If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s not bragging. Haha! On this blog, I have made a point of not saying I’m an expert in anything, or thinking I can give advice to you, the readers. Mostly I try not to say “you” because it automatically sounds preachy. So I talk about myself a lot and “you” get to hear, “Me, me, me!” Maybe not ideal, either.
I was trying to think of what to write about Black Lives Matter. I thought smugly to myself, “I can write about Black authors and books, because I’m always up to date on that!” I imagined I must have read about 50 books by Black authors in the last 10 years, and a good smattering of the classics before that.
But my Goodreads account does not lie. I have actually only read 33 books by Black authors in the past 13 years, since I created the account. During that time, 2006 to 2019, I read almost 700 books, so that’s less than 5% Black content.
Why should I have read more Black literature?
- When I was growing up, my school had two Black and two Biracial children out of about 600 students.
- For 75% of my life, I have lived in a community “next door” to a group of historic Black communities. I have learned about the history of my neighbours and I care about their lived experiences and their rights.
- Historically, the communities did not mix. This was attributed to the Black communities wanting to keep to themselves, when of course it was because the white communities practiced exclusion. Things are changing; I would estimate that about 15% of the households in my neighbourhood are Black families now.
- My town has a history that includes anti-Black racist incidents, especially in schools, and a demonstrated failure to address the needs of Black students. Parents in my area try to buy homes in school catchment areas that have a higher percentage of white students.
- My town uses subtle, systemic racism to exclude Black people. For example, we are building plenty of soccer fields and hockey rinks, but no new basketball courts. Why? Because white homeowners are afraid Black youth who play basketball will start hanging around “their” parks and playgrounds.
- For 6 years, I worked in a branch library that was specifically intended to serve local Black communities. While there, I had easy opportunities to work with Black organizations and individuals to promote Black literature, culture and achievements, and to address injustice. I learned a lot.
- My eyes were opened to the everyday experiences of my Black co-workers, who were incessantly monitored and followed in stores, stopped by police for “driving while Black”, mistaken for being suspects in crimes, and assumed to be uneducated or living in poverty.
- I want to be part of a world that values all people, without putting a priority on white lives and experiences. In a better world, I would have more Black friends and colleagues, but that is not going to happen unless my circles (work and personal) become intentionally inclusive, instead of just waiting for it to happen by itself. How could it? I have work to do.
- I took a life-changing Anti-Oppression workshop which began my education about colonialism and its effects in the present day. I am still educating myself about intersectionality.
And that is where reading comes in. Reading is a way of relating to the world that feels comfortable to me. I can absorb the experiences of Black authors, Black characters and Black events, contemplate them, internalize them, and gain empathy. I can learn about history and what’s happening now, through individual voices and over wide swaths of time. Reading fiction makes things alive for me, maybe even more than television and movies and news.
I do have to force myself to watch more news than I would otherwise choose. If I don’t, it is too easy to stick my head in the sand and say it’s overwhelming, stopping with a dry reading of the facts. Sometimes you have to watch the video.
I am grappling with how I go beyond media consumption. I have to be realistic – my sphere of influence is actually quite large. I can’t pretend that poor little me is powerless to change anything. If older white women like me threw their weight behind real social change, it would gallop in.
I can’t always stay home with my nose in a book.
But when I do…here are some Black authors and books that have made a difference for me.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde
Strength to Love (also published as A Gift of Love) – Martin Luther King Jr.
either: The Collected Poems or The Selected Poems of Langston Hughes – Langston Hughes
The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill (published in the US as Someone Knows My Name. This is why.)
Small Island – Andrea Levy
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Knowing that real-life relationships and experiences are best, how does reading rate for you as a means to change your world view? How does reading compare to news, movies, TV, podcasts, etc. – for you?
As always, I would love to get your reading recommendations.