It’s time to step up and do the work to eradicate racism. That’s an abrupt start to a blog post, but it’s also the truth and one that we shouldn’t ignore any longer. Over the past week, protests have erupted all over the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping any time soon – and with good reason. Black people have been faced with racism every day for centuries and they are tired of it. Of course they are. It’s a gross injustice and it’s taking human lives. This isn’t a political issue – it’s a human rights issue, and we need to stop looking away and face it. We live in a world with systemic racism, where Black people (and people of colour in general) face microaggressions every single day. Racism is a system created by white people, so it will need to be dismantled by white people as well. Let’s stand up, and get to work (follow this link to find out how you can help).
That was my little speech. Now, let’s get down to specifics of this post: we need to educate ourselves. A lot of people (myself included) have been too ignorant about racism for a long time, and in order to be able to help, we need to learn. Part of that is reading books by Black authors, both fiction and non-fiction. Fiction can teach us empathy and it can create understanding, which is extremely important. On the other hand, non-fiction faces us with our history and everything that’s going on in the world in concrete terms. Let’s educate ourselves and read books by Black authors. Not just the ones that tell us about pain and trauma, but also the ones about joy and happiness. We need to learn, and this is a good way to do it. Plus, by reading more Black authors, we’re giving off a sign to the publishing industry that books by Black authors are wanted and cherished.
10 books by Black authors to read right now
While putting together this list, I realised that I can do much better myself as well: I need to read more books by Black authors too. Luckily, there are tons of other people out there making lists of books by Black authors, so I’ve found many books to add to my TBR already. I recommend checking out these two lists by Chapters of May and Electric Lit, too. If you’re looking for more non-fiction resources, including articles, films and podcasts, you can check out this list!
1. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (2017)
Let’s start with the most obvious one first given the current situation. If you’re a fan of YA and haven’t read this yet: what are you doing? This novel tells the story of Starr, a Black girl who sees her best friend be murdered by the police right in front of her eyes. It deals with the aftermath of this traumatic and terrible event, as Starr struggles with what happened while having to see her friend be talked about all over the media. At the same time, it’s also a story about Starr as a teenage girl, and her loving family. This book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and it’s extremely important. I’m happy to say that it’s a bestseller and has sold millions of copies.
2. Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid (2019)
In Such a Fun Age, our 25-year-old Black protagonist Emira works as a babysitter for a white family, caring for three-year-old Briar. The story kicks off when Emira is apprehended by a security guard in a grocery store because he thinks she has kidnapped Briar. The book deals with racism and white privilege and it’s a very eye-opening read. I learned a lot from it in terms of unintentional racism (remember: impact is more important than intent). Plus, the writing is phenomenal. I can’t wait to read more by this debut author.
3. A Different Drummer – William Melvin Kelley (1962)
I read this book last month, and it’s the best book I’ve read in a long time (read my full review here). It is a literary masterpiece: stylistically brilliant and a story that takes on epic proportions. On a random day in 1957, in a fictional state in the deep south of the USA, the entire Black population decides to leave. They pack their things and leave the state, fed up with its racist history and the way they are being treated by the white population. The story is told through the perspective of this white population that is left behind and it is so incredibly powerful. William Melvin Kelley was described as ‘the lost giant of American literature’. Why was he forgotten? Let’s just say it: it was most likely because of racism. Go read this book!
4. Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann (2018)
June is also pride month, so I want to add at least one LGBTQIA+ book to this list. Alice is a Black, biromantic, asexual girl in college and she is done with dating after her girlfriend breaks up with her for being asexual. But then Takumi becomes her new co-worker at the library she works at, and she can’t stop thinking about him. This novel explores asexuality in such a wonderful way and I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. I’d highly recommend picking it up!
5. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé – Morgan Parker (2017)
Let’s throw some poetry in the mix! In this collection, Morgan Parker explores what it’s like to be a Black American woman in the 21st century. She uses pop-culture and political references as her framework and doesn’t shy away from important and difficult topics such a depression, isolation, and exoticism. Thought-provoking and confronting, this is an essential collection for anyone who is into modern poetry.
6. Dear Martin – Nic Stone (2017)
In Dear Martin, main character Justyce tries to do everything ‘right’: get good grades, dress appropriately, and be an all-around upstanding citizen. Nevertheless, when he tries to help out his drunk ex-girlfriend, he is arrested by a (racist) white cop, and he realises he cannot escape racial profiling from the institution that is meant to protect him. He feels a lot of frustration and anger at this realisation and decides to try and apply the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He begins to write letters to MLK as he tries to find his place in the world, dealing with white privileged, racist assholes (let’s just say it as it is) and police brutality. Another book that taught me so, so much.
7. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)
This is the only book on this list that I haven’t read in its entirety – but I’m in the middle of it and I am learning an awful lot about racism and white privilege in Britain. For those of you who think that racism is only a big problem in the USA: think again, and read this. Reni Eddo-Lodge didn’t plan on writing this book; she wrote a blog post with the same title, explaining that whenever she talked to white people about racism, she encountered skeptical stares and people unwilling to learn. Wanting to protect herself from that in the future, she vowed to stop talking about racism to white people. The response to the blog post was so enormous, however, that she ended up writing this book. It’s been on my radar for a few years now, but I’m ashamed to admit that it apparently took an uprising for me to get up off my lazy ass and actually read this, and educate myself. I urge you to do the same!
8. Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi (2018)
More of a fantasy reader? No problem, I’ve got a recommendation for that as well, even though fantasy is a notoriously white genre. Children of Blood and Bone is a YA fantasy novel based on West African mythology. It tells the story of a land in which magic has disappeared. When that happened, the king ordered all maji to be murdered. The children of these maji remain alive, though, but they become outcasts. They have darker skin than the rest of the population and are judged and discriminated against because of it (sound familiar?). The novel tells the story of Zélie, who finds herself with a chance to bring magic back, but has to race against the clock to do so. This is a YA fantasy story that has an all-black cast of character and explores and condemns racism: such an important addition to the genre.
9. With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
This book tells the story of Emoni, who lives with her grandmother and is still in high school – but also has a young daughter to take care of. Emoni loves to cook, and the novel is filled with delicious descriptions of food and some of the recipes Emoni creates from scratch, which I always love in a book. It also deals with all the prejudice Emoni encounters as a Black teenage mother, however, and how it differs from how her daughter’s white teenage father is treated. Sexism and racism are both explored, but this novel is also a wonderful coming of age story as Emoni tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
10. The Sun Is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon (2016)
Spanning one single day in New York, this YA novel deals with racism and immigration, but it’s also a story of two people falling in love. Natasha has one day before her family will be deported to Jamaica, and she is desperate to find a way to stay in the USA. In the meantime, Korean-American Daniel is on his way to his college admission interview. They meet by chance and they spend one day together, Daniel wanting to fall in love and Natasha feeling the absolute opposite. I learned a lot about both of these two characters’ cultures and about what it is like to be an immigrant in the USA. As far as learning about other perspectives goes, this is a very good book to pick up.