There exists a problematic trend of only talking about Black history during Black History Month (the shortest month of the year) instead of throughout the entire year. Still, I want to take the time to highlight authors speaking about their histories and experiences. For the most part, these authors speak to lives in the U.S., as Blackness (the African American experience) is specific to the U.S., however, some authors like Audre Lorde connect to the African Diaspora as a whole. As context for the book descriptions below, I am white and queer, and my appreciation and experience reading them is through the lens of my white identity.
June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint by June Jordan
June Jordan was a Caribbean American author and activist from New York. This book is presented as a manual for her poetry program entitled “Poetry for the People,” and it also features student poetry that intimately paints the identities and histories among Bay Area students in the Berkeley course. Additionally, the poetry, program and book all encourage the creative expression of family histories and ancestries that impact the individual, the present and the future. It might inspire an exploration of one’s own histories through poetry or another outlet.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Patrisse Khan-Cullors is an activist, scholar, and one of the three women who co-founded Black Lives Matter following the release of Trayvon Martin’s killer in 2013. She writes with asha bandele, a writer, activist and poet who is well-known for her memoir, “The Prisoner’s Wife.” This collaborative memoir is the perfect example of the common phrase “the personal is political,” as the authors explore their own experiences that led to their activism, with a larger focus on Khan-Cullors. Additionally, they want others to understand the importance of their own experiences and how their survival, strength, resilience and wisdom can serve as a call for action towards justice and healing.
The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde
If writing poetry is not your thing, but you can still appreciate poetry, I would highly recommend this book by Audre Lorde: a writer, feminist, womanist and activist from New York. Even through presenting struggles, hardships and losses that are still present today, Lorde always points the audience towards a place of healing within themselves. She celebrates, grieves and interweaves her own experience with her various identities with the experiences of others in the West and of the African Diaspora.
The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris
Tamara Winfrey Harris is a writer and speaker who may be recognized from her column in Bitch Media, “Some of Us Are Brave”. Her book goes back in time to reveal the beginnings of strong stereotypes of Black women that prevail today. She then explores certain areas of life (i.e. marriage, sexuality, health etc.) and explains how these stereotypes show up and affect the lives of Black women. This has been said to be a very heavy read, particularly for Black women, because it really piles on the stereotypes and obstacles, yet the author was sure to include hope she dispersed throughout the book that she refers to as “Moments in Alright.” If you are a white reader, I think this book is definitely necessary to continue to understand your position and privilege.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Phoebe Robinson is a comedian, writer and actress who is based in New York, but from Ohio originally. This book is largely dependent on understanding pop culture references and therefore might be more enjoyable for someone with that knowledge. Yet, the themes of racism, sexism and resilience are available to all audiences. These heavy themes are handled with the in-your-face humor of Robinson, who will have you laughing out loud in no time. She is a hilarious, unapologetic and fierce storyteller.