Our Black Lives Matter reading list

First published on: 2nd June 2020

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, people around the world are being asked to take a stand, donate to causes, raise awareness and push for change. They’re also being asked to educate themselves and those around them. We bring you a list of things to read about racism and the black experience. By Sarah Bradbury.

As Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, says: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And that’s the only way forward.”

Here is a list of classic and contemporary reads that tackle the issue of race both in the US and here in the UK to get you started:

1. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

“If we do not know how to meaningfully talk about racism, our actions will move in misleading directions.”

The words of this pioneering activist have been doing the rounds this week for a reason. This series of essays published in 2016 are a window into Angela Davis’s thought-provoking insights on civil rights, racism, and feminism.

2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

“Be a person with knowledge not just opinions.”

Joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other weaves together the voices of 12 mostly black British women to reveal the lives and struggles of each to form a love letter to black womanhood in modern Britain.

3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

You could do worse than read anything by James Baldwin to gain a deeper understanding of the African-American experience. This bestseller from 1963, which gave voice to the emerging civil rights movement, takes the form of two personal letters: one to his 14-year-old nephew on the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and the other reflecting on growing up in Harlem. 

4. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

“You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.”

Award-winning journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge, first articulated her frustrations with the way discussions of racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it in a blog that went viral. This book further explores the root of those frustrations and what it means to be a person of colour in the UK today.

5. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

This 2018 New York Times bestseller from white academic Robin Diangelo provoked an uncomfortable yet crucial conversation on what it means to be white. Diangelo explores and unpacks the concept of white fragility and the cause of white defensiveness in the face of challenges over racism.

6. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

“To be an immigrant, good or bad, is about straddling two homes, whilst knowing you don’t really belong to either.”

Compiled by award-winning writer Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant brings together essays from twenty emerging British BAME writers, poets, journalists and artists, that confront the issue of race and immigration whilst giving a platform to some of the most exciting black voices in the UK.

7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness By Michelle Alexander

“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.”

In her 2010 book, Michelle Alexander delineates how, despite the Civil Rights Movement, one caste system has been replaced by another in the US, with the current justice system leading to the incarceration and stripping of rights of millions of African Americans.

8. Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

“You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from?”

In this part-memoir, part-cultural investigation, Afua Hirsch looks at the question of identity and the everyday racism that pervades British society. It prods at the denial of our colonial past, the inherently problematic desire to embrace colour-blindness and highlights why now is the time for change.

9. Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F Saad

It all started with an Instagram challenge #meandwhitesupremacy. Layla F Saad’s book follows the journey of one viral social media campaign which became a cultural movement, encouraging people to own up and own their racist behaviours. It aims to help readers understand their white privilege and how they contribute in white supremacy, even if unknowingly.

10. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.”

This 2013 novel from acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of Half of a Yellow Sun is both a love story and an interrogation of race in the US, following the journey of a young Nigerian woman who flees her home to escape military dictatorship and to find her future in the States.

11. They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

“Insisting that the burden of proof rests with the body of the slain black man or woman is to argue that black life, on its own, does not matter.”

This from Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery delves into police brutality against black men. It begins by recounting his own personal experience of being aggressively arrested during the Ferguson protests then goes onto cover the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers, and the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement from the ground.

12. Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Morrison’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning 1987 novel, inspired by a true story, follows a woman who escaped slavery on a plantation to live in the free state of Ohio but who remains haunted by her past.

What are your recommendations?