from schools, this book is a must read. Starr lives a double life, as a student in a majority white prep school and also as a member of the Garden Heights community, a poorer neighborhood. One evening, she witnesses the police kill her unarmed friend. As the media and her school start writing stories over her friend’s life, Starr must choose the role she’ll play; does she use her voice, or stay safe?
CITIZEN, CLAUDIA RANKINE
This book is written all in second person, or with “you” as the subject, making it all the more powerful and unsettling. Rankine sets the audience as a Black woman interacting with the world. She moves the reader through everyday events as well as reflections on Serena Williams, stereotypes of the Black community, and police brutality.
THE POET X, ELIZABETH ACEVEDO
Xiomara is an unlikely poet; she’s more used to using her fists to keep strangers away. She puts her simmering thoughts in the safety of her notebook, where she freely writes about her frustration with the church, people reacting to her body, and a cute boy in her biology class. One day she’s invited to join her school’s slam poetry club and suddenly there’s a possibility of performing her poetry, if she’ll be brave.
This book is written in verse, or poetry, and creates for a different reading experience without compromise in character, emotion, or narrative arc. Here is the author, who is also a slam poetry winner, explain the book and perform samples from the book.
NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF: A MEMOIR, KWAME ONWUACHI
At 27, Kwame Onwuachi had all eyes on him as he opened, then failed, on one of the most anticipated restaurants. From being told that his food wasn’t “Southern enough” to facing prejudice in fine dining to creating dishes pulling from his Nigerian and Southern background, this memoir traces the chef’s turbulent journey as well as his unusual childhood (read: being sent to Nigeria by his mother to learn respect). As a bonus, each chapter ends with a recipe.
Here is Onwuachi on The Daily Show, talking with Trevor Noah about his memoir.
THE NEW JIM CROW, MICHELLE ALEXANDER
Lauded as one of the “most influential books of the last 20 years”, The New Jim Crow was one of the first books to bring America’s mass incarceration to the public’s attention. Alexander takes her readers through a deep dive in America’s history that led to the current atrocity that is the prison system. Since its publication a decade ago, it remains relevant and firm in its call for justice.
Highly recommended anti-racism books:
- So You Want to Talk About Race? Ijeomo Oluo
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- How To Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
Anti-racism library curated by Lean In, including books, articles, podcasts, shows.
This is merely a starting list. I encourage you to regularly put Black authors into your reading intake, along with books by the Latinx, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and LGBTQ communities. Diversify your reading intake and keep the momentum.
Featured image from Jane Mount on Instagram.
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