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Black Voices in Literature To Read Now

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An anti-racist reading list

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On 25 May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died in custody after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes, causing a mass outcry across the world. In the wake of such tragedy it’s easy to feel powerless, but there are ways to help; the first step being to educate yourself on issues surrounding racism. Here we share some of the many resources and books about race to get you started – both fiction and non-fiction – alongside information on where you can donate to the cause. 

Books About Race

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

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s seminal book expands on her 2014 blog post of the same name, in which she voiced her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. The post went viral, which led Eddo-Lodge to write a more in-depth work on black history in Britain, examining everything from the political purpose of white dominance to the inextricable link between class and race.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s plea to ‘end the racial nightmare’ in America gripped the nation when it appeared on the shelves in 1963 amid the emerging civil rights movement, and it remains equally important today. The Fire Next Time is divided into two parts: the first in the form of a letter to Baldwin’s teenage nephew, the second a reflection on the author’s formative years in Harlem, looking in particular at the relations between race and religion.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

‘The opposite of racist isn’t “not racist”. It is “anti-racist”.’, writes American University professor Ibram X. Kendi in his book How to Be an Antiracist. Using the power of memoir alongside a combination of ethics, history, law and science, Kendi punctures the myths and taboos that often cloud our understanding of racial issues. He asks us to consider what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other follows the interconnected lives of 12 British people, most of them black women. The novel looks back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean, exploring the lives of British black families: the struggles, but also the joys.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

Quotes from political activist Angela Davis are being widely shared on social media in the wake of George Floyd’s death, but her work stretches much further than the confines of Instagram. Through a series of essays, interviews and speeches, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle highlights the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and the world. Published in 2016, the book covers everything from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement, examining issues of civil rights, racism and feminism.

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Published in 1956 by Trinidadian author Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners concerns the grup of Caribbean immigrants known as the Windrush generation, who arrived on the SS Windrush in 1948. It was the first novel to take on the task of representing this unrepresented group, who, in the hopeful aftermath of the war, flocked to the UK in search of a prosperous city – instead to become a target of racial hatred and xenophobia. Yet as Nigerian novelist Helon Habila notes, the overarching message is one of hope: ‘Even when his characters are under-going the direst of tribulations, Selvon has a way of capturing the humour in the situation,’ he wrote in The Guardian in 2007. ‘The message of The Lonely Londoners is even more vital today than in 50s Britain: that, although we live in societies increasingly divided along racial, ideological and religious lines, we must remember what we still have in common – our humanity.’

The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla

Edited by British journalist Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant is comprised of 21 essays by black, Asian and ethnic writers. Shukla describes it as ‘a document of what it means to be a person of colour now’, featuring submissions from Reni Eddo-Lodge, Riz Ahmed, Musa Okwonga (poet/broadcaster), Chimene Suleyman and Vinay Patel, amongst others. The book dispels any myths of racism being more of a Stateside issue, focusing on experiences of the BAME community living in Britain.

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