Five Books to Read to Educate Yourself on the Black Lives Matter Movement and the History of Racism in the United States
The past seven months have been a hailstorm of change and upheaval. Not only in the United States, but all around the world. Some of this change was sorely needed. Some of it still stings a little each time we reach to grab a mask on our way out our front doors. A lot of this change may have been hard to follow, especially if you’re trapped in your childhood home doing college online, like a lot of us are.
The change that quickly spiraled into a global movement after the brutal murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin was certainly a change a long time coming. But if you’re like me, currently doing school from your suburban home town, it can be hard to feel connected to that change. So, if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, racism in American, and the lasting impacts of slavery; here is a list of five books (both fiction and non fiction) to read while you’re studying from home.
When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
This non-fiction memoir follows the story of Patrisse Cullors, one of the founding members of the Black Lives Matter movement. It not only explains the origins of the movement itself, but also the life story of Cullors and her childhood in Los Angeles. This is the perfect book to hand to your parents when statements like “a few bad apples” start getting thrown around at the dinner table during an argument about the criminal justice system. The story of Patrisse’s mentally ill brother, Monte, and how he was mistreated and tortured by the LAPD is truly heartbreaking. Cullors manages to provide information on the history of racism and police brutality in America while also telling the story of her journey to becoming a founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s quite the page turner, and an extremely informative read.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
This non-fiction read seems to find it’s way onto almost every list of books to read on the history of race in America, and for good reason. Michelle Alexander captures the history of the United States criminal justice system and how it has targeted black men, destroyed communities of color, and upheld racial hierarchies in a post-colonial world. If you’re looking for a book to read to educate yourself on how racism has survived throughout the ages, then this is the book for you.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The first fiction novel on the list, Brit Bennett’s 2020 bestseller, is just as important and educational as any non-fiction book. It follows the story of two twin sisters who grow up in a southern, black community and run away at sixteen. Ten years later one twin now lives with her daughter in the same, southern town, while the other twin passes for white with her husband knowing nothing of her origins. We, as the reader, get to experience the intersection of their daughter’s storylines. This novel is not only a page turning story, but also an account of American racism from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Another story of two sisters, this novel follows their journey from Ghana to Mississippi. Taking place in the eighteenth century, the book tells the story of each sister and how their lives take diverging paths. Effia marries a rich Englishman, living a life of luxury in the Cape Coast Castle. Esi will be imprisoned in this castle and sold to a life of slavery in the southern United States. Gyasi goes on to follow the lives of these sisters' descendants through eight generations, down to those living during the Harlem Jazz Age. This is the perfect book for understanding the legacy of slavery through the stories of unforgettable characters.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Now I know what you’re thinking. Every english teacher and their mother has told you to read this book, right? Well, there’s a reason it’s a classic. This 1985 novel tells the story of Celie, whose letters tell the story of her life. Abused by both her father and her husband “Mister,” Celie struggles to define her selfhood. It is only through her righteous rage towards those who have abused her and her relationship with Shug that she is able to finally awaken toward her true identity. This novel is perfect for those looking to read a book about black femininity and sexuality. That’s right! I’m sure you’re english teacher forgot to mention that the relationship between Shug and Celie is more than just platonic. Or maybe that was just mine. Either way, The Color Purple is definitely a book that will keep you on your toes.