It’s important that non-Black people understand the history behind the current movement, the Black experience, and what needs to be done to progress after the news cycle
The murder of George Floyd last week has brought to attention the effects of passive non-action by white and non-Black people in the fight against racism. We see clearly how even progressive, liberal, and non-racist have failed the Black community by not actively dismantling the white supremacist systems that impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every day. In a matter of weeks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, all lost their lives at the hands of police brutality. It’s time that non-Black people are held accountable for their inactivism, and do better.
There’s several ways you can actively demonstrate your support, such as emailing your local political representative, donating money to bail funds, and engaging in (responsible) virtual activism. If you haven’t already, educate yourself with our running list of anti-racism resources, keep an eye out for misinformation, and most importantly, teach yourself on how to be a better ally.
For long-term charge, however, it’s important that we understand the history behind the current movement, as well as what is needed to progress forward. Below, we have selected a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, and essays that address race, through intimate narratives of lived experience, contextually, or head-on. From classic novels like Ralph Waldo Ellison’s Invisible Man and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, to contemporary classic non-fiction such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me and Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant, here’s a comprehensive list of books to educate yourself.
BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON
Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece chronicles the life of Sethe, a woman who was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but remains haunted by the memories of her past – in particular, the spectre of her murdered daughter. Dedicated to the “sixty million and more” Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the slave trade, Beloved is a hair-raising reflection on the evils of slavery, both individually and for Americans as a whole.
INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH WALDO ELLISON
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,” says the unnamed Black protagonist in Ralph Waldo Ellison’s seminal 1952 novel, which explores the Black experience at the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. In this tale of dehumanisation, the protagonist begins as a keen student in the Deep South, during the era of racial education reforms led by Booker T. Washington, before moving to the north to fight alongside the Black activist group, the Brotherhood, and eventually, the Harlem race riots. Despite being written over 60 years ago, Invisible Man remains painfully relevant in understanding racism in America today.
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD BY ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Often cited as one of the most important books of the 20th century, Zora Neale Hurston’s enduring classic, first published in 1937, follows protagonist Janue Crawford’s “ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny”. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a lyrical exploration of one woman’s breaking-free of the stereotypes imposed onto her, with love. For those wanting to read more, we recommend Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance too.
THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’ YA sensation, The Hate U Give, tells the story of a 16-year-old girl called Starr, who lives in inner-city America in a predominantly poor and Black neighbourhood, but goes to a posh (mostly white) high school in the suburbs. The precarious balance falls apart when Starr is the only witness to the killing of her unarmed childhood friend at the hands of a police officer. Thomas’ novel is an unflinching yet accessible read that gets to the heart of themes such as white privilege, systematic racism, and microaggressions apparent in society today.
SUCH A FUN AGE BY KILEY REID
In Such A Fun Age, Black millennial protagonist Emira Tucker works in Philadelphia as a babysitter for a white affluent couple – the sort of problematic liberals who would boast excessively about “voting for Obama” and pride themselves on having Black dinner guests. One day, she takes their toddler, Briar, to an upscale supermarket where a security guard accuses her of kidnapping him. It’s only when Peter, the dad, and a successful news anchor, is called that people believe her story. What follows is a caustically funny unpicking of race, friendship, and privilege. Tuck in.
HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST BY IBRAM X. KENDI
“To be anti-racist is to admit when we’re being racist,” says Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to be an Antiracist, a pivotal book that combines ethics, history, law, and science, with the author’s personal story of awakening to antiracism. Pointing readers towards a new way of thinking about ourselves and each other, this is an essential text for anyone who wants to take an active step in opposing systematic and internalised racism, and work towards a just society.
ME AND WHITE SUPREMACY BY LAYLA F. SAAD
If you haven’t already read Me and White Supremacy, consider it mandatory. Layla Saad’s essential work examines how dominant systems shape how white people see themselves and others, and how this affects how you move through the world. With historical and cultural context, stories and anecdotes, Saad unpacks the master narratives that shape our belief systems so that white people can stop inflicting damage on Black, indigenous, and PoCs – and help other white people do the same.
THE END OF POLICING BY ALEX S. VITALE
’Abolish the police’ will be a refrain we keep hearing through this time. It’s important to fully understand the entrenched issues with authorities around the world, from brutality to diversity, implicit and explicit bias. Looking to what we need to do to rectify the problems law enforcement exacerbates rather than solves, Alex Vitale draws together extensive research on global policing and dissects the areas where police control has emboldened the white establishment and brought more grief, like the war on drugs. This book came about in the wake of Ferguson, and feels all the more pertinent. Vitale astutely outlines a future without the police as we know it, and points to the benefits of community-based work and other public safety alternatives. Further, Vitale highlights where excessive spending on policing could be redistributed, from drug treatment programs to education and community projects. Essential reading and facts based knowledge sharing in the fight for social justice.
WHITE FRAGILITY BY ROBIN DIANGELO
White Fragility challenges the ways in which ordinary white people react when they’re done or said something that’s unintentionally caused racial offence – namely, anger, fear, guilt, denial, or silence. These reactions, Robin DiAngelo says, only serve to silence PoC, who can’t give honest feedback to ‘liberal’ white people.
With clarity and compassion, DiAngelo allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’, but rather, as something systematically ingrained within each of us. In doing so, she brings the conversation forward at a practical level, for white people to do better.
BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS BY FRANZ FANON
In his 1952 book, psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, presents a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanisation through the lens of colonisation, and its impact on the human psyche. Written in a style of auto-theory, which weaves in his own experiences, Fanon provides an analysis of the ways Blackness is constructed and produced as a relation to Whiteness, using psychoanalysis to explain feelings of Black excellence, dependency, and inadequacy.
WHY I’M NO LONGER TALKING TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE BY RENI EDDO-LODGE
Based on a 2014 viral blog post in which Reni Eddo-Lodge expressed frustration when dealing with white people who are “living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it”, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a look at Black history in Britain as it relates to class, and how it’s resulted in a lack of conversation surrounding racial bias.
THE FIRE NEXT TIME BY JAMES BALDWIN
A landmark work on race in America, James Baldwin’s book is divided into two parts: one is a letter written to Balwin’s 14-year-old nephew on the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and the other is a moving reflection on the author’s formative years in Harlem. Published nearly 60 years ago, Baldwin’s powerful words still resonate today: “If we – and I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious Blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”
MEN WE REAPED BY JESMYN WARD
On the evening of November 23, 2013, Tyshon Anderson, an 18-year-old Black man is fatally shot in a stairwell on the southside of Chicago. The next day, when a reporter comes to interview people in the building, a woman tells him she “was happy that her 14-year-old son was locked up because it was safer for him to be incarcerated than to live in the neighbourhood”.
In this moving memoir, Jesmyn Ward reflects on the precarity of life for young Black men in America by recounting the unconnected deaths in the space of just four years of five young men who were close to her. We’re told that murder is the greatest killer of Black men under the age of 24, but Ward refuses her subjects to be seen as mere statistics. What follows is a deeply tragic yet human exploration of the societal effects of poor education, incarceration, death, and exclusion in shaping their lives.
THEY CAN’T KILL US ALL BY WESLEY LOWERY
A writer for the Washington Post, Wesley Lowery’s memoir, about the exhausting reality of reporting police brutality and the deaths of Black people in America, offers a historically informed look at the standoff between police and the people they’re meant to protect. Weaving together hundreds of interviews with families of victims of police brutality, as well as local activists working to stop it, Lowery investigates the result of decades of racial discrimination in segregated neighbourhoods, and the devastating effect it’s had on modern-day America.
INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: WHAT THE BRITISH DID TO INDIA BY SHASHI THAROOR
As Boris Johnson and his Brexit trolls continue their tirade across Britain, Shashi Tharoor’s timely book addresses the need to call an end to British imperial nostalgia in return with post-colonial responsibility. Across several chapters, Tharoor breaks down the “monstrous crime” committed by the British, who he describes as systematically looting his country for 200 years. In 2020, amid all this national talk of Britain’s ‘global aspirations’, Inglorious Empire offers a real dose of truth.
THE NEW JIM CROW BY MICHELLE ALEXANDER
Lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander offers a detailed account of the emergence of a caste-like system in the US, which sees millions of African Americans locked behind bars and denied the rights fought for in the Civil Rights movement. The book challenges the idea that Barack Obama’s election as president signalled an era of colourblindness in America, instead arguing how racism has merely been redesigned for a new age.
SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE BY IJEOMA OLUO
Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race guides readers through themes of intersectionality, affirmative action, and “model minorities” in an attempt to kickstart honest, open conversations and race and racism. Things like, ‘how do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist?’ or, ‘how do you explain white privilege to your white privileged friend?’ are all examples of ways racism seeps into our everyday lives, often unnoticed by non-Black people. So You Want to Talk About Race is an essential read for anyone wanting to educates themselves and approach race in an honest light.
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME BY TA-NEHISI COATES
Written in the form of a letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his teenage son, Between the World and Me chronicles Coates’ life growing up as a young Black man in Baltimore and his journey to becoming a writer. Described by Toni Morrison as “required reading”, it’s a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history. In doing so, it illuminates the past, confronts our present head-on, and offers a clear vision for a way forward.
THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK BY W.E.B DU BOIS
“The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line,” wrote W.E.B Du Bois in what is one of the great cornerstones of African American literature. First published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk is a philosophically enlightening and lyrical text that introduces the now-famous concepts of the colour line, the veil, and double-consciousness – terms that have been used in socio-political discourse on race ever since. This is a must-read.
REDEFINING REALNESS BY JANET MOCK
In her heartfelt and sincere New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a key voice for the transgender community. Unapologetic and real, Mock describes her experiences growing up as a multiracial, underprivileged, trans woman in America, giving readers an insight into the remarkable progress trans people have achieved over the last decade, while shining a bright light on the work that still needs to be done.
SISTER, OUTSIDER BY AUDRE LORDE
“Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives,” writes Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde in The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, one of the essays featured in this collection of her essential prose. “I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears.”
Collecting 15 of Lorde’s essays, speeches, letters, and interviews, Sister Outsider is uncompromising, unflinching and ultimately hopeful, examining the ways in which our world could truly be different and giving voice to those who stand “outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women”.
YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU BY AUDRE LORDE
Another one by Lorde, this posthumous collection of essays, speeches, and poems asserts the importance of taking language into action, of speaking out on important issues, and of using your voice for justice. It reminds us that silence is a form of violence – a sentiment that couldn’t be more pertinent for our times.
FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE BY ANGELA DAVIS
In Freedom Is A Constant Struggle political activist and scholar Angela Davis tracks the history of liberation struggles from the Black Freedom Movement and the South African anti-Apartheid, to today’s movements against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine.
Through writing that is as accessible as it is powerful, Davis illuminates the connections between these struggles against state violence and oppression, helping us to understand what needs to be done as we continue the fight today. “It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognise their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle,” she writes. “Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements...I don’t see why things would be any different today.” Read it for free here.
THE GOOD IMMIGRANT BY NIKESH SHUKLA
Inspired by the binary opposition narrative of ‘good immigrant’ / ‘bad immigrant’ often seen in the media, Nikesh Shukla brings together 21 Black, Asian, and minority ethnic writers to explore what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you.
Featuring essays from writers including Reni Eddo Lodge, Bim Adewumni, and Riz Ahmed, the book covers topics at the heart of the immigrant experience ranging from loneliness and anxiety, to shadeism, and diversity and tokenism in the media, exposing the deeply ingrained racist attitudes present in the UK.
HOOD FEMINISM: NOTES FROM THE WOMEN WHITE FEMINISTS FORGOT BY MIKKI KENDALL
Mainstream feminism centres a cis, white, heterosexual point of view. It has exploited women of colour, neglected trans women, and failed to consider living wage, food insecurity, access to education, and medical care feminist issues. “Instead of a framework that focuses on helping women get basic needs met, all too often the focus is not on survival but on increasing privilege,” writes Mikki Kendall in Hood Feminism. “For a movement that is meant to represent all women, it often centres on those who already have most of their needs met.”
Here, Kendall explores the limitations of mainstream feminism and why it neglects to see how race, class, sexual orientation, and disability intersects with gender. It is a searing indictment but also a clear-eyed guide on how to fix it.
LOUD BLACK GIRLS: 20 BLACK WOMEN WRITERS ASK: WHAT’S NEXT? BY YOMI ADEGOKE AND ELIZABETH UVIEBINENÉ
This anthology curated by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené gives a platform to the next generation of Black British women writers. From assessing the cultural impact of Marvel’s Black Panther to reclaiming culinary heritage and celebrating activism in local communities, these essays offer fierce, funny, touching, and ultimately insightful perspectives. Want more? Check out the pair’s podcast, Slay in Your Lane.
GIRL: ESSAYS ON WOMANHOOD AND BELONGING IN THE AGE OF BLACK GIRL MAGIC BY KENYA HUNT
Okay, this book hasn’t technically come out yet (it lands in the UK on November 12) but put it on your reading list, pronto. Award-winning journalist Kenya Hunt writes both hilariously and heartbreakingly on what it means to Black, a woman, and a mother in this collection of essays. With razor sharp observation, Hunt navigates the complex, contradiction-laden experiences of living in a time when Black women have never been more publicly celebrated and yet still live within systems and institutions held up by racism.
Alongside Kenya’s story, guest contributors including Candice Carty-Williams, Jessica Horn, Ebele Okobi, Funmi Fetto, and Freddie Harrel, add their unique voices and perspectives.