It may not be Black history month, but the nation (and the world) are in the midst of yet another wave of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of you might question why we’re still here, some of you might not fully understand the movement, so take this time to educate yourselves using the words and wisdom of black authors before us.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
This classic by Zora Neale Hurston is actually considered a novel of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Written in 1937 and in dialect (meaning, you’ll read it best if you read and sound it out loud), this tells the story of Janie Crawford, a black woman in her 40s who recounts her life growing up in central and southern Florida. Themes of sexuality and gender roles are pervasive, but most notably, scholars point out similarities between cultural practices in the book and those in places such as Africa or the Caribbean.
The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison is both a Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Prize winner for works that have addressed racism in the United States point blank. Truthfully, I suggest trying to read every single piece Toni Morrison has ever written, but if you need to start somewhere, start with The Bluest Eye. This tells the story of Pecola, a black woman growing up in the Great Depression. In short, the story overarches Penola’s inferiority complex, which is built up over years of being called ugly for being dark skinned, and shows her unwavering desire to have blue eyes, something she equates with witness and beauty. The novel is extremely raw, and instances of rape and child molestation are not played down, so take this into consideration prior to reading.
The New Jim Crow
This is not an endearing story with a protagonist you root for – rather, it tells the story of how United States legislature and laws are systematically put in place to keep black people down. It goes step by step from the abolition of slavery, to Jim Crowe era, to Civil Rights, to the crack epidemic, and makes it crystal clear why people of color do not have the same opportunities, even though in today’s day in age, many think they do. If you, or someone in your life needs a real wakeup call, this is it my friends. The author, Michelle Alexander, is also featured in Ava Duvaney’s Netflix documentary “13th.”
An American Marriage
This novel by Tayari Jones tells the story of Roy and Celestial, a newlywed black couple in the South. When the two take a trip to Louisiana to visit Roy’s parents, the two argue in their motel room and Roy takes a 15 minute walk. In that walk, he meets a young woman who later, falsely accuses him of rape. The story follows the turmoil caused by racially based false accusations all the way through conviction, jail time, and even his release.
Chimianada Ngozi Adichie is an acclaimed Nigerian writer. She is famous for penning We Should All Be Feminists, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Purple Hibiscus to name a few. Americanah, while semi-autobiographical to Adichie herself, tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian student who flees to the United States when her country comes under military dictatorship. In moving to America, Ifemelu experiences racism for the first time, and the novel then follows her as she discovers what it means to be black in America. She begins to blog about her experience under the title, “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks by a Non-American Black,” and it does a fantastic job of pointing out problems and thought processes particular to the United States.
Citizen: An American Lyric
This is not a regular novel, instead, it’s a book-length poem that paints a portrait of racial relations in the United States. The cover alone is provocative, showing an empty hoodie, synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a New York Times Bestseller in 2015 and won a handful of awards since. It details micro aggressions, the United States response to Trayvon Martin, and even the backlash athletes like Serena Williams receives regularly for simply existing as a black woman.
This list can’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the black authors we should be supporting, but it’s a great place to start. Start reading, start sharing, and start researching more books you want to read on the matter.